After watching his Sydney Roosters throw away an eight-point lead with four minutes left to lose the Anzac Day clash to St George Illawarra 28-24, shattered skipper Braith Anasta described the loss as a nightmare.
The Roosters had all but locked up their fifth win of the year when Anasta kicked a penalty goal in the 75th minute – just five minutes after he’d crossed for a try – but second-rower Ben Creagh crashed over to steal a memorable victory.
With the Roosters leading 24-16, the game turned on its head when Dragons’ winger Jason Nightingale regathered a short kick-off, drifted across field and threw a cut-out pass to Matt Prior for a converted try to cut the lead to two points.
With just 50 seconds left on the clock, prop Mick Weyman, who had already scored an unlikely try from dummy-half to give the Dragons hope with 15 minutes to go, popped a pass for Creagh who had also scored the first try of the match.
“It’s a bit of a nightmare. We’re pretty speechless,” Anasta said.
“We couldn’t believe we lost it. We had it.
“I might be biased but I thought we were the better team and I thought we should have won.
“We cost ourselves in the end.”
The Roosters had dominated large parts of the game, largely on the back of a standout performance from halfback Mitchell Pearce who backed up from Sunday’s City-Country clash with another top-shelf match.
The incumbent NSW No.7 set up first-half tries to Aidan Guerra and Anthony Minichiello and scored another himself to put his team in the box seat – but the Roosters will regret not putting the Dragons under more pressure and closing the match out when they had the chance.
For five minutes in the first half, they were camped on the Dragons’ line, but went without reward due to exceptional goalline defence – a period which ended in a try to Matt Cooper at the other end of the field.
The Roosters would still take a 12-10 halftime lead when fullback Minichiello snatched a Pearce bomb from the arms of Dragons No.1 Brett Morris, but it was that defensive spirit which typified the Dragons’ performance.
“We dug in and dug in and kept plugging away and the game turned in the last few minutes,” said Hornby, who converted the final try in his record-breaking 257th game for the Dragons.
“I think that shows what can happen when you never give up.
“I don’t know if it could have gone any better for me today.”
A record crowd of 40,164 turned up to watch the contest, the highest number of fans at the annual fixture since it started in 2002.
The Dragons played with a man down for 60 minutes of the game, with representative back-rower Beau Scott forced from the field with a dislocated elbow.