The Roosters' big guns shined when it mattered most, with Cooper Cronk, Latrell Mitchell and James Tedesco pulling out big match performances to lead the Roosters to a win against a game Sharks outfit in a see-sawing second qualifying last night. They join the Storm in the preliminary finals in two weeks' time. Here are five things we learned from the match:
1. Cronk takes back control
Big match games require big match players and Cronk loomed as a threat on the Sharks' defense coming into the contest. He opened the scoring for the tri-colours with a grubber kick Wade Graham fumbled and he regathered to touch down in the 13th minute.
Then, with the Roosters trailing 12-10 early in the second half, he brought them back into the contest. With the Roosters attacking Cronulla's line he almost put Victor Radley through a hole in a first-man play on the right edge. On the very next play he moved back to the left edge and put up a high kick which Daniel Tupou batted back to find Mitchell who went over to score in the 51st minute.
He also played a workman like role on defense, kicking 690 metres to Chad Townsend's 530, keeping his side out of the danger end and forcing the Sharks to attack from further out. His ball management was rewarded when he slotted the definitive field goal in the 77th minute to steer the Roosters to safety and the win.
2. Tedesco wins battle of fullbacks
Two of the most electric players in the competition went head-to-head as James Tedesco clashed with Valentine Holmes. On this night Tedesco would get the better of his rival, putting in another spectacular performance to get his side over the line.
Tedesco's effort produced 224 metres, two try-assists, three line-break assists and eight tackle busts himself and seemed dangerous anytime he had the ball. Holmes for his part played his heart out as Cronulla through everything at their Sydney rivals, running for 297 metres himself.
Tedesco took the Roosters into the lead through the first half with a great pass out wide to Joseph Manu as he shifted the ball to the right. He followed that up in the 55th minute with a brilliant left side play, sending a pin-point cut-out pass to Daniel Tupou as the Roosters' stretched the lead with two tries in five minutes, turning the game in Sydney's favour.
3. Injury heartbreak for Graham
Sharks' back-rower Wade Graham continued his horror run with injuries, with scans confirming he tore his ACL in last night's loss which spells the end of his season. The injury occurred in the same sequence leading to the Roosters' first try, where he failed to gather a Cooper Cronk grubber kick, and then collided with Roosters back-rower Isaac Liu. It is a big blow for Cronulla where Graham is a vital cog in the back-row and a tough end to the season for the NSW and Australian representative who strained a medial ligament in the same knee just six weeks ago. He had already missed time on the field this year due to groin, cheekbone, hamstring and concussion issues which affected his selection for State of Origin and this latest setback has him set for major surgery next week.
With Graham now ruled out for the season, it likely means that Scott Sorensen will come into the side with Kurt Capewell on the bench.
4. Mixed night for Mitchell
It was the post-match occurrences which soured what was another solid performance from the big centre as he may miss their preliminary final for yet another dangerous tackle.
Early in the second half he was penalised for a crusher-style tackle on Josh Dugan. Though he was not placed on report during the match, the match review committee charged him with a grade one dangerous contact charge. It carries a base penalty of 100 points, and Mitchell already has 75 points carrying over for a cannon-ball style tackle against Clint Gutherson last week against the Eels. He may contest the charge or if he pleads guilty, he will have to take a one-match suspension, ruling him out of the preliminary final against the Sharks or Panthers in two weeks' time.
It was a mixed end for Mitchell who scored one of the Roosters' tries after being on the end of a Cooper Cronk high kick and tap back from Daniel Tupou to bring the sides level in the second half. And later in the half, with the Sharks continuing to probe the line, Townsend put Luke Lewis onto a great grubber kick only for Mitchell to get his hand under the ball and force an error from Lewis. His effort epitomised the Roosters' defense this year, keeping teams to an average of 15 points per game and defending really well on their own line.
He was also the target of an idiotic fan who hurled a projectile at him whilst he was lining up a conversion with the Roosters leading 14-12 through the second half.
5. Roosters continue finals' run, Sharks head to sudden-death
The facts don't lie. The Roosters are in the finals for the fourth time in five years and are one of the most consistent teams in the league. However, they will want to eradicate their finals' record since winning the premiership in 2013, which now stands at four wins from nine matches, all coming at Allianz Stadium. But they can only play what's in front of them and they'll be pleased about conceding only four errors to Cronulla's seven, which has been their achilles heel this season. Their defense yet again stepped up and kept the Sharks to 12 points, which will more than likely give you a win in finals football. Even without Latrell Mitchell, it's onwards and upwards for the tri-colours.
For the Sharks, it's a sudden death semi-final against the Panthers in six days' time. They're tired, battered and bruised, but they still have the players to do it and a number of veterans from the 2016 premiership winning side in Gallen, Lewis, Fifita and Co. Even without Graham in their ranks they can pull through. 21 of their 24 matches this year have been decided by 12 points or fewer so if there is one team who can do it tough, it is the Sharks.
What did you learn from the Rooster's big win over the Sharks? Let us know in the comments below.