Cooper Cronk made a stunning return from a hamstring injury to lay on three first-half tries as Sydney Roosters ran roughshod over Brisbane but the superstar halfback failed to finish the match.
Cronk, who was the victim of a late shot that resulted in Broncos lock Tevita Pangai being placed on report, combined with in form five-eighth Luke Keary to steer the Roosters to a 36-4 victory before coming from the field in the 52nd minute.
"He didn't miss me tonight. That one hurt a little bit," Cronk told Channel Nine. "I'll cop those whacks as long as the blokes on my outside reap the rewards."
Roosters coach Trent Robinson said Cronk had again been troubled by his hamstring problem and after undergoing treatment at halftime it had been decided not to risk him any further.
Cronk watched the final 28 minutes from the sideline and even put on a set of headphones to communicate with Robinson in the coaches box.
He came from the field after tackling Broncos winger Corey Oates and team-mate Poasa Faamausili connected, wedging in the No.7 between them, and had initially clutched at the left shoulder which was operated on after last year’s grand final heroics.
Match: Roosters v Broncos
Round 4 -
Venue: Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney
Roosters officials insisted the injury was not related to the 19th minute late shot by Pangai, which had playmaking greats Andrew Johns, Johnathan Thurston and Brad Fittler calling for the sin bin to be used for such offences.
"It is a dead set cheap shot and it is so dangerous. Someone is going to get really seriously injured," Johns said in commentary for Channel Nine.
"I think that should be a sin bin. You're giving away 30kg and a front-rower smashes into your kidney. It's a dog shot
Thurston agreed, saying: "It needs to be stamped out of the game. You can see the whiplash on Cooper's neck."
Fittler said the shot to Cronk's back, which occurred after he had passed the ball to fullback James Tedesco, was beyond "borderline" and "way too late".
Pangai placed on report for tackle on Cronk
Even after losing Cronk and without hooker Jake Friend (shoulder), prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (rib cartilage) and winger Brett Morris (knee), the Roosters were far too good for a disappointing Brisbane outfit.
The halftime statistics demonstrated the Rooster’s domination, with the home side boasting 71 per cent of the ball and completing 18 of their 24 sets of possession compared to just 10 of 15 by the Broncos.
As a result, the Broncos were forced to make 210 tackles to 101 by the Roosters but the most telling statistic was their 32 missed tackles. In comparison, the Roosters had just two missed tackles.
Every member of the Roosters starting forward pack except second-rower Angus Crichton made more metres in possession than Brisbane’s best, Matt Lodge (48m), with props Zane Tetevano and Siosiua Taukeiaho carrying the ball more than 100 metres each. Taukeiaho actually topped the team with 207.
The demolition began in just the ninth minute when Roosters centre Joseph Manu tapped on a Keary pass for winger Matt Ikuvalu to score after stepping inside Jack Bird.
Crichton scored his first try in Roosters colours just four minutes later when Cronk sent him charging at the line off a short pass after Brisbane winger Jamayne Isaako had been bundled into touch when he fielded a long Keary kick near his tryline.
The Roosters almost scored again in the following set after Keary raced onto a Cronk grubber and toed ahead for Isaako to knock on.
The 2018 NRL rookie of the year was having a night to forget and he fumbled a Cronk bomb in the 24th minute to enable the Roosters to maintain pressure after Tetevano had lost the ball over the try line just minutes earlier.
Interchange forward Mitchell Aubusson put the Roosters ahead 18-0 when he crossed virtually untouched in the 33rd minute after stepping inside from another short Cronk pass. The veteran halfback then set up another try with a bomb for winger Daniel Tupou to score in the 39th minute.
Roosters finish with miracle try
Broncos second-rower Matt Gillett scored his side’s only try just two minutes after Cronk left the field but it was the only glitch in an impressive Roosters performance and they scored three more tries to complete the rout.
Aubusson scored his second in the 66th minute ending a five-year drought since he registered a brace.
And Joey Manu's try in the 77th minute featured three kicks and six sets of hands as the premiers iced a win coach Trent Robinson described as their best of the year so far.