The Sydney Roosters have dispatched the St George Dragons 34-6 in the first professional sporting match at Allianz Stadium. The grand-final rematch was a tight contest for 45 minutes until the Roosters’ backs outclassed their opponents.
The Dragons signalled their intent early, testing the Roosters’ defence with multiple sets of six inside the attacking 20. An early line-break by Kezie Apps nearly put the visitors in front, but the Roosters’ desperate defending held them out.
Finally, the Dragons broke through with an overlap on the left edge. Quick ball movement exploited the advantage, and the ball came to prop Monalisa Soliola 13 metres out from the line.
Soliola dummied, found a seam, and burst through, dragging three Roosters players with her across the line.
The Dragons crossed the line again in the first half but couldn’t ground the ball as the Roosters’ defence heroically held the ball up.
Nine minutes later, the Roosters struck back thanks to a pinpoint kick at the end of a set by Raecene McGregor and winger Leianne Tufuga made no mistake, grounding the ball in the right corner.
Zahara Temara successfully slotted the conversion from a tight angle to tie things up.
The half ended with St George leading in almost every offensive category, and would likely have felt aggrieved not to be leading.
The Dragons’ forwards caused problems for the Roosters throughout the first half, and that trend continued early in the second.
Dragons’ prop Elsie Albert provided some thundering runs, knocking defenders over who dared try to tackle her head-on.
St George pressed and looked set to re-take the lead 44 minutes in. However, a compounding set of mistakes turned the match in the Roosters’ favour.
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On the Dragons’ third tackle, Albert received the ball with a full head of steam five metres from the Roosters’ line. Five Roosters’ players combined to somehow hold her up at the line.
Shortly afterwards, the Dragons were stripped in the tackle and knocked the ball on, giving up possession. Next, the Dragons committed a penalty, giving the Roosters excellent field position.
The Roosters’ capitalised in style. Shawden Burton found Jocelyn Kelleher 19 metres out; Kelleher used a set of dummies and quick steps to create a gap in the Dragons’ back-pedalling defence and score.
The Roosters crossed the line again a few minutes later, but the ball was held up. However, the Dragons infringed on the play and were penalised.
The difficult choice of whether to take a near-certain two points through a penalty kick or to attempt four or more was made quickly. The Roosters took a gamble, and it paid off handsomely.
The Dragons’ held strong for five tackles before McGregor and Temara connected sensationally on the last tackle.
McGregor, running from left to right, displayed extraordinary vision to find Temara with an audacious kick with the outside of the boot. The execution was perfect, and the Roosters’ lead was looking steady.
Fullback Samantha Bremner scored with an exquisite run 10 minutes later to make it 24-6, the game was essentially over.
The triumvirate of Bremner at fullback, McGregor at halfback, and Temara at five-eighth looks to be the class of the competition.
Otesa Pule scored her first-ever NRLW try late in the match, and Jocelyn Kelleher crossed again to record her first-career double to end the match.
Speaking post-match, Roosters’ coach John Strange said his side fought hard and was happy with their performance in the first half.
“We put ourselves under pressure in the first half, and I thought the girls did well to only come in at 6-6 because we gave the Dragons so much ball. We spoke about how the points would come in the second half, and they certainly did,” he said.
Dragons’ coach Jamie Soward echoed those sentiments and regretted the missed opportunity to turn that first-half dominance into points.
“I was pretty happy with the first half, but I think the game got away from us. There’s some stuff there that we probably compromised our values tonight,” Soward said,
“We stopped thinking [in attack] tonight, and part of that is my messaging, so I’ve got to get back to the drawing board and look at the tape.”
Next week the Roosters will face the Newcastle Knights. The match will be a good test for the Roosters as they face a rebuilt Knights’ squad starring teenage sensation Jesse Southwell.
Meanwhile, the Dragons will be hoping that the three players who could not finish the match due to injury will not miss significant time. Holly Wheeler, Chantel Tugaga, and Tegan Dymock missed match time due to injury concerns.
Next week the Dragons will face the Brisbane Broncos, who will desperately be looking to climb out of the league basement.
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