The depleted Sydney Roosters have survived an almighty scare from an inspired Gold Coast Titans to escape with a vital 18-12 NRL win at the SCG.
In an action-packed game laced with drama, the Roosters overcame their crippling injury toll to preserve their place in the top four thanks largely to the heroics of classy centre Joseph Manu.
Already missing eight players from their 2019 grand final-winning outfit and with superstar signing Sonny Bill Williams holed up in quarantine, the Roosters lost tryscoring ace Josh Morris to a calf strain before Saturday’s kick-off.
Fortunately the back-to-back premiers had Manu, whose leaping 58th-minute try and miracle first-half trysaver on Phillip Sami saved the Tricolours’ blushes.
Proving they can be a finals force next year when prized recruit David Fifita arrives from Brisbane, the Titans’ competitiveness belied their 14th-place standing on the ladder.
Coach Justin Holbrook, who served his apprenticeship under Trent Robinson at the Roosters, could be forgiven for feeling this was the two points his unfancied team let slip.
They threatened a huge boilover for much of the match but were unable to force golden point despite pounding the Roosters tryline in the dying minutes.
The Titans could have – and probably should have – bagged four first-half tries but had to settle for only one after blowing two and seeing Manu pull off his incredible rescue act before the break.
Jamal Fogarty was also denied a try in just the second minute, the halfback touching down only for the bunker to rule Titans teammate Brian Kelly had passed him the ball off the ground.
But there was no denying Anthony Don eight minutes later when the prolific winger started and finished his own 75-metre effort.
After putting Dale Copley away, Don pounced on the centre’s kick downfield after Roosters fullback James Tedesco tackled Titans opposite AJ Brimson off the ball.
Referee Henry Perenara said he would have awarded a penalty try had Don not scored.
Perenara may have been tempted to give the Roosters a penalty try themselves shortly after, instead sin-binning Kelly for taking out Manu.
Cashing in on their one-man advantage, the Roosters made the Titans pay when Tedesco’s over-the-top pass put Mitch Aubusson over in the 19th minute.
After scrambling for much of the half, somehow the Roosters went to the break with a 10-6 advantage after halfback Kyle Flanagan added two penalties to his conversion of Aubusson’s try.
The Titans were reduced to 12 men for a second time when Keegan Hipgrave was sin binned for taking out Lindsay Collins.
The Roosters’ claims for a penalty try were denied but Flanagan’s two points made it 12-6 before Manu soared high to reel in Luke Keary’s cross-field bomb.
That appeared to seal the deal before Sami crossed with five minutes remaining to give Roosters fans a tense finish.