There was much more than passing British interest in the 2019 Australian NRL Grand Final as three former greats of Super League; John Bateman, Elliott Whitehead and Josh Hodgson were looking to win the ultimate prize wearing the lime green of the Raiders.
These two sides finished second and fourth during the regular season with both sides beating the side one place above them in last weekends semi-finals.
The Roosters were looking to retain their title, and were the favourites with the bookies for the win at the ANZ Stadium, fifteen miles up the road from their base in the eastern suburbs. But the Grand Final is a strange beast and the Canberra supporters who’d made the 170 mile trip north were full of hope and expectation that they would win their first grand final since 1994.
After steady pressure in the opening minutes Sam Verrills scored the first try of the game with a five metres scoot from dummy half to jink past three tacklers and ground just outside the right upright. Latrell Mitchell added the conversion, blasting the ball between the uprights.
A thirty-five metre Mitchell penalty goal on twenty minutes extended the lead to eight points.
Jack Wighton was on hand to open the Green Machine’s account as he hit a broken Roosters line from ten metres out to twice step off his left and dive for the line. Jarrod Croker found the target with his conversion and the 6-8 scoreline was a truer reflection of the state of the game.
As the final hooter sounded Croker was unable to add a goal after a penalty for a shepherd as the Roosters chased a kick.
It had been an enthralling, if low scoring, with expansive attacks being thwarted by dogged defences.
On forty-nine referee Cummins consulted the video referee for a potential penalty try for an obstruction offence by Cooper Cronk in front of the sticks. The video referee ruled a prodessional foul and Cronk was sin-binned for ten minutes. Croker took the opportunity to kick the penalty goal to level the scores.
The Roosters held firm for the ten minutes with twelve men but all the pressure was coming from Canberra. Against the run of play a high tackle resulted in a Roosters penalty but Mitchell was unable to kick make the kick from wide.
Some dubious refereeing gifted the Roosters a try on seventy-two. Referee Cummins wiped the tackle count down with Canberra on the attack, before changing his mind and giving the handover, denying Canberra a positional kick. The Roosters broke from defence and kept the ball alive for James Tedesco to finish over the last twenty metres. Mitchell added the goal for 14-8 in controversial circumstances. Canberra were stunned.
The Raiders tried to pick themselves up and go for the equaliser but the clock, and a tenacious Roosters defence, beat them and the final hooter heralded a 14-8 win.
The Sydney Roosters made it two on the bounce after a tremendous eighty minutes but the defeat will leave a sour taste in the mouth of the Raiders and their supporters who will be asking questions of the officials actions which led to the winning Roosters try. It was a terrific final played out between two dedicated and skillful sides fitting of the occasion.
Roosters: Tedesco (T), Tupou, Mitchell (3G), Manu, Morris, Keary, Cronk (SB on 49), Waerea-Hargreaves, Verrills (T), Liu, Crodner, Aubusson, Radley. Subs: Crichton, Butcher, Taukeiaho, Friend.
Raiders: Nicoll-Klokstad, Cotric, Croker (2G), Leilua, Rapana, Wighton (T), Sezer, Papalii, Hodgson, Soliola, Bateman, Whitehead, Tapine. Subs: Simonsson, Guler, Horsburgh, Lui.
Referees: Ben Cummins and Gerrard Sutton.
Attendance: 82,922 (Capacity).