They were pushed all the way but the Sydney Roosters again underlined their premiership credentials with a professional, hard-fought 12-8 victory over the North Qld Cowboys in front of 13,660 fans at a very wet 1300Smiles Stadium tonight.
Constant rain fell throughout the entire match - which wasn't decided until the 80th minute - when a miracle play from the Cowboys almost snatched victory, with winger Ash Graham going within centimetres of pulling in Matt Bowen's cross-field kick to the corner.
Roosters players, officials and supporters had a nervous 60-second wait after referee Ashley Klein referred the decision to the video referee before the correct call was made and the red lights flashed on the big screen.
The win consolidated the Roosters' position in the top two, keeping frontrunners and arch-rivals South Sydney in their sights, while North Queensland languish in 12th position - two points outside the top eight.
It was the second successive week where the boys from Bondi Junction built their victory on a near-impenetrable defence.
The Roosters were again involved in an opening half of footy where points were hard to come by. Just the two tries were scored in the first 40 minutes, with Anthony Minichiello opening the scoring in the 23rd minute before Robert Lui, returning from injury, crossed for the Cowboys first points in the 32nd minute.
Minichiello ghosted his way through the Cowboys defence following a clever decoy play from Sonny Bill Williams before halfback Mitchell Pearce found Minichiello wrapping around the back. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, centre Kane Linnett slipped over in the greasy conditions which opened up the gap for the Roosters custodian to score out wide.
Lui took advantage of some tiring Roosters defence 10 minutes later when he reached out to score despite James Maloney hanging off his legs. It was the fourth successive set of six where the Roosters were camped on their own try-line. Rory Kostjasyn jumped out of dummy half before his pass to Lui put him on the outside of his opposite number.
The Cowboys had almost 60% of possession in the opening 40 but it was the Roosters defence which again kept them in the contest at the break.
The second stanza followed a similar script to the first with just the one try scored – through Roosters second-rower Mitch Aubusson after a sublime Mitchell Pearce cut-out pass in the 65th minute. That followed two Johnathan Thurston penalty goals which put the hosts in front 8-6 with 20 minutes left to play.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck almost sealed the result in the 73rd minute, but much like Graham’s attempt in the shadows of full-time he couldn’t quite drag in a bouncing ball in the slippery conditions.
Cowboys coach Neil Henry was buoyed by the performance of his side and said "I can't fault the effort, but we squandered some opportunities. We can compete with the big sides in the competition", but centre Brent Tate told Fox Sports after the game that it was frustrating not being able to come up with consistent performances week-to-week.
Next week the Cowboys travel to Leichhardt to tackle the struggling Tigers while the Roosters will again face tough opposition when the Melbourne Storm travel to Allianz Stadium next Saturday evening.
North Queensland Cowboys 8 Sydney Roosters 12
Venue: Willows Sports Complex
Halftime Score: Sydney Roosters 6-4
LeagueUnlimited.com Players of the Match:
3 points - Mitchell Pearce
2 points - Johnathan Thurston
1 point - Boyd Cordner
NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS (8)
Tries: Robert Lui
Conversions: Johnathan Thurston (0/1)
Penalty Goals: Johnathan Thurston (2/2)
SYDNEY ROOSTERS (12)
Tries: Anthony Minichiello, Mitchell Aubusson
Conversions: James Maloney (2/2)
LeagueUnlimited.com Live Commentary
Interchange: 7. Ray Thompson 15. Glenn Hall 16. Ashton Sims 17. Scott Bolton 18. Jason Taumalolo
Roosters: 1. Anthony Minichiello (c) 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Michael Jennings 4. Shaun Kenny-Dowall 5. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 6. James Maloney 7. Mitchell Pearce 17.Luke O'Donnell 9. Jake Friend 10. Martin Kennedy 11. Mitchell Aubusson 12. Sonny Bill Williams 13. Boyd Cordner
Interchange: 14. Daniel Mortimer 15. Frank Paul Nuuausala 16. Aidan Guerra 20. Lama Tasi
Scored by Anthony Minichiello. Conversion attempt by James Maloney successful.
Minichiello opens the scoring after a second-man play puts him into space. His cause was helped by the fact Linnett slipped over. Maloney adds the extras from out wide.
Sydney Roosters 6-0
Scored by Robert Lui. Conversion attempt by Johnathan Thurston unsuccessful.
Finally the pressure pays off for the Cowboys. Kostjasyn's pass from dummy half put Lui on the outside of Maloney before he reached out to score out wide. Thurston can't add the extras from out near the sideline as the rain pours down.
Sydney Roosters 6-4
Penalty goal attempt by Johnathan Thurston successful.
Thurston adds the extras from 20m in from touch. We're all locked up in Townsville.
Penalty goal attempt by Johnathan Thurston successful.
Thurston adds the two from right in front and the Cowboys are in front for the first time tonight.
North Queensland Cowboys 8-6
Scored by Mitchell Aubusson. Conversion attempt by James Maloney successful.
What a ball from Mitchell Pearce! He engaged the Cowboys defence and delivered a perfectly timed pass to Aubusson who ran a perfect line on the outside shoulder of Robert Lui. He goes over untouched. Maloney adds the extras from 20m in from touch.
Sydney Roosters 12-8