Here’s an interesting clash of styles. The Parramatta Eels have more leaks than a punctured condom, while the Sydney Roosters couldn’t score at Misty’s at this point despite getting to the door a bunch of times.
Parramatta scored 40 points in one game, while the Roosters have scored just 34 all season. And the Eels have allowed more points than the Roosters have scored all season in the past two games alone (51).
But the Roosters have made an average of five line breaks a game, breaks that should be easier to convert against a team which sports Chris Sandow in its defensive line and an indifferent Jarryd Hayne at the back.
As a Roosters fan, a win here seems pretty assured as the Eels struggled last week while the Roosters were simply dominant in defence and have the superior team on paper against the reigning wooden spooners — which replaced Nathan Hindmarsh and Stephen Kearney with Darcy Lussick and Ricky Stuart.
But lets go through the whole long, drawn out process of analysis anyway. Why the heck not?
Team for Round Four
Jarryd Hayne, Ken Sio, Ryan Morgan, Jacob Loko, Vai Toutai, Luke Kelly, Chris Sandow, Mitchell Allgood, Matt Keating, Tim Mannah, Reni Maitua (C), Ben Smith, Joseph Paulo. Interchange: Ben Roberts, Darcy Lussick, Fuifui Moimoi, Kelepi Tanginoa.
It’s a crying shame that former Roosters lower-grader Cheyse Blair has been dropped in favour of rookie winger Vai Toutai following the return of the dangerous Ken Sio from an ankle injury.
Blair, who famously declared before the match against the Chooks last year that “I want to stick it up them and shove it in their face”, sadly won’t get the chance to do it again. He said in that same interview that:
“I’ve still got a job to do for Parramatta, so I can’t go stupid. But at the same time I’m out to show them what they missed out on by not playing me.”
If we are going by the fact that you can’t cement a spot for a team that has lost two straight after winning the wooden spoon last year — plus with the Roosters possessing weapons such as Daniel Tupou, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and the injured Tautau Moga in his old spot — then the Roosters aren’t missing much. Sorry Cheyse.
Former Bulldog Ben Roberts has been dropped to the bench in favour of Luke Kelly, and will undoubtedly serve as replacement hooker at some stage during the game. They’ve also elevated Joseph Paulo — with that dangerous offload and ability to step against the grain — to lock.
Parramatta are dangerous in attack but can’t defend a lick. They absolutely demolished a Warriors side that the Roosters struggled to put away, but allowed 20 first half points against the Bulldogs in round two — scoring 16 themselves in the same half, mind you — and allowed the Wests Tigers to rack up 30 points in the first 50 minutes before the Wests crew clocked off.
But stats don’t really make a difference when you have Chris Sandow and the Sydney Roosters in the same sentence.
Sandow has enjoyed a renaissance this year and based on recent history particularly enjoys the games against the Chooks, harking back to the good ol’ days when he was the number seven for the Bunnies.
He’s the general play kicker of choice as Jarryd Hayne has relinquished his kicking role this year under Stuart, and he’s added what appears to be 10 metres to his clearing kicks. And in a tied game near the end, there’s no better field goal kicker from anywhere on the field than Sandow.
But Sandow’s return has coincided with some puzzling play from Hayne. He scored a hat-trick in round one but since has looked disinterested in returning the ball and getting involved.
This was always the risk in teaming these two together. Hayne relies on the halves to create the structure (see Jeff Robson and Daniel Mortimer) which enables him to freelance and create opportunities for himself and his outside men, either by ad-libbing with footwork at the line or throwing cut-outs to his wingers. But Sandow is an ad-libber as well, and will often take the opportunities himself rather than create them for a teammate — and as a halfback he gets the ball first on attacking movements. This has relegated Hayne to a hole-runner and he hasn’t totally been comfortable with the role through the last two games.
It’s a clash of identical styles in some respects — but perhaps the addition of the steady Luke Kelly will enable Hayne to ad-lib out left, with Sandow doing the same out right.
How they’ll play
Their forward pack has taken a bit of a hit with Hindmarsh leaving, and you can see it with their defence around the ruck which allowed Robbie Farah to dominate last week. Darcy Lussick hasn’t filled the breach at this stage and no-one has really stood out for the forward pack except for Tim Mannah and Reni Maitua.
The inclusion of Paulo at lock means they are looking for more creativity at the start of the game. Therefore, the Eels will look to get out to an early lead against a Roosters squad that can grind out a win against the best of them.
They don’t have the go-forward the Roosters have, so look for early 40-20 attempts from Sandow which will force the wingers back and open space on the edges on the third and fourth tackle inside their own half.
Their wingers will get heavily involved to take pressure off the forwards and the Roosters need to be prepared for speedy dummy-half runs.
And Sandow will control everything. He’ll look to attack the right-side defence of the Roosters which has been up-and-down thanks to the enigmatic Shaun Kenny-Dowall, as Sonny Bill Williams has led the left side defence faultlessly and Jennings has been a surprisingly solid defender out there.
Expect Paulo to attack Jake Friend all game and try to get an offload away before the second man has the opportunity to come in and wrap the ball up.
Team for Round Four
Anthony Minichiello (C) ,Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend, Sam Moa, Boyd Cordner, Sonny Bill Williams, Frank-Paul Nu’uausala. Interchange: (From) Daniel Mortimer, Martin Kennedy, Mitchell Aubusson, Aidan Guerra, Kane Evans.
Aidan Guerra has been named after returning from a knee infection, replacing snooze-button fiend and alleged 32-year-old niteclub hopper Luke O’Donnell on an extended bench which includes everyone’s favourite up -and-comer, Kane Evans. Sadly, it’s expected Evans will suffer the same fate as Dylan Napa in previous weeks and drop off at the 11th hour.
But with O’Donnell suspended for just one week, Guerra, Frank Paul Nu’uasala, Mitch Aubusson and Daniel Mortimer need to perform at a top level if they are to guarantee themselves a spot in next week’s match. Its hard to imagine O’Donnell playing for Newtown next week, which means it’s merely a game of numbers to see who makes the bench against the Raiders.
Daniel Mortimer played just 19 minutes last week after impressing the week before, with the defence-oriented game last week more suited to the strengths of Jake Friend. However, this game should be a lot more open so his minutes should increase — especially if coach Trent Robinson has a heart and allows Mortimer to attempt to pull a Cheyse Blair and “shove it in their face”.
This is a perfect game for Guerra to return to. The unique ball-runner should find those gaps that only he can find in this game out wide against the likes of Ryan Morgan and Jacob Loko.
How they’ll play
We’ve talked about the left-side a lot around these here parts, and against the Eels I expect the Roosters to go exclusively down that side in attacking movements.
Chris Lawrence scored two easy — repeat, EASY — tries last week in the first half as the Tigers repeatedly hammered away at those edges, aiming Lawrence directly at Sandow. And while Lawrence is a good player, he’s no Michael Jennings.
Within their own forty or even on the line, expect the Roosters to hammer away up the middle and get the backline deep to get Jennings some space to wind up, and from there it’s only a matter of how much speed and power Jennings is able to get before he reaches Sandow.
The man who will get him that ball is Sonny Bill Williams — unless he runs it at Sandow himself. If the defence can help in time, that means at least two defenders in that vicinity are taken out and space should be available either side of SBW for Jennings and James “BBQ” Maloney.
Guerra should come on and replace Frank Paul Nu’uasala and will be given a roaming lock role with the sole mission to run at half gaps and spin through holes where possible.
Robbie Farah exploited the Eels’ defence up the middle, and while the Roosters don’t have a dummy half anywhere near that class, short-ball plays around the ruck could be on the cards with BBQ the main recipient, while MP7 could be the beneficiary as the support player on BBQ breaks.
But the Roosters need to convert these opportunities. In five games they’ve broken the line 15 times but scored just six tries — or three more than Hayne scored against the Warriors in round one. That’s a pretty poor conversion rate by any stretch.
I’m loath to predict a 13+ scoreline this early in the season, but if any game makes that a possibility for a team that is still learning the nuances of each other, this is it. The Eels were porous against the Tigers and leaked 20 points in the first half against a Doggies team missing Ben Barba, Sam Kasiano, Frank Pritchard and James Graham.
However, the game should be another 1-12 affair. Sonny Bill is coming along very nicely, and Jennings, BBQ and MP7 are filling their roles so far as well as can be expected. But until they prove they can run up a big score and convert half chances, my money is on a two-try margin.
Man of the Match will be Sonny Bill Williams. He will have a field day against the left-edge defence featuring Chris Sandow and should score a try and set up two more for Jennings.