ANALYSIS: Roosters overcome Tedesco head knock to keep Finals dream alive

It can’t happen, can it? The Roosters miracle run to the Finals is still on after their third straight win, downing Parramatta 34-12 at Commbank Stadium.

In the process, they all but knocked out the Eels, who must now win next week away at Penrith to have any hope at all. Even if they did pull it off, it would be a long shot and require results elsewhere.

The win came at a cost for the Roosters. Just when they were seeing the best of James Tedesco, with another two tries tonight, they lost him to a head knock. Maika Sivo, only returning tonight from a four game ban, found himself on report for the incident.

This was another impressive showing from Trent Robinson’s men, who had given their fans hope with victories over Manly and the Dolphins at home, but can now add an away victory against a fellow challenger to their recent repertoire.

In the process, they have set up a potential blockbuster with eternal rivals South Sydney on the final Friday night. 

They face the Wests Tigers at home next week and will need to put on a serious score to improve their differential – though, at the same time last year, they won 72-6. Anything is possible.

For Brad Arthur, it was same old, same old. His side were without Mitch Moses, who is done for the year with a facial fracture, and missed his kicking and control, but their biggest issue remains middle defending.

For all their power in the forwards, they consistently allow too many metres and give themselves too much to do. The Chooks won the game in a three try blitz before the break, with the first two mirror images off poorly defended scrum plays.

The scoreline was a little unfair in the end, as late tries for Siua Wong and Nat Butcher blowing the lead out, but the die had been cast long before. Barring a miracle, Parra’s season is over. The Roosters live on for another week.

Parra still can’t get their middle right

The plan for Parramatta looked pretty simple: bash the front door in, try to score off the back of it. This is what they generally do – very effectively – and without their most creative player in Moses, they leaned into it even more.

Joe Ofahengaue was in the 13, giving the Eels another huge body, and J’maine Hopgood shifted to an edge, creating a facsimile of last year’s system with two ball-playing backrowers. Crash in, create second phase, go from there.

Much as that worked for the first try, for Bryce Cartwright, it soon began to smash against the Roosters’ goalline defence without much success, and inevitably wilted.

This is the perennial Parramatta problem. They always, but always, leave their big men on too long and get stung at the back end of halves as their middle defence tires badly.

The Roosters were averaging 48m per set across the first half, 12m more than the Eels, showing just how much they were struggling to stop the middle roll.

Parra like to frontload their effort and try to build up a score, but invariably, it isn’t quite enough. They had 12 sets to the Roosters’ 8 in the first quarter, monstering their opponents in metres and winning the offload count 7-2.

But by the end of the half, they were almost equal and trailing 18-8 on the scoreboard.

The Eels conceded three tries between the 25th and 40th minute, essentially ending the game as a contest. Junior Paulo was subbed off in the 26th, after the first try, and was already stood with the card in his hand ready to return in the 37th, when the Chooks got the third. 

That tells you a lot: Parra continually make huge demands of their starting two props and, without them, often fall apart. 

It didn’t help that the edges looked incapable of making a solid defensive decision. Three times, Maika Sivo watched the ball float over his head while stood in no man’s land, while Bailey Simonsson also found himself jamming and missing on occasion.

Gutherson’s reaction after several of the tries told the whole story. The fullback, consistently their best all year, was left throwing up his hands at the poor reads in front of him. It’s been a long year, but now it’s over.

The Roosters attack might just be getting there

The return of the Roosters came as a counterpoint to the defensive woes of the Eels.

The lack of points has been worrying all year, but since they have been able to field their best 1-6 (even without Sam Walker) and give them a run of games, the improvement has been stark. 

The main beneficiary has been Tedesco. Prior to his HIA, he had two line breaks, two assists and two tries, as well as a round 150m with ball in hand.

As the Chooks’ middle won their battle, Teddy was able to get back to his best, buzzing around the ruck and finding his place in the deep shape moves that Luke Keary was calling.

Keary himself played the 7 role with the 6 on his back, freeing Drew Hutchison to run where possible and generally keep things ticking over. 

There’s all the talent in the world in the backline and it was never likely to remain rubbish for long. Robinson corrected some of the errors himself, abandoning the Suaalii-in-the-centres experiment, but also remained consistent in his processes. There wasn’t much panic.

Now it’s paying off. They will still need a huge result against South Sydney on the last weekend, but it’s now more than plausible. Not long ago, it was the impossible job.

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