|Roosters players celebrating a try. Photo /Getty|
The Sydney Roosters claimed the NRL title winning a classic final 26 - 18 over Manly before a packed Olympic Stadium in Sydney.
The Roosters mounted a brilliant three-try fightback from the 56th minute when they trailed by 8 - 18, with Sonny Bill Williams - who had a poor start - playing a significant part in the turnaround which gave the club its 13th title.
It was an exceptional final with plenty of drama but it was a deserved Roosters win, the warm favourites going into the game after being the form team of the year. It might also mark the end of SBW's league career as he juggles his many options.
The Roosters had beaten Manly three times this season and were boosted going into the game by forwards Boyd Cordner and Luke O'Donnell beating injury problems to make the 17. Cordner had powered through two months of rehabilitation after ankle surgery to claim his grand final place.
Manly owned the opening exchanges however, swarming over the Roosters who were too lateral and appeared overwhelmed by the occasion.
The very first tackle went the Roosters way, as Manly forward Glenn Stewart reeled away from his contact with ball carrier Sam Moa.
But that was a rare victory. Pivot James Maloney kicked out on the full and Williams missed tackles and had the ball stripped by fellow Kiwi Kieran Foran as Manly built the pressure.
They were rewarded after 10 minutes with a simple overlap play sending wing Jorge Taufua over and Jamie Lyon added a penalty soon after for a 6 - 0 lead. Between those scores, the tall Roosters wing Daniel Tupou had been driven 15 metres back over his goal line as the Roosters battled to find rhythm.
Tupou soon provided a spectacular comeback as the Roosters began to turn the tide around the 25 minute mark, helped by the introduction of veteran forward O'Donnell who straightened the attack.
After recovering the ball from a broken play, Maloney composed himself superbly on the last tackle, and sent a huge kick the width of the field where Tupou flew magnificently above his marker David Williams to plant the ball. Maloney landed the sideline conversion and then a penalty goal to give his side their first lead.
The tension led to a scuffles with the fiery Roosters prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves escaping punishment after landing a light head butt on Justin Horo.
The Roosters looked set to go to halftime with an even bigger advantage but second rower Aidan Guerra lost the ball with the line begging.
Then came a stunning moment, with Daly Cherry-Evans breaking on the right and kicking in field. Manly captain Jamie Lyon led the chase but was tackled early near the goal line by Mitch Aubusson. Referee Shayne Hayne indicated a try even though Lyon had not got the force down, leading to the video referee awarding a penalty try even though Lyon was not certain to score
Manly were on fire, the Roosters were reeling and a Steve Matai try quickly followed. Then came a Roosters fightback, highlighted by a long range try featuring a classic Sonny Bill Williams offload.
Sydney Roosters 26 (Daniel Tupou, Aidan Guerra, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Michael Jennings tries; James Maloney 5 goals),
Manly Sea Eagles 18 (Jorge Taufua, penalty try, Steve Matai tries; Jamie Lyon 3 goals). Halftime: Manly 8 - 6.