Last year’s Grand Finalists, the Sydney Roosters and the Canberra Raiders, met head to head in the first 2020 semi-final at the Sydney Cricket Ground. The prize at stake was a final eliminator against the Melbourne Storm next weekend.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart knows that he had the side that could go all the way, if they could control the odd five-minute blow up, and he named an unchanged seventeen although he did tinker with the starting thirteen. Trent Robinson made two change to the side which lost out by a point to Penrith last weekend with Jake Friend and Sonny Bill Williams into the side in place of Freddy Lussick and Lindsay Collins.
The bookies were predicting a win for the fourth placed Roosters over the side in fifth, but it was a mouth-watering prospect.
There were just under five minutes on the clock when James Papalii took a short pass five metres from the line and powered over two Roosters tacklers to ground the ball under the posts. Jarrod Croker kicked a simple conversion for a 6-0 lead.
With Luke Keary off the field receiving a head assessment, James Tedesco went close on thirteen and on the next play the ball Joseph Manu had the ball knocked out of his hands in the act of scoring. The Roosters weren’t going to relinquish their crown without a fight.
A delightful flowing move gave the Raiders their second on eighteen minutes as Papalii and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad combining to give a final pass to John Bateman, who had started the move on the halfway line, and the Englishman went over by the uprights. Croker slotted over the conversion for a 12-0 lead as Keary returned to the fray for the Roosters.
The Raiders were becoming totally dominant and after a period of intense pressure Joseph Tapine jinked through the defensive line from twenty metres before stooping to ground for the third try of the game. Croker was unable to add the conversion, but the visitors had a 16-0 lead after twenty-four minutes.
Five minutes out from the break James Tedesco caught a pinpoint Josh Morris chip over the last defender to go in under the sticks. Kyle Flanagan added the conversion, the arrears down to ten points.
A George Williams attempted drop goal with fifteen seconds of the half left drifted wide on the wind and the Raiders took a 16-6 lead into the sheds.
The Raiders had a try ruled out seven minutes after the restart for an obstruction in the build up and within a minute Joseph Manu went close for the Roosters but his was ruled out, the fifth of the night turned down by the referees, as he just failed to ground.
It was game on after fifty-seven minutes when a bounce pass from Keary was collected by Manu who evaded the tackle and used his momentum to bounce over the line for a four pointer. Flanagan added the conversion for 12-16, now The Green Machines nerves were tingling.
A superb Nicoll-Klokstad tackle denied Tedesco as he was smashed into touch as he went for the corner to score an equalising try. Eleven minutes from time a terrible mistake from Tedesco, spilling a grubber kick to the in goal area, allowed Jack Wighton to leap over the prostrate Rooster full back and get a hand on the ball to score. Croker added the conversion for 22-12 with under ten minutes remaining.
Tedesco made amends on seventy-five, the last man in a passing move with Sonny Bill Williams and Sitili Tupouniua instrumental in putting the full back over for his second try of the night. Flanagan added the extras and again the margin was down to just four points.
In the closing minutes the pressure was all on the Raiders line but they held firm and denied the Roosters the try which would have seen then snatch victory.
This was a tense but nevertheless terrific encounter which saw the Raiders race into a comfortable lead, only for the Roosters to chip away at them and get themselves back into the game. The Raiders somehow managed to hold on to eliminate the reigning champions and set up a date with Melbourne Storm next weekend for a place in the Grand Final.
Canberra Raiders: Nicoll-Klokstad, Valemei, Croker (3G), Rapana, Cotric, Wighton (T), Williams, Papalii (T), Havili, Young, Bateman (T), Whitehead, Tapine (T). Subs: Lui, Starling, Soliola, Harawira-Naera.
Sydney Roosters: Tedesco (2T), Tupou, Morris, Manu (T), Morris, Keary, Flanagan (3G), Warea-Hargreaves, Friend, Taukeiaho, Cordner, Aubusson, Liu. Subs: Crichton, Tupouniua, Williams, Butcher.
Referee: Grant Atkins.
Half Time: 6-16.
Full Time: 18-22.
Venue: Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney.