Almanac Rugby League – Finals Week 1: Cameron Smith leads from the front, so Melbourne win

National Rugby League

Qualifying Final 1

Eastern Suburbs Roosters v Melbourne Storm

Alliance Stadium

7:55pm Friday 11th September 2015

 

Earlier this month the NSW government announced the Sydney Football Stadium (currently known as Allianz Stadium) would be demolished and replaced with a new stadium. Next door, the SCG has just undergone a series of major redevelopments, with more still to come.

 

The area around the SCG/SFS complex now has custom made administration offices of Cricket NSW, the National Rugby League, NSW Rugby Union, Sydney FC, AFL NSW/ACT, Sydney Swans and the Eastern Suburbs Roosters. There’s plenty happening here.

 

The concourse from Driver Avenue up to the main entry is lit up with flood lights shining from the back wall of the stadium. NRL Finals banners and a big screen on the outside of the stadium make a stunning visual feature for the incoming crowd.

 

For all the organisational faults of the NRL, their game day presentation isn’t one of them. This is on par with any stadium presentation around the world.

 

Once inside the effort to attract a crowd continues, starting with the $5 pie and chips. There’s even a four piece brass band, each wearing Wiggles coloured bowler hats, doing the rounds to entertain, or rather annoy, the punters as they move around the concession stands.

 

There’s only one thing missing – the people.

 

There’s no excuse for Roosters fans not to be here tonight, but this 42,000 seat stadium is nowhere near being half full. They were also playing in the Under 20s elimination final against the NZ Warriors, which they lost, before the first grade game.

 

The Roosters have averaged less than 13,000 people per home game. You wouldn’t think they were back-to-back minor premiers. In spite of their on-field success and corporate sponsorship largesse – they boast Peugeot, Steggles and QBE on their jersey alone – they just can’t get fans to put their bums in seats.

 

The build up to the game has been flawless, but then the fascination with large sparkler type fireworks being let off at ground level inside a stadium with high stands, no wind and the temperature dropping to dew-point, the smoke is so thick I can’t see the other side of the stadium.

 

The opening exchanges are brutal and the two forward packs are relishing it. In the tenth minute the Storm run it left, create the overlap and Marika Korobite took the final pass 20 metres out and slammed into the corner to open the score. For some reason it’s sent to the video for review and the try is upheld.

 

Eight minutes later, after a glut of possession, Easts lock Sio Siua Taukeiaho appeared to be held short of the line but his arm came through to plant the ball on the line. The on-field referee says no try, but on review it is clearly a try and scores are tied up.

 

Roosters get a penalty within range and they take the shot at goal and convert. Five minutes before half time the Roosters put a grubber kick into the Storm in-goal, Michael Jennings chased it through and got both hands on the ball, but for some reason can’t hold on and that is a definite try gone begging. Half time and the Roosters lead 8-6.

 

Storm dominate the first 10 minutes after the break, and after a cynical effort by Maloney to interfere with a Storm pass close to the tryline, something that used to be a sinbinable offence in the past but no more, Cameron Smith kicks the penalty to tie it up at eight all.

 

Storm’s dominance continues and they spin it left and Kurt Mann grounds it just inside the corner post and Smith kicks another great conversion. Melbourne lead 14-8.

 

In the 64th minute the Roosters produce the try of the year. Jennings broke the line down the left side, cut back inside the fullback, passed into Hastings who had the vision to see the retreating defence would intercept a pass, so he kicks ahead for his winger and Shaun Kenny Dowall takes the catch and scores 5 metres in from touch. Maloney misses the conversion, and this could be crucial. It’s 14-12, Storm still lead.

 

With 10 to go Cronk puts up a high ball for the right corner, it’s spilt by Easts and for some reason Tim Glasby, a front rower who should be in amongst the hard work in the centre of the field, but he’s having a bludge two in from the wing, but he’s Johnny on the spot, picks up the loose ball and crashes over in the corner for what could be a match winner. Smith converts and they lead by eight with eight minutes to go.

 

A grandstand finish is set up as Easts secure possession with a short kick off. A backline move to the right saw Blake Ferguson score near the right touchline.

 

Melbourne hold on to their two point lead and will now host a Preliminary Final in a fortnight’s time, while Easts will play either St George/Illawarra or Canterbury Bankstown at the same venue next week.

About Wayne Ball

Tragic fan of the Australian and NSW cricket teams (for those of you outside NSW, there is a difference, despite what David Hookes said). Not a fan of T20. Penrith Panthers are the only club of decency and all which is good in Rugby League, the Waratah's were once the national team of Rugby Union, the first non Victorian team in the VFL/AFL is the Sydney Swans, and they all enjoy my passionate support. Sings for Wanderers. Internationally, I have been to see the Oakland Athletics and Green Bay Packers play. One day, I'll see Norwich City play for the FA Cup at Wembley.

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