This is the game Bulldogs fans have been waiting for since Sonny Bill Williams put pen to paper with the Roosters in November.
This is the game Bulldogs CEO Todd Greenberg requested the Dogs host so they could reap the monetary rewards from a bitter and twisted Bullodgs fan base.
And this is the game all Roosters fans have been stockpiling bullet-proof vests, spit-proof ponchos and turbo-charged getaway cars for.
It’s a clash of an up-and-coming squad which let in more meat pies in one half last week than Kim Beazley eats for breakfast, against a fading, injury-riddled 2012 Grand Finalist sporting a front row best suited to the bench.
Meanwhile, police are looking for a man under suspicion of robbing a grumpy guy with the personality of an armpit and a Farrah Fawcett hairdo of $600,000 a season. The suspect looks a lot like this man:
Team for Round Six
Anthony Minichiello (C) ,Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend, Sam Moa, Mitchell Aubusson, Sonny Bill Williams, Boyd Cordner. Interchange: (From) Daniel Mortimer, Martin Kennedy, Isaac Liu, Aidan Guerra, Luke O’Donnell, Michael Oldfield.
Boyd Cordner has been named at lock despite coming off in the 34th minute against the Raiders after splitting his head wide open while head-butting someone’s hip. Given his toughness I don’t doubt he’ll play.
One Twitter user who has earned the trust of 26 Rounds (@1baggagehandler) reckons Luke O’Donnell and Michael Oldfield will line up for the Newtown Jets this week. We’ll have to see on Friday, but he’s been right before.
Mitchell Aubusson was named to start in the second-row but was shifted to the bench for LOD at the final hour; given his success over the years against the Dogs, and given LOD’s poor showing last week and rumoured demotion to the Jets it seems unlikely this will happen again unless coach Trent Robinson decides Guerra will provide some scoring punch early.
How they’ll play
The Roosters have a definite mismatch in the offing, with Shaun Kenny Dowall, RTS and SBW coming up against Tim Lafai and Sam Perrett. Lafai is good offensively but is still learning the defensive ropes, while The Sheck will have the advantage over our former wing favourite.
The Roosters were piss poor up the middle last week, dominated by a huge Canberra pack and shooting itself repeatedly — again — in the foot with dumb penalties and terrible hands.
However, this week they have the size advantage in the front row and both Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Sam Moa should bend the defence back enough to lay a platform for the BBW and MP7.
This, needless to say, will be a big game for Sonny Bill. This won’t be a game where he has an average performance: he’ll either wilt under the pressure or put in his best performance of the season as predicted by Twitter’s world-famous Ryan Heighway (@_Heighway).
He’ll come up against the 80-minute myth Tony Williams, who for every big hit he’s capable of has little to no tackling technique and will repeatedly fail to wrap up the ball or even the player. Ironically, the $750,000 SBW paid to be free of his contract five years ago is probably paying for Williams’ contract now.
It makes for what appears on paper to be an easy match up for the big guy in his biggest game of the year. He’s had four offloads in a game twice and should top that in this one — in theory.
Defensively the Roosters just need to communicate and call out the names when Barba has the ball.
Team for Round Six
Ben Barba, Mitch Brown, Josh Morris, Tim Lafai, Sam Perrett, Josh Reynolds, Kris Keating, Aiden Tolman, Michael Ennis (c), Martin Taupau, Tony Williams, Josh Jackson, Greg Eastwood. Interchange: (From) Dene Halatau, Dale Finucane, Tim Browne, Frank Pritchard, David Klemmer.
This is a team that has seen more upheaval in the offseason and the first few rounds than the Roosters, and the record reflects said upheaval: they have won just won of their first five games and are dead-last in points scored.
Winger Steve Turner retired, Ben Barba returned just two games ago against the Bunnies and tweaked his ankle last week but is expected to play. Krisnan Inu is serving the second of a five match suspension for a spear tackle on Greg Inglis in that same match.
Their starting props from their Grand Final team, Sam Kasiano (injured) and James Graham (suspended) are still out, while they’re received next to nothing from big off-season recruit Tony Williams. Next to nothing is probably too kind really: they’ve received fuck all from him. His Rugby League IQ is non existent and not only does he stand flat footed when he receives the ball, but on a number of occasions against the Sea Eagles last week he was in front of his half back while waiting for the pass.
Despite all of this, coach Des Hasler has resisted the urge to shake up the team. Greg Eastwood returns from a one game absence into the lock position with Frank Pritchard moving back to an extended bench. David Klemmer is expected to drop off.
There were whispers the two-time premiership-winning and five-time grand final-making coach would recall Trent Hodkinson for this one, as the former Eagle has a far superior kicking game to either of his halves at the moment in Josh Reynolds and Kris Keating, but he’s stuck with Keating for at least another match.
How they’ll play
The Dogs really miss the ball-playing of Kasiano and Graham, whose passing to decoy runners before the line revolutionised attacking play last year. Their replacements, Martin Taupau and Aiden Tolman, while hard workers, simply don’t have that ball-playing class.
As a result, the Dogs have disintegrated into passing early for Josh Morris and hoping something happens or waiting for Ben Barba to create something from nothing — which may take some time following a short pre-season and a three-game absence to start the year.
They are now taking it straight up the middle, and spreading it the old fashioned way. They still run decoy runners, but why the front-row play was so revolutionary was because they could start multiple decoy runners from the middle of the field rather than one wide of the ruck.
Josh Morris has been in very good form for a team that’s been beaten four times this year; his ability to get outside his man and around the defence is unmatched in the game, except for perhaps Michael Jennings.
Josh Reynolds is the NRL’s best competitor; he just never gives up on a play, so Anthony Minichiello needs to be on his vintage toes ready to swipe away grubbers behind the line. Not only does Reynolds chase it until the last inch before the deadball line — he’ll pull hair, scratch and twist nuts on the way to beat you as well — but ben Barba is the most adept grubber chaser in the game this side of Billy Slater.
If the Bulldogs are to score points against this team, this should be their main tactic: low, curving grubbers behind the line. It’s been well established already this season that Mini really struggles to pick up or knock dead the low ball, what with his fused and shaved spine and all.
Other than that, expect the Dogs to aim plenty of attack at the defensively-tender right-side defence of the Chooks. Of the 12 tries scored against them this season, seven have been scored at the wing or centre positions down that side. Hopefully after last week the Roosters have gone back to the drawing board out there. Again.
Plus, and needless to say, a lot comes down to the brilliance of Barba. There really isn’t a way to defend him with any strategy; you just have to hope your defenders are switched on. is this the game he breaks out?
While the Dogs looked poor last week against the Sea Eagles, they were coming up against a brilliant defensive squad. they have weapons across the park and a solid forward pack.
But they are severely down on troops where it counts. The absence of their two starting props hurts no end, and the dynamic of the attack has fundamentally changed as a result. The addition of Tony Williams has been nothing but a subtraction so far, and Ben Barba hasn’t yet hit the form that led him to a Dally M Medal last year.
And the Roosters will be on high alert following a second half drubbing against the Raiders. If Sonny Bill can replicate what Willie Mason did against the Dogs in 2008 — ironically in one of SBW’s last games for the club — then we are golden.
But even if he doesn’t, the Roosters have too many in-form strike weapons in BBQ, MJ and The Sheck for a decimated dogs squad to handle.
Having said that, it will be a close one. I reckon the Roosters 1-12, with a Man of the Match performance in front of a huge crowd from a man with three-letter name.
That’s right: JWH.
He’ll thrive on the big stage and is in terrific form, and should dominate Taupau and Tolman with his aggression, energy and ever-improving go-forward and ball-playing.