The Sydney Roosters have fought bravely against the Penrith Panthers in a Friday night blockbuster at a drenched Panthers Stadium, going down 38-12 in a tough contest.
While the Tricolours welcomed back captain James Tedesco, barnstorming front rower Siosiua Taukeiaho and crafty hooker Sam Verrills, the late omissions of both halfback Sam Walker and second rower Sitili Tupouniua saw yet another change in the line up against the second-placed Panthers outfit.
Following the retirement of their courageous captain Boyd Cordner during the week, the men from Bondi put in a performance their skipper would no doubt be proud of, showing plenty of intent and conviction both with the ball in hand and in the defensive line, only to fall short against a juggernaut of the competition.
Clad in Mark Hughes Foundation beanies in support of Beanies for Brain Cancer, the Roosters headed into opposition territory in search of their third win in a row as heavy rain poured over Panthers Stadium.
Adam Keighran and Angus Crichton took advantage of the torrid conditions and combined to force an error on fullback Dylan Edwards, and the Tricolour defence earned even more possession by taking Stephen Crichton into touch after he took a grubber kick close to the sideline.
Match: Panthers v Roosters
Round 15 -
Venue: BlueBet Stadium, Penrith
From there, an acrobatic effort from Joseph Suaalii saw the soaring centre knock back a pinpoint kick from Joseph Manu to Fletcher Baker, who scored his second try in Roosters colours, diving under the posts in a dream start for the Roosters, who took a 6-nil lead after five minutes.
Crichton unleashed his centre Josh Morris on the following set, and although Daniel Tupou streaked away in clean space, the final offload from the towering winger was dived on by the home side - however, it was early signs that the Red, White and Blue had come to play.
Easts continued to threaten the line, shutting down the Panthers attack with desperate and well-executed defence, and forcing their opponents into ill-discipline as Brian To'o illegally tackled Suaalii without the ball in hand.
From there the Roosters struck again, as Keighran took advantage of a quick play the ball from Jared Waerea-Hargreaves to crash over from dummy-half and extend the side's lead - but unfortunately, the 12-point lead would not last very long.
A cruel bounce of the drenched Steeden saw the Tricolours hand over possession from the kick-off, and from there the Panthers took advantage as Stephen Crichton crossed from a grubber kick.
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The wet weather did not deter either side from chancing their arm, as To'o and Tedesco made miraculous escapes from the in-goal. A forced drop-out handed the Panthers further possession following a dubious sin-binning - which ultimately changed the complexion of the match - and the Roosters had their backs to the wall on their goal-line.
Round 15 Match Highlights: Roosters v Panthers
With their advantage in numbers, the Panthers went over through a left-side swing, and with Nathan Cleary's conversion, the contest became a deadlock after 25 minutes played.
The pressure continued to mount for the boys from Bondi as errors crept into their game, and following a penalty goal from Cleary and another try to To'o, suddenly the Panthers had an eight-point lead with seven minutes left in the first half.
Back to thirteen men, Matt Ikuvalu and Tedesco continued to diffuse attacking kicks with perfection as the Bondi Wall held on, but yet another penalty goal to the Panthers saw the scores at 22-12 going into the break, with a big reversal needed for the Red, White and Blue.
Back in an arm wrestle in the early stages of the second stanza, the Roosters handed over another opportunity for their opponents to extend, and a number of errors and six-again calls eventually resulted in back-to-back tries for the home side.
Despite their deficit, the Red, White and Blue continued to display desperation in their defence, with Taukeiaho wrapping up a rampaging Crichton short of the line in a classic try-saving tackle.
Both sides were found guilty of their own ill-discipline as fatigue crept into the final quarter of the match, but it was Penrith who scored again in the corner following an obstruction penalty.
The bounce of the ball continued to favour the home side following a successful Captains Challenge and another drop out, but a short restart from Tedesco saved the Roosters another set in defence with a clever heads up play by gathering his own kick.
Continuing to fight tooth and nail as the likes of Tedesco, Manu and Waerea-Hargreaves displayed their class, the Red, White and Blue kept their opponents at bay, but the Panthers took the two competition points 38-12.
Sydney Roosters 12 (Fletcher Baker, Adam Keighran tries; Adam Keighran 2 goals) def by Penrith Panthers 38 (Brian To'o 2, Stephen Crichton, Isaah Yeo, Nathan Cleary, Charlie Staines tries; Nathan Cleary 5 goals; Nathan Cleary penalty 2 goals)
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