Unfancied Roosters secure surprise Nines title
RUGBY LEAGUE: The Chooks came from the clouds to be crowned 2017 Auckland Nines champions after disposing of Penrith in a thrilling tournament finale on Sunday.
Neither side was expected to have a huge impact on the pre-season event, the Panthers sending an understrength side in the same week club heavies Phil Gould and Brian Fletcher called for the tournament to be canned.
But the Roosters are crowing and $370,00 richer after young guns Latrell Mitchell, Connor Watson and unheralded rookie Bernard Lewis ran riot all weekend, finishing Penrith off 10-8 in the final at Eden Park.
Two tries in two minutes to Roosters wingers Daniel Tupou and Lewis gave the Chooks an early 10-0 lead, which they took into half-time.
A four-pointer out wide to Malakai Watene-Zelezniak reduced the deficit after the break, before some sleight of hand and seriously fleet feet from Nathan Cleary enabled the young half to sprint 50m to score.
The Panthers No.7 had the chance to level the scores with the resulting conversion but sent the ball skidding to the left of the uprights, confirming the Roosters as the new Nines winners.
"Not many people backed us to go any good in this tournament. I'm really proud of the boys and how we progressed today - just outstanding," Roosters skipper Mitch Aubusson said.
"These young guys are working so hard and really pushing the rest of us so hard."
The Roosters progressed after defeating the Storm 21-16 and the Panthers advanced after beating Parramatta 13-0 in the semis.
The weekend, however, while producing some stunning action, was marred by poor spectator turnout and injuries to star players.
After the Cowboys lost their quarter-final to the Storm, Johnathan Thurston said he enjoyed his first Nines appearance but felt let down by fan numbers.
"If that's the type of crowd that's going to show up I reckon we should be taking it elsewhere," he said.
"Maybe even Asia, get over there for a week and try and grow the game."
The Broncos' Benji Marshall (achilles), the Eels' Corey Norman (hamstring), and the Titans' Jarryd Hayne (knee) were among those to suffer injuries, albeit minor, while the Warriors' Shaun Johnson was a late withdrawal from the tournament.
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