Back from the dead!
The Roosters stage an escape act Harry Houdini would’ve been proud of BY TOM SMITH
IF YOU WERE BRAVE – OR crazy – enough to have a flutter on the Sydney Roosters when they went into the sheds 28-6 down in Sunday’s Holden Cup grand final, your bank account is now as healthy as Daly Cherry-Evans’.
The Chooks started the game friendless underdogs against red-hot minor premiers Penrith and the first half didn’t deviate from the script, with the Panthers running in five tries to one to put one hand on their third under-20s trophy in four years.
But the Roosters snatched it away in a stunning second half to claim their first title at this level, pinching a 30-28 win a week after erasing a 14-0 halftime deficit against St George Illawarra in the prelim.
Having survived four weeks of thrilling sudden-death footy with a couple of Harry Houdini escape acts, the Tricolours are officially the comeback kids of the NYC.
“We wish we weren’t, we wish we started strong, but hey, we’ve got to make it dramatic,” smiles Johnny Tuivasa-Sheck, Roger’s little brother, who streaked 60m for the matchwinning try with eight minutes left.
“Oh man, the boys set it up beautiful for me and I just had to finish it off.
“We never stopped believing in the boys, especially coming off that win last week, we definitely believed that we had it. We knew Penrith were going to bring it, so we just had to match them.
“It’s unbelievable. It all comes from Barnesy [coach Anthony Barnes] and what he teaches us – not just to be young football players but to be young men. And man, as you can see, it’s definitely worked out for us.”
Penrith dominated the first stanza by controlling 60 per cent of possession with a 95 per cent completion rate, before Roosters skipper Nat Butcher sparked the revival by carrying four Panthers defenders over the stripe to score just two minutes after the oranges.
Butcher – the RLPA Holden Cup player of the year and Jack Gibson Medal winner for a tireless effort at lock in the decider – is clear about what triggered the turnaround. “Barnesy yelling at us,” he laughs. “We did it the week before, so we understood we’ve got the ability to do it, we just had to find that energy and that’s what we did. “It’s a great team . . . and I’m so proud to captain them and to win like that.”
Critics often joke the Roosters’ list of local juniors is so skinny you could write their names on the back of a postage stamp but defeating footy’s biggest junior nursery in the NYC decider speaks volumes for the club’s development program, even if the kids aren’t necessarily locals.
Coach Barnes also led the nucleus of this side to the 2014 SG Ball under-18s
premiership – coincidentally coming from behind to beat Penrith 34-28 in the grand final – and sticks up for his club’s junior system.
“We’re getting them when they’re 16 and we’re putting hard yards into them – you talk about juniors, we’re still developing these players so I don’t think we get the rap that we should for that,” Barnes fires.
“Some of these boys have been in the system for three or four years, so it’s not an overnight thing. We don’t just go and buy them and then all of a sudden they turn into good footballers – Peter O’Sullivan picks the best and we work from there.
“Obviously, we are buying those players in or getting them into our system, but we still have a good system and we’re producing good footballers.”
Butcher and two-try grand final hero Joseph Manu are the standout prospects among these young Chooks, while rare-as-hen’s-teeth Eastern Suburbs product Victor Radley of the Clovelly Crocodiles also starred in the decider, making a string of surges from dummy-half after an injury to regular hooker Grant Garvey.
The Roosters have qualified for every NYC finals series since 2010 and NRL skipper Jake Friend believes these results give the red-white-andblue faithful plenty of heart after a tough 2016.
“We went that way with the youth and we’ve got some good young guys in our top squad, then to see our young boys put on a performance like this and put in the season they have, it puts us in good stead,” he says.
“A lot of these boys have all been together for a while and they have been very successful, so I’m sure there’ll be plenty of them that make the next step and help the first-grade side get back to where we should be.
“It’s great for the future of our club and it’s awesome for these boys.”
Roosters 30 (Joseph Manu 2, Nat Butcher, Sitili Tupouniua, Johnny Tuivasa-Sheck tries; Jesse Marschke 5 goals) beat Panthers 28 (Christian Crichton, Corey Waddell, Braidon Burns, Kaide Ellis, Wayde Egan tries; Dylan Edwards 4 goals)
‘We wish we started strong but hey, we’ve got to make it dramatic’ — Johnny Tuivasa-Sheck
RED-HOT CHOOKS The Roosters produced one of the great grand final comebacks to win their first NYC premiership. Left: Captain Nat Butcher confirmed why he’s considered one of the best young prospects in the game by winning the Jack Gibson Medal. Above right: Flying winger Johnny TuivasaSheck crosses for the match-winner.