By Greg Robertson
The signs were for all to see when St George Illawarra Dragons scored first – unbeaten all season after establishing a lead of five points or more.
And the grand final was no different. The Dragons put in a strong second half shut-out to take the NRL title with a 32-8 win over the Sydney Roosters.
But they didn’t have it all their own way, trailing at the break 8-6.
The all-Sydney grand final had points on the scoreboard after only seven minutes when Sam Perrett got around the outside of the Sydney Roosters defence. He put a foot in touch but it wasn’t called and on the next play a Jamie Soward bomb was claimed by Mark Gasnier to dot down just inside the dead ball line. Soward converted for 6-0.
The try kick-started the Roosters into gear and they then went bang, bang to wobble the minor premiers, with tries to back-rower Braith Anasta and second rower Mitchell Aubusson.
Anasta’s try came from a Todd Carney kick and was controversial at best. Winger Joseph Leilua claimed the pill, but as he stretched out it hit Soward’s knee. The video ref adjudged it not to be knocked on – dislodged rather than a loose carry. Anasta followed up to score but Carney missed the conversion, 6-4.
The Roosters then took the lead when Mitchell Pearce drifted wide after 20 minutes. Pearce was about to feed Aubusson running into a hole but when the big man took hold of the ball he put on a huge fend, drifted wide then slid to the corner to score. Carney missed the conversion again, but the Roosters had an 8-6 lead.
The first half was full of Dragons mistakes, highlighted by only able to complete 11 of 20 sets compared to 16 of 19 by the Roosters.
But a rev up at half time saw a different Dragons side emerge.
With six minutes gone in the second spell, the Dragons had wrestled the lead back thanks to fullback Darius Boyd - later named the Clive Churchill Medalist and man of the match. He drifted wide, showed the ball a couple of times to commit the defence, then threw a skip pass to his winger Jason Nightingale who stepped one then beat Anasta. Soward found his kicking radar for a Dragons 12-8 lead.
Nightgale grabbed his double with 20 minutes to go to stretch it to 10 points. From a Roosters drop out nothing looked on until the ball was flung wide, skidding to Nightingale in space who scooted to the corner. Soward converted from the touchline for 18-8.
Just two minutes later the Dragons pretty much sealed the deal when hooker Dean Young was given the benefit of the doubt and Soward added the extras. Young took a short pass from Nathan Fien, and it looked to bounce into a Roosters player for Young to regather, but the video evidence was not conclusive and the Dragons pushed their lead out to 16.
Soward added two points a couple of minutes later to take the gap to three converted tries.
The game was gone for the Roosters when they bought that Soward was about to drop at goal. Hot on attack, Soward sat back in the pocket and looked like he was about to get the ball and add the extra point when Fien dove over from dummy half hardly touched. Soward got his chance to kick at goal - but for two points - and a 32-8 win.