The Roosters ran in seven tries to one in their xx-8 win over Newcastle at the Sydney Football Stadium. (AAP: Brendan Esposito)
Cooper Cronk had a hand in all seven of his side’s tries, leaving predecessor Mitchell Peace in his wake as the Roosters thrashed Newcastle 38-8.
Their victory came after the Dragons’ thumping win over the Titans in Toowoomba took them to the top of the table on points differential.
After walking out on his long-time NRL club after the signing of Cronk last year, Pearce’s Knights had no answers for the Roosters’ new number seven and his partnership with Luke Keary.
The pair combined directly for no less than four tries – including what may well end the year as the try of the season off the final play of the first half.
Leading 18-8 and bringing the ball out of their own end, Cronk chipped for a flying Keary, who regathered and produced a magical flick pass as he was ankle tapped for Victor Radley to score.
The pair had earlier helped open the scoring in the sixth minute when Cronk changed the direction of play close to the line with an inside ball to Keary, before Latrell Mitchell stepped his way over.
A Cronk kick later led to a Jared Waerea-Hargreaves try, before the former Storm stalwart found a rampaging Keary who pushed his way through Brock Lamb for the Roosters’ third.
The pair were at it again early in the second half when Keary was this time the provider for Cronk, grubbering for him to score and put the game beyond doubt.
Cronk’s other second-half involvements came in two four-pointers to Blake Ferguson.
He kick-started a length-of-the-field effort shortly after the break when he swooped on an errant Newcastle pass before he and Joseph Manu put Ferguson away.
He later kicked for the Roosters winger to score another try.
It served as a significant warning for how dangerous Cronk and Keary can be in partnership, after the Roosters started the season as favourites but were shocked by the Wests Tigers in the opening round.
Meanwhile Pearce managed to set up the Knights’ only try in the first half, when he grubbered early for fellow-former Rooster Aidan Guerra.
But it was an otherwise unhappy night for Newcastle, who also lost Connor Watson to a shoulder injury after it popped out twice in the first half.
Red-hot Dragons roar to win over Titans
Gareth Widdop scored one of the Dragons’ nine tries in their thumping win over the Titans. (AAP: Darren England )
Ashley Taylor endured a horror homecoming as St George Illawarra destroyed his Gold Coast side in Toowoomba on Sunday.
The Dragons won 54-8 — with Tim Lafai and Matt Dufty both crossing for three tries — while Taylor was reported for tripping and twice kicking restarts out on the full in a nightmare outing at Clive Berghofer Stadium.
The Toowoomba product was also forced to pass a concussion test at half-time as the unbeaten Dragons scored nine tries to one in the city’s first NRL game.
The Titans entered the match with the league’s worst defence after missing 82 tackles across the opening two rounds and it didn’t improve as their right edge was brutally exposed by the red-hot Dragons.
“There’s probably a little bit of a lack of trust out there,” Titans coach Garth Brennan said of his side’s defence.
“You’ve got to be on and today defensively we weren’t … we need to be better than that but I don’t think they gave up.”
They produced the worst possible start when Kane Elgey knocked on from the kick-off, with fullback Dufty crossing inside 90 seconds.
Gold Coast steadied from there though, Taylor’s short ball giving Michael Gordon his first try in Titans colours.
They briefly looked the better side as Bryce Cartwright and Konrad Hurrell both spilled the ball with the try-line at their mercy.
But the Titans let the Dragons into the game with back-to-back penalties and Taylor’s errant boot as centre Lafai combined with Dufty for three tries in four minutes to close the half.
“We fought really hard in the middle part of that first half to get some domination … we had control from there,” Dragons coach Paul McGregor said.
A professional foul from Jack de Belin and subsequent sin-bin early in the second half should have given the Titans a way back in.
Instead former Titan Nene MacDonald rubbed salt into the wounds with a try in the corner and Ben Hunt combined with halves partner Gareth Widdop to toy with Garth Brennan’s side.
“Game management around that time (of the sin-bin) was really good; it’s pleasing when you can defend your line and turn that loss into a gain,” McGregor said.
The newly-formed halves duo did as they pleased as the Titans dropped off a staggering 45 tackles and looked lost when the Dragons spread the ball wide.
Both men put in kicks to set up late tries as the Titans’ defence clocked off, allowing both Dufty and Lafai to notch a hat-trick of tries.