The Sydney Roosters have taken a giant leap towards back-to-back NRL premierships after Luke Keary sparked the Tri-Colours to a 30-6 finals romp over South Sydney.
The Roosters are now one game away from the grand final after putting in arguably the most dominant performance of the season in their qualifying final victory over the Rabbitohs at the SCG on Friday night.
After being toppled by the Rabbitohs just eight days earlier, Keary returned to lead his side to a six-tries-to-one rout in front of a crowd of 30,370.
Skipper Boyd Cordner sent a scare through the Roosters camp when he limped off seven minutes before the break with a quad injury.
With his side leading 26-0 at the break, Roosters coach Trent Robinson had no need to risk him in the second-half and kept him on the sideline.
Winger Daniel Tupou also left the field in the second half with a groin injury.
The Rabbitohs were without inspirational skipper Sam Burgess (suspension) and Dane Gagai (hamstring) however that didn’t account for the size of the scoreline.
They simply had no answer for the Roosters’ speed and skill and will now meet either Manly or Cronulla in a do-or-die semi-final next week.
After missing last week’s loss to the Rabbitohs due to the birth of his first child, Keary was dynamic, setting up three of his side’s six tries.
The Roosters went into their shells for the first 20 minutes of the second half but Keary sparked them to life, booting a 40-20 before double-pumping to shoot Latrell Mitchell over.
Earlier, things started badly for the Rabbitohs when Alex Johnston knocked it dead with his side’s first touch, Joey Manu eventually running over James Roberts and Corey Allan for first points in the next set.
And it didn’t get much better for Wayne Bennett’s men from there.
All year it’s been widely predicted that there are few sides who can go with the Roosters when they hit full throttle – and they showed why when they laid on a sparkling team try that was finished off by Mitchell Aubusson in the 11th minute.
The Rabbitohs night was summed up when Victor Radley stabbed in a grubber from dummy-half, Tevita Tatola failed to ground it and Siosiua Taukeiaho won the race to the ball.
The Roosters had heroes all over the park – Jared Waerea-Hargreaves beat a careless high tackle charge at the judiciary during the week and was instrumental with 148 metres, Brett Morris was unflappable in his 250th game while Manu dominated down the right edge for the second straight week.
Raiders happy to fly under the radar
Canberra are happy for minor premiers Melbourne and the Roosters to dominate the NRL headlines leading into finals.
But the Raiders are quietly confident the narrative will change this weekend, with murmurs of the club delivering a drought-breaking premiership.
They face the Storm in Melbourne in a qualifying final on Saturday, looking to take down the powerhouse side which has won 20 of 24 games this season.
The Green Machine stunned Melbourne at home last month coming back to win from 18-0 down but Canberra co-captain Josh Hodgson said that result was only a surprise to people outside the capital.
“One of the perks of being outside of Sydney and the bubble is you don’t’ get hammered too much in terms of questions and expectations and people saying you should be doing this or that,” Hodgson told AAP.
You’ve got to beat the best if you want to be the best, we’re not going to win this comp easy, nobody is, that’s why it’s the best competition in the world.
“It was a good game last time we came down and I’m sure they’ll be really dirty about that but it’s a whole new competition now and what we’ve done doesn’t mean much.
“It’s going to be a tough task down here in Melbourne, they’re a tough team to beat at any time let alone at home in finals … but we know if we’re on we can beat anybody.”
Canberra are playing finals for the first time in three years and Hodgson is confident they’ll better their preliminary final exit in 2016.
“We’ve been a lot more detailed and clinical this year as opposed to three years ago,” Hodgson said.
“In 2016 we weren’t really steely defensively or grinding out wins, we were just outscoring teams.
“This year we haven’t blown too many teams out of the park but we’ve won a lot of close games which has helped us massively.
“But it don’t mean an awful lot if we don’t produce what we can produce in the next couple of w