By PETER JESSUP in SYDNEY
SYDNEY - The Sydney City Roosters proved "you have to lose one to win one" last night when they applied themselves more professionally to pressure the Warriors into game-deciding errors and take the NRL premiership 30-8.
The Warriors were in the game for three-quarters of it, dropping their resolve only near the end, when all hope was gone, to allow a score that didn't reflect their effort.
They matched it across the park in all facets of the game, but lost to a side that wanted it more.
They'll learn. They'll be back. They proved they have the raw talent to go the second stage of that "lose then win" adage.
The Roosters' last appearance in the final was two years ago when they were beaten 14-6 by the Brisbane Broncos. Their last grand final victory was 27 years ago.
Last night's tense tone was set in the first 40 minutes.
Neither side was able to take any advantage in the forward momentum and so their playmaking halves were kept in check.
Whenever either side started to make sustained impact, punishing defence produced turnovers.
The Warriors were tested early and held as the Roosters enjoyed the early territory and possession thanks to early penalties.
They pressed with kicks at the line, but these were too deep or were covered.
John Carlaw came off the line repeatedly to make ball-and-all tackles that stopped the Roosters' ball distribution.
The Warriors were looking composed and settled until midway through the the half when they made a mistake that suggested they were anything but.
Lack of markers in the play-the-ball let the Roosters make 40 metres.
As the Warriors retreated, Bryan Fletcher delivered an off-load that sent wing Brett Mullins away.
Mullins took the cover and threw the ball in to centre Shannon Hegarty to score.
They nearly allowed more points when the ball was played by Jerry Seuseu but there was no dummy-half.
The Roosters accepted it and nearly scored off a towering punt from Craig Wing.
Cleary bravely accepted the high ball and was culled before he hit the ground, earning a relieving tackle.
It was an inspirational moment. It told the Warriors they were equals on the field.
They used the lift to force their way to the other end and Jones' grubber to the in-goal was punched dead just before Meli got there. The half finished with Clinton Toopi tackled to touch 3m out.
They'd proved they could play. But could they win?
Stacey Jones answered that five minutes in when he took on the Roosters line from 30 out. There was no hole to go to - he just went. A dummy to Lauiti'iti, a sidestep left then right then left again as he accelerated into a gap he made himself, and five Roosters were left behind, beaten, stumbling over each other and grasping at air.
It was pure genius.
Brad Fittler followed with genius of his own, regaining the ball after a 40-20 kick and putting Wing through a hole to score.
The Roosters were lifted again when the skipper was smashed in a tackle by Wairangi Koopu, dropped the ball and was hit again by Richard Villasanti as he regained it.
The push-and-shove which followed seemed to unsettle the Warriors and rob their resolve. They endured three consecutive sets and eventually Craig Fitzgibbon rolled over in the tackle of P. J. Marsh and video ref Mick Stone awarded a benefit-of-the-doubt try.
The kick-off dropped just over the dead-ball line, and when the penalty put the Roosters back within 30m of the goal line again, Fittler grubbered again and Wing scored to end any hope of a comeback. Bryan Fletcher forced his way over minutes later to make the score unpalatable.
Jones said the game's momentum swung 20 minutes out from the end.
"Midway through the second half they just got on top of us, a few things went their way and they fully deserved their win.
"They were definitely the form side in the latter half of the year."
By PETER JESSUP in SYDNEY