Eulogies were being written about the Roosters a few weeks ago, but if results go their way then they will be in the finals after a 26-12 win over the Rabbitohs capped a stunning surge to end the season.
The competition heavyweights were languishing in 14th spot after 22 rounds, with the Roosters four points outside the top eight having scored the second-fewest points in the league despite boasting one of the best rosters.
It led to some scathing criticism from people who just assumed that they’d miss the top eight, only for the Roosters to win their final five games playing the kind of footy that we expected at the start of the year.
“We could have used that (as motivation) but we haven’t used that at all,” coach Trent Robinson said.
“The post-mortems have already been written about our season long ago. Our thing was that it wasn’t done.
“You can use external motivation, but we haven’t. We’ve gone internal. We’ve talked about ourselves, what we want out of ourselves and how we do that.
“We know it’s there (the criticism) and I don’t like it, but we haven’t used it for our good.”
Skipper James Tedesco knew what was being said about his team having also copped plenty of flak following a tough State of Origin series that only added to the pressure he was feeling with his side’s struggles in attack.
But the champion fullback has bounced back and was one of the best players on Friday night, with Tedesco scoring a crucial try when he dragged defenders over the line when it looked like he was going to be stopped short.
That play was emblematic of the Roosters’ late-season surge, with the team willing to do whatever it takes to keep their finals hopes alive.
“We had a lot of belief inside our four walls,” Tedesco said.
“Externally there were plenty of doubters and some scrutiny against us, but the big change for us has been our belief. No matter what happens during a game, it’s never going to be perfect but we’ll keep doing what we have to do.
“We haven’t given up in any games, we’ve kept working for each other and we’ve definitely got some momentum now.
“Hopefully some results can go our way and then anything can happen in the finals.”
The equation is simple for the Roosters. They just need the Cowboys or Raiders to lose and they will be there next week, although they won’t have veteran winger Daniel Tupou, who missed the game with a knee injury.
Golden Boot winner Joseph Manu is expected to return from a hamstring strain, while fellow centre Billy Smith showed on Friday why the club has been so willing to stand by him through several devastating knee injuries.
He scored a crucial try to make it 20-12 late in the game when he got past defensive specialist Campbell Graham, but his coach was most pleased with the way in which he was able to nullify South Sydney’s right edge attack.
“The intensity that he plays with is a gift of his,” Robinson said.
“To do that defensively on Campbell was a really good job. Campbell didn’t get too many opportunities at all so they had to target the other side, and then he took it on and scored that try. That was him making his mark on this game.”
Smith’s only concern after the game was a potential confrontation with a security guard after he threw the ball into him while he was celebrating the try.
That was nothing for a guy who has endured so much pain off the field but is starting to reap the rewards in his first full season.
“With guys like Joey and ‘Toops’ out, I really wanted to stand up in those big games and big moments so I’m glad I could do it for the team,” Smith said.
“I’ve been dreaming of those moments for the past three or four years while I’ve been in the weights room and doing my rehab running.
“For it to finally happen is really nice because I’ve put in a lot of work over the past few years.”
Originally published as ‘The post-mortems have already been written’: Roosters stay alive in finals race after the rest of the world gave up on them