AFTER winning a National Rugby League premiership at his first attempt, Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson was none the wiser about the plans of his cross-code rugby superstar, Sonny Bill Williams.
The former All Black played a key role in the tricolours 13th premiership, his team twice coming from behind to secure a 26-18 win at ANZ Stadium in a decider that featured a rare penalty try to Manly centre Jamie Lyon and a number of other contentious calls.
New Zealand international Shaun Kenny-Dowall is believed to have played the second half with a broken jaw, with x-rays to confirm the extent if the injury.
Williams is yet to commit to the club for next season and there is intense speculation he will accept an AUD $1 million offer to box instead of playing in this month’s rugby league World Cup and then sign for New Zealand rugby union franchise the Waikato Chiefs.
“I haven’t asked him – I said ‘after the season’ but it’s only been 45 minutes,” said Robinson, who transferred from Super League side Catalan at the start of the season.
“Give us a little more time.
“After it gets past a point in a season, if he decides not to stay, that’s a huge hole you can’t fill anyway. You can’t find that type of player at this time of year, usually.
“That’s the risk you take with a player like that. He’s proved a lot of people wrong this year. We just decided to back him and we’ll do the same again.
“He can make a huge difference to a team.”
Lyon’s penalty try came three minutes into the second half and the decision looked like it would change the course of a contest at ANZ Stadium, during which his Manly side had endured the rough end of some first half calls.
Instead, Williams set up a try which lifted the tricolours back into the game and centre Michael Jennings touched down just millimetres short of the dead ball line, with seven minutes remaining, to secure victory.
The penalty try was one of a number of contentions calls at the end of a finals series that started with a seven-tackle try eliminating North Queensland.
Lyon chased Daly Cherry-Evans’ kick before he was pulled down by rival Mitchell Aubusson.
“I’ve got a try, I want to check the penalty try,” referee Shayne Hayne told video officials Ashley Klein
Six minutes later, centre Steve Matai added to Manly’s total with a converted try but just as Geoff Toovey’s side appeared set to take control, the Roosters responded with a try to Italy forward Aiden Guerra.
From the opening seconds, when Manly’s Glenn Stewart staggered out of an attempted tackle on rival Sam Moa and received medical attention before continuing, it was a grand final full of incident and contentious officiating.
Sea Eagles players claimed Sydney Roosters prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves had head-butted Justin Horo in the 33rd minute. There was definitely contact, but no classic butting action, and a previous penalty to the tricolours stood.
A penalty against Eagle Matt Ballin for tackling in the air was also highly contentious, as was a decision to award Sydney Roosters a scrum feed when their centre Michael Jennings appeared to play at the ball before it went into touch.
It was almost written into the plot that the trend should continue and when Sonny Bill Williams released James Maloney in the 60th minute, the pass to captain Anthony Minichiello drifted forwards – but went undetected – before Kenny-Dowall scored.
Well-known for his outbursts about refereeing this year, Toovey was measured post-match. “Pretty tough on the big calls again tonight,” he said.
“It was probably the lowest penalised game of the year.”
Losing halfback Daly Cherry-Evans was awarded the Clive Churchill Medal as man of the match.
Australia back-rower Greg Bird tweeted: “Am I the only person that finds it strange that every camera close up is on Sonny Bill. If he wins Clive I’ll retire!”
SYDNEY ROOSTERS 26 (A Guerra M Jennings S Kenny-Dowall D Tupou tries J Maloney 5 goals) bt MANLY 18 (J Lyon S Matai J Taufua tries J Lyon 3 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Referee: S Hayne/ B Cummins. Crowd: 81,491.
Filed for: THE GUARDIAN