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Gritty Roosters defy Raiders to win dramatic grand final

Back-to-back. Three words unspoken inside the four walls of the Sydney Roosters. Until now. The Roosters have done what 25 teams before them failed to do, ending the gallant run from Canberra to send Cooper Cronk out a winner.

The Raiders, the better team for the majority of the match, denied their fourth title after a series of controversial calls in a heart-stopping 14-8 loss at ANZ Stadium on Sunday night.

None more controversial then the officials calling six-again to the Raiders on the attack, only to change their minds without the Raiders realising the call had been amended.

What the Raiders thought would be a fresh set attacking the Roosters line at 8-8 with less seven minutes on the clock, became the start of a nightmare for the men in green.

Referee Ben Cummins ruled six-to-go and then changed that to a last tackle ruling. The Raiders were forced to hand the ball to their opposition.

From the ensuing set, Luke Keary scampered out of dummy half to link with Latrell Mitchell, whose incredible flick pass allowed Daniel Tupou to put James Tedesco over for the match-winner.

Tedesco finishes blindside raid by Roosters

It was a heart-breaking end to what was almost the perfect game from the Raiders, who also conceded the first try of the match after the Roosters benefited from a ball hitting their trainer.

The Raiders were on the right end of another controversial call in the second half, with Cronk sent to the sin bin for a professional foul, but they couldn't capitalise.

This, as Trent Robinson enforced to his team when they returned for day one of pre-season, was not an extension of last year but an entirely new campaign.

Regardless of how different they tried to treat it, for the best of the entire season most expected the same result. And for the first time since the Broncos in 1992-93, we have back-to-back champions.

By definition a Raider is "a person who attacks an enemy in their territory". And that's exactly what this Canberra variety did at ANZ Stadium on Sunday night.

They attacked them in the stands, outweighing the Tricolours almost two to one. But, on the field of battle, they couldn't get over the line. The Roosters have had one hand on the 2019 premiership trophy from the moment they put two hands on it last year.

And in front of 82,922 – they did it again.

The game began in the most dramatic of circumstances, with Raiders prop Sia Soliola charging down a Luke Keary kick that cannoned into Roosters trainer Travis Touma in back play.

Despite the Raiders coming up with possession, the referee deemed it a Roosters feed after telling Hodgson "it's unfortunate but the team with a territorial advantage gets the feed".

Wighton slices through on the right

The Roosters then managed to produce back-to-back sets, and eventually cracked the Raiders defence after Sam Verrills caught Joseph Tapine napping around the ruck.

It was a just reward for a show of faith from Trent Robinson in his young hooker, whose position in the team was questioned in the lead-up given the pending return of co-captain Jake Friend.

The Roosters' perfect start came to a halt soon after when they lost the ever-reliable Mitchell Aubusson to a game-ending knee injury, throwing their interchange plans into disarray.

Tapine's horror night continued soon after when a high shot on Victor Radley gifted Latrell Mitchell two points and the Roosters an 8-0 lead midway through the second half.

A rare error from Roosters No.1 James Tedesco presented the Raiders with a golden opportunity to kickstart their night, and Jack Wighton took the invitation to slice straight through Boyd Cordner and Angus Crichton.

Verrills scores the opener from close range

The Roosters had a chance to push their lead to four points on the stroke of half time when Croker was penalised for running Brett Morris off the ball, however Mitchell failed to convert from the sideline and sent his side into the sheds with just an 8-6 lead.

Just like the first half, the opening to the second half was marred by controversy when Cooper Cronk was sent to the sin bin for what was deemed a professional foul on Josh Papalii.

The bunker deemed that Cronk tacking Papalii a split second before he received the ball, was worthy of restricting the Roosters to just 12 men.

The Raiders slotted the two points from right in front of the posts, but that would be all they managed during the 10 minute window with Cronk off the field.

All the momentum for the first 27 minutes of the second half was in favour of the Raiders, but the ascendancy turned on a dime when Siosiua Taukeiaho burst into the open field with 13 minutes remaining.

A high tackle from Aidan Sezer on Luke Keary from the ensuing set should have seen the Roosters hit the lead through the boot of Mitchell, but the centre missed his second penalty of the night to ensure a nail-biting finish.

But when Tedesco ran away with seven minutes on the clock, there would be no fairytale finish for the Raiders.

Acknowledgement of Country

The New Zealand Warriors honour the mana of the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific. We acknowledge the traditional kaitiaki of the lands, elders past and present, their stories, their traditions, their mamae and their mana motuhake.

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