An off day? Or a failed test?
The Sydney Roosters have laid down a premiership marker with a comprehensive 36-18 win over St George Illawarra on Sunday.
Latrell Mitchell was the star for the Roosters, scoring a hat-trick of tries at Allianz Stadium. Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco were at their brilliant best as the Dragons struggled to deal with the rampant Tri Colours.
The match was billed as September come early. Two teams fighting for not just a top four place but, potentially, the minor premiership.
So, was this just a bad day at the office? Or something more sinister? The immediate feeling on full-time was more the latter.
The Dragons hadn’t been anywhere near their imperious early season form in recent weeks.
A depleted Dragons were beaten by the Storm in Melbourne before a flat performance saw them upset by the Wests Tigers at Kogarah.
Arguably, this was their biggest test since round 12 when they were hammered by Penrith.
And, like their loss to the Panthers and their round 10 defeat to South Sydney, the Dragons were outclassed on the big stage.
Does this loss mean St George Illawarra can’t, or won’t, win the premiership?
Of course not. The Dragons fired their own warning to the rest of the NRL when they beat the Roosters on Anzac Day.
But it is a worrying trend. The red V don’t appear able to physically dominate opponents as they did for the first half of the season.
The Roosters flew out of the blocks, with Mitchell and Tedesco scoring inside the opening 10 minutes.
Mitchell showed great strength to hold off three Dragons defenders to score before Tedesco finished off a slick Roosters move which included a miraculous Blake Ferguson kick.
Tedesco then turned provider midway through the first half in laying on a try for Cronk as the Roosters took a 16-0 lead.
Ben Hunt gave the Dragons a ray of hope with a superb solo effort right on half-time.
But two more tries to Mitchell and a second to Tedesco sealed the result and the Roosters’ place in the top four as they climbed above the Dragons into third.
The first Mitchell try though wasn’t without controversy. After the on-field match officials had ruled no try and a Mitchell knock on while contesting a Cronk kick, the video referee bunker officials overturned the decision, ruling Dragons winger Jason Nightingale had knocked the ball backwards.
Mitchell’s try to complete his hat-trick was more definitive, as he showed great strength and power to fend off Euan Aitken before trampling Nightingale to score out wide.
Hunt scored a second try before Tariq Sims scored a late consolation for the Dragons.
The only blemish on an almost perfect day for the Roosters was the loss of Luke Keary, who will go for scans on a knee injury on Monday after the five-eighth was landed on awkwardly by a teammate while making a tackle in the second half.
The Dragons will need to bounce back quickly. They host the Warriors in Wollongong on Saturday, still part of the logjam of teams fighting for finals places.
Sydney Roosters 36 (Latrell Mitchell three, James Tedesco two, Cooper Cronk, Blake Ferguson tries. Latrell Mitchell four goals)
St George Illawarra Dragons 18 (Ben Hunt two, Tariq Sims tries. Gareth Widdop three goals)
at Allianz Stadium
Leader man of the match: Latrell Mitchell (Roosters)
Dragons’ next three: Warriors (home – Wollongong), Eels (away), Tigers (away)