Waerea-Hargreaves was everywhere for the Roosters. Photo: Phil Hillyard
Waerea-Hargreaves was everywhere for the Roosters. Photo: Phil Hillyard

JWH on top as game’s best prop

A lot of the talk leading into last night surrounded Canberra big man Josh Papalii.

The Raiders prop had been instrumental in delivering his side its first grand final appearance since 1994.

He had crashed over for the matchwinning try against South Sydney in the preliminary final in an 80-minute effort that included 180 run metres and six tackle busts.

 

Papalii didn’t have the impact Canberra had hoped. Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images
Papalii didn’t have the impact Canberra had hoped. Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

 

Everyone was expecting Papalii to dish up much of the same. He was primed.

But it was his opposite number, the Roosters enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, who asserted himself as top dog among those doing the tough yards last night - especially in the opening exchanges.

After being rubbed out of the Tricolours' preliminary final against Melbourne for tripping South Sydney centre James Roberts in week one of the finals, Waerea-Hargreaves was up for the job.

So much so, the New Zealand international finished the opening 40 minutes with a massive 103 run metres. Waerea-Hargreaves threw himself at the Raiders defence like a premiership depended on it.

 

Waerea-Hargreaves was everywhere for the Roosters. Photo: Phil Hillyard
Waerea-Hargreaves was everywhere for the Roosters. Photo: Phil Hillyard

 

In contrast, Papalii and his fellow front-rower Sia Soliola only ran for 92 metres combined.

Papalii wasn't out for the count, though, and punched out 95m in the second half.

The Roosters won the early yardage battle but they were hurting on the injury front.

Supersub and backrower Mitch Aubusson suffered an injury to his left knee after just 13 minutes that ended his night. It was a crucial moment because it forced a reshuffle for Roosters coach Trent Robinson, who had already rolled the dice by carrying veteran hooker Jake Friend on the bench.

 

Aubusson was forced into an early exit. Photo: Jonathan Ng
Aubusson was forced into an early exit. Photo: Jonathan Ng

"Mitch Aubusson looks like he's gone," Phil Gould said in commentary. "Friend would have changed Trent Robinson's interchange plan … [Aubusson] is a real loss, he's the glue in the side. He covers so many positions for them.

"Aubusson is so versatile because he is their outside back replacement."

With so much on the line, up stepped a young Rooster who set about creating his own storyline for the ages.

Sam Verrills had somewhat of an interrupted preparation with so much speculation during last week about whether or not Friend would take the field for the first time since fracturing his arm in round 18, .

There were question marks about Friend's match fitness since he has only managed five games this season because of injury - and if the veteran rake was cleared to play, what it did that mean for Verrills.

Robinson named Verrills to start, with the co-captain on the interchange, and the 20-year-old immediately repaid the faith by scoring the opening try.

"It's a wonderful story," Gould said. "So much speculation all week as to whether [Verrills] gets a start with Friend making himself available.

"All [Raiders] eyes were on Luke Keary and Cooper Cronk in the back … and he went himself [to score]."