The Dragons upset the Roosters 14-12 following a masterclass from Ben Hunt in an epic ANZAC clash at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
The Dragons opened the scoring with a superb try from Francis Molo after closing a gap with an assist from Ben Hunt.
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Hunt produced his second assist of the half when Paul Momirovski reversed a pinpoint kick, allowing Jaydn Su’A to pounce to make it 12-0.
The Roosters were handed a tough penalty with insane Victor Radley for knocking out Blake Lawrie, allowing Zac Lomax to make it 14-0 at the break.
The Roosters stormed home in the second half with tries from Sitili Tupouniua and Joey Manu to finish in the stands at 14-12 before the final 10 minutes.
However, the Dragons overcame injuries to Jack Bird (broken arm) and Jaydn Su’A (ankle) to hold on to a famous win.
Here are the main takeaways from the game.
HUNTING IN CAREER BEST SHAPE
Ben Hunt is arguably at his career best after producing a masterclass to lead the Dragons to an upset win over the Roosters on ANZAC Day.
Hunt had 32 yards running, an offload, a line-breaking assist and two assists, but it was his creative, long-footed play that won the Dragons game.
The Dragons were all sorts defensively early on before Hunt produced some brilliant long kicks early in the tackle count to build momentum in his team’s favour.
Michael Ennis praised Hunt for battling the momentum to set up Francis Molo’s first try.
“Brilliant play, they held off the Roosters attack,” Ennis said.
“That’s a massive amount of possession they’ve had to defend. And that’s the great Franky Molo. Chase deep down the line. Frank Molo, with great leg speed, is unleashed through the Roosters defensive line The Dragons at the top early.
“It’s a nice short ball. Ben Hunt another assist try. His numbers are really starting to add up.
“Frank Molo started the game with great defensive aggression and he had good carries.
“He charged on the short ball from Ben Hunt and his teammates responded.
“There just isn’t too much thought about it, Ben Hunt. He was kind and direct. Nice short ball.
“He’s had a terrific start to the year, the Dragons’ halfback.”
Hunt produced a pinpoint kick that Roosters center Paul Momirovski knocked down, allowing Jaydn Su’A to charge in and score an opportunistic try.
“Again Hunt with his hands on it,” Ennis said.
“It looked like he was coming from Momirovski and Jaydn Su’A brings him under the posts.
“Su’A lands the Dragons’ second try of the afternoon.
“Ben Hunt asks a lot of questions. On the two passes there and a little further from the ruck, he just throws it straight in the air above Momirovski.
“Jaydn Su’A scores, it’s a good start for the back rower.”
Ennis noted that Hunt’s running game proves he’s in good shape.
“Ben Hunt took the line,” Ennis said.
“That’s when you know Ben Hunt is playing with confidence when he takes the line.
“It’s Hunt coming off the left foot and straightening up. What a wonderful half-running ball that he is.
“Hunt and Bird were exceptional in the halves.
“Excellent first half of these two with and without football.”
Cooper Cronk hailed Hunt’s decisive and inventive kicking game as the difference between the two teams.
“Hunt’s kicking game was on, especially early on,” Cronk said.
“We saw a few early kicks in the first five or six minutes just to take the heat out of the game.
“James Tedesco had two tackles in kick chases. Hunt realizes and hits the ball long.
“I think his kicking game has been absolutely on song.”
Benji Marshall praised Hunt for his leadership in setting the standard for his team.
“His spirit has been great for his team and sometimes that can set the tone for your team defensively,” Marshall said.
“He kicked at the right time. Kicking early and spinning the big cocks forward.
“You can tell when Ben Hunt is in a good mood. He leads the footy at the same time and his kicking game has been on song.
DRAGONS FINALLY FIND A DEFENSIVE MOJO
They may have lost the second half 12-0, but the Dragons built their win on a much improved defensive performance that can set up their season.
Injuries to Jack Bird and Jaydn Su’A saw the Roosters return, but the Dragons channeled the ANZAC spirit to topple their pitiful defense from the first five weeks of the season.
Cooper Cronk praised the Dragons defense in the early stages as they fended off wave after wave of the Roosters attack.
“They played in the right spirit today,” Cronk said.
“Roosters 38 possessions and just three tackles in the half.
“Ben Hunt goes down the other end of the pitch and Francis Molo, who was one of the best players in that first half, scores the opener.”
Corey Parker praised Su’A and Molo for setting the tone defensively for the Dragons.
“Jaydn Su’A, who benefited from Ben Hunt’s kick, was one of the best for the Dragons,” Parker said at halftime.
“Especially defensively and what he was able to do.
“He leads the tackle tally for the Dragons.
“Nice little kick through for Zac Lomax who doesn’t find the ball and at the end Jaydn Su’A crosses in what was a very quick and physical affair for the Dragons.
“38 times in the first half they were able to push the Roosters back in that area of defence.
“It started with Frank Molo. He set the tone especially in that middle third.
“He came with a try himself but his defense was exceptional.”
Benji Marshall believes it was the Dragons’ new commitment to defense that brought them home.
“The defense wins games,” Marshall said.
“And in the back, the Dragons. . . it was a massive turnaround for them.
“They were the worst defensive team in the competition heading into this weekend and dropped the most points.
“The goal line defense was outstanding. They played with the ANZAC spirit and worked for their comrades.
“They held off the Roosters and forced three key errors on the opposition.
“The Tedesco error, the Tupou error and the Fletcher Baker error and on the back of that they were able to score points.
“They win the game on the back of the defense today.”
Cooper Cronk praised the Dragons right edge in particular for holding the Roosters scoreless in the first half.
“I can’t sum up their defense enough because the Roosters go left a lot,” Cronk said.
“Lomax and Ravalawa hold their gloves and make big decisions.
“There was a lot of effort to try to save. The Dragons saved three or four tries.
“The Roosters haven’t been that bad, it’s just that the Dragons defense has been exceptional.”
MANU MASTERCLASS ALMOST LEADS THE ROOSTERS TO AN EPIC RETURN
The Roosters may have fallen into a thriller following a few bad mistakes across the board, but Joey Manu once again nearly broke them out of jail.
Manu had 130 yards, five tackle saves, an offload, two line breaks and a second half to try to put the Roosters within a score of a comeback win.
Michael Ennis has praised Manu for his ability to keep his side in the competition despite not being at their best after his second-half try.
“There have been some brilliant moments from this man Joey Manu this season,” Ennis said.
“There were games where he single-handedly won the Roosters contest with moments like these when nothing happened.
“Just his spatial awareness on the right side. Walker, Crichton, Suaalii, nothing on.
“The Dragons were dealing with it and have just come back inside a great offload from Joseph Suaalii, who had a great second half and Manu just finds a way.
“They had done everything right with the Dragons and Manu got into the in-goal.”
Unfortunately, Manu knocked down a bad pass close to the line in what turned out to be the Roosters’ best chance to secure a comeback for ages.
However, Cooper Cronk believes Manu is in career-best form and the Roosters’ defeat has nothing to do with the star center’s performance.
“He’s been outstanding all year,” Cronk said.
“It’s just been very good, great quality touches every time.
“He scored that try to get them back in both.
“He came within a whisker of winning the Roosters game. He was shot at by a cannon and nearly snatched victory from them.
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One of the most anticipated clashes on the NRL calendar kicks off at 4pm at the SCG when the Dragons take on the Roosters in the traditional Anzac Day clash.
Expect a lot of passion from both sides considering the importance of the day and the fact that there is a lot at stake for different reasons.
While the Dragons and Roosters are picking up wins, both teams have struggled to live up to expectations so far this season.
The Dragons escaped with a narrow victory over the Knights last week to end a four-game losing streak and the Roosters secured both points against the Warriors but looked little convincing.
A win for Red V would see them record their first straight wins since Round 16 last year.
A victory for the Habs would make four in a row.
The two coaches have changed their composition.
For the Dragons, Josh Kerr has been dropped to reserve grade with George Burgess entering the starting squad to replace him and veteran prop Aaron Woods recalled to the bench.
Josh McGuire starts in the back row with Tariq Sims on the bench.
Paul Momirovski returns from a quad injury in crosses, pushing Kevin Naiqama out of the 17th.
Siosiua Taukeiaho is also returning from injury in place of Daniel Suluka-Fifita and will start as a prop with Jared Waerea-Hargreaves on the bench.
Nat Butcher starts with Victor Radley from the bench.
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