Super League Champions St Helens welcomed NRL Premiers Sydney Roosters to the Totally Wicked Stadium for the World Club Challenge on Saturday evening, and the fixture did not disappoint.
After the retirement of Cooper Cronk and the sale of Latrell Mitchell, the Roosters we’re slightly changed from their NRL Grand Final victory back in October.
Angus Crichton moved into the centres from second-row, with Kyle Flanagan being bought in from Cronulla Sharks to partner Luke Keary in the halves.
For Saints, Regan Grace, Mark Percival, and Lachlan Coote were all out injured. This meant that James Bentley and Matty Costello filled in at Centre and Wing respectively with Jack Welsby given the chance to shine once again at full-back.
James Roby did return for the Saints, as the impressive forward pack remained the same as most of 2019.
The entertainment started almost instantly as Alex Walmsley and Victor Radley threw a few handbags but referee Chris Kendall ignored the scuffle.
The Roosters started the match with a number of penalties going against them, and Saints took full advantage through Luke Thompson.
French half-back Theo Fages danced around looking for a runner and the NRL-bound Thompson collected the pass and powered over Jared Waerea-Hargreaves for the first try.
The tri-colours hit straight back with a try of their own.
On the fifth tackle, Jake Friend shifted the ball left to Luke Keary, who flicked the ball out further and Daniel Tupou picked the back up from his ankles and walked over the line.
Kyle Flanagan’s conversion rattled the upright as Saints still led by two.
After a poor kick from Jonny Lomax, the Roosters started their attacking set inside the Saints half.
The ball was worked out to Josh Morris but the winger couldn’t gather the ball, with the home-side let off the hook.
The visitors showed their class as a break down the middle of the park from James Tedesco put them on the front foot.
A quick play-the-ball followed and Flanagan released Joseph Manu into space and the centre dived over the score.
This time, Flanagan’s kick bounced back off the crossbar as the Roosters now led by two.
With half an hour gone, the game was still extremely tight, and Saints upped the ante and attacked once more.
Dominique Peyroux kicked ahead and regathered, and released Naiqama and Makinson on the right.
Unfortunately, the Saints couldn’t finish the chance off with Daniel Tupou shutting down the following play.
Roosters charged back up the field once more, and on the fifth tackle, Tedesco threw a wild offload from the floor but the ball went forward out his hands.
With just a few minutes until the half, Saints conceded a penalty just 25 metres from their own line.
The NRL side decided to attack rather than take the two, but Keary’s kick wasn’t quite gathered in by Manu out wide with Saints defensive effort rewarded with a 20-metre restart.
Saints crossed the line through Tommy Makinson after the next attacking set, and despite being held-up, the play was brought back for a forward pass from Peyroux.
HALF-TIME: St Helens 6-8 Sydney Roosters
The second-half started in a similar fashion to the firsts with huge tackles and plenty of physicality between the two sides.
Saints forced an early goal-line drop-out as they captured Manu in the in-goal area.
This allowed the home-side to batter the Sydney try-line and an off-the-cuff kick from Zeb Taia was just inches away from being touched down by Matty Costello as the Roosters kept the Saints out.
A penalty from Roosters gave Saints the opportunity to attack once again with Tommy Makinson crossing the line once again to score.
Chris Kendall sent the decision to the Robert Hicks and the video referee agreed in disallowing the try due to the winger grounding the ball short.
The Super League side were the more dominant side but with the score line against them, the pressure was being to roll with silly errors in attacking letting Roosters off the hook.
However, further ill-discipline from the Australian side gave Saints another attacking set inside the Roosters half.
A barraging run from Joseph Paulo left Nat Butcher on the floor, as he collided with his own teammate Luke Keary.
Despite the pressure being put on them from St Helens, the Roosters we’re back in attack and just after the hour mark crossed the line for their third try.
Joseph Manu once again was the scorer, as he carried three Saints defenders with him as he dotted down on the line.
Flanagan attempted to push Roosters ahead by the eight points but he dragged his kick wide.
Saints refused to back-down and they were close to scoring through Tommy Makinson once more. However, the winger failed to grasp Theo Fages looping pass.
With just over 10 minutes remaining, Roosters still only led 6-12.
That was extended when they quickly turned defence into attack as Sio Taukeiaho broke down the middle of the park, and popped the ball the Keary, who raced away to score.
Taukeiaho took the kicking duties from Flanagan and converted for 6-18.
The head of the Saints players began to drop, and after Walmsley conceded a penalty just 20 metres from his own line, Taukeiaho added the two points for a 14 point lead.
Saints were determined to continue fighting and with two and a half minutes remaining picked up a well deserved second try.
This time it was Alex Walmsley who powered through Waerea-Hargreaves and James Tedesco to narrow the deficit.
That proved to just be a consolation for Saints as with last play of the game Theo Fages was tackled and the final hooter.
Once again, the NRL Premiers come out on top, but in a battle of attrition between the two sides, it was the finishing of the Sydney Roosters that allowed them to pick up the victory as Saints made just too many errors when it mattered.
Saints players, fans and coaches alike will certainly disappointed, especially after dominating in large periods of the second-half.
FULL-TIME: St Helens 12-20 Sydney Roosters
Man of the Match: Luke Keary
The half-back was instrumental in leading the NRL Premiers to victory. His kicking game turned the Saints defence around when it mattered and his passes out wide to Manu and Tupou put them over to score. His try just before the 70 minute mark was well-deserved and won the game for the Roosters. On a personal note, this was Keary’s third World Club Challenge victory.
Welsby, Makinson, Naiqama, Bentley, Costello, Lomax, Fages, Walmsley, Roby, Thompson, Taia, Peyroux, Knowles.
Interchanges: McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Lees, Paulo, Smith.
Tries: Thompson, Walmsley
Goals: Makinson (2/2)
Tedesco, Tupou, Crichton, Manu, Morris, Keary, Flanagan, Waerea-Hargreaves, Friend, Taukeiaho, Tupouniua, Aubusson, Radley.
Interchanges: Verrills, Liu, Butcher, Collins
Tries: Tupou, Manu(2), Keary
Goals: Flanagan (0/3), Taukeiaho (2/2)
Referee: C. Kendall
Touch Judges: L. Moore, J. Smith
Video Referee: R. Hicks