A matchup between the Roosters and the Gold Coast, if you’ll pardon the awful pun, is certainly not a clash of the Titans. Especially when the home team decide to shoot themselves in the foot before the referees sink a couple of slugs into the other one. Not worth the candle? You betcha.
I arrived at the ground formerly known as the SFS before 5.30 to catch the Toyota Cup, an entertaining tussle claimed by the Roosters 30-16. The under-20s is always a watchable affair between sides rarely fussed with defence but intent on replicating the Harlem Globetrotters. As the curtain-raiser went on in its freewheeling manner, the crowd built slowly. Very slowly. When I found my seat in Bay 35 there might have been 200 people in the ground and when the full-time siren sounded it probably ticked over to four figures.
Even amongst those in attendance, last week’s loss against Penrith snuffed hope out of even the most bullish optimist. The season is cooked. The game doesn’t matter. There aren’t even any bragging rights on offer against a club barely old enough to make any enemies.
The crowd was so sparse that when the referees emerged for their warm-up, individual comments were clearly audible. In a bid to mend the Roosters’ icy relationship with the whistle-blowers, a number of fans plied the men in pink with compliments. “We love you referees, we do” was the song. The gangly Phil Haines bowed to his minions as he ran up and down the touchline. The linesmen were smiling and chatting. Relations were at an all-time high, or so it seemed.
Then out comes Joe Moore. Singer-songwriter Joe Moore. If you’re still asking yourself, ‘Who?’, then you were just like the 2000 or so who had made it into the ground by 7.15 or so. A google search tells me he was a contestant on ‘Australia’s Got Talent’ and possesses a “powerful” and “mesmeric” voice. Unfortunately, a disparate crowd of surly rugby league fans – and the tinny Allianz PA system – is hardly the platform for an aspiring Jason Mraz.
By kickoff, there are probably 5000 seats full but the creative people who tally Roosters’ crowds managed to find 8134. The Roosters started nicely with tries to Arona and Pearce sending les Tricolores up 10-nil, but David Mead’s spectacular run laid the platform for a Titans’ revival. Amusingly, after some fans in Bay 35 asked Haines whether the Idris touchdown had a hint of obstruction, the ref shrugged his shoulders and imitated the flip of a coin; a sense of uncertainty and confusion that most whistleblowers engender amongst supporters. Somehow, the visitors led by two at the break – and the tiny handful of Gold Coasters are the only ones with smiles on their faces. The Roosters people have seen this all before – a habitual inability to convert dominance into points.
The Heart Foundation were the match day sponsors, and a giant heart galavanted around on the pitch at half-time. Cards were handed out with tips on how to recognise the signs of a heart attack – I was surprised that ‘watching the Roosters’ wasn’t one of them. The Roosters and heart health are an ironic marriage, considering the Chooks’ capacity to induce stress and increase blood pressure.
The teams re-emerge from the tunnel to commence the second half, and if the Toyota Cup was Harlem Globetrotters, then this is a battle befitting the Washington Generals. Willy Zilly crashed over before Beau Falloon scooted over from dummy half with barely a hand laid on him. Aubusson scraped one back for the Roosters to get them within touching distance, 22-16, until the refs insisted on marking their fingerprints all over the game.
I hope Haines held on to the pre-game memory of the “we love you” chant because I’m not sure the sentiment lasted the 80 minutes. The terribly inconsistent ruling of the ‘cannonball’ tackle – when a defender takes out the legs of the ball-runner when he is being held by two defenders – combined with a contentious forward pass decision on a Moga line break and a host of other disruptive calls when the Roosters were hammering the Titans line in search of an equalising try. The crowd was baying at the officials as the penalty count ballooned to 9-6, the Chooks’ 11th lost count of the 2012 campaign, and continuing a dire run under Jason Robinson.
A couple of late junk tries to the Titans inflated the scoreline, perhaps flattering the visitors, but hopefully highlighting how poor the Roosters were. The crowd – probably embarrassed that they chose to attend this game when so many other fans had the good sense to stay at home and save their candles for the Olympics’ Opening Ceremony – were extremely bitter when the siren put the game out of its misery. Easts fans exchanged harsh words in Bay 35, while the rest just furrowed their brows, questioning where the next two competition points are going to come from.