Luke Keary and Cooper Cronk starred for the Sydney Roosters as the premiership favourites thumped the Newcastle Knights 38-8 to make a statement in the NRL on Sunday evening.
The off-season acquisitions of Cronk and fullback James Tedesco had many bullish about the Roosters’ title claims but a Round 1 defeat to the Wests Tigers tempered some of that early hope.
After a strong victory against the Bulldogs last week, they backed it up with a big win against the previously undefeated Knights at Allianz Stadium.
This triumph was set up by two tries in the six minutes before half-time, after the Roosters’ early advantage, partly established by Cronk, was pegged back by a clever Mitchell Pearce kick that ended in an Aidan Guerra try.
That effort, set up and scored by two ex-Roosters, reduced the lead to 12-8, but tries just before the break to Keary and Victor Radley would prove crucial.
A Blake Ferguson double in the second half, and a try for Cronk, sealed a strong win for Trent Robinson’s side.
Earlier on Sunday, St George Illawarra fullback Matt Dufty scored three tries as his Dragons side thrashed the Gold Coast Titans 54-8 to remain one of just two sides undefeated after three rounds.
The Titans’ performance was so bad – they conceded nine tries and finished with a staggering 45 missed tackles – coach Garth Brennan acknowledged there was “a trust issue” in his side’s defensive line.
“You’ve got to be on and defensively we weren’t … the guys in the dressing shed are feeling it,” he said afterwards.
“We are a young football side and people have got to understand that we’ve got some new combinations where the guys haven’t played together in the past.
“There is probably a bit of a trust issue there from our guys on the inside and our guys on the edge and that will come in time.”
The Dragons are on top of the ladder, with the New Zealand Warriors in second place on three wins after a thrilling 20-19 success against the Canberra Raiders on Saturday afternoon.
Trailing 19-6 with just 13 minutes to go, two converted tries to Tohu Harris and Isaac Luke brought the Warriors within one point.
And a pair of Shaun Johnson field goals, in the 78th and 79th minutes, stunned the Raiders as the playmaker delivered under serious pressure.
Meanwhile, Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary suffered a knee injury during his side’s 20-18 loss to the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs on Friday evening.
Cleary started the season in such good form he was talked about as a potential State of Origin representative, but he is expected to be sidelined for around 10 weeks.
Jarryd Hayne also suffered an injury over the weekend, forced off the field with a hip problem as the Cronulla Sharks beat his Parramatta Eels 14-4 in a scrappy match on Saturday.
There was major controversy at Campbelltown Stadium on Friday, when a questionable late penalty was given to the Brisbane Broncos in golden point.
Jamayne Isaako needed no second invitation, kicking truly to give the Broncos a 9-7 win over the Wests Tigers.
The penalty was awarded after Tigers backrower Robbie Rochow was, in the eyes of officials, not square at marker while he tried to charge down a late field goal attempt.
“It’s hard [to accept]. Very hard. It’s one thing to give penalties in golden point, which historically just don’t [happen],” a perplexed Tigers coach Ivan Cleary said.
“And the other one is was it a penalty? I actually don’t think it was.”
Elsewhere in Round 3, Michael Jennings bagged a hat-trick as the South Sydney beat Manly 34-6 and in the grand final rematch, the Melbourne Storm proved too strong for North Queensland 30-14.