That these two teams contested the grand final in 2010 shows how quickly and far the mighty can fall. The Roosters bowed out a week ago, while St George Illawarra will face a steep climb in order not to follow.
The Roosters' 26-10 victory last night was dominated as much by the return to form of halfback Mitchell Pearce as it was by the return to form by his out of contention side. Pearce, under so much pressure of late, scored a hat-trick. It will be too little too late for the finals but it may ensure the Roosters do not end up with the wooden spoon. A small but not insignificant consolation.
The Dragons will remain in the hunt for the finals, but might find themselves in 13th by the end of the round, with other teams in better form and higher on the ladder. Of course, if they played like they did last night, failing to show the same desperation exhibited by a side with not as much to gain, they will not reach the top eight.
Little had been expected of the Roosters, who had lost three matches straight leading into the game, dropped out of the finals race, and played in patches like a group of strangers who had come together for a kick around.
But their first half last night was far from the sort of play you would expect from a rabble. Crisp in attack and strong in defence, they warmed into the contest and by the end of the half were dominating the game.
The Dragons' errors early in the contest gave the Roosters confidence. The Roosters' first try, through centre Joseph Leilua, gave them more. It came off a simple inside ball from fullback Anthony Minichiello; the fact that the centre ran in untouched was quite astounding for what was a relatively simple play. The alarm bells were ringing.
The Roosters got better as the half went on, gathering momentum and throwing the ball around. Their defence - and the ability of their back three to diffuse several bombs which came their way - ensured the Dragons were frustrated. One bomb in particular, from five-eighth Nathan Fien, was taken by winger Tautau Moga, who strode half the length of the field. The only attacks which had previously been created by the Roosters' defence was vitriol from the grandstand, but last night, they regularly countered.
The Dragons finally cracked again after the halftime siren, as they threw the ball around in their own half, searching for their own confidence. But the ball went loose, centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall showed more urgency to pick it up, and then his one-handed offloaded was followed by another by Brad Takairangi. The latter's ball went to halfback Mitchell Pearce, who scored the try.
Just 12,528 had turned up to watch, but most of them stood to applause the Roosters. Their side had clearly made a stand themselves.
The Dragons looked stung. At least they responded in the second half. Their tempo lifted, and while the Roosters extended their lead through a Braith Anasta penalty goal, they looked the more likely to get over the line.
They looked even more likely when Leilua was sent to the sin-bin for a professional foul. Dragons centre Chase Stanley had scooped up as loose ball and was quite wonderfully chased down and ankle-tapped by Takairangi. Hooker Jake Friend finished off the tackle, but then Leilua chimed in to help a Friend out. Referee Matt Cecchin sent the centre straight to the bin. The Dragons immediately took advantage. Second-rower Matt Prior found some space close to the line, and his side found themselves back in the contest.
Just five minutes later, they were in again. Fien kicked perfectly and the Dragons had more than one extra man to the contest. The only one they needed, though, was Ben Creagh, who reached high to score.
The Roosters needed to compose themselves. Leilua returned, but still the Roosters were fidgeting around, not quite sure how to hold onto the win. The Dragons' execution let them down, winger Brett Morris touched down twice but the plays were called back for forward passes, while centre Nathan Green lost possession close to the line.
But then the final counter. Winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck almost ground the ball in his in-goal, but recovered to scamper down the other end. Who would bob up on the other end of his pass? Pearce, of course, who showed pace to race 60 metres.
Five minutes later, he finished the game off, and may finished the Dragons off.
SYDNEY ROOSTERS 26 (M Pearce 3 J Leilua tries B Anasta 5 goals) bt ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 10 (B Creagh M Prior tries B Hornby goal) at Allianz Stadium. Referee: Matt Cecchin, Gavin Morris. Crowd: 12,528.