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Sydney Roosters hoping Sonny Bill Williams’ NRL return will help inspire premiership three-peat


Even the Sydney Roosters are unsure how Sonny Bill Williams will perform when he links up with the club this weekend.

Williams’ two weeks of isolation, spent holed up in a Sydney hotel with his four children and wife, ends on Thursday.

Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson has already named his 21-man squad for Thursday night’s match against the Melbourne Storm, which has come too soon for Williams.

But the Is have been dotted and the Ts crossed for the 35-year-old to soon reunite with his former club and Robinson is looking forward to unleashing his new weapon.

“That’s [Williams signing] all been done, he gets out Thursday night and he’ll be ready to join us on the weekend,” Robinson said.

After six years away from the NRL, the Roosters and fans alike are waiting with bated breath to see how Williams will perform.

“We will see him move and how he connects with the guys around him, then we’ll get a further idea,” Robinson said.

As Canterbury did with English recruit Luke Thompson, it is likely the Roosters would have provided gym equipment in the apartment in which Williams and his family quarantined in to allow him to stay in shape.

But after two weeks of quarantine, the back-to-back premiers are not setting the bar too high and are keeping tight-lipped on how Williams will contribute to the team.

“I’d like to keep those conversations private, [on] how we will use him. We’ve had lots of discussions and we will see,” Robinson said.

All Blacks' Sonny Bill Williams shrugs off Wallabies' Henry Speight's tackle
Williams added to his All Blacks Test caps since his last stint with the Roosters.(AAP: Dean Lewins)

The Roosters’ fairytale scenario is that the New Zealand dual international will guide the club to an historic premiership three-peat. Williams has already won an NRL premiership with the club in 2013.

This return is not about money for Williams, as he remains on a $10 million contract with Super League’s Toronto Wolfpack until 2021. The club pulled out of this year’s competition with the coronavirus pandemic creating too much of a financial toll.

Coming into a side this close to finals, the Roosters could look to use Williams as a Cooper Cronk-type leader figure.

At the backend of his career, Cronk inspired the Roosters to their 2018 grand final victory, playing with a broken shoulder blade, and had a profound impact on the team.

Robinson said Williams had similar qualities to Cronk.

“His [Williams] biggest attribute is the courage he has to play footy,” he said.

“You see the man has got a fire in him, a hunger to perform and he loves playing in a team environment.”

Williams behind Roosters’ winning culture

Anthony Minichiello captained the Roosters when Williams last played for the club in 2014.

Minichiello retired that year after setting the record for the most matches and most tries in the club’s history.

He credited Williams for instilling a winning culture that has led to the Tricolours’ subsequent premiership success in 2018 and 2019.

“He’s an utter professional on and off the field,” Minichiello said.

“That’s what our club culture is built around now, being a full-time professional.

“That’s what Trent Robinson challenged us on all those years ago and that’s what the team is now and that’s what Sonny is.”

Sonny Bill Williams
Williams was a vital member of the Roosters’ 2013 premiership-winning squad.(AAP: Paul Miller)

Minichiello is fully supportive of his former teammate linking up with the club.

“I have wonderful memories of playing with him, 2013 was a record year for us with a minor premiership and a premiership,” Minichiello said.

“[In] 2014 we had another minor premiership, but didn’t get the job done.”

Minichiello said Williams would make as big an impact on the game today as he did at the height of his career.

“Young kids look at him and say, ‘if I want to play my best, these are the things I’ve got to do’,” he said.

“We learnt from him, the way he does things consistently to get results.

As for Williams’s on-field output, Minichiello was not quite as confident but he said the pros outweighed the cons.

“That’s what we will find out,” Minichiello said.

“Even if he doesn’t bring anything on the field, it’s what he brings off the field that people look at.”

Effort, Minichiello said, certainly would not be an issue.

“He’s always in training an hour before doing rehab, making sure his body is prepped perfectly,” he said.

“It’s the way young kids will look up to him and see how he prepares.”

Williams could be up for selection when the Roosters take on the Wests Tigers on August 22.



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Sydney Roosters add to St George Illawarra’s woes with 24-16 NRL win



The day started with a costly breakfast and ended in defeat for St George Illawarra, who fell 24-16 to the Sydney Roosters in Wollongong.

Although promising in stages, the Dragons were overcome by the undermanned Roosters, who hold down fourth place on the NRL ladder.

The home side’s defeat came hours after star Dragons prop Paul Vaughan was stood down for the next fortnight by the NRL for breaching the league’s biosecurity protocols.

Level at 10-all at half-time, the Roosters had enough class left on the field to snatch the win with three tries to one after the break.

With 15 minutes to play the Dragons were down by six points on the scoreboard when a lazy defensive play brought it all undone.

A spiralling bomb from Luke Keary was left to bounce and James Tedesco was on the spot to feed it to Joseph Manu to score untouched.

Five-eighth Keary then polished off the win with a late try, another moment that could be costly for the Dragons with Jackson Ford placed on report for an apparent trip.

Earlier on Thursday, Vaughan was found to have breached the NRL’s COVID-19 protocols by having breakfast in a cafe.

Vaughan was ruled out of the Roosters encounter and will now be sidelined for a fortnight.

It was a crushing blow for the Dragons after coach Paul McGregor had already dropped underperforming half Corey Norman for the must-win match.

As it stands at the start of round 13, the Dragons are four points out of the top eight and will need to win at least six of their last seven matches against top teams to be a chance to make the finals.

For the second week in a row, Tristan Sailor gave the Dragons a spark from the bench and he had a hand in a try soon after coming onto the field in the 35th minute.

But as dangerous as McGregor’s side looked in patches, the Roosters simply scrambled harder without nine regular starters.

There were arguably as many stars on the sidelines as on the field, with Boyd Cordner, Brett and Josh Morris, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Angus Crichton, Daniel Tupou, Kyle Flanagan, Victor Radley and Sam Verrills all watching from the stands.

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Roosters favourite Mitch Aubusson gave them something to cheer about in the 14th minute when he crossed for a try in his 300th NRL match.

For the Dragons, there is concern for second rower Tariq Sims who came off late with a shoulder injury.

It does not get easier next week with the Dragons set to play Parramatta, while the Roosters will face Melbourne.

AAP/ABC



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Sydney Roosters utility Mitchell Aubusson to play 300th NRL match for defending premiers


When the greats of the Eastern Suburbs/Sydney Roosters are spoken about, it is names such as the late Arthur Beetson, Anthony Minichiello, Kevin Hastings, Luke Ricketson and Brad Fittler who come to mind.

Reliable utility player Mitchell Aubusson does not usually rate a mention but that could be about to change. The one-club player will make his 300th NRL appearance when the Roosters meet St George Illawarra in Wollongong on Thursday night.

“He’s a very unassuming player,” Minichiello, a former Roosters teammate, said.

“To be honest, even though he hasn’t got a high profile, he’s a player that everyone wants in the side.

“He’s probably one of the first players picked because he’s so consistent and he’s a guy that can play any position.

“He’s played every position, bar front row, and excelled in each of those positions, which is pretty amazing.”

Aubusson, who played his junior rugby league with the Ballina Seagulls in New South Wales’ Northern Rivers region, was recruited by Beetson and has been the Roosters’ “Mr Fix It” since his first-grade debut in 2007.

Fittler, who was a Roosters assistant coach at the time, told Aubusson he was a five-eighth. Since then, he has switched between second row, lock, the centres, the bench and wherever else he has been required to play.

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Aubusson’s versatility has made him an indispensable member of the Roosters team but it also caused some sleepless nights in the week leading up to the 2018 grand final.

Roosters coach Trent Robinson named Aubusson as a shock replacement for half-back Cooper Cronk, who was carrying a shoulder injury.

“Robbo gave me a call and said, ‘I’m going to name you at seven,’ and I went, ‘This is a joke?'” Aubusson told Roosters TV with a laugh.

“He said, ‘Coops is a small chance of playing, I’m going to name you at seven, everyone will think it won’t happen but it’s going to happen,’.

“I was thinking it could end badly. As the week went on, I got my head around it. Then [at the] captain’s run (the day before the grand final) he (Cronk) gave us the nod and said, ‘Boys, I’m going to play,’ and I’ve never been so relieved in my life.

“I thought if this guy is going to do this for us, then we’ll lay it on the line for him.

As it turned out, Cronk played with one working arm and the Roosters beat the Melbourne Storm.

Mitchell Aubusson of the Roosters is tackled by Jake Granville of the Cowboys.
Aubusson (left) has been a Roosters stalwart across 14 seasons.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

Last year, the Tricolours defeated Canberra in the season decider and Aubusson’s night ended with a knee injury in the 13th minute.

“Watching the last 20 minutes of that game, it was some sort of torture, a nightmare knowing the game’s going on and you don’t have an impact,” Aubusson said.

State of Origin eludes Aubusson

It is one of the NRL’s great mysteries that such a versatile player with three premierships on his CV has never featured in State of Origin.

“I think he would’ve been perfect off the bench for New South Wales,” said Minichiello, who captained Aubusson in the Roosters’ 2013 grand final-winning team.

“Four or five years ago he would’ve been a huge asset to have on the bench because he can play any position and in Origin things can change pretty quickly.”

The 32-year-old Aubusson only needs four more first-grade appearances to become the club’s most capped player ahead of Minichiello (302) and Ricketson (301).

Two Sydney Roosters NRL players celebrate a try against the Newcastle Knights.
Aubusson (right) and Anthony Minichiello were Roosters teammates between 2007 and 2014.(AAP: Renee McKay)

Minichiello said he would be delighted to hand over the record to Aubusson.

“He’s just an all-round champion bloke on and off the field,” Minichiello said.

“When he first came to the club as a shy boy, he wasn’t a big guy but he’s worked hard on his game, his fitness.

“Away from the sport is where you make all your gains and that’s where some young kids can come unstuck, especially in the heart of the Eastern Suburbs [of Sydney].

“He’s a guy that’s never been in trouble, a guy that’s never looked like getting in trouble. He’s a total professional that people look to and say, ‘You know what, if I want to play 300 games, I’ve got to do what Mitch is doing’.

Minichiello said the fact he, Ricketson and Aubusson had reached 300 matches with the Roosters this century spoke volumes about the Roosters as a club.

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“The Roosters always have criticism of trying to buy new players and [there’s] salary cap stuff but we nurture guys from a young age that stay loyal to the club,” he said.

Aubusson said the Roosters’ current success could be traced back to the 2010 grand final when they lost to St George Illawarra.

“We got ourselves to a grand final and we fell short but it gave us a taste of what we could do,” he said.

“We want to be back here, we want to be on the other end of it.”

Now Aubusson is a part of the Roosters’ bid to become the first team since Parramatta (1981-1983) to win three consecutive premierships.

He said his wife Laura and their two young children, Daisy and Odie, were the reasons why he was hungry for another premiership title.

“The last thing I think about when I walk on the field are those three people. They’re my family, they’re everything to me,” Aubusson said.

“Nothing else matters than seeing them proud of you at the end of the day.”



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Panthers destroy Manly 42-12 as Canberra Raiders and Sydney Roosters score NRL wins


Penrith made sure it will finish round 12 on top of the NRL ladder following a comprehensive 42-12 defeat of Manly at Brookvale Oval.

Earlier on Saturday, Canberra showed its class to sneak home with a 14-12 win over North Queensland, while the Sydney Roosters survived an almighty scare from Gold Coast to escape with an 18-12 triumph.

The Panthers skipped three points clear of Melbourne and Parramatta on the ladder, although the Storm and Eels will play their respective round-12 fixtures on Sunday.

Charlie Staines, playing just his second NRL match, scored two tries in 25 action-filled minutes before limping off the field with a hamstring injury.

Nathan Cleary also put on a masterclass, setting up two tries and scoring one of his own in the second half when he regathered his own grubber.

But Staines was the main attraction.

He became the first man since South Sydney’s Don Manson in 1937 to score six tries in his first two matches.

In the time since his four tries on debut last month, the winger has spent two weeks in quarantine after having too many visitors in his home and then visiting Nepean Hospital with lockjaw.

But while Penrith shot out of the blocks to a 22-0 lead after 30 minutes, it was an absolute horror show for Manly.

Dylan Walker left the field with a foot injury just 10 minutes into his return from an issue higher up in the same foot, while Curtis Sironen hurt his knee and Brad Parker suffered a concussion.

The loss drops the Sea Eagles back out of the top eight and with a crucial few weeks ahead before Tom Trbojevic’s planned return in three matches.

Meanwhile, the performance was one of the best of Penrith’s season, with the Panthers completing at 91 per cent and playing expansive football.

Staines opened the scoring when he got the ball down in a tight space on the right edge in the 10th minute, then Cleary gifted him with a perfect lofted ball for his second.

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Cleary kicked a 40-20 before another try before one of his grubbers rebounded into Penrith hands and Viliame Kikau put on an offload for Stephen Crichton to score.

Isaah Yeo, Api Koroisau and Brent Naden also claimed tries in the demolition job.

Cherry-Evans was clearly Manly’s best.

He put Jake Trbojevic over with an inside ball for their only first-half try and kicked for Jorge Taufua for one in the second.

He also somehow held Kikau up to save one and stopped another when he chased down Naden after running 80 metres from a Lachlan Croker intercept.

Raiders hang tough to win up north

It was far from the Raiders’ best performance but they did enough to edge a willing Cowboys outfit, with both teams scoring two tries in Townsville.

The Cowboys threw everything at their opponents but too often let themselves down with their kicking options.

Gunning for their third successive victory, the Raiders looked as if they were suffering jet lag early on after their long match-day flight to Canberra.

They were caught out just two minutes into the match when North Queensland hooker Reece Robson dashed over the line from dummy half.

The Raiders found their groove to level in the 18th minute when half-back George Williams started and finished a 70-metre try, helped by a big charge and fend by winger Nick Cotric.

A 35th-minute penalty strike by captain Jarrod Croker allowed his team to take an 8-6 lead to half-time.

A North Queensland NRL player is tackled by three Canberra Raiders opponents.
Cowboys forward Jordan McLean tries to find a way through the Raiders defence.(AAP: Cameron Laird)

Canberra prop Josh Papalii was both hero and villain within two minutes, stripping the ball but then being placed on report for a forearm to the head of the Cowboys’ teenage full-back Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow.

Cowboys skipper Jason Taumalolo steamed to the try line to put his side up but it was short-lived with the Raiders hitting back four minutes later.

England international John Bateman, playing his first match of the year after two rounds of shoulder surgery, found Curtis Scott, who fended off winger Murray Taulagi to score.

Sharpshooter Croker then showed his value, nailing the conversion from the sideline to put his side ahead again.

The final 12 minutes saw four captains’ challenges, with the Cowboys correct with both but they couldn’t find the points for a win or to take the match into golden point.

Roosters deny gutsy Titans

In an action-packed match laced with drama at the sCG, the Roosters overcame their crippling injury toll to preserve their place in the top four thanks largely to the heroics of classy centre Joseph Manu.

Already missing eight players from their 2019 grand final-winning outfit and with superstar signing Sonny Bill Williams holed up in quarantine, the Roosters lost try-scoring ace Josh Morris to a calf strain before this afternoon’s kick-off.

Fortunately the back-to-back premiers had Manu, whose leaping 58th-minute try and miracle first-half try saver on Phillip Sami saved the Roosters embarrassment.

The Titans could have bagged four first-half tries but had to settle for only one after blowing two and seeing Manu pull off his incredible rescue act before the break.

Jamal Fogarty was also denied a try in just the second minute, the half-back touching down only for the bunker to rule Titans teammate Brian Kelly had passed him the ball off the ground.

A Sydney Roosters NRL player tackles a Gold Coast Titans opponent holding the ball around the chest area.
Roosters hooker Jake Friend (left) tries to bring down Gold Coast lock Jai Arrow.(AAP: Dean Lewins)

But there was no denying Anthony Don eight minutes later when the prolific winger started and finished his own 75-metre effort.

After scrambling for much of the half, somehow the Roosters went to the break with a 10-6 advantage after half-back Kyle Flanagan added two penalties to his conversion of Mitch Aubusson’s try.

The Titans were reduced to 12 men for a second time in the match when Keegan Hipgrave was sin-binned for taking out Lindsay Collins.

The Roosters’ claims for a penalty try were denied but Flanagan’s two points made it 12-6 before Manu soared high to reel in Luke Keary’s cross-field bomb.

That appeared to seal the deal before Sami crossed with five minutes remaining to give Roosters fans a tense finish.

AAP/ABC



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Canberra Raiders score 14-12 NRL win over North Queensland as Sydney Roosters beat Gold Coast


Canberra has shown its class to sneak home with a 14-12 win over North Queensland in an NRL arm wrestle in Townsville.

Earlier in the afternoon, the depleted Sydney Roosters survived an almighty scare from an inspired Gold Coast Titans to escape with a vital 18-12 win at the SCG.

Up north, it was far from the Raiders’ best performance but they did enough to edge a willing Cowboys outfit, with both teams scoring two tries.

The Cowboys threw everything at their opponents but too often let themselves down with their kicking options.

Gunning for their third successive victory, the Raiders looked as if they were suffering jet lag early on after their long match-day flight to Canberra.

They were caught out just two minutes into the match when North Queensland hooker Reece Robson dashed over the line from dummy half.

The Raiders found their groove to level in the 18th minute when half-back George Williams started and finished a 70-metre try, helped by a big charge and fend by winger Nick Cotric.

A 35th-minute penalty strike by captain Jarrod Croker allowed his team to take an 8-6 lead to half-time.

Canberra prop Josh Papalii was both hero and villain within two minutes, stripping the ball but then being placed on report for a forearm to the head of the Cowboys’ teenage full-back Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow.

Cowboys skipper Jason Taumalolo steamed to the try line to put his side up but it was short-lived with the Raiders hitting back four minutes later.

England international John Bateman, playing his first match of the year after two rounds of shoulder surgery, found Curtis Scott, who fended off winger Murray Taulagi to score.

Sharpshooter Croker then showed his value, nailing the conversion from the sideline to put his side ahead again.

The final 12 minutes saw four captains’ challenges, with the Cowboys correct with both but they couldn’t find the points for a win or to take the match into golden point.

Roosters deny gutsy Titans

In an action-packed match laced with drama, the Roosters overcame their crippling injury toll to preserve their place in the top four thanks largely to the heroics of classy centre Joseph Manu.

Already missing eight players from their 2019 grand final-winning outfit and with superstar signing Sonny Bill Williams holed up in quarantine, the Roosters lost try-scoring ace Josh Morris to a calf strain before this afternoon’s kick-off.

Fortunately the back-to-back premiers had Manu, whose leaping 58th-minute try and miracle first-half try saver on Phillip Sami saved the Roosters embarrassment.

The Titans could have bagged four first-half tries but had to settle for only one after blowing two and seeing Manu pull off his incredible rescue act before the break.

Jamal Fogarty was also denied a try in just the second minute, the half-back touching down only for the bunker to rule Titans teammate Brian Kelly had passed him the ball off the ground.

A Sydney Roosters NRL player tackles a Gold Coast Titans opponent holding the ball around the chest area.
Roosters hooker Jake Friend (left) tries to bring down Gold Coast lock Jai Arrow.(AAP: Dean Lewins)

But there was no denying Anthony Don eight minutes later when the prolific winger started and finished his own 75-metre effort.

After scrambling for much of the half, somehow the Roosters went to the break with a 10-6 advantage after half-back Kyle Flanagan added two penalties to his conversion of Mitch Aubusson’s try.

The Titans were reduced to 12 men for a second time in the match when Keegan Hipgrave was sin-binned for taking out Lindsay Collins.

The Roosters’ claims for a penalty try were denied but Flanagan’s two points made it 12-6 before Manu soared high to reel in Luke Keary’s cross-field bomb.

That appeared to seal the deal before Sami crossed with five minutes remaining to give Roosters fans a tense finish.

AAP/ABC



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Cronulla Sharks beat St George Illawarra Dragons despite coughing up lead, Sydney Roosters survive Warriors scare


St George Illawarra has gone close to pulling off an improbable comeback win over arch-rivals Cronulla, going down 28-24 in an enthralling affair in Kogarah.

The Dragons were down by four with two minutes to go on Saturday night when Matt Dufty failed to cleanly ground a Ben Hunt grubber with no one in sight.

Jason Saab then had a chance to steal the game with the final play when he soared to take a Corey Norman kick, but grounded the ball on the dead-ball line.

St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor will also be left to rue a dubious try to Cronulla’s Jack Williams early in the contest.

The frantic last few minutes provided a thrilling finish to an entertaining contest at Jubilee Stadium, with the sides combining for nine tries in the wet conditions.

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Dragons centre Zac Lomax was involved in two contenders for the try of the year, but it was not enough to prevent the hot form of Sharks star Shaun Johnson.

The NRL leader in try assists added two more, taking his tally to 16, while he was involved in a third and scored a fourth himself in another stellar display.

He was supported by prop Royce Hunt, who made 196 metres off the bench.

The win may have come at a cost, though, with halfback Chad Townsend failing to finish the match after suffering a suspected calf injury.

Roosters run all the way by Warriors

Playing below their best, NRL premiers the Sydney Roosters outlasted a gutsy Warriors side for an 18-10 win in Gosford.

The Warriors led 10-6 at half-time, but the boot of Roosters five-eighth Luke Keary eventually weakened their defence on Saturday afternoon as Trent Robinson’s men escaped with the win late.

Jared Warea-Hargreave is being tackled by the ankles and chest by two Warriors opponents
The Roosters were made to work for their two points against the Warriors.(AAP: Darren Pateman)

Keary produced a try assist, a try and four repeat sets on the Warriors’ line in the second half to tire out the gritty defence.

Fireworks sparked late in the second half when Warriors loan prop Jack Hetherington took on Roosters enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves in a personal battle up front.

The two came face-to-face, gripping jerseys, and made a mission to run at one another, raising the intensity late in the game.

Taking a hit-up with 10 minutes to go, the New Zealand international charged at Hetherington, who didn’t back down from the confrontation.

But the energy lifted the Roosters and, off a quick play-the-ball, Joseph Manu spotted space from dummy-half and raced over to score to extend the lead to 18-10.

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After a bitter battle in the middle, Manu’s try put the result beyond doubt for the Roosters, who had appeared less that their clinical best over the past few weeks.

It was the third-straight loss for the Warriors but a much-improved performance after last week’s 48-10 loss to Cronulla at Central Coast Stadium.

Departing Warriors winger Ken Maumalo scored the first try of the afternoon five minutes in when he ran over untouched in the left corner and it took almost 20 minutes for the Roosters to hit back.

And after some brilliant pressure from the Warriors, the premiers finally responded when a Keary bomb was cleaned up by replacement forward Sitili Tupouniua to score between the posts.

A try late in the second half for rising Warriors star Eli Kaota off a deceptive handball from Kodi Nikorima gave the home side the half-time lead.

The Roosters didn’t hit the lead until the 51st minute, when Keary put through a grubber to score and go up by two points with half-an-hour to play.

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Sydney Roosters beat Warriors 18-10 as NRL strugglers run premiership fancies to the wire



Playing below their best, NRL premiers the Sydney Roosters have outlasted a gutsy Warriors side for an 18-10 win in Gosford.

The Warriors led 10-6 at half-time, but the boot of Roosters five-eighth Luke Keary eventually weakened their defence on Saturday afternoon as Trent Robinson’s men escaped with the win late.

Keary produced a try assist, a try and four repeat sets on the Warriors’ line in the second half to tire out the gritty defence.

Fireworks sparked late in the second half when Warriors loan prop Jack Hetherington took on Roosters enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves in a personal battle up front.

The two came face-to-face, gripping jerseys, and made a mission to run at one another, raising the intensity late in the game.

Taking a hit-up with 10 minutes to go, the New Zealand international charged at Hetherington, who didn’t back down from the confrontation.

But the energy lifted the Roosters and, off a quick play-the-ball, Joseph Manu spotted space from dummy-half and raced over to score to extend the lead to 18-10.

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After a bitter battle in the middle, Manu’s try put the result beyond doubt for the Roosters, who had appeared less that their clinical best over the past few weeks.

It was the third-straight loss for the Warriors but a much-improved performance after last week’s 48-10 loss to Cronulla at Central Coast Stadium.

Departing Warriors winger Ken Maumalo scored the first try of the afternoon five minutes in when he ran over untouched in the left corner and it took almost 20 minutes for the Roosters to hit back.

And after some brilliant pressure from the Warriors, the premiers finally responded when a Keary bomb was cleaned up by replacement forward Sitili Tupouniua to score between the posts.

A try late in the second half for rising Warriors star Eli Kaota off a deceptive handball from Kodi Nikorima gave the home side the half-time lead.

The Roosters didn’t hit the lead until the 51st minute, when Keary put through a grubber to score and go up by two points with half-an-hour to play.

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Sydney Roosters certain Sonny Bill Williams will help side if NRL registration can be arranged


The Sydney Roosters are already well into discussions with Sonny Bill Williams to bring him to the club for the final month of the NRL season, with answers expected in the coming days.

It would be a dream reunion for the 34-year-old and the NRL champions, who hope he can help deliver them a third-straight premiership.

In the six years since Williams has played NRL the game has evolved, but coach Trent Robinson is confident his impact will not only be felt off the field, but on it.

“We’ve talked about every bit of [the challenges] and been really honest with each other,” Robinson said on Thursday.

“I know the value of him about the professionalism and the mentality as him as a person. We understand it’s a big task, he’s a guy that loves taking on big challenges, and I won’t be capping him on what his ability to do things may be for this season.

The obstacles standing in the way are significant, but Robinson believes surmounting them will be worth the effort if Williams can be reunited with the club.

Sonny Bill Williams leaves the field after red card
Sonny Bill Williams has played 58 matches for the All Blacks in rugby union.(Reuters: David Gray)

Questions are yet to be answered over his Super League contract with Toronto and whether his Roosters deal can be registered while that contract is active, something which is currently prohibited by NRL rules.

Then there are issues with the Australian Border Force, getting the New Zealand resident into the country from Europe, through a 14-day quarantine and into training to return to the NRL for the first time since 2014.

It all needs to be cleared and signed off by next week, when it is hoped he will travel to Australia.

The club hopes Williams could make his first appearance in their round 15 clash against Wests Tigers.

And although a lot of time has passed since Williams was a part of the club, there are still five players in the starting side from their 2013 NRL grand final victory.

He has also stayed in close contact with the Roosters training staff, who helped him prepare his body for rugby league before he left for Toronto.

“He knows our people and our style of play, things haven’t changed,” Robinson said.

“We’ve evolved that and he knows that by watching us, but he also feels our style of play still.

“He knows the people in the place, a lot of our senior players were his teammates and he’s a Rooster and he’s going to add value in some really key areas.

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Sydney Roosters showing cracks against top NRL teams like Canberra Raiders in attempt to three-peat


The Sydney Roosters have arguably taken the mantle from Melbourne as the most impressive organisation in the NRL.

It’s the sort of team that can lose a player and immediately pick up or develop another that perfectly plugs the gap, and looking at the past two-and-a-half seasons of dominance for the tricolours, their recruitment team has done a masterful job.

From the starting 13 of the 2018 premiership-winning side, there are only three players who are no longer at the club: Latrell Mitchell, Cooper Cronk and Blake Ferguson.

The rest are still in the team’s top 17, and only Mitchell Aubusson has shuffled to the bench to make way for high-profile signing Angus Crichton.

Ferguson was replaced by Brett Morris for last year’s premiership, Mitchell was replaced by Josh Morris for this year’s title run, and Cronk’s retirement was eased by the poaching of Cronulla young gun Kyle Flanagan.

Sydney Roosters Kyle Flanagan and Brett Morris high-five. Josh Morris looks on during an NRL game against the Brisbane Broncos.
Kyle Flanagan (centre) has been impressive in his first year as a full-time NRL player, but nobody’s perfect.(AAP: Darren England)

But while the number of losses incurred are very small in number, the toll of long finals runs is showing up some cracks in the foundations at Bondi.

Since the coronavirus shutdown, the Roosters have lost two games, to the Storm and Raiders — two teams who are legitimate contenders for the title — so this is not a eulogy for the premiers.

They are the champions until someone comes and takes the trophy, but this season and those two losses in particular have highlighted signs of human error in the usually automaton-like efficiency of the Roosters’ game plan.

After beating up on the Rabbitohs, Broncos and Bulldogs upon resumption, the first signs of fissures appeared in round six against the Eels.

It’s no coincidence that the two Parramatta tries scored that night came down the left flank, where Joseph Manu and Kyle Flanagan defend.

In round six, the Eels used Dylan Brown, Shaun Lane and Michael Jennings to exploit that avenue between the inexperienced halfback and the impulsive centre, who can appear out of step with those inside and outside him in the defensive line.

Manu was recently voted the best centre in the game in an NRL.com/Sydney Morning Herald players’ poll, so he clearly knows what he’s doing, but some bad reads against the Eels allowed tries and line breaks aplenty.

Miscommunication in attack between Flanagan and Manu against the Storm allowed Josh Addo-Carr to swoop on a loose pass to score his team’s opener two weeks ago, and even the Cowboys managed to take advantage of a Manu misread when he rushed out of the line into no man’s land, allowing Coen Hess to isolate and trample Flanagan.

Thursday night against Canberra was a mixed bag.

A male NRL player holds the ball with his right hand as he palms off an opponent in the face with his left hand.
Joseph Manu’s peers named him the league’s best centre, but his defence has been exploited by teams in recent weeks.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

In the 39th minute, a superb legs tackle by Flanagan on Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad masked a poor decision by the fullback not to give his winger the ball against a sliding, scrambling defence.

Manu had completely committed to taking the outside man when Flanagan pulled off an impressive, if low-percentage, tackle on Nicoll-Klokstad. The play earned the Roosters plaudits from commentators for the trust they showed in each other, but it wasn’t surprising to see the Raiders head back that way at their earliest convenience.

Minutes after halftime, Flanagan rushed up and in to try to close down an overlap. Manu didn’t match him until too late and flew out of the line to put a body on back rower Elliott Whitehead, leaving Brett Morris all alone to handle Jarrod Croker and Nick Cotric. This time Nicoll-Klokstad made the right call, grubbering through the line into the space created by Manu’s charge and Jarrod Croker touched down for the all-important first try after the break.

We saw the Raiders chip away at that trust between defenders again in the 66th minute, when hulking prop Josh Papalii strolled through the middle of the defence for the match-winning try.

Sure, he flashed some fancy footwork but the fact he wasn’t touched at any point in the 24 metres and five seconds between catching the ball and scoring the decisive try shows some issues in the defence.

Papalii caught the ball in the middle of the field and spied a gap between prop Lindsay Collins and back rower Mitchell Aubusson. Collins failed to recover fast enough after a decoy run attracted his attention off the ruck and Aubusson over-committed in apparently trying to protect Flanagan from having to deal with Papalii one-on-one.

Aubusson was doing the right thing, but when Papalii shifted off line he turned with all the grace and speed of an oil tanker to see Collins a second late and a few cents short.

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Aubusson was the number one reason Cronk was able to play in the 2018 grand final win over the Storm. He made sure his halfback, playing with a broken shoulder, only had to make nine tackles, while making 36 of his own. But after 13 years of filling every gap in the Roosters’ line-up, “Mr Reliable” struggled to plug the one that mattered last night.

After that, there were four pieces of sloppy ball handling that turned over possession, and still the Roosters could have won the game if not for a tight forward pass call in the 70th minute.

These aren’t mortal wounds and most of the teams in the NRL would give their right winger to have this be their biggest problem.

Improving communication and ensuring effort on both sides of the ball late in games are the sort of problems that coach Trent Robinson is more than capable of fixing.

Last year the Roosters went on a three-game losing streak that turned into five losses from seven games in the middle of the season, but Robinson tightened the screws and they won the next seven straight, with just one defeat in the last 11 games of the year en route to the premiership.

But with lock Victor Radley out for the season, Cronk retired, age coming for the engine room and the Morris brothers out wide, and a smaller player pool to pick from because of the coronavirus pandemic, the margin for error is slimmer than ever for the Roosters. And the rest of the league is looming, ready to take what’s theirs.

The Sydney Roosters lift the NRL trophy as glitter rains down.
The Roosters have the premiership the past two years.(AAP: Dean Lewins)



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Canberra Raiders defeat Sydney Roosters 24-20 in NRL grand final re-match at SCG



Undermanned but not uninspired, the Canberra Raiders got one back on the Sydney Roosters when they defeated last year’s premiers 24-20 in a grand final re-match.

A week after losing co-captain Josh Hodgson to a knee injury, the Raiders tackled their way to an upset victory at the SCG.

Missing at least eight players from their regular NRL line-up, the Raiders brought the worst out in the Roosters, who were uncharacteristically sloppy against the team they controversially beat in last year’s grand final.

The win minus stars such as Hodgson, Michael Oldfield, John Bateman and Curtis Scott to name a few will sit as one of the most gritty in the Raiders’ storied history.

Josh Papalii’s size and agility gave the Raiders the go-ahead try in the 66th minute, as the prop jinked through the defence untouched.

It was try-for-try before Papalii burst through the Roosters’ line from 20 metres out to score, breaking through Mitch Aubusson and Lindsay Collins to get the Raiders in front by four points.

It was a lead they would grimly hold on to as their defence remained defiant.

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Earlier, with scores level at 12-all, the Raiders were penalised when Papalii retaliated to an elbow to the face from Angus Crichton, while he struggled to play the ball.

With a bloody nose, the Queensland prop laid a forearm around Crichton’s face and was penalised in front of the posts for his trouble, allowing the Roosters to go ahead by two points.

Crichton was lucky to escape unpunished after earlier giving away a penalty for a high shot on Canberra five-eighth Jack Wighton, with the Raiders scoring in the next set.

Brett Morris, who scored two tries for the Roosters, also copped a pair of tough knocks, which landed both Wighton and halves partner George Williams on report.

On the other edge for the Roosters, twin brother Josh Morris got in on the action when he delivered a brilliant flick pass for Matt Ikuvalu to score and snatch back the lead in the 58th minute, the last of points scored by the Roosters.

For Ikuvalu, it was his sixth try in two matches after he scored five against North Queensland in Townsville last Thursday night.

The Roosters will next meet the Warriors in round 11, while the Raiders tackle South Sydney.

AAP/ABC



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