Sydney's biggest crowd across all codes in 2021 was on hand to see the Sydney Roosters claim their ninth Anzac Day Cup in what was a hard-fought 34-10 win against the St George Illawarra Dragons in the 20th annual Anzac Day Cup clash.
A Sydney Cricket Ground packed to the brim with 37,620 fans witnessed Sam Walker become the fourth Rooster in the Cup's history to claim the coveted Ashton-Collier Spirit of Anzac Medal. Along with the likes of Boyd Cordner, Jake Friend and Mitchell Pearce as recipients of the prestigious award, Walker engineered a stunning man of the match performance which saw him score a solo try and have a hand in another during a pivotal period of the contest which gave the Tricolours the lead.
The day also marked the successful return of Sam Verrills after a long layoff with an ACL rupture, who set up a try of his own, while Daniel Tupou etched his name further into Roosters folklore by equalling Bill Mullins' try-scoring tally for the Club. Tupou now sits in equal third place on the Club's all-time try-scoring record behind Anthony Minichiello (139) and Shaun Kenny-Dowall (121) with 104 tries.
Wearing their Bondi Blue coloured Wartime Jersey, appropriately the Bondi Wall was on show from the outset, forcing a number of errors from the Dragons close to their line, and while a lazy head-high tackle from Tyrell Fuimaono on James Tedesco gave an opportunity to score early points, Sam Walker's penalty goal attempt sailed away to the right.
A Roosters error from a spiralling kick gave their opponents possession just metres from the line, and the Tricolours would nearly come undone once again through another unorthodox kick, which ricocheted upwards and was gathered by Jack Bird who touched down to score, but a bunker intervention found a knock-on in the process.
Round 7 Match Highlights: Roosters v Dragons
The defensive pressure from defending a number of sets on the line, however, saw Tariq Sims barge over for the first try of the match. After twelve minutes, the Dragons held a 6-nil lead.
A charging Daniel Tupou put his side on the front foot with a powerful kick return, and after a shoulder charge on his centre partner Josh Morris saw the Red, White and Bondi Blue go further downfield, the pair would combine for the side's first try as Morris cleverly put his winger over in the corner with an over-the-shoulder pass.
While Walker's second kick at goal was also unsuccessful, the scores remained close at 4-6 after fifteen minutes - but the best was yet to come for the home side.
The traditional rivals continued to throw warning shots at one another with scheming runs and towering bombs, and although an uncharacteristic penalty for a mid-air tackle saw the Dragons move out of their own territory, a crunching hit from Lindsay Collins dislodged the ball just as they looked to add to their scoresheet.
Lack of execution and uncharacteristic errors would cruel the Roosters in attack, and although a dubious head-high penalty to the Dragons saw their goal-line defence questioned once again, their resilience held strong behind the raucous cheer of the Chookpen faithful.
Round 7 Post Match with Sam Walker
Quick hands from Tedesco and Walker unleashed Brett Morris on the right, and although the winger was tackled short of the line, Sitili Tupouniua dived over to score, but was deemed to be held up.
Upon further inspection, the bunker found the Roosters skipper caught high by Jordan Pereira's swinging arm, with the Dragons winger sin-binned and Tedesco sent off for a Head Injury Assessment (HIA).
Not to be deterred, the Tricolours stepped up to the task despite the absence of their leader to strike twice in quick succession, firstly through a trademark Sam Walker cut-out pass which landed flush on the chest of Morris, who handed Tupouniua his well-deserved four-pointer.
While Walker's conversion gave the Roosters the lead heading into the shadows of half-time, the boys from Bondi weren't finished yet, as a right-side break gave the 18-year-old halfback space to dance around tired defenders and find a determined Nat Butcher, who extended the lead to 16-6 as the combatants headed into the sheds.
Eighteenth man Matt Ikuvalu was injected in the second half as Tedesco failed to return from his HIA, with the new-look Roosters fielding Joseph Manu at fullback and Brett Morris in the centres as Ikuvalu slotted onto the wing.
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Further adversity would hit the home side early in the second stanza, as they not only failed to capitalise on a long-range break but would also find themselves a man down after Ben Marschke was, unfortunately, cited for a professional foul.
With their backs to the wall, the Roosters only grew stronger in confidence and belief, forcing an error from yet another bomb as Walker stole the show by slipping through the defence to go over for a try on the ensuing set.
Converting his own four-pointer, Walker gave the Red, White and Bondi Blue a 22-6 lead with half an hour remaining in the match.
Sam Verrills marked his return to the side with a break up the middle of the field with his first touch of the ball, and although points eluded the Tricolours on that occasion, it was a welcome sight for Roosters Members and fans alike.
A precision kick from Drew Hutchison put further pressure on the Dragons, forcing a line dropout, and a rampant Lindsay Collins was the beneficiary, scoring a barging try from a pinpoint pass from Verrills close to the line.
Walker's fourth goal of the night extended the lead to 22 points heading into the final quarter of the match.
Round 7 Post Match with Sam Verrills
Just as the Dragons looked to apply some pressure of their own, Angus Crichton pulled off one of the hits of the season on Adam Clune, which saw the Steeden fly out of the halfback's grasp, handing his side possession 30 metres from their own line.
Making inroads once again, the Roosters continued to ask questions of the defence, forcing multiple dropouts through a handy kick from Ikuvalu and then from a deft touch off the boot of Walker. The icing on the cake came as Manu brushed past the feeble defence to score his first try of the season, much to the delight of the SCG crowd.
The Dragons would score a consolation try minutes from full-time, but it was the Roosters in Bondi Blue who claimed a stirring 34-10 victory on Anzac Day.
Sydney Roosters 34 (Daniel Tupou, Sitili Tupouniua, Nat Butcher, Sam Walker, Lindsay Collins, Joseph Manu tries; Sam Walker 5 goals) def St George Illawarra Dragons 10 (Tariq Sims, Mikaele Ravalawa tries; Zac Lomax goals)
Stay tuned for more from Roosters.com.au including Match Highlights, Roosters TV Post-Match Interviews and Head Coach Trent Robinson's Press Conference!