The Sydney Roosters are the first team into the NRL preliminary finals, after a 24-22 win over Brisbane that was saved as a spectacle by a wild and crazy finish.
In a frantic final 11 minutes, the lead changed twice on Friday night as Brisbane came from nowhere – only to have their hopes shattered and hearts broken in front of 21,212 at Allianz Stadium
Tries in the 69th and 71st minute had seen the Broncos erase what had been a 14-point deficit and find their first lead of the night, but some individual brilliance by Latrell Mitchell saw the Roosters home.
With his side trailing 22-18 in the 75th minute, the 20-year-old received the ball from Luke Keary against a fractured line and threw opposite number James Roberts aside with ease before skipping to the line, allowing Michael Gordon to pot the straightforward game-winner.
The Roosters were by far and away the better side — which isn’t saying much, given the poor standard of the game right up until those edge-of-the-seat closing minutes.
At one point, the Roosters looked like running away with it, up 14-0 just before halftime.
In what was mostly low-quality game, one that did not promote either team’s premiership credentials, it was the Broncos who started worse.
Terrible ball-handling and even worse defence effectively handed tries to the Roosters’ Aidan Guerra and Boyd Cordner.
Of course, any woeful start to an NRL match is not complete without a kicking the ball dead on the full, which the Broncos also managed, but only after surrendering two more points via a penalty goal.
Down 14-0, Roberts managed to reach a grubber first and dot down just before half-time to keep the Broncos within reach, but Keary pierced the line to score just four minutes after the break.
The Broncos answered with a barnstorming Corey Oates in the 50th minute, but remained eight points behind as errors continued to dog both sides.
A superb grubber-and-chase try by Ben Hunt gave the Broncos an unlikely sniff in the 69th minute before Blake Ferguson almost literally threw away the game.
Ferguson did brilliantly well to prevent a Benji Marshall 40/20, but with the kick coming from the opposite side of the field, full-back Gordon was nowhere to be seen in support and Oates had a clear run at the ball.
He swooped and touched down to give the Broncos the 22-18 advantage, but it did not last long as Mitchell rescued the Roosters at the death.
With the second-placed Tricolours now into the grand final qualifier, Brisbane awaits the winner of Saturday’s game between Manly and Penrith for their semi-final next week.
-with AAP and ABC