The Sydney Roosters have made a huge statement, thrashing the Penrith Panthers 32-6 at Allianz Stadium tonight to announce themselves as back in contention for the NRL premiership after starting the NRL season as the competition favourites.
The match was over marred by potentially a serious neck injury to Blues superstar Latrell Mitchell, who was stretchered from the field after an accidental crusher tackle by Blues teammate Nathan Cleary. Mitchell was carried from the field in a distressed state, throwing his availability for the Blues Origin II match next Sunday into serious doubt.
Further to this Panthers prop Regan Campbell-Gillard looks certain to miss Origin II after suffering a suspected broken jaw from an accidental head clash early into the game. To even things up north of the border, Queensland got their share of the bad luck when Roosters enforcer Dylan Napa left the field with a suspected sprained ankle in a disastrous result for Maroons coach Kevin Walters.
The combination of Joseph Manu and Blake Ferguson was dominant for the home side, with Ferguson crossing for a double, with Manu heavily involved in both tries. Kiwi prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was enormous in the absence of Napa, playing the entire match and making over 200m from 26 runs in a monster performance.
Despite the NRL's two best defensive teams taking the field, it was the Roosters who flew out of the blocks early, scoring three tries is a scintillating opening 17 minutes from the home side.
The Tricolours first points came from a play straight out of the Maroons playbook, when Roosters centre Joseph Manu rushed onto a James Maloney pass and raced away, however unlike Valentine Holme's try in Game I, Manu was pulled down short. Off the ensuing play however, Victor Radley chanced his arm down the blindside and found winger Blake Ferguson, who dived over to open the scoring. Latrell Mitchell converted and it was 6-0.
The Roosters then charged back up field and five-eighth Luke Keary then found a rampaging Isaac Liu who crashed over for the home side's second try. This was then quickly followed up, when Latrell Mitchell broke away from a defender and then produced a no look offload to Keary, who found Zane Tetevano, to score off his first touch, after replacing Dylan Napa.
Penrith needed to hit back, as the game seemed to be slipping away fast and they did, when Kiwi centre Dean Whare ran a great line off a Nathan Cleary inside ball to score. Maloney narrowed the deficit and it was the Roosters leading by 18-6.
The Roosters continued to dominate possession and the Panthers continued to give away silly penalties as they held on for halftime. James Maloney was then penalised right in front of the posts for tackling Mitchell Aubusson on suspicion and Mitchell extended the Roosters lead to 20-6 at halftime.
After the break Ferguson bagged his second try, when his inside man Manu produced a sublime offload for the former NSW winger to race over in the corner to extend the halftime lead. Ferguson then took the kicking boots for the injured Mitchell, nailing the conversion from the sideline to extend the Roosters lead to 20 points.
The game was put to bed with 10 minutes remaining, when Victor Radley again jumped into dummy half and shifted the ball to the short side and quick hands from Keary and Aubusson saw lanky winger Daniel Tupou touch down to put an exclamation point on a devastating win for the Tricolours.
For the Panthers, it was easily their worst performance of the year and they will have a week off to lick their wounds before taking on the Sea Eagles at Panthers Stadium in Round 16 after the representative round.
By contrast, for the Roosters it was easily the best performance of the year for Trent Robinson's charges, and they will now travel to Adelaide Oval in Round 16, for their now traditional clash with the Melbourne Storm.