Two teams with not a win between them, playing in a stadium no-one calls home. That’s what we’re faced with in round two.
The Roosters were at least competitive (relatively) last week, while the Warriors were piss-poor in a loss to Parramatta, who only added Darcy Lussick and bit parts to a wooden spoon roster that lost club legend Nathan Hindmarsh to retirement.
All signs point towards a flogging, but I’m expecting a close game here based on the history between the two clubs and the erratic play of the Warriors, who could turn it on just as easliy as they can implode.
First, here’s some ideas on the Warriors.
NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS
Team for Round Two:
Kevin Locke, Glen Fisiiahi, Dane Nielsen, Konrad Hurrell, Bill Tupou, Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson, Sam Rapira, Elijah Taylor, Ben Matulino, Steve Rapira, Simon Mannering, Todd Lowrie. Interchange: Jacob Lillyman, Feleti Mateo, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Pita Godinet, Ben Henry.
Danger man Feleti Mateo has been named on an extended bench after putting in a poor showing against the Eels last week. The second rower, who said he’d given up drinking for 2013, should perhaps get back on it after last week’s disaster against the 2012 wooden spooners. To be fair he struggled with an injury in the first half, and that injury may be the reason they’ve named Ben Henry on the bench as well.
Manu Vatuvei is out of this game after picking up an injury in the first 18 minutes of the game last week, with Bill “not quite Daniel” Tupou now to line up on his wing and oppose Daniel “don’t compare me to Bill” Tupou in the battle for top Tupou.
I like the look of the Warriors: on paper. Sure, they finished 2012 poorly and were horrendous in defence last week. Parra scored three tries in three minutes against them, which would almost be forgiveable except, you know, its Parramatta.
No team is more capable of spontaneously combusting than the Warriors.
However, on their day they can beat anyone, and they made the Grand Final in 2011 while performing well in the first half of 2012 before collapsing. Across the park, and especially in the forwards and centres, they have a heap of talent. Whether that will translate at all this year should be easy to tell after this game.
How they’ll play:
The forward pack, as is always the case with Warriors teams, is simply massive. They line up the Rapira boys with Ben Matulino, Simon Mannering, premiership winner Todd Lowrie and Elijah Taylor at hooker, a player who is still becoming accustomed to the role but is multi-skilled.
You can expect them to essentially just ram it up the middle at Jake Friend, especially if Mateo fails to make the final squad as the back row suddenly becomes bereft of any ball skill whatsoever.
Therefore, a lot of pressure will be heaped upon the broadening shoulders of Shaun Johnson. And I for one have not given up on this kid.
His form last year wasn’t great, but he still has all the skills to be — in my humble opinion — a more complete player than Benji Marshall. He has the step, the passing game and the instinct to put the ball behind the line, force a repeat set or take the line on.
His long kicking game needs work, as does his decision making in his own half and his defence — three areas Benji Marshall sucked at once upon a time as well — but that will come with experience. He’s only played a season and a half’s worth of games.
But I digress.
With that lack of skill in the forwards, and no Maloney next to him any more, he’ll have to create off-the-cuff a lot more while getting the ball to Nielsen and Konrad Hurrell with space to move.
The Warriors need to depend on Thomas Leuluai more for his kicking game, which is still very good, and free up Johnson to roam and pick his spots. Whether they do that against the Roosters is another question under the so-so coaching of former Roosters assistant Matt Elliott.
Team for Round Two:
Anthony Minichiello, Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend, Sam Moa, Aidan Guerra, Sonny Bill Williams, Frank-Paul Nu’uausala. Interchange: Daniel Mortimer, Martin Kennedy, Mitchell Aubusson, Luke O’Donnell, Boyd Cordner, Dylan Napa.
And so it begins.
Sonny Bill Williams has been named to start in his return to Eden Park following a solid showing in his first match in five years last week. He’ll play on the right side with Mitchell Aubusson demoted to the bench.
This signals the only change to the run-on side that was dominated by the South Sydney Rabbitohs 28-10 in round one. But plenty of players should – nay, MUST – be on notice after failing to step up in the first game of the season.
As was mentioned in the review of that game, the right side defence was just atrocious and will have to improve out of sight to contain former Origin centre and Storm premiership winner Dane Nielsen and up-and-coming speedster Glen “Tha Fush” Fisiiahi.
Shaun Kenny-Dowall is the one most at risk of losing his spot here.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, who fell victim to Chris Walker syndrome prior to the game – a disease which causes wingers to wander 20 metres in-field leaving the entire edge wide open and which allowed Nathan Merritt to cruise over for a hat trick. But you can forgive that because he’s young, positioning can be fixed and he offered at least something in attack.
Kenny-Dowall was poor on both sides of the ball, and needs to be careful because we all know Sonny Bill can play right-side centre, and Tautau Moga will be back by round 10. They also have Mitch Aubusson who can play centre in a pinch and is a far better defender.
I wrote an article based on a source claiming the medical team at the Chooks were leaning towards having Boyd Cordner get surgery on his shoulder immediately, which would rule him out for 12 weeks. Well, coach Trent Robinson has again named Cordner on an extended bench but he probably won’t play after being named in jersey number 18. He’ll probably be given up until the last minute to prove his fitness but don’t be surprised if he fails to make the team.
If this injury continues to persist, the Roosters need to bite the bullet and send him to surgery because we need him for the finals; we’d all rather that than him playing at 90 per cent and risking further injury that would require (potentially) season-ending surgery later on.
But if he does play, Robinson is left with a dilemma: who to drop from the bench? Daniel Napa will no doubt drop off (named as insurance for Luke O’Donnell, who may still be recovering from a calf injury), but that leaves 18 men.
Kennedy will no doubt stay there to complete a three-man front row rotation, and if O’Donnell plays they have their backup second-rower. We saw that Jake Friend tired towards the end of last week’s game, so Daniel Mortimer is a must as his backup who can also fill in at half or five-eighth.
So I guess that leaves Aubusson, who broke the line twice last week in a homage to his 2010 season and was one of the Roosters’ best players in a terrible overall display.
But he could be good as insurance in case SKD has another poor showing, plus he can fill in anywhere from the back row to the centres and five eighth (he debuted there, remember).
It’s good to have this kind of depth. But not good if you hate headaches.
Other players that must be on notice include Frank-Paul Nuuasala, who set up SBW’s try last week but refused to run the ball; Martin Kennedy, who struggled to make a dent in the defence and will have Lama Tasi gunning for his spot as early as next week; and Jake Friend, who has two players breathing down his neck for the hooking role and gave away two cheap penalties near the end of tackle counts last week while offering poor service out of dummy half.
How they’ll play:
They need to use Sonny Bill. They just plain need to get him the damn rock.
What would be ideal is if they play him deep and get him the ball behind a decoy runner to attack at speed the likes of Nielsen and either Johnson or Leuluai. Kenny Dowall can then come back inside and force Tha Fush to come in and leave that wing wide open for The Sheck.
But that simple play might be wishful thinking.
As it stands, they have three ram rods to use up the middle in Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Sam Moa and Kennedy. These guys won’t pass the ball but can certainly make it over the advantage line.
They’ll spread it left wherever possible, with Michael Jennings up against the inexperienced Hurrell, who is poor defensively. They tried to spin it wide early on a couple of occasions against the Bunnies but the passes simply didn’t stick. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try it again, and they certainly will.
The smart play is to get to the kick against the Warriors and wait for the inevitable error; ironically, getting to the kick and waiting for the error is probably the smart play for the Warriors as well.
They need to watch for Kevin Locke breaking through off a short ball from dummy half, although that risk may be minimised with Elijah Taylor still learning the role.
The Warriors were diabolical last week. The Roosters weren’t great but they weren’t as bad as their foes this week.
The Roosters won’t be daunted by a New Zealand crowd, many of whom will be there to see Sonny Bill retreating 10 metres after every tackle for a change. Plus, we’re full of Kiwis.
The Roosters should win, but I’m expecting a closer game than many of the pundits are predicting.
If Mateo plays they’re dangerous, because the Roosters simply lack that ability to wrap up the offload. John Sutton exploited that weakness last week and he’s certainly no Feleti Mateo.
And Shaun Johnson is due for a big game, while Fisiiahi worries me out on that wing with his pure speed coming up against that Chris Walker infection out wide.
However, Sonny Bill starting is huge. He’ll get a feel for the game early on and work into it better than coming off the bench into a game that is already away from them (see: last week).
His offload should return with greater efficiency and regularity, while Jennings should literally destroy Hurrell.
I reckon 1-12 is a good bet against a team that always seems to aim up against us.
(Except for the 2002 Grand Final of course.)
They’ve won 17 of 30 against the Roosters, with one epic draw when God was promoted to head coach in 2007.
It’s going to be a tough one, a lot depending on cleaning up the discipline (penalty count last week was 9-4 against us; 6-1 in the first half) and that pathetic right side defence that leaked four easy, EASY tries.
Jennings for Man Of The Match, Sonny Bill to play 70 minutes.
Is that enough?
Let’s see how we feel on Sunday: hopefully better than Friday last week.