The search for 9 from 9 and the perfect Finals tipping against the spread came crashing to a halt against the brutal efficiency of the Dragons, with a little help from stage fright (Roosters) injury (Phil Graham) and the referee's.
Let me start with the referee's not because I believe they were the determining factor in the result, but because this has not been mentioned elsewhere and even though the final score was 32-8 the refereeing was not a non-factor. Allow me to explain, then I will give the Dragon's the plaudits that there is no doubt they both earned and deserve.
The reason the refereeing blunders matter is not because of their frequency as much as it was their timing. The Roosters knew there only hope of upsetting the minor-premiers (Team the finished on top of the ladder for my non-Australian readers) lay in getting an early lead, it was imperative they did not allow the Dragons to score first and they had to be leading by a minimum of 10 points at the half-time break. Well on the Dragons first real attacking raid, Brett Morris was tackled my Sam Perrett and had both feet planted firmly out of bounds before passing the ball inside to a player who was tackled, then one play later the Try was scored. This was not even close, it wasn't like Morris grazed the Touchline, in fact he was so far over the sideline as he passed the ball it appeared he was about to buy a pie from the Concession stands, it was just a deplorable miss by the Touch Judge, who was right over the top of the incident as it happened. I mean if a Touch Judge is not going to spot that, then really there is little point in him even being there, but the Touch Judges were not done screwing up yet. So the Dragons took an early 6-0 lead but the Roosters hit back with 2 great Try's, though crucially the usually reliable Carney missed both conversion attempts so a potential 12-6 lead was instead a razor thin 8-6 advantage. To prove that every member of the officiating crew was determined to screw up soon after taking the lead the Roosters crossed for another Try by Joseph Leilui in the corner that was ruled back for a forward pass. Replays showed that this too was an incorrect call, of the 5 angles shown by Channel 9 only 1 even indicated the ball MAY have been forward, all the others showed it going backwards and this Try should have stood. If converted this would have been a crucial 8 point advantage and as the stats show, the Dragons have only been able to come back from greater than a converted Try deficit to win twice this season. Finally as the Dragons began to strangle the game and drive home their advantage in the 2nd Half a clear knock on by Dean Young was ruled not have occurred by the always awful Bill Harrigan in the Video Refs Booth and the Dragons gained an insurmountable lead, just as the rain began to tumble down. As I say these things need to be mentioned, but they were not the reason the Roosters lost.
The Dragons were just too good, it was tempting to end that sentence 'on the day', but when looking at the record between these 2 teams over the last 4 years, including the annual marquee Anzac Day encounter it is clear the Dragons just have the Roosters measure at the moment. From the beginning of the game the Dragons just dominated the advantage line, getting quick play the balls in attack and driving the Roosters forwards back in defense. Even with the ridiculous missed call on the 1st Try the Dragons were the dominant team at this point and probably deserved their lead on merit. This was followed by the only 15 minutes of the game where the Roosters really got into the contest. Jarrod Warea-Hargreaves came off the bench and immediately gave the Roosters some punch in the forward contest and won some of the collisions, and this along with some clever dummy-half running by Sam Perrett finally gave Pearce and Carney some room to work in. Two well constructed Try's were the result.
Another part of the Roosters game plan that worked at this stage was their focus on Ben Creagh. Creagh is a damaging and talented ball-runner with the capacity to terrorise teams on the edges. The Roosters came up and in early every time the ball went near Creagh and just bashed him, leading to 3 dropped balls. This was a tactical master stroke by Brian Smith, the only question, Why did the Roosters move away from this tactic in the 2nd half? I can only imagine that Smith was concerned Bennett would instruct the Dragons to use Creagh as a decoy runner only in the 2nd half, but in one of the many fascinating tactical twists in this game, it appears Bennett anticipated that is what Smith would think and instead used Creagh even more in the second half, the Roosters did not re-adjust to go back to the first half strategy and Creagh ended up with the most metres gained of any forward in the game, as I say fascinating strategic machinations were a major part of this game, though with over 1200 First Grade games between the 2 head coaches this is probably not surprising.
So at the half is was 8-6 to the Roosters and as the rain began to tumble down in the 2nd half, so did Dragons points. The middle of the ground turned into a bog after the earlier lower grade finals and the Dragons looked much more willing to get down in the mud and grind than did the Roosters. The rain made it a true war of attrition and this was exactly what this St George team have thrived on for 2 years now. The Roosters then made mistake after mistake after mistake, Anasta who has been a rock all season for the Tri-Colors was awful in the 2nd half with 2 dropped balls early in the tackle count at his own end of the field leading to Dragons Try's in the next set of six. The Dean Young Try that was the back-breaker has it put the Dragons out by 2 converted Try's came soon after an Anasta knock on. The loss of Phil Graham to a pectoral injury was also devastating for the Bondi club. With young Leilui on the left wing in his place, the Dragons fired a lot of plays down that side and the 18 year old made 2 terrible decisions in defense that led directly to Dragons 4 pointers (converted to 6 by Soward on each occasion) I don't want to be too hard on Leilui because the kid is full of potential and will be a great player for many years to come, but he just doesn't have either the experience or the understanding with the equally inexperienced Kane Linnett in the Centers that Graham had. Also Graham would cover for the inexperience of Linnett during the season, but now Linnett had to cover for Leilui and he was not good enough or experienced enough to do it. However, both these players have bright futures, in fact like the rest of this Roosters team, this Grand Final probably came 1 year too early in their development for them to be able to handle the pressure of the occasion.
So congratulations St George, many people are saying this Premiership was the culmination of 2 years work and it was, though you could argue this was the culmination of a decades work, St George should have won a GF in 2005 and probably in one of the years between 2002-04 also but they always came up short in the big games, the Bennett Factor got them home this time and this is a team that as long as it keeps up its motivation will be a powerful contender next year as well along with the Melbourne Storm who will be in full blown eff-you mode after the Salary Cap scandal destroyed this season and the Roosters who will be better for the run and, this being the NRL, there will no doubt be a bolter that we are not even thinking about at the moment who will be part of the conversation come September 2011.
Finally, some discussion of the Pre-Match entertainment put on by the NRL. A colleague of mine made the very good point that the AFL, in yet another example of its million light years lead in professionalism over the NRL administration managed to get Lionel Ritchie on one weeks notice for the replay of the drawn Grand Final after having INXS for the Grand Final that was drawn the week before. The NRL in contrast had You Am I, a good band who had their best years 10 years ago and were nothing more than an indie niche Australian Band even then and the excruciating spectacle that was Jessica Mauboy and Justice Crew. Now this just proves the NRL has no idea what its fan base is, at the Grand Final their marquee event, for Pre-Match entertainment they bring out a girl to sing an awful pop-song about her High Heels, yep that's exactly what the blokey western Sydney audience that comprises the NRL's heartland was after for their Grand Final entertainment, songs about High Heels with the full faux paparazzi entrance, while a bunch of pre-pubescent kids break danced around her and fake polished her high heels. I refuse to believe that any more than 5% of the crowd was enjoying this display. In fact you could feel the energy level in the Stadium lift when You Am I started singing Rolling Stones covers after Mauboy finished. Again, the AFL had INXS, the NRL had a bunch of has-beens singing Rolling Stones covers. Andrew Demetriou, the AFL CEO is an oaf, but NRL CEO David Gallop is so pitiful he allows Demetriou to stride the Australian Sporting scence like an administrative colossus.
Again it is imperative, when and if the independent commission is put in place to run Rugby League ALL POSITIONS MUST BE DECLARED OPEN and applications accepted. Gallop is welcome to apply but he should not be handed the keys to the future of the game like some drunken wealthy legacy kid taking over the family business.
On this note, some final thoughts on the season just gone will follow before the test series starts, lets just say my end of season awards will not look kindly on the individuals running the game.