With plenty of buildup and fan fare as the NRL kicked off it’s Centenary Season, 2008 got underway at ANZ Stadium tonight with the Sydney Roosters getting a win over the highly fancied South Sydney Rabbitohs outfit 34-20. While the promise of the David Kidwell and Willie Mason explosion didn’t eventuate, there was plenty of fireworks in a game where Souths lost key playmaker Craig Wing.
With much expected from new season signings on both sides, it was the Rabbitohs new recruit Craig Wing who was the centre of attention early. After 7 minutes the former Rooster was hit hard in an awkward position by a shoulder charging Riley Brown, the hit dislocating Wings shoulder and putting him out of action for the night and possibly a long stint on the sideline after his shoulder was reportedly damaged heavily.
The Sydney Roosters didn’t need any encouragement, with the new look Bondi brigade looking eager early on. As predicted Willie Mason started from the bench and the starting pack looked strong and extremely mobile as the Roosters got the much better platform laid early. Other Bulldog acquisition Mark O’Meley had a steady but uneventful start and slotted into the lineup without too much fuss.
The Roosters got on the board first through Sa, after a precision kick from Mitchell Pearce that had Amos Roberts flying high to take a bomb and flick a nice pass to Sa to score in the corner. The usually bulletproof Souths defence looked a little out of order as the left hand edge failed to give each other protection during the Pearce bomb. The Roosters looking very slick for such an early season game, their passing and kicking was exceptionally good.
Continuing the momentum, the Roosters were soon in again. This time a rejuvenated Nate Myles scored a soft try after dragging 3 Souths defenders over the line to reach down and score. Souths remained shell shocked and continued to look lost after their playmaker Craig Wing was relegated to the sidelines. Myles looked to be grabbing his starting spot with both hands, after a sluggish 2007 – he really put in the big ones tonight.
As the kicking game of Mitchell Pearce allowed the Roosters every advantage, the same couldn’t be said for Jeremy Smith. Several times Smith made wrong decisions and executed poorly as he kicked for touch within 25m of his opponents try line, kicked out on the full and found the Roosters defenders on the full also. Souths looked to be missing the creativity and steady hand of Ben Rogers as the make shift halves pairing continued to fail behind little if any go forward early on.
Fortunately for South Sydney, livewire hooker Issac Luke was on the pace. Some scampers from dummy half and energetic defending saw Luke wrestle some of the momentum back from the Roosters. Aided by some solid running by prop forward Michael Greenfield, the two were able to get some nice offloads away to get Souths on the scoreboard through Nathan Merritt. It seemed like the giant had finally awoke with the possession starting to even out and Souths generating some confidence.
The swing was short lived for the Bunnies, with a rampaging Anthony Tupou running off a staggeringly beautiful short ball from a Roosters set play. In a stylish move, the Roosters sucked several Souths defenders in and found a close running Tupou to go in untouched. Lopini Paea providing a superb short ball after faking the longer pass and confusing everyone except his team-mate.
This try tore the heart out the Bunnies and they struggled to hang on as half time neared. Souths continued to let themselves down with poor hands, particularly out wide with Vagana having an off-night and rarely threatening. The new look Roosters continued to have such a balanced look, Braith Anasta was under less pressure as team-mates assisted with the set plays and provided options on both sides of the park.
In the second half it looked to be more of the same, with Souths continuing their poor kicking game and the Roosters scoring plenty more points early on. Anthony Tupou continuing his strong game with more gap running off Anasta to put himself into score and soon after the Rabbits found themselves down 34-4. The Roosters looking keen and executing sharply to really give their fans some excitement for 2008.
With the game obviously gone, the concern for the Rabbitohs was a massive dent in their confidence should they lose by such a big margin. With the scoreboard heavily in their favour, the Roosters were probably guilty of clocking off a bit as they sat back and through some ill-discipline let South Sydney get back into the game with a couple of quick tries.
As he did all night, the passionate Issac Luke worked hard for Souths and was easily the best player in the losing side – generating some nice attacking movements and forging a late fightback for his side.
In the end it wasn’t enough, recovering from 34-4 to get to 34-20 was enough to restore pride to Souths, but the praise and promise remains with the Sydney Roosters. The new look side seems to have the balance to become a regular threat this year, with their set plays really looking sensational and their strong mobile forwards laying a great foundation for the likes of Amos Roberts and a healthy Anthony Minichiello.
Both Amos and Mini looked at their classic best, with Minichiello breaking tackles and regularly looking dangerous with the ball in his hand. Roberts proved a handful for Souths whenever he attacked the ball in the air or got some space and Fittler looks to have his interchange setup nicely, with Willie Mason coming in at the right time and statistically beating all the other Roosters forwards in terms of workrate vs gametime.
Roosters fans, things look good. While the team lacked a little bit of match fitness which is to be expected and thus they clocked off early – you look to have a solid chance of making the finals this year. For Souths, while disappointing – the problem was in the loss of Craig Wing early on and the fact that limited troops would make things hard. The fightback and amount of points scored by the Bunnies in a short period remains a highlight and shows they have corrected some problems from last year.