The New Zealand Warriors and the Sydney Roosters played out a golden point draw at the SFS in an exhilarating contest regarded as one of the finest regular season matches of the NRL era.
The resurgent Roosters – on a three-match winning run since Brad Fittler took over as coach from Chris Anderson – charged out to a 16-0 lead after 20 minutes. But a brilliant offload by Epalahame Lauaki sent Wade McKinnon away for a dazzling try from halfway to open the Warriors’ account before Michael Crockett and Jerome Ropati combined superbly on the right flank for the latter to score in a movement that covered 60 metres.
Dynamic interchange forward Lauaki, who also had a hand in Ropati’s try, reached out to score and provide the visitors with two-point halftime lead that seemed implausible just 20 minutes earlier. Man of the match Lauaki scored his second try from a dubious Nathan Fien pass 12 minutes into the second half, and the Warriors appeared set for victory when Manu Vatuvei miraculously forced a Grant Rovelli grubber kick just inside the dead-ball line with a quarter of the match remaining.
The game swung on the contentious 68th-minute sin-binning of Warriors centre Simon Mannering for a professional foul. The Roosters levelled at 30-all courtesy of tries to Craig Wing and Joel Monaghan – the rangy centre’s third of the match – while the Warriors were a man short.
Braith Anasta edged the Roosters in front prior to Mannering’s return with a stunning 38-metre field goal with less than two-and-a-half minutes on the timepiece, but opposing five-eighth Michael Witt sent the match into extra-time with a one-pointer just 17 seconds from fulltime. Neither side could find the killer blow during a frantic golden point period that included missed field goal chances by Anasta and McKinnon, a vital intercept by Crockett on his own try-line and a magnificent try-saver by Ruben Wiki on a flying Amos Roberts. The exhausted combatants deservedly shared the spoils of an epic 90-minute encounter.
Warriors bench forward Epalahame Lauaki was an unlikely man of the match, while Roosters stars Craig Wing and Braith Anasta picked up the minor Dally M votes.
The accolades flowed for the Warriors and the Roosters in the wake of the NRL rivals’ extraordinary contest. The Immortal Bob Fulton and Roosters supremo Nick Politis each described the game as one of the greatest of the modern era – a statement free of hyperbole that was echoed by virtually everyone that witnessed the 90-minute rugby league masterpiece.
New Zealand Warriors 31 (Epalahame Lauaki 2, Wade McKinnon, Jerome Ropati, Manu Vatuvei tries; Michael Witt 5/5 goals; Witt field goal) drew with Sydney Roosters 31 (Joel Monaghan 3, Ashley Harrison, Craig Wing tries; Craig Fitzgibbon 4/5, Amos Roberts 1/1 goals; Braith Anasta field goal) at Sydney Football Stadium, August 5 (Sunday afternoon). Halftime: New Zealand 18-16. Referee: Shayne Hayne. Penalties: Sydney Roosters 8-2. Crowd: 15,124.