History beckons for NYC Roosters
It was the moment the Roosters knew they were headed for the Holden Cup grand final for the first time in club history.
Up by two, with five minutes remaining, star centre Joseph Manu intercepted a stray pass and immediately offloaded it to Johnny Tuivasa-Sheck.
With 60 metres to go – and several defenders to beat – the flyer backed himself, outsprinting the Dragons cover to score in the left corner to send the bay of Roosters supporters into frenzied celebrations.
The ensuing conversion sailed wide, but it mattered little as the Tricolours held on to book a spot in Sunday's grand final against defending premiers the Penrith Panthers.
"I was on my feet cheering him on like I was backing a winner at the races," Roosters coach Anthony Barnes told NRL.com following the thrilling come-from-behind 26-20 win.
"I was screaming the whole way, and once I knew he'd get there, I could enjoy the moment for what it was.
"It was a bit scary at half-time. We didn't have much ball in that first half so we couldn't really get a roll-on. When the second half came we got a bit more ball and tried to play them through the middle and that worked for us.
"I just told them to keep backing what we've been doing all year; simple things like running hard and supporting each other through the middle.
"They're a great bunch of kids and it's good to see good things happen to people who work hard. It means a lot for me and everyone in the organisation."
Having missed out on the NYC finals in the competition's first two years, the Roosters have since qualified for every post-season; Friday night's win giving them the opportunity to claim their maiden title.
It's an incredible achievement given they finished the regular season with just one win from their last five games, and then lost star playmaker Jackson Hastings for the finals because he hadn't played enough Holden Cup matches in 2016.
But following two big wins in the nation's capital to start the playoffs, the Roosters continued their dream run, overcoming a slow start to down the third-placed Dragons.
"I rode that game all the way, and to come back from 14-0 down is remarkable. We've got one more job to do now," Hastings told NRL.com after the game.
"You've got to play 50-50 between NYC and NRL so I unfortunately missed out by a few games. I've wanted these boys to win it since I joined them a couple of months ago. It's all about belief with this group and they've got one more game to go.
"Watching Johnny (Tuivasa-Sheck) run away was awesome. It got everyone out of their chairs. He's been doing that all year now and he's starting to create his own name now. He's not just Roger's brother anymore."
It wasn't just Hastings cheering the Tricolours home, with NRL teammate Kane Evans joining him in the stands to support the stars of the future.
Dylan Napa and Blake Ferguson also tweeted their support from Papua New Guinea on the eve of their Prime Minister's XIII commitments, but it was the presence of a former Rooster that spoke volumes about the comradery in Bondi.
Barely an hour before his own preliminary final, Sharks five-eighth James Maloney was on deck to celebrate the win; his support not lost on his former teammate.
"He should be worrying about his game, but he's here supporting us instead," Hastings said.
"It was good to see him come over and support the boys and cheer us home.
"A lot of the boys have had a lot to do with him in the previous years. For him to come over and show his support before such a big game is a massive testament to Jimmy and the bloke he is."
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan wasn't surprised by his chief playmaker's actions.
"His carefree attitude sometimes worries me a little bit," Flanagan said after his side's 32-20 win over the Cowboys.
"I saw him – I think it was about 20 minutes before we had to go warm up – sitting in the Roosters dugout talking to Roosters people like it was a normal competition game.
"But that's the way he is, and like I said, he stands up in big games and he knows how to play, that's for sure."
This article first appeared on NRL.COM