They may have finished the match with just ten men, but the Sydney Roosters� Jersey Flegg side can hold their heads high after gallantly bowing out of the finals at the hands of St George Illawarra during a drama-charged 27-6 loss at Leichardt Oval tonight.
Referee Gavin Badger � a former first grade whistleblower � completely lost control of the match in the dying stages, as a season of frustration took its toll on the young Roosters.
With seven minutes remaining, Badger sent hulking back-rower Frank Winterstein off after what appeared to be little more than a solid hit. However, the pro-Dragons crowd took exception and Badger gave Winterstein an early shower.
Bemused by the decision, giant lock Pee Wee Moke fired up from the ensuing Dragons� penalty to completely smash an oncoming Saint.
This only further angered both sides, with a fiery all-in brawl erupting and spilling over the sidelines in an ugly finish to the clash.
Despite the Dragons appearing to instigate the brawl, Badger sin-binned star half Anthony Watts and centre Troy Savage to leave the Roosters to fight out the final six minutes with only ten players. One Dragons player was also binned to leave the minor premiers and competition favourites with 12.
The Roosters� frustration stemmed from a lopsided penalty count (7-2) in the opening stanza that speared St George Illawarra to a 10-0 lead at the break.
Classy Dragons hooker George Ndaira opened the scoring in the seventh minute after a determined barge from close range. Josh Lewis converted to give the Dragons an early 6-0 advantage.
After conceding such a soft try, the Roosters defence fired up big time � crushing no less than three Dragons into submission as the Bondi boys aimed to regain the ascendancy.
However, the Roosters� frustration was clear for all to see after the Dragons extended their advantage in the 22nd minute through Lee Te Maari after a blatant forward pass was overlooked in the build-up.
It was one of many passes and knock-ons � admittedly from both sides � that was bewilderingly let go by the officials. No doubt, the frustration created to both sides resulted in the game spiralling out of control in the final ten minutes.
The young Roosters responded in the best possible way, completely dominating the remaining exchanges in the opening stanza, as the Dragons lost their invincibility aura with a string of uncharacteristic errors.
But the Roosters couldn�t make their hard work count on the scoreboard, with Pierce Sapsford unable to collect a poor pass from Savage following a crisp backline movement. Had Sapsford caught the pass, the Roosters almost certainly would have scored and reduced the deficit to four at the break.
It didn�t take long for the Roosters to make their dominance count in the second half, when popular back-rower Grant Millington crashed over out wide after bustling prop Danny Williams nearly set up the opening four-pointer to Melbourne-bound half James Aubusson on the prior play. Scott Porter converted to reduce the score to 10-6.
But with all the momentum with them, the Roosters knocked on from the ensuing kick-off to release the pressure valve off the Dragons.
Beau Ryan scored from close range to restore the Saints� 10-point buffer and effectively signal the end of the Roosters� season.
�That really, really hurt us,� coach Jim Dymock conceded.
�We had them rattled at that stage and let them off the hook.
�We gave them a sniff and they took it, as the good sides do.
�They were too good for us tonight and good luck to them in the grand final next week.
�But I couldn�t be prouder of the boys for their commitment tonight.
�They really dug in for each other � it was a shame the way the match ended, though.�
From that point, the Roosters defended bravely, but were unable to stop Josh Morris scoring a soft try on the fifth tackle out wide off a third-consecutive set for the Dragons.
A Lewis field goal and a further try to Ryan sealed a deserved 21-point win for the Dragons � by far and away 2005�s best side.
But the Roosters� commitment when most critics were predicting another 40-point landslide loss, breathed new hope into the premiership campaigns of tonight�s other preliminary finalists, Parramatta and Cronulla.
For the Roosters, Watts was a standout � consistently trying to fire his teammates up with a stirring kick-chase and defensive game beyond his age and size.
In the forwards, Williams stood tall � never shirking from the hard yards after the Dragons� game plan clearly revolved around hammering the Roosters� linchpin in the opening exchanges.
Savage, Jeremy Gordon and fullback Shaun Foley were also strong in the backs.
�It�s hard to single anyone out � I thought everyone really put in tonight,� Dymock said.
�This will put us in good stead for next year.
�The guys did themselves proud tonight.�
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS 27 (Beau Ryan 2, Josh Morris, George Ndaira, Lee Te Maari tries; Josh Lewis 3/5 goals; Josh Lewis field goal) defeated SYDNEY ROOSTERS 6 (Grant Millington try; Scott Porter 1/1 goal) at Leichardt Oval; Friday, 23rd September, 2005; Referee: Gavin Badger.