The second best defence comes up against the fourth worst attack this Thursday, a day that has shown the rugby league world some of the most competitive games in the past decade.
The Dragons start Nathan Fien at halfback, a player who couldn’t find the brown spot on a fresh turd much less a gap in the defence. He passes like a 90-year-old with carpal tunnel and his kicks couldn’t find grass if you gave them 20 bucks and a train ticket to Nimbin.
Plus they have Jamie Soward, who sports a permanent scowl as if someone has stapled a fart-scented scratch-and-sniff to his upper lip.
We have Sonny Bill, Mitchell Pearce, the best MJ this side of Michael Jordan and a guy who barbecues alone.
Team for Round Seven
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: Daniel Mortimer, Martin Kennedy, Aidan Guerra, Luke O’Donnell.
This is the first time Trent Robinson has named a team without an 18th man for a number of weeks. He’s named a full-strength squad (minus Tautau Moga of course) despite Mitchell Pearce and Sonny Bill Williams both picking up injuries in the game against the Bulldogs, which forced both to miss their respective representative opportunities over the last weekend.
In addition, backing up from last weekend are Michael Jennings, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, James Maloney, Sam Moa, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Boyd Cordner — who is nursing more injuries than the majority of us pick up in a lifetime.
Normally a bye week would halt the momentum of a hot team in its tracks, but only 10 players had a week off while two of those players needed the rest to stave off injury concerns.
The Roosters were the hottest team this side of Melbourne when the slaughtered the Bulldogs 38-nil, and many may have forgotten just how dominant they have been save for a first-round shocker against the Rabbitohs. To wit:
– Opposition teams have been kept scoreless in eight of 10 halves since round one.
– Three of those teams have been kept scoreless the full 80.
– In three of the past four games they have not conceded a line break.
– The Roosters have scored 118 points and conceded just 24 in the past four games, an average scoreline of 29.5 to 6.
So, yeah. That’s hot.
How they’ll play
This may be the team that Robbo will run with for the rest of the season, injury permitting, and the combinations across the park are working nicely.
The Dragons weakness in the backline is out on the right-hand side — although its not necessarily that weak. Chase Stanley and Brett Morris defend with Jamie Soward, and they’ll come up against Michael Jennings and Daniel Tupou.
Morris is a great winger but Tupou is the superior leaper, so expect MP7 to throw some chips that way on the line. The tactic may also be to stand deep and get Jennings a running start, enabling him to draw Morris in to help Stanley and Soward inside him. This should give Tupou some space out wide, pending his standing deep enough to capitalise.
The left-side attack is also a weapon, with Sonny Bill and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck simply scorching in the past three games out there.
But the big key for the Roosters is up the middle against a big forward pack.
Sam Moa needs a bigger impact than he had last game, and quick play the balls are key in this one. The Dragons forwards aren’t the most nimble in getting off tackles, so a quick play-the-ball should provide some running space out of dummy half for 100-gamer Jake Friend and Daniel Mortimer, whose running game has been fantastic this season. Last week he ran it nine times in just 29 minutes and was dangerous throughout.
Combination running out of dummy-half and several consecutive runners together should be able to find a gap in a retreating defence.
St George Illawarra Dragons
Team for Round Seven
Jason Nightingale, Brett Morris, Chase Stanley, Matt Cooper, Daniel Vidot, Jamie Soward, Nathan Fien, Dan Hunt, Mitch Rein, Jack Stockwell, Tyson Frizell, Ben Creagh (C), Trent Merrin. Interchange: Bronson Harrison, Matt Prior, Jack De Belin, Damien Cook, Michael Weyman.
Gerard Beale is out for the year, which means Nightingale is the full-time fullback until the Dragons sign Josh Dugan. Michael Weyman returns as 18th man from a calf injury, which means Damien Cook may drop off — thereby committing Mitch Rein to an 80 minute performance.
The backline is extremely dangerous, with the underrated Daniel Vidot the player who took the vacant wing spot with Nightingale’s move.
Jamie Soward is fresh off signing a four-year contract with Penrith and throwing some choice words at Robbie Farah in a scrum against the Tigers. He’s returned to form, which is dangerous for a Roosters team against whom he always — ALWAYS — steps up.
As recently as three weeks ago the Dragons were being considered as potential wooden spooners after looking like a team without an attacking plan. But they’ve won three straight heading into this one and the defensive starch has returned to the 2010 premiers.
They’ve also been on an aggressive shopping spree, having signed Gareth Widdop and Joel Thompson, and flirting with Josh Dugan, Feleti Mateo and former Man Of Steel Rangi Chase — but thankfully missing out on Mitch Aubusson.
This is a danger game as always for the Roosters. The Dragons are definitely the bogey side for us, having won the past five Anzac Day clashes including that heartbreaker last year when the Dragons scored twice in the last five minutes to steal a game they didn’t deserve to win.
How they’ll play
The Dragons have won with defence in the past three games and grinded out wins against a distracted Cronulla side by 13, a three-point win at home against the Knights and a one-point win against the Wests Tigers. They’ve scored 25, 19 and 13 in those wins.
They still lack that punch in attack, but their forwards — led by 26 Rounds favourite Trent Merrin — have set a great platform against two teams with what many pundits would consider superior forward packs (not including the Tigers).
Mitch Rein is such a key for them. His power running game out of dummy half is extremely hard to stop, especially near the line, and his passing game is improving with every match.
Jason Nightingale doesn’t offer the line-breaking support play out of fullback but his kick returns are among the best in the game, as his awkward running style is hard to get down.
The Dragons have played a boring brand of footy — predictable, flat decoy running with plays to either wing, and they’ve tried to replicate Darius Boyd’s playmaking style as a second five-eighth to no effect. Plus Nightingale just isn’t that type of player at the back, nor was Beale.
They score all their tries — of which there haven’t been many — on the fringes and none down the middle unless there’s an intercept.
Despite the Roosters’ track record against the Dragons, the Roosters are too good defensively for a team that struggles to score points against weak defence.
Michael Jennings should really see much more of the ball after running it just six times last week, and up against Chase Stanley he should have his way.
These games never go according to plan for the Roosters, but if they can maintain that defensive line as they have almost all year and apply pressure to Jamie Soward — combined with quick play-the-balls, they should win comfortably.
26 Rounds predicts a 13+ margin, with the man of the match set to be Jake Friend on his 100th game. If he can continue his recent good form, the Roosters should shred the Dragons’ defence through the middle of the field.
In a tribute to 1941 St George premiership winner Bill Collier and Sydney Roosters great Ferris Ashton, who died earlier this year and served in World War II, the man of the match will receive the inaugural Ashton-Collier Medal for best on ground.