Cronk horror after ‘cheap shot’
THE Sydney Roosters have advanced through to the NRL Grand Final after flooring long time rivals the South Sydney Rabbitohs in a tense clash at Allianz Stadium.
44,380 fans packed out the stands to produce the biggest crowd seen in the venue's history.
A litany of knock-ons from either side dotted the second Preliminary Final, which saw the Rabbitohs try-less. Despite being down a goal-kicker with Latrell Mitchell suspended, the Roosters were able to hold out and claimed victory.
But it wasn't all flowers and sunshine for the Roosters as million-dollar halfback Cooper Cronk pulled up with an injured shoulder at halftime. A late hit from Tevita Tatola sent the former Storm star to the deck and put a cloud over his grand final appearance against his old club.
The Roosters' last minute addition of Paul Momirovski, who played just one first grade game prior to Saturday night, was a winner as the 22-year-old plonked down the last try of the match after picking up a wild rebound off a Luke Keary bomb.
Cronk in trouble as Roosters claim victory
Cooper Cronk sent a shiver down the Roosters' spine as he pulled up with an injured arm during the halftime break. The tricolours halfback couldn't raise his arm to kick the ball, handing it to five-eighth Luke Keary to book into touch instead.
Blake Ferguson redeemed an error-laden first half with a huge effort on the right flank to muscle over for Sydney's second try of the night. Ferguson took over the kicking duties but skewed it wide.
"This could end up in Redfern or Paddington," Phil Gould quipped as he lined up the tough kick.
It got worse for Cronk after he was floored in a late tackle by Tevita Tatola, giving the Roosters a penalty.
"I can't imagine how much pain he'd be in," Andrew Johns said. "That's a terrible cheap shot on Cronk."
"That was deliberate," Phil Gould agreed.
Tense start to NRL blockbuster
Pressure was well and truly on South Sydney as the Roosters proved their worth as the best defensive side in the NRL, forcing an early knock-on from the Rabbitohs as they advanced into enemy territory. A fumbled take from James Tedesco in goal gave Souths a whiff at a try, but the was smothered and kept them out.
Roosters hooker Jake Friend found himself in some trouble after a dangerous tackle on opposition skipper Greg Inglis. Inglis picked up a knock-on from Blake Ferguson and was lifted off his legs and onto his head by Friend.
The Rabbitohs got of the mark early with a penalty midway through the first half but the Roosters responded with the first try of the night courtesy of Daniel Tupou.
Hot potato passes from Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco opened up a massive gap on the left flank and sent the tricolours centre over for four.
Sio Siua Taukeiaho, who took over kicking duties with Latrell Mitchell suspended, sent his first conversion attempt sailing metres wide of the posts to keep it at 4-2.
Robert Jennings looked to have put the Rabbitohs ahead with a try on the wing but was denied the four-pointer after video replays revealed a pass from Alex Johnston went forward.
Fans pour in as Roosters make surprise selection
Moore Park is being inundated with passionate fans Roosters and Rabbitohs fans ahead of kick-off.
"It's-getting a little wiry out here," Michael Ennis said on FOX League.
Roosters coach Trent Robinson made a surprise selection to replace suspended centre Latrell Mitchell, opting for one-game rookie Paul Momirovski in the back line.
NRL braces for 'absolute travesty'
Billy Slater's hopes of an NRL grand final fairytale farewell are over unless he can beat a ban for a shoulder charge at the judiciary this week. Slaterwas charged with a grade-one offence for his hit on Cronulla's Sosaia Feki on Friday night, meaning he will miss one matcheven with an early guilty plea.
The retiring superstar was penalised for the incident but not placed on report on Friday night, after he came across to save a try and put Feki into touch.
Melbourne are confident they will beat the charge and began preparing their defence as early as Friday night, and will push for the case to be brought forward to Monday if the NRL deems it possible.
"It's pretty hard to make a conventional tackle when you're going across at top speed trying to save a try like that," Slater said after Friday night's win. "I was going across in desperation to try and save the try. I was at top speed, Sosaia Fekiwas at top speed.
"I thought he was going to step back inside me hence why I was upright. It's hard to get your head down for a shoulder tackleposition.
Former Storm premiership captain Glenn Lazarus said Slater missing his final game due to a ban would be an "absolute travesty".
"What they (NRL) don't do is think about the ramifications of the rule changes and take time to make sure that the wording is correct because what Billy Slater did last night is nothing short of heroic," Lazarus said.
"He's come from nowhere and just launched himself at a player that's quite a considerable sized bigger than him, putting his body on the line to save a try knowing that at the end of the day they can go into another grand final.
"He was doing it for his mate... unfortunately the rules state that (if) you don't attempt to wrap arms around and make contact with the shoulder first it's deemed as a shoulder charge."
"It was just an unfortunate collision." Melbourne captain Cameron Smith also missed the Storm's 2008 grand final loss to Manlythrough suspension, while Kiwi hooker Issac Luke is the last big name to have missed a decider due to a ban with South Sydneyin 2014. The loss of Slater will be a massive blow to the Storm regardless of whether they play the Sydney Roosters or Souths,given he is still close to his best despite being 317 games into his NRL career.
The fullback scored two tries and set up another in Friday night's 22-6 preliminary final win over the Sharks at AAMI Park,and also saved two tries at the back - with one being the hit on Feki.
If he is suspended, youngster Jahrome Hughes would likely come in for just his 18th NRL match and first finals clash. Scott Drinkwater and Ryley Jacks would form less likely options.
The charge comes after Sharks coach Shane Flanagan declared on Friday night he should be free to play in the decider and stand-incaptain Luke Lewis questioned how he could be suspended at all.
"What do you want him to do?" Lewis said.
"He's one of the best defensive fullbacks in the game and you have to stop a try and put your body on the line.
"If someone was to miss a game for something like that, I don't know what our game would be coming to. It's a contact sport.