Weekend of contrasts in NRL Semi-finals
What a contrast that was! The Roosters Manly game was your typical 2021 blowout. And Penrith Parra was a good old fashioned 80’s slugfest.
One game was an anti-climax. The other an edge-of-the-seat nerve jangler.
The Teddy-Turbo show wasn’t what many of us were expecting. In hindsight, it was probably no surprise that when the dam wall finally cracked, it would collapse. The Roosters were barely in the game from the start. With what they were facing, you have to wonder how the mood was in the dressing shed before the game.
It may be that it fits my narrative, but I thought James Tedesco looked uncharacteristically nervous just before kick-off. And his carry from the second pass of the game seemed to confirm it. The captain felt he needed an early hit-up to help settle his normally unflappable head.
The Roosters are a team that plays so much as one, and this man is their heartbeat. He must have felt the weight of pressure they were all under.
With barely a Tedesco mistake through entire seasons, in this match he made three.
It was his attempts to force plays against a relentless opposition that led to errors. And no surprise that his first blip was in a one-on-one contest with heir-apparent Tom Trbojevic. Tom cleverly tapped the ball out of Tedesco’s grasp as he looked to extend the advantage he had created after a break.
Yet his game was exemplary. He tried his heart out.
And he wasn’t the only star feeling the pressure. The normally reliable Victor Radley and Angus Crichton made unusual errors.
One of the few times the Roosters won a contest came from a veteran warhorse. When Tom Trbojevic sent Ruben Garrick powering up the side-line, his run was terminated by Josh Morris, who then flipped him into touch like he was flipping an egg. Garrick was still shaking his head minutes later. It was a good lesson for the youngster.
And in his finale, Josh can be proud of his overall performance.
Like James Tedesco, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves had a huge game and tried all night. But it was a bridge too far.
Contrast Tedesco’s game with that of Tom Trbojevic. Tommy was at his best, and it shows how much his game feeds off the energy and momentum of his team. When Manly are dominating the ruck, it opens Tommy up to roam and plunder. In his first try, he carried Tedesco over the line and bounced out of his valiant attempt at a hold-up.
He showed his intentions from his first hit up, charging for twenty metres straight into the Roosters line. He played with the same physicality and speed from then on, until he was replaced with fifteen to go.
‘Turbo’ has a certain look in his eyes when he props and readies himself to launch into a defensive line. A look of fierce intent. Like you could imagine in the eyes of, forgive me, a sea eagle that is soaring over North Harbour and spots a fish breaking the surface.
But when he hits the line, his eyes are smiling. As they were when he catapulted poor Sam Walker in the air, then trampled over him early in the second half. All while carrying two other Roosters defenders along for the ride.
They say the great one’s toy with their opposition. Tommy dismembers them.
Even without Tommy, Daly Cherry-Evans, Kieran Foran, and Dylan Walker were having such strong games you get the impression the result would have been the same, just with a more flattering scoreline for the Roosters.
The game was summed up towards the end when a Roosters fifth tackle kick ended up in the arms of Jason Saab, who strolled 75 metres to score. He smiled at his bench as he went past. He is that quick he could have ducked over and shaken a couple of hands as well.
The Teddy-Turbo battle was instructive, but not for who is the better. It told us why they are such outright stars and reminded us of the courage and commitment they bring to every contest. And it showed that these two great fullbacks reflect the fortunes of their respective sides.
While that result was emphatic, in the second match of the weekend the result went down to the wire. It was captivating! Normally it is only an Origin match that can keep you so enthralled with such a meagre scoreline.
Both teams traded blows for the entire match, and no one was able to stamp any consistent authority.
In the early exchanges for Penrith, Api Korolsau was playing out of his skin, while Cleary was subdued. In fact, Jerome Luai was the more energetic of the two halves for most of the match.
Mitchell Moses had the better of the kicking game, and his floater for Parramatta’s try was as unplayable as any Cleary has produced.
Nathan’s early kicking game didn’t pressure the opposition until he all but mistimed a grubber that put Kurt Capewell under the posts.
For their respective teams, Cleary and Moses were pulling the strings without being heavily involved. Nathan worked himself into the attack more as the game went on. But he never took it by the throat. His ability to dictate entire games has rarely been on show since his return from injury.
When he did take control in this match, promising moves were nullified either by mistakes or outstanding Parramatta defence.
We all expect great defence from Penrith, and that was on show as well. But the Eels won the greater respect.
Whenever it seemed Penrith was about to turn the match. Parramatta had something to say.
Their attack looked more dangerous than it has for much of the year. And they kept pulling themselves off the canvas in defence. They were the challenger that just wouldn’t lay down. When they repelled yet another Penrith flurry, it was classic commentary that popped into your head – “I’ve gotta give that round to Balboa!”
Not surprisingly, Clint Gutherson was one of Parramatta’s best. Oh, to have his passion and fervour in a Tommy Turbo body!
And Mitchell Moses showed again he can turn up in the big games. It wasn’t through lack of trying, but he just couldn’t conjure the win. Having said that, he might be wondering today why he didn’t test his running game that was so effective the week before.
The debate will go on about players laying down. With fifteen to go in the second half, Scott Sorensen took a hit to the nose. He stayed on the ground, and the penalty seemed to result from him laying down rather than the hit. Sorensen is a big tough body. He came back two weeks after dislocating his wrist for god’s sake! Penrith had all the momentum at that point, and who is to know what the result would have been from a quick play-the-ball?
It was a penalty and repeat set into a well-prepared Parramatta defensive line that amounted to nothing. And it ruled Sorensen out for the rest of the match with a HIA. It worked against the player and his team.
For the last two seasons, Villame Kikau has failed to produce the power plays he showed in his early games for Penrith. His instinct to pass rather than run is obviously frustrating his coach, who hooked him early and gave him limited game time overall. Or was it an injury? Maybe
Two ring-ins - gun for hire Tevita Pangai Junior, and Brent Naden, showed their worth. It gave Trent Barrett something to smile about after his disappointing year.
Issah Yeo was solid as usual, and all the middle forwards for both teams will be wanting to swap the ice bath for the Radox variety over the next few days.
The wash-up for Parramatta is another bitter disappointment.
But what will it mean for Brad Arthur? Any coach who can regularly get their team into the eight, and have them play as they did in this match, is not a coach who should be looking over their shoulder.
Is this just a media thing? Seriously! Is Wayne Bennett taking over? Because that would be the only scenario I can see where Parramatta might be better off sacking their coach.
For Penrith, their lack of scoring ability in the last two games is a big concern. And they aren’t playing with anywhere near the confidence they have shown for most of the last two seasons.
Do they have any chance against Melbourne? If you are in a game, you are always a chance. But what an almighty turnaround it will have to be within in a week. An unbelievable script that would be something out of Rocky II.