The Sydney Roosters have not let the loss of their four Origin stars hold them back, with a gritty win over the arch rivals South Sydney 14-12 at Allianz Stadium tonight.
Extinguishing the painful loss to the defending premiers the Sharks last week, the win for the Roosters will again have them back in the race for the Top 4, with the gritty win greatly enhancing their chances of finishing at the pointy end of the NRL Premiership ladder.
Meanwhile, South Sydney coach Michael Maguire will be ruing several missed opportunities by his side, with fundamental errors at crucial times costing his side any chance of victory and leaving their season on life support.
The game was a real arm wrestle in the first half, with the Roosters getting on the scoreboard first, after captain Jake Friend put in a deft grubber from dummy half close to the line, with Roosters centre Joseph Manu winning the race to the ball to score the first try of the night. Michael Gordon converted the try to make it a six point lead after twenty minutes.
The Roosters new look halves combination of former Bunny Luke Keary and former Raider Mitchell Cornish was working well early, with both halves combining well in attack and Cornish putting some great kicks on the last, keeping the Souths back three honest.
That kick pressure took its toll on the Rabbitohs when interchange player Jason Clark gave away a gift two points for not getting off the defender in order to prevent a quick play the ball. Michael Gordon took the two points on offer and extended the lead to eight points.
The final quarter of the second half saw Souths start to dominate possession, however fundamental errors cost them dearly, which was highlighted when halfback Adam Reynolds took an intercept from his former teammate Keary and raced away. Reynolds was run down by Mitchell Cornish, however Reynolds was ruled to have lost the ball trying to get a play the ball away while his side had the Roosters on the back foot. Minutes later, Sam Burgess produced a stunning offload to Bryson Goodwin, but his pass to Roobie Farah found the deck and the Rabbitohs again failed to take the chances that were on offer and despite the pressure, the Bunnies couldn't convert when it mattered and went to the break behind 8-0.
The Rabbitohs again dominated possession early in the second half and off the back of three consecutive penalties it was hooker Robbie Farah who finally got the visitors over the line, when he muscled his way over from dummy half to narrow the lead to just two points, after the Reynolds conversion.
Former NSW halfback Reynolds was again in the thick of the action, when the Bunnies number seven pulled off a sublime 40/20 to really put his team in prime position to take the lead. However, off the ensuing play, the last player you would expect to make a costly error, Sam Burgess knocked on, blowing any chance for Souths to take the lead for the first time in the match.
The Rabbitohs continued to make costly errors, when winger Braidon Burns knocked on early in the tackle count, handing over cheap possession. Roosters centre Latrell Mitchell then made a strong run and grubbered in goal on the last, however the Rabbitohs again gave away a costly penalty, when fullback Cody Walker was ruled to have taken Mitchell out without the ball following the kick.
The Roosters made the Bunnies pay, when skipper Jake Friend threw a superb flat ball out of dummy half to find Aidan Guerra, who spun out of a tackle to score under the posts and again the Roosters lead by eight points, with Michael Gordon converting to make it 14-6.
The Rabbitohs season was slipping away and they needed to respond quickly, which they did, when second rower Angus Crichton made a strong run and drifted across field to put centre Bryson Goodwin in some space. The Super League bound centre then stepped passed two would be defenders, to slide over to score and the Reynolds conversion set up a grandstand finish with the Roosters leading 14-12.
However from there the Roosters showed enough grit and determination to hold onto their lead, defeating their rivals in a vital win without their Origin stars.
The Roosters will now enjoy the week off following State of Origin as they have the bye in Round 19, while the Rabbitohs will travel to Cairns, where they will host the North Queensland Cowboys in what now is a must win clash.