Ref blunder mars Roosters’ historic triumph
It was the moment every rugby league fan feared all season. And it was like a punch in the stomach.
Ben Cummins made one of the biggest refereeing howlers in 111 years of rugby league - a shocking decision that robbed Canberra of any chance of victory in Sunday night's pulsating grand final, which saw the Sydney Roosters create history with successive premierships.
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With eight minutes remaining, Roosters fullback James Tedesco dropped a bomb with Cummins clearly ruling the tackle count had restarted.
Yet, inexplicably, Cummins reversed his own decision on the run, Canberra forced to turn the ball over. Raiders star Jack Wighton - the Clive Churchill Medal winner - retrieved the loose ball, saw Cummins call and didn't kick.
One minute later, Roosters centre Latrell Mitchell threw a lovely flick pass which resulted in a runaway try to Tedesco, which broke an 8-all deadlock.
The Raiders couldn't find the necessary try late in the game to send the game into golden point. It was gone in 60 seconds.
In what was still one of the great NRL grand finals of all time, the Sydney Roosters scored a 14-8 win. It was a terrible shame for the grand final - and rugby league in general - that a referee essentially decided the game.
Cummins' decision shouldn't detract from the Roosters' triumph and a brave performance from the Raiders.
This is now the greatest Roosters team since Beetson and Gibson.
It was the first time the Roosters have gone back-to-back since 1974-75 when Immortal Arthur Beetson was captain and legendary Jack Gibson was coach. They are a rugby league juggernaut.
"I think this the best (Roosters team ever) - history-making," said Roosters chairman Nick Politis.
This was triumph for a wonderful team and a retiring individual - Cooper Cronk.
This was Cronk's final game of rugby league - and his third successive grand final win. He will now retire one of the greatest halfbacks of all time. Sunday was Cronk's ninth grand final.
"It is a humbling experience to live out a dream," Cronk said. "This club cops a lot of criticism but it has a big heart and soul."
But the game was turned on its head when Cronk was sensationally sin binned in the 50th minute for a professional foul in his final game.
Former premiership winning coach Phil Gould protested on Channel 9, saying: "What do you want a halfback to do on a bigger man?"
Cronk added: "I'm not going to criticise referees but I didn't think it was a sin bin."
Canberra was so close. The Raiders dominated the second half and drew level after being behind 8-0.
"It's hard to swallow - I'm numb," said Raiders five-eighth Jack Wighton. "It's absolutely gut wrenching."
Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson added: "Small things win games. It feels like a punch in the stomach."'
Victory was coach Trent Robinson's third grand final win in seven years. He has now won more titles at Bondi that the great Gibson.
It was the first time any club had gone back to back in a united competition since Brisbane in 1992-93. Thirteen players backed up from last year's grand final win over Melbourne.
Before a noisy sell-out crowd of 82,922, this was one hell of a grand final. Tough, enthralling, physical and tight.
Not into ref bashing. But that is one of the worst calls in history. You can't change your mind. It's criminal for the Raiders #nrlgf— Michael Carayannis (@MCarayannis) October 6, 2019
"It's a pretty surreal feeling - we were under the pump in that second half," Tedesco said.
Roosters five-eighth Luke Keary added: "The whole second half I thought we were in massive trouble." And Roosters skipper Boyd Cordner said: "God it feels good."
Canberra kept surging in the second but the Roosters - ever the professionals - hung tough and won it through Tedesco's try in the 71st minute.
In the 60th minute, at 8-all, Canberra centre Joey Leilua only had to catch and pass to winger Jordan Rapana, who would have scored. Leilua dummied and then tried a flick pass, which trickled forward. The moment had gone.
Rivals may hate the Roosters but you've got to respect them. They're a club built on sustained success and consistent victory.
Roosters lost Mitch Aubusson to his left knee injury in the 15th minute, pushing Angus Crichton into the match. Aubusson did not return.
The pre-game atmosphere was extraordinary when around 60,000 fans participated in the Viking Clap.