Roosters hammer Sharks to set up blockbuster grand final replay

Call it a grand final replay. Perhaps a grand final preview?

Call it what you want, but you won’t want to miss it. The Roosters will take on Melbourne at AAMI Park, the two standout teams in a Friday night blockbuster. Five rounds of the competition are yet to be completed and already there is gulf between these two sides and the rest of the contenders.

Miracle put-down: Matt Ikuvalu flirts with the sideline and corner post en route to scoring a remarkable try.Credit:AAP

Few teams have humbled Cronulla like this in front of their own fans, 30-16 the final margin. Victories here on Saturday nights – whether the ground is called Endeavour, Caltex, Shark Park, Toyota Stadium, Remondis, Southern Cross Group (until they stopped paying their rent) or now Pointsbet – have always been hard to come by. As the half-time buzzer sounded, this looked like becoming another war of attrition.

But rather than saunter into the sheds after time had expired, Luke Keary laid on an extraordinary try assist, one of 11 he has notched so far in his 2019 campaign. Despite being deep inside his own territory, the pivot produced a perfect cross-field kick for Latrell Mitchell, who found open space and then the try line.

No margin for error: Ikuvalu somehow gets the ball across the line.Credit:AAP

It was the play that broke open the game. A narrow lead quickly became a commanding 12-0 advantage at the main break. Upon the resumption, the Roosters went on with it. They scored five unanswered tries, all of them converted, to lead 30 with more than half an hour of time remaining.

The lead would have been greater still had Angus Crichton not botched what appeared a certain four-pointer.

Up close and personal: Braden Hamlin-Uele of the Sharks is crunched.Credit:AAP

The scary thing is that the premiers played ordinary for extended periods, but turned it on when they had to. And how they turned it on. Keary had a hand in four tries, giving Brad Fittler further food for thought.

Most of the big names were involved in the highlight-reel moments. James Tedesco, Cooper Cronk, Mitchell and Boyd Cordner all crossed the stripe. But the most spectacular moment belonged to the unheralded Matt Ikuvalu. The winger defied the sideline and the cover defence to produce a miracle put-down, prompting Fox commentator Greg Alexander to ask “Is that the best ever?”.

The Sharks bagged the last three tries but they were of the consolation variety.

When the game was tight early, Siosiua Taukeiaho again stood up. Is there a more effective front-rower at the moment? With his side again missing Jared Waerea-Hargreaves with a rib injury, he again took it up himself to take the tri-colours forward.

The Tongan international is an apprentice mechanic, but there is perhaps no more impressive motor in the NRL than his. In his first stint, he produced 25 tackles and 131 metres from 11 hit-ups against a famed pack, albeit one still missing Paul Gallen.

Another enthralling battle was the one between Bronson Xerri and Latrell Mitchell. Xerri is the new kid in town, a teenager with the world at his feet. It wasn’t so long ago that Mitchell was that guy.

The NSW and Australian centre presented Xerri’s biggest challenge to date and the newbie was given a lesson. Xerri was thrown the ball with no one in front of him on several occasions, only for the Steeden to end up on the turf. Mitchell nailed all of his opportunities. The NSW and Australian centre took the honours in the first of a series of battles that could well continue for a decade.

The Roosters have only did as much as they needed to, clocking off early. Perhaps they were thinking about their next opponent. They have been the dominant forces in the NRL for a long time and it appears nothing will change anytime soon.

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