Grand larceny: ‘Worst call in history’
A great drought was going to end either way at ANZ Stadium. Instead it was Federal Highway robbery that overshadowed a blockbuster grand final and a Roosters historic win, 14-8.
Canberra fans were left heartbroken and rightly so.
With the scores level and the Raiders on the attack, lead referee Ben Cummins signalled six to go for the Raiders from a kick, only to change his mind and rule a handover when Canberra's Jack Wighton was tackled.
Wighton rightly protested but the Roosters were given the ball just metres from their line. The Roosters went the distance that set with a match-winning try to James Tedesco. Before that call, they were on the ropes.
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Oscar winner and Souths tragic Russell Crowe summed up the feelings of neutrals backing Canberra, tweeting: "Horseshit result ... Yet another Rugby League embarrassment. Raiders ripped off."
Up until then it looked like Cooper Cronk's farewell might be remembered for another controversial refereeing decision to sin-bin the the retiring playmaker for a professional foul in tackling Raiders behemoth Josh Palalii without the ball.
It was Cronk's ninth grand final and sixth premiership. He became the oldest halfback to play in a premiership decider and finished with the second most first grade appearances in Australian rugby league history.
He won his third consecutive premiership having had success in his final appearance for the Storm in 2017.
The Roosters broke a record of their own becoming the first team in 25 years to win back to back titles. The last side who did in a unified competition were the Broncos in 1992-1993.
And there is no reason why the Roosters can't do it again next year. Cronk may be riding off into the sunset but superstars Tedesco, Latrell Mitchell, Luke Keary and Boyd Cordner remain.
Canberra's time without a title will extend to 26 years next year but they wiped away one record having to wait the longest of any side to feature in a grand final.
The Roosters had adversity coming into last year's win against Melbourne. Cronk was on one arm but they still managed a near perfect game.
This year they had to combat the adversity within the game. They faced a spirited Raiders side who had been riding the wave celebrating the team's 1989 success all year.
Roosters veteran Mitch Aubusson lasted just 13 minutes before coming from the field and watching the rest of the game in a knee brace. Victor Radley was taken from the field for a concussion test before returning.
Cronk was sin-binned for the second time this year. He was marched after taking out Papalii in a try-scoring opportunity. The Roosters won with a one-armed Cronk last year and again held their nerve in his absence.
Channel 9 commentator Phil Gould was incensed by the decision labelling it "extremely tough".
The Roosters were tough without Cronk giving up just a penalty goal in the 10 minutes he was off.
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
Outrageous refereeing, signalling six again then saying it’s sixth tackle. Roosters score down the other end, probably the last score of the GF. Absolute travesty for Canberra #NRLGF— Jamie Pandaram (@JamiePandaram) October 6, 2019
A shame that such a terrific game has been so heavily influenced by a refereeing howler #NRLGF— Adam Mobbs (@AdamMobbs) October 6, 2019
The sell-out crowd of 82,922 was filled with green as Raiders fans sat in hope. They dwarfed the tricolours who have been spoiled for success in recent years. Canberra fans rose as one when Immortal Mal Meninga blew the horn to lead the Viking Clap alongside some of the Raiders best including Laurie Daley, Glenn Lazarus and Terry Campese.
One person who wasn't cheering the green machine was the one punter who outlaid $150,000 on the Roosters to win just moments before kick-off at $1.36. They had $204,000 riding on a Roosters win.
The early nerves weren't limited to just on the field with Gold Coast Titans skipper Ryan James struggling with the Welcome to Country. "I'm lost," James said on stage as he lost his thought. James was seen memorising the words to himself in the tunnel prior to kick-off.
"As a game we stand together, side-by-side … I'm lost," James said. Rather than be heckled though the crowd stood with James, cheering his slight mishap.
Halftime entertainment wasn't smooth either when old rocker Daryl Braithwaite's rendition of Horses was almost cut-short by a focused Angus Crichton almost running over the singer after emerging from the dressing sheds with the rest of his teammates.
Braithwaite continued as the players waited to kick-off.
Timing is everything in a grand final. Just ask the Roosters who were gifted field possession when the ball hit their trainer. It was just the third minute when Roosters trainer Travis Touma inadvertently came into contact with the ball which denied a golden opportunity for the Raiders.
A Luke Keary kick hit Raiders big man Sia Soliola in the head with teammate Elliott Whitehead leading the chase for the ball until it hit Touma. The call gave the Roosters a repeat set and eventually the first try to hooker Sam Verrills.
Well done Roosters but, um, are questions about costly officiating calls off limits post match? #NRLGrandFinal— Carly Adno (@CarlyAdno226) October 6, 2019
Congratulations to the Roosters and their fans. They’re a great side. But I saw the ref wave six again and then change his mind - there is no way to explain that away.— Nick Campton (@campo37) October 6, 2019
Anyone else want to throw in with me to cover Ricky’s fines so he can unleash in the pressor!#passthehataround— Renee Gartner (@renee_gartner) October 6, 2019
Not a great night for the match officials. First the Cronk sin-binning, then the six-again call and no-call. That moment decided the game. Graham Annesley might have to do the Monday briefing after all!!!— Brent Read (@brentread_7) October 6, 2019
Our biggest fears have been realised, bad ref call has ruined the biggest game of the year.— Wilson Smith (@wilson_smithDT) October 6, 2019
A gripping grandfinal marred by a shocking ref blunder to reverse a six again call at a crucial time after it was made. Heartbreaking for Raiders. Roosters rewarded for courageous defence.— Barry Toohey (@BarryToohey) October 6, 2019
I hate that we'll be talking about referees after this #NRLGF— Maria Tsialis (@mtsialis) October 6, 2019
Let's start a GO FUND ME now for Ricky in the press conference, cos I'd pay money to hear him savage the refs and this impotent @nrl administration. Why would you bother with this joke of a code? I'm done.— Holly Byrnes (@byrnesh) October 6, 2019
HOW THE NRL GRAND FINAL UNFOLDED:
* 3m: A Luke Keary kick is charged down by Raiders prop Sia Soliola but the rebound bizarrely hits his Sydney Roosters trainer. Roosters get scrum feed and another set.
* 7m: Roosters open scoring when hooker Sam Verrills burrows over from dummy-half next to the post. Converted by Latrell Mitchell for the Roosters to lead 6-0.
* 18m: Roosters second-rower Mitchell Aubusson leaves the field with a knee injury, replaced by Angus Crichton.
* 20m: Canberra lock Joe Tapine is penalised for a high tackle on Roosters hooker Victor Radley. Mitchell adds a further two points for Roosters to lead 8-0.
* 22m: Radley leaves the field for a HIA.
* 31m: Canberra are on the scoreboard after Nick Cotric and Josh Hodgson combine with Jack Wighton stepping through some flimsy defence. Jarrod Croker converts for an 8-6 scoreline.
* 39m: Roosters winger Brett Morris is taken out of a contest for the ball with Mitchell missing a penalty to end the half.
* 50m: Roosters halfback Cooper Cronk is sensationally sin-binned for a professional foul for tackling Josh Papalii without the ball 5m from the tryline. Croker kicks the penalty to lock up the score 8-8.
* 60m: Referee rules Joseph Leilua pass went forward on the last tackle, which would have resulted in a Raiders try. Cronk returns.
* 66m: Raiders fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad spills bomb, giving Roosters another set. Raiders then penalised for a highshot on Keary by Aidan Sezer.
*68m: Mitchell misses penalty goal.
* 71m: Referee Ben Cummins waves another six off a spilt Raiders bomb but then changes the call, instead handing possession to the Roosters.
* 73m: Roosters fullback James Tedesco scores after a line-break by Daniel Tupou with Keary and Mitchell involved. Mitchell converts for a 14-8 lead.
* 80m: Roosters claim back-to-back titles.