Trent Robinson took another step towards a third straight NRL minor premiership as his Sydney Roosters showed why they have been title favourites all season.
On a weekend when fellow top four teams Brisbane, North Queensland and South Sydney all suffered setback losses, the Roosters recorded their eighth straight win with a 38-22 defeat of Newcastle at Hunter Stadium.
The result puts them just two points behind the Broncos and Cowboys and within touching distance of claiming their third minor premiership in three seasons.
Should they finish in top spot, it would continue Robinson’s incredible strike rate having claimed the JJ Giltinan Shield in his first two attempts as an NRL senior coach.
While the Roosters suffered a second-half lapse against the Knights, letting in four unanswered tries, they still travelled back down the M1 with two points, a valuable commodity in a tight competition.
“That wasn’t great. And we won a game. You’ve got to remember that it’s hard to win games. I think this weekend’s shown it’s hard to win footy games,” Robinson said.
“We don’t want to play like that often, but we’ve won a footy game.
“Some guys didn’t play their best – they need to improve. But we still won.”
With four rounds to go, Brisbane have shown signs they are faltering with their 18-16 defeat to Canterbury on Friday night their second in a row.
It was the first time the Broncos have suffered back-to-back defeats this year but managed to hold onto top spot.
The Cowboys had a golden chance to leapfrog the Broncos but were unable to muster yet another miracle comeback, eventually going down to Cronulla 30-18.
The Sharks got to an 18-0 lead just after halftime before the Cowboys fought back to within six points with seven minutes left.
Coach Paul Green bristled at suggestions his side was guilty of being too patchy this year – despite having to come from 10 points or more down on five occasions.
The fourth-placed South Sydney had a forgettable night as they went down 28-8 to Manly, who continued their unlikely surge to the finals.
Souths coach Michael Maguire described the result as a “kick in the guts”, the Rabbitohs in danger of losing their spot in the top four.
Meanwhile the Dragons shrugged off the loss of playmaker Benji Marshall to humble the Warriors 36-0.
Melbourne bounced back in style with an emphatic 36-14 defeat of the Gold Coast at AAMI Park on Sunday.
The Eels defeated Penrith 10-4 in a dour affair in Darwin on Saturday night.