Mitchell Pearce Sydney Roosters Halfback NRL Round 3 vs Melbourne StormThe Sydney Roosters are putting on a brave showing at the SFS, coming out very energetic to lead the Melbourne Storm 8-0 at halftime. As expected, the Storm ran with Greg Inglis from the bench and started with Matt Geyer at five eighth.

As in Round 1 and 2, the Roosters have been impressive with their deep attacking set plays. Their second man and decoy plays are possibly the best in the NRL at present, but it was a smart Mitchell Pearce bomb that got them over the line after Shaun Kenny-Dowall got up to reef it back to Sam Perrett, the little Perrett wrestling with 4 Storm defenders to off-load to Dowall from 1m out to send the rangey kiwi over the line for the Roosters.

With a good share of possession the Roosters attacked for a good majority of the half. Another Pearce bomb in the 12m saw Kenny-Dowall come up with the ball and from 5m out and no defenders he looked sure to score, but a brain explosion from the Kiwi saw him kick ahead and send it dead.

The Storm were defending OK, but it’s hard to predict the bounce of a good bomb and the sheer weight of possession was helping the Roosters keep the upper-hand.

When Melbourne finally saw some ball, their handling was letting them down. Even the usually safe Billy Slater was coughing up ball and while their forwards were making good metres, the halves combination is still not ideal for the Storm – Cooper Cronk not getting much support from utility Geyer in a similar fashion to Aitken last week.

Greg Inglis came on for the Storm late in the half and certainly looks to have added plenty of weight to his tall frame. Bulky and full of muscle, he looks more like a Willie Mason style back-rower than a back-line maestro.

Mentally, Inglis might have given his side a boost – but the Roosters just look so eager in defence. They are rushing out of the line and late in the half Dave Shillington has put on two of the biggest hits of the year – burying the Storm forwards and giving his side a huge boost. The Storm fell away with their handling again in the back end of the half and were killing themselves with penalties – the count at 6-1 against them at one stage.

Cooper Cronk nearly stole his team a late try after some smart kicks saw Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Braith Anasta spill some ball over their own try line, but the clean up job by Perrett and Tupou saved the day. The ensuing defence sets by the Roosters on their lines typifies thier new outlook under Brad Fittler – solid, scrambling well and fit.

Roosters running into the sheds happy at 8-0 and the Storm lucky to be only behind by 8 after a poor first half. Craig Bellamy firing up in the box and letting fly with a tonne of expletives. Rain has just started to fall at the SFS as the teams run on the second half.

The second half quickly developed into a major arm wrestle. Both sides playing safety first, one off the ruck footy. Fewer errors and each side getting to their kicks, but the kicking game of the Storm was unusually off the mark, kicks from Cronk and Smith going dead or finding Minichiello on the full.

Both sides proving solid in defence with very few missed tackles. An early chance to the Roosters was snuffed out by Billy Slater – the Storm fullback running down a flying Minichiello to save a certain try.

Apart from this opportunity the chances for the 4 pointers were few and far between. The first points coming in the 60th minute from a Fitzgibbon penalty goal.

Soon after, Roosters half back Mitchell Pearce was knocking out by a soaring Billy Slater. Slater taking a high bomb a metre off the ground and clipping Pearce’s head in mid-air and rocking the rookie no.7’s head back and sending him to the turf.

The Storm getting their first chance soon after this play, they got a penalty for Pearce being off-side on the kick chase and went length of the field only to see their hard-nosed forward Jeremy Smith ruled to have knocked on over the try-line as he reached out to score. The missed try proving costly, the Roosters getting possession and a piggy back penalty soon after, to be on the attack themselves.

Brad Fittler extremely visible in the box, riding every play and clapping his team with that trademark Fitter smirk.

Entering the final 10 minutes, the Storm forwards especially Clifford Manua having a strong period. The rookie Manua being a game stand out for his side, always making massive metres and running very hard, straight and dragging defenders along with him.

In the 71st minute, the Roosters received a penalty and could have taken the lead to two converted tries at 12-0. But unsure of the angle, they elected to run the ball – nearly scoring but the tiring Storm defence was doing just enough to snuff their raids.

The Storm really don’t seem to have anyone wanting to take charge at this period, Anasta is doing his bit for the Roosters – taking the initiative and looking most likely to break this game open.

Even as Melbourne get some quality possession in good field position off a Willie Mason high shot on Greg Inglis, their attacking plays lacked depth and set plays were easily read – the Roosters looking good even though tired in defence.

Kick chase remaining enthusiastic for the Roosters nearing the final 5 minutes, all the team coming up in a line to pressure and harass the Storm.

As they so often do, the Storm somehow came up with a try against the run of play. A nice wide play involving Cooper Cronk, saw him put Israel Folau into a gap and the big centre sucked in Kenny-Dowall to position Steve Turner nicely. Turner kicking ahead for Slater to re-gather and score, the Storm amazingly in with a shot to win this arm wrestle after looking dead and buried.

With 5 minutes to go, the Storm get the shot in the arm they needed.

Amazing scenes from the kick-off, Braith Anasta booting the return kick deep and the catch from Matt Geyer was a shocker – the veteran making a meal of it and crashing into the corner post. In a staggering call, the officials somehow ruled out on the full – simply amazing it could have been ruled that way.

The Roosters having to defend immediately on their line, the Storm getting a chance to steal the match with a full set inside the enemy 20m line. The usual precision left the premiers and they again coughed up a simple play and turned the ball over, some justice cutting in for Sydney.

The final 30 seconds seeing Craig Fitzgibbon lose the ball and the Storm yet again getting a chance to take the game. But in a play that summed up their night, Melbourne tried a poor kick over the top that was easily taken by Amos Roberts.

The Roosters hanging on for an upset win 10-6 and the Storm losing back to back games for the first time in 2 years of NRL Rugby League. Man of the match honours shared between Braith Anasta and Mitchell Pearce, the two hard to split with Anthony Minichiello coming in a close third.

Will the Storm get a dent in their usually rock solid confidence now? The upcoming weeks will be interesting viewing; whats your thoughts on Melbourne and the Roosters in 2008 – two sides playing very different football from the year before.

By ricky

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