There was only one story in NRL this week, the return to Sonny-Bill Williams to a Sydney Roosters jersey after a six-year absence. His return also coincided with the game of the weekend as the Roosters travelled to Canberra to take on the Raiders in a straight battle for third spot in the table, the losers ending the weekend outside the four.
Ricky Stuart brought Corey Harawira-Naera and Semi Valemei into his seventeen while Angus Crichton and Luke Keary joined Sonny-Bill in Trent Robinsons side.
The Roosters were favourites for the away win but both sides came into the game with winning runs to defend and having only lost one each in the last five. All eyes across world rugby league were focussed on the GIO Stadium.
Constant Roosters pressure forced a mistake under a high kick and two plays later James Tedesco took the ball off a short pass and dove over the line for the opener. Kyle Flanagan added the conversion for a 6-0 lead after seven minutes.
The Raiders were back level on ten when John Bateman put in a cheeky little last tackle grubber which he chased, collected and grounded for a four-pointer. Jarrod Croker was accurate with the boot for 6-6.
It took thirteen minutes of end to end football before the Roosters got their second when Daniel Tupou rose above the Raiders defence and picked a Flanagan high kick from the sky and dropped to the ground. Flanagan pushed his kick just wide of the right upright, the Roosters 10-6 ahead.
The action was relentless, wave after wave of attack rebuffed by vicious defences. It was a game living up to the pre-match hype, despite Williams spending the entire half on the bench.
Flanagan landed a penalty goal from forty metres on fifty-four to take the Roosters out to 12-6. With twenty-two minutes left on the clock, SBW finally entered the arena after keeping the bench warm for almost the first hour.
On sixty-two Tedesco got his second of the night avoiding a tackle, kicking through, and stooping to collect his own kick to go in for the try. Flanagan kicked the extra two points, the Roosters pulling clear at 18-6.
Luke Keary smacked an attempted drop goal into the left upright as he tried to seal the game on seventy minutes, the ball bouncing back into the field of play. The Raiders drew on their resources to try and break the Roosters defence, but it held firm, the visitors securing an 18-6 win.
While the game was still anyone’s at the interval, a shut out by the Roosters and a second try from the wizard James Tedesco won the game and lifted his side to third in the table. The Raiders are still outside the four but likely to make the play-off with just a few games remaining in the season. SBW’s return…. Let’s just say, the jury is out.
Canberra Raiders: Nicoll-Klokstad, Rapana, Croker (G), Cotric, Valemei, Wighton, Williams, Papalii, Starling, Sutton, Bateman (T), Whitehead, Tapine. Subs: Havili, Lui, Young, Harawira-Naera.
Sydney Roosters: Tedesco (2T), Tupou (T), Morris J, Manu, Morris B, Keary, Flanagan (3G), Waerea-Hargreaves, Lussick, Taukeiaho, Cordner, Tupouniua, Liu. Subs: Collins, Butcher, Williams, Crichton.
Referee: Gerard Sutton.
Ground: GIO Stadium, Canberra.