I hate to say it Roosters fans, but we need to get prepared for the fact that we may lose, and all this pre-season hype may end up backfiring in our faces like it has so many times for the team we’re playing in Round One.
Don’t get me wrong: we have a phenomenal team that I firmly believe will be in the discussion come September. Across the park there really aren’t any weaknesses, and our bench — and depth in the lower grades — is among the best in the NRL.
But the Rabbitohs, as much as we all hate them, have a fantastic team.
Centrebet has us as the $2.20 underdogs, and rightly so. We are a team that finished 13th last season, coming up against a team that was just one win away from a Grand Final last year and has undergone changes that have only improved the team on paper.
Our team? It’s going to take some time to come together.
For one, we’ve added more players after the start of the pre-season than any club I can remember in recent memory. Sonny Bill only joined the club three weeks ago, and hasn’t played rugby league in nearly five years. We need to be patient with him because at this stage we don’t know what to expect. On his day he is the most devastating second-rower to ever play the game, but again, HE HASN’T PLAYED IN THE NRL IN NEARLY FIVE YEARS.
It’s simply going to take some time. Not only will his work rate in attack and defence go up by moving from outside centre in rugby to the second row in league, but the simple wrestle in the tackle that is commonplace nowadays and the 10 metre rule are both going to take some adjusting to. Plus he’s coming of a pectoral injury which, for a guy whose work rate is going to rise dramatically, could be painful.
Further, Michael Jennings was a Panther as recently as January, and Luke O’Donnell was a Huddersfield Giant just over two weeks ago. James Maloney is the only major signing who’s been with the club since the preseason began.
Trial form doesn’t amount to much really, and while we can take pleasure in the wins, we can’t afford to listen to the hype.
I fully expect the Roosters to be in the conversation at the end of the year, and I predict they’ll finish fifth on the table heading into the finals. But we may take some time to get into good enough form to warrant such a finish.
Remember, we finished 13th last season. Thirteenth. This is still a young team coming off a horrible two seasons in which they lead the premiership in penalties. They need to stamp that shit out before we can consider them all growns’d up.
Here, I’ll break down both teams’ strengths and weaknesses, how I think they’ll play and who I think will win. Let’s start with the Rabbitohs.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Team for Round One:
Greg Inglis, Nathan Merritt, Dylan Farrell, Beau Champion, Andrew Everingham, John Sutton, Adam Reynolds, Sam Burgess, Issac Luke, Roy Asotasi, Chris McQueen, Ben Te’o, Ben Lowe. Interchange: (from) Nathan Peats, Michael Crocker (c), Jeff Lima, George Burgess, Dave Tyrrell, Jason Clark, Bryson Goodwin.
This is a team that has the most devastating fullback in the game on his day, Greg Inglis. Early pictures of him in the preseason have shown he’s shed the puppy fat that dogged him in his first season, and 2013 will be his first full year of fullback. He’s an early favourite for the Dally M.
The club also replaced the lazy-in-defence and erratic-in-attack Dave Taylor with a more reliable option in Ben Te’o. His signing will be to the Rabbitohs what Adam Reynolds was to the club after they lost Sandow: an instant upgrade. The man has a decent offload and ability to spin out of tackles, he’s versatile and is much better in defence than Taylor. He doesn’t have the devastating attacking potential that Taylor did but at this stage, with Inglis at the back, they don’t need it.
John Sutton came on last year as a great ball-runner, but he’s yet to put two seasons of consistent football together. This is that off-year unless Adam Reynolds can keep him on point.
Speaking of Reynolds, he’s a good player. Is he better than Mitchell Pearce?
His kicking game is probably superior but that’s it. All this talk about him supplanting MP7 is just nonsense and makes me want to headbutt a wall. He needs to run the ball and become more adept at setting up tries with passes rather than kicks before we can put him in even the same breath as MP7.
However, the Roosters need to be wary of his kicking game, because its one part of his game that is already first class.
The biggest weaknesses for the Bunnies are clearly in the backs. Andrew Everingham couldn’t bruise a banana with a mallet and Nathan Merritt, for all his try-scoring prowess, can be bamboozled in defence. The Roosters, with Tupou and The Sheck, could in theory exploit those two guys with inside plays on the fringes, chips to the wing of Tupou, and with Sonny Bill running amok out there, some over-the-top offloads to RTS.
Their centres aren’t much scratch either in comparison to the Roosters’ three-quarters. Beau Champion has essentially done nothing the past two years while Dylan Farrell hasn’t lived up to the hype. Michael Jennings and SKD should have their way with them if they’re on their game.
How they’ll play
I suspect that Reynolds will aim his general play kicks straight down the middle at Anthony Minichiello rather than allow the pure speed of Daniel Tupou and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to eat up metres.
When they’re on the line, expect some chips to the wing of The Sheck, whose diminutive size (relatively) means he’ll be the one tested rather than the towering Tupou.
Otherwise, expect the Bunnies as usual to attack up the middle with Issac Luke before running decoy plays on the left hand side for Inglis et al. against Jennings and The Sheck. Sam Burgess also looked solid on the fringes in the Charity Shield but wasn’t at his devastating best. He’s been named at prop, but I wonder if he’s carrying an injury.
Interestingly they’ve named Captain Mick Crocker on the bench. I suspect they’ll bring him on when Sonny Bill is injected, so they can fight fresh legs with fresh legs.
Team for Round One:
Anthony Minichiello (c), Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend, Sam Moa, Aidan Guerra, Mitchell Aubusson, Frank-Paul Nuuausala.
Interchange: Daniel Mortimer, Martin Kennedy, Sonny Bill Williams, Luke O’Donnell, Boyd Cordner, Michael Oldfield, Tinirau Arona
Mitchell Pearce, if the trials showed us anything, is ready for a huge season if only for the fact that this is clearly his team now. When he first came to grade he had the shadow of Braith Anasta hanging over him, and when he played with Todd Carney he sacrificed the limelight.
Now? He knows it’s his team and he knows he has all the tools that a halfback needs to dominate a game.
Last year his statistics were solid but he didn’t seem to have “it”. Maybe it was the poor coaching, maybe it was the off-field stuff and maybe it was all the criticism he took for State Of Origin, but the backend of the season for MP7 was below his best. This is a crunch game – nay, a crunch season – for the halfback. He’s the best defensive half in the game, he has a great short-and-long passing game and his kicking game is solid.
The backline for the Roosters is also a significant strength. With the exception of fullback we have it – on paper at least – all over the Redfern club. Jennings, SKD, The Sheck and Daniel “don’t compare me to Bill” Tupou are a class above the backs for the Bunnies and should wreak havoc. They could break the NRL record for tackle busts in a game at some point this season.
Sonny Bill? Yeah, he’s a strength.
As expected he’s been named on an extended bench but it would be very surprising if he didn’t play.
He will do something in this game to make you go “whoa”, but he may play only 30 minutes.
Then again, he’s an athletic freak, so you never know.
On paper, and I’ve written about this before, there really aren’t any weaknesses. Sure you could bomb it to The Sheck and try to outleap him. Sure, you can put a low grubber to Mini and hope he fucks up. And sure you could run at Jake Friend all day and hope he falls off the tackle.
My man Boyd Cordner has been named on an extended bench after suffering an injury in the Foundation Cup trial versus the Wests Tigers. I suspect they’ll give him up to the last minute to prove his fitness, but if he plays chances are he isn’t 100 per cent. He might be a target if he plays.
(Plus that just fucked up my Dream Team. Back to the drawing board.)
At the moment their run-on backrow isn’t a strong as first predicted, but when Sonny Bill acclimatises and Boyd gets fully fit it will look stronger. Plus, you could do worse than run with Aubo and Guerra.
But on paper there isn’t a place you could attack on the field and think “yep, that’s where we’re going”.
Their biggest weakness is simply their lack of continuity.
The Bunnies have played together, with a few changes here and there, for a full season. Their combinations are set, their defensive line is as good as it can be and their attack is as good on its day as any in the comp.
The Roosters, as they’ve been named, have been a full team for a little over two weeks.
How they’ll play
Isaac Luke needs to be defended from dummy half and wrapped up, which they can do because Jared Warea-Hargreaves is among the best out of marker. Sam Burgess needs to be watched and Te’o needs to be prevented from offloading. All simple things really…
I don’t think it’s a shock that MP7 and James Maloney will kick it as far away from Inglis as possible; it happens to be gravy that they guys who’ll receive it are Merritt and Everingham.
The biggest thing they need to worry about in defence is Inglis on that left and right hand edge running behind decoys. They need to shut that play down before he gets any momentum, because he needs three players to bring him down and can flick a pass out the back or over the top. And that right-hand fend is simply unstoppable.
Based on the trials they’ll play a simple brand of footy in attack in their own half, with the likes of JWH, Marty Kennedy, Sam Moa and Luke O’Donnell up the middle.
You know SKD is going to run infield at some point, and The Sheck and Tupou will alleviate some of the pressure with dummy half spurts following kick returns.
And I hope they kick early on the fourth a couple of times so the Rabbitohs are forced to drop their wingers back and they can spread the ball wide later in the game – although we may have to wait a couple of games before any backline movement is fully in sync.
We already know that Sonny Bill will attack the right-hand side, meaning he’ll team up with SKD and the Sheck and hopefully cause some real carnage on the fringes against the likes of Merritt and Dylan Farrell. I expect the Bunnies will line Crocker up against him — given the former Rooster has been named on an extended bench — to attempt to nullify his potency.
Having said what I said at the start, I do expect that the Roosters will pull this one out. Both games last year came down to the wire when we were horrible and they were great, and these games always tend to bring the best out of us.
(Plus, after writing this piece, I talked myself into it.)
I reckon The Sheck will have a pearler on the right wing when SBW gets on, and I reckon Jennings is going to have a field day against Champion.
And I predict Mitchell Pearce will step up after the crap he went through last year. No one should be looking more forward to this game than MP7 – up against media darling and Origin hopeful Adam Reynolds.
If we lose of course it will be horrendous – we’ll cop it as we always do and we’ll get the “you don’t win premierships in February” rant that we’ve been more than happy to dish out to those fuckwits for the past three years.
But should we be devastated if we lose? Absolutely not.
Remember where we were last year, and remember the incredible turnover of talent the club has gone through in the past two months.
This is a work in progress that I believe will start with a win, but it’s a work in progress nonetheless.
Either way, I’ve never been more excited to attend a game than this one. This is one of the greatest rivalries in the world, and for once it’s going to be a packed house and both teams are competitive.
It’s going to be a heck of an atmosphere at the stadium, and the hype has been absolutely stunning.
And can you imagine the crowd when SBW gets off the bench and comes on?
I just got shivers. Bring that shit on.