The Roosters earned their victory
At 18-8 down with 30 minutes to go the Roosters had it all to do. But in what was a gripping grand final (a shade off a classic, I'd argue, given the number of errors) they found a way to win. That's premiership quality. Their resolve – which netted coach Trent Robinson a premiership in his rookie year, won nice-guy captain Anthony Minichiello a long-awaited second title, and showed Sonny Bill Williams is either a common denominator in success (All Blacks, Chiefs, now Roosters) or has a knack for knowing which ride to hitch his wagon to – looked even more impressive when the final stats came out. The Roosters made more errors (12-6), missed more tackles (27-22), completed fewer sets from more possessions (22/35 or 63% to Manly's 23/28 or 82%), made fewer line breaks (3-5), fewer tackle breaks (22-27), and they lost the penalty count 2-5.
So how did they win? David Williams's horror night helped (see below) but it was in the back end of the game that they scored the bulk of their points suggesting Manly's grueling final series, and the extra 37 tackles they had to make on Sunday night, became a factor. But still the Roosters had to find holes and capitalise. And that's what they were able to do, with the three players who made the difference late on being their three new signings: Sonny Bill Williams, James Maloney and Michael Jennings. Nice bit of business, that.
James Maloney had a great claim for man of the match
Manly's Daly Cherry-Evans had a wonderful grand final but it's surprising to say the least that he won the Clive Churchill Medal for best on ground ahead of Maloney. The Roosters' five-eighth was instrumental in his team winning the premiership, which you'd have to think is the main criteria in selecting the Clive Churchill medallist. His pinpoint cross-field bomb set up the Roosters' opening try to Daniel Tupou, his midfield burst following a Williams offload helped create the Roosters' third, and it was his grubber kick into the Manly in-goal that Jennings swooped on in the 73rd minute to score the match-sealer. Throw in his four out of four conversions and a penalty goal and his being overlooked becomes baffling. Still, if he's actually bothered, he should be consoled by his premiership ring.
Manly were unlucky
Plenty will argue that Manly used up their allocation of luck when awarded a penalty try just after half-time. Perhaps they're right. Jamie Lyon was certainly tackled without the ball but could you say without any doubt that he would have scored after collecting the bouncing ball (which at this time was grubbering surreptitiously away to his left, like someone trying to sneak out of a party before his mates see him)? I couldn't.
Nevertheless many other decisions went against Manly, some critical. An early knock-on from Mitchell Pearce on his own 20m was let go; Kieran Foran was called for a knock-on with the refs missing Pearce's strip; Jared Waerea-Hargreaves's head-butt (though gentle, like a horse nuzzling for affection) was not deemed worthy of penalising (meaning Maloney kicked a penalty goal from in-front for Manly holding the player down too long); Jennings's touch on a Lyon grubber kick should have resulted in a Manly ball 10m out from the Roosters' line a minute from half-time; and Maloney's pass to Minichiello prior to the Shaun-Kenny Dowall match-leveller was clearly forward. It would have for made compelling TV but Geoff Toovey did well to stop his head from exploding in a rain of goop against the Perspex walls of his viewing box.
Williams and Jennings made timely interventions
Given he makes hairy-eared commentators swoon like girls at a One Direction concert it feels almost blasphemous to say that for the first 60 minutes of the grand final Sonny Bill Williams was close to the worst player on the field. Up until that point his contributions included a collection of passes that hit the turf, a knock-on 15m out from his own line (which gifted Manly possession which they used to score their opening try), and a bad read in defence that created space for Manly's third try. It seemed that all his earnest conversations with the heavens were being ignored. Perhaps God was watching Big Momma's House on Nine's digital dumping ground, Go!
Or perhaps not. Because on the hour mark Sonny Bill's fortunes changed. First he angled a hit-up back inside at Cherry-Evans and his half-bust made room for his big right paw to finesse the ball into Maloney's midriff. It put Maloney on the long run that set up the Kenny-Dowall try and regain the lead for the Roosters. Later, Williams burst through the guts of the Manly line like a bird's eye chilli and it was soon after that Jennings – who'd been anonymous in attack – scorched through the in-goal before diving full-length to brilliantly touch down Maloney's kick. Cometh the hour etc etc.
Tupou and Williams: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times
If the AFL aren't scared off after the Israel Folau debacle they could do worse than look at Roosters winger Daniel Tupou. Unlike Folau, whose enormous frame was put on breeze blocks by Greater Western Sydney's trainers and stripped back to bare bones, Tupou already has the feline lines of an Aussie Rules footballer. And he can leap and mark (with grace) as he showed with his try over his opposite winger David Williams on Sunday, which was a carbon copy of his try last week over Akuila Uate. Oddly, however, Williams didn't even attempt to jump. Instead he looked up at Tupou like he was an eclipse of the sun. And as we all know you're not supposed to look at an eclipse.
The scenario almost repeated itself 13 minutes into the second half when a high ball plummeted Williams's way with Tupuo preparing his leap. Utterly rattled, Williams only had eyes for Tupou and the ball hit the Sea Eagle without him even attempting to catch it. This led to a drop out and in the next set Mitchell Pearce put Aidan Guerra into a hole and the Roosters clawed the score back to 18-14. Finally, with the game on the line, when Maloney's grubber was bobbling through the Manly in-goal, Jennings ran an opponent who seemed to pull up, as if believing the ball was going to run dead. What player? David Williams. Sport can be cruel.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk