It wasn’t pretty, but a 12-man Fremantle Roosters got their title defence off to the perfect start with a nail-biting 22-20 win over the Rockingham Sharks in Round One of the 2018 Smarter Than Smoking Premiership at Dorrien Gardens on Saturday.
“It’s a good start to get the win, but from a performance we have a hell of a lot to work on,” Fremantle Player-Coach Delane Edwards said.
In a Grand Final rematch, the Roosters struck first – Bjorn Crotty piercing through the Sharks defence to touch down under the sticks.
Crotty added the extra points himself to give his side an early 6-0 lead.
Despite a mass-overhaul of players during the offseason, the Sharks hit back when John Taituha’s perfectly weighted pass found Tevita Pomale who crashed over from close range.
Rockingham’s English import Jack Wray couldn’t add the extras as it remained 6-4.
Wray arrives in Australia with a high profile having come through the Hull academy.
Keen to claim back-to-back titles, the Roosters grabbed two tries just before the break.
Some nice ball movement allowed Tarin Katu to cross in the corner before a bit of individual brilliance from Taiapa Graham gave his side a 16-4 lead at the break.
Graham, who led the Roosters with 17 tries last season ran 50 metres to cap off a strong first half for the premiers.
The Sharks knew they needed a big second half to get back into the contest, and got off to the perfect start when Kieren Crowe put on a dazzling bit of footwork to score Rockingham’s second try of the game.
Wray added the extras to make it a six-point game with half an hour to play.
The Roosters needed a lift and turned to their big-guns who delivered. Crotty and Edwards combined to send Duane Butler crashing over and regain their 12 point buffer.
Some poor discipline resulted in Fremantle ended the game with 12 men after Edwards was handed a yellow card with seven minutes remaining.
Up a man, the Sharks capitalised immediately – Ezra Taomia crossing in the corner to set up a grandstand finish.
After an error from the kickoff, Rockingham stormed up the field as Logan Barkley scored to make it 22-20 with the kick to come.
From the sideline, Wray missed the conversion to leave his side with a minute a half to secure an unlikely win.
The Roosters defence held firm, however, forcing a handling error to open their campaign with a win.
In other results, North Beach opened their season with a 46-12 win over newly-promoted Willagee Bears, while South Perth claimed a 38-10 win over the Joondalup Giants.
In Round Two, Willagee and Joondalup will square off with both sides looking for their first win of the season, while South Perth host Fremantle and Rockingham travel to North Beach.