By Liam Emerton
The resurgent Sydney Roosters have flexed their own muscles and thrown Brisbane’s NRL premiership credentials further into question with a pivotal 34-16 win at the SCG.
While the Roosters’ fourth straight victory kept Trent Robinson’s pre-season title fancies on track for a late top-four push, Brisbane could slump to as low as seventh on the ladder by the end of the weekend.
The Broncos failed to bounce back from last week’s shock loss to Wests Tigers and, with a tough run to the finals and an inferior for-and-against record, are suddenly looking vulnerable.
The Roosters, meanwhile, are on the up and up after scoring six tries to Brisbane’s three at the SCG on Thursday night.
The win means 10th-placed Manly and 11th-placed St George Illawarra will both trail the Roosters by a game and points differential even if they win their own round-21 matches against sides higher-placed teams on the ladder.
The chemistry of halves Luke Keary and Sam Walker is looking stronger than ever, thanks in no small part to Keary’s switch back to five-eighth.
Keary made the kick that put the Roosters in position to score their first try, before Walker chipped from halfback to give Nat Butcher their second.
Even without concussed State of Origin representative Lindsay Collins, the Roosters’ forward pack rolled forward more easily than their Brisbane counterparts, who missed the suspended Patrick Carrigan.
A typically workman-like performance from James Tedesco, with 252 run metres, helped the Roosters win the battle for territory for most of the night.
Three tries down, the Broncos scored through Corey Oates in their first foray into enemy territory and were welcomed back when errors began creeping into the Roosters’ game.
Both sides blew chances in the second half, as greasy conditions began taking their toll.
But when Keary cut through the defence with a crafty individual effort, the Roosters’ win was confirmed with just over 10 minutes to play.
“We played fairly well tonight,’ Roosters coach Trent Robinson said.
“I felt we stifled them at different times and I felt like we dominated and played the way we wanted to play for 40-50 minutes there.”
The Broncos have now conceded more than 30 points on six occasions this year, including twice in the past fortnight, and will hope to tighten their defence before the finals.
A top-four finish is not yet out of reach, though.
Brisbane will rate all four of their remaining matches against Newcastle, Melbourne, Parramatta and St George Illawarra as winnable.
“Conceding points early is something we’ve got to get out of our game if we’re serious about where we want to head to,” Broncos coach Kevin Walters said.
“It’s a bit concerning it’s been happening for the last three or four weeks.
“We’ll learn from tonight, all of us will. Coaches included. We’ve got the artillery there, it’s just a matter of getting it right.”
Roosters hooker Sam Verrills left the field for a head injury assessment late in the second half and did not return.
Brisbane’s Selwyn Cobbo returned from the concussion he suffered in the State of Origin decider but had limited opportunities as the Broncos favoured the opposite wing in attack.