It’s the meeting of two brick-wall defences, but one team has form on its side, while the other boasts a stadium which is the envy of several A-Grade teams in the Souths Juniors competition.
The last time this writer ventured past the Spit Bridge to that shithole of a stadium called Brookvale Oval, the Roosters were flogged 56-0. Since then they’ve had three coaches, a wooden spoon, a grand final appearance, three captains and a now-former player take a shit in a stairwell.
But much like that unfortunate turd, the Roosters have been cleaned up. We’ve replaced Nate Myles and Todd Carney with Sonny Bill Williams and James Maloney, and punted BJ Leilua for Michael Jennings.
It’s hard to see the sunshine when you’re best forward is taking a dump in a fire escape, but the Roosters this year have looked up to see blue skies and a bright light at the end of a tunnel just 21 weeks away.
Meanwhile, the Sea Eagles have barely skipped a beat since those days in 2007, winning two premierships and boasting arguably the best halves pairing in the league in Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran, as well as the second best defence in the NRL.
Behind the Roosters.
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, Martin Kennedy, Mitchell Aubusson, Sonny Bill Williams, Boyd Cordner. Interchange: Daniel Mortimer, Frank-Paul Nu’uausala, Aidan Guerra, Luke O’Donnell.
Sam Moa is out with a knee injury, and has been replaced in the front row by Marty Kennedy. But rather than bring a specialist front rower onto the bench, coach Trent Robinson has elected to call up Frank-Paul Nu’uasala who has spent the last two weeks with the Newtown Jets.
The Roosters now go into a game without a specialist front rower off the bench for the first time this season. Frank-Paul has played there in the past but his stats this year aren’t flash — just 6.75 runs a game through four games at just 7.2 metres per run. He’s making just over 48 metres a game playing primarily at lock this year.
Luke O’Donnell will likely have to come into the front row, and in 2013 he’s been playing more like a front-rower anyway.
But this writer was dearly looking forward to the return to first grade of Lama Tasi against his former club — the #freeLama movement didn’t really take off on Twitter with only Sam Anderson (@ando4285) joining the cause. Alas.
Other than that change, the Roosters remain as they were for the Panthers clash last week.
The Roosters have won just two of their past 10 clashes against the Manly squad, which has largely remained unchanged for the past three years, Des Hasler’s departure notwithstanding. This includes our last premiership match against them, a 52-14 loss at home in round 16 last year, and the 56-0 walloping in 2007 which both spelled the end of the short-lived Chris Anderson era and the beginning of a long battle with the demon drink for this writer.
Historically these fuckers have the wood on us as well. In 119 games, the Sea Eagles have taken the booty 78 times, the Roosters just 39.
Oh, by the way: #freeLama.
How they’ll play
There is not real “right way” to attack the Manly Sea Eagles, who are just behind the Roosters in points allowed this season.
But there are always weaknesses to be found when running at Anthony Watmough.
On his day Choc can be a very good defender, but can get caught up waiting for a whistle to come even if it never does. Chaos around the ruck confuses him and he can be caught with his arms up waiting for a penalty or a whistle. He did this against the Dragons last week, when rather than try and wrap up Jason Nightingale near the Dragons’ line he threw his hands up and allowed the fullback to dart past.
On this occasion the infringement was payed but he’s been guilty of this type of play before, most notably in Origin a few years back when he allowed a Queenslander over while he was death-staring a ref.
Several decoys plays on his side of the field could be on the cards.
Nathan Green scored two tries down the left edge for the Dragons last week, with David Williams coming in several times for some reason to assist the defensively-strong Jamie Lyon. There could be several kicks to that edge and a few cutouts where applicable by the BBQ.
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves has been causing havoc recently, so expect that to continue against his former club. He’s been credited with 14 offloads in his past four games and has been the form prop of the competition. Don’t expect his performance to wane with the likes of Brenton Lawrence and Brent Kite in his way.
Therefore, there should be ample opportunity up the middle for the hookers — especially the swift-running and newly-re-signed Daniel Mortimer — to nab some extra metres.
More space could be found on the other edge with either the inexperienced Jorge Taufua or Esi Tonga coming up against Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and the cut-out from Sonny Bill.
Manly Sea Eagles
Team for Round Seven
TBA, Jorge Taufua, Jamie Lyon (C), Steve Matai, David Williams, Kieran Foran, Daly Cherry-Evans, Brenton Lawrence, Matt Ballin, Brent Kite, Anthony Watmough, Justin Horo, Glenn Stewart. Interchange: (From) James Hasson, Tom Symonds, Jamie Buhrer, George Rose, Esi Tonga.
Brett Stewart has been officially ruled out due to a chipped bone in his spine after copping a couple of knees to the back against the Dragons.
At the time of writing no player had been named to replace him, but Esi Tonga was named on an extended bench. This could mean that in-form winger Jorge Taufua — a 26 Rounds smokey for Origin — could be moved to fullback with Tonga replacing him out wide.
The other option is to call up impressive youngster Peta Hiku.
Meanwhile, Steve Matai returns after George Burgess’ chin crudely headbutted his outstretched and swinging arm.
Jamie Buhrer also returns with Bondi boy Tom Symonds being named on an extended bench.
The Sea Eagles have struggled in their last two games, a loss to Souths and a grinding win against a St George team the Roosters flogged a week earlier.
But the Sea Eagles have the wood on the Roosters, both historically and recently.
How they’ll play
Right side. Right side. Right side.
Manly have been trying to mix this up in recent years, but typically if you can shut down Jamie Lyon and Anthony Watmough on the right edge you have a chance as that is the way they’ll always attack near the line.
Stopping it is another issue.
While Michael Jennings and Justin Hodges have been (in this writer’s humble opinion) the form centres in the competition, Jamie Lyon is undoubtedly the tits. He has a high football IQ and can draw his man with ease, creating space down the right wing for David Williams almost every single time he has it.
There’s a reason they’ve won two premierships in the past seven years, and Jamie Lyon is a big part of that reason.
However, he’s coming up against the defensively-incredible (this year at least) Jenko, who has missed just two tackles all season.
They will miss Stewart, who may have lost a yard in pace but has become one of the more crafty players in the NRL and enlivens that left edge for the Eagles. Shaun Kenny-Dowall should find life a little easier out there defensively as either Taufua or Hiku simply don’t have the ball-playing skills that Stewart has developed over time.
Watmough has been an absolute beast in attack and has been near-unstoppable in a number of games, especially against Souths but mostly with Glenn Stewart absent.
His minutes may be cut down with two second-rowers on the bench, but cutting him down on the run is another story. He doesn’t have the most effective offload, so Jake Friend et. al need to tackle this dude around the ankles to get him down.
Or hope he mistakes a shop front window for a urinal on Thursday night after a few at the Steyne. Either/or.
This is the biggest challenge of the season so far for the Roosters. Historically they’ve been hammered by this squad and they are playing in one of the true graveyards of the NRL. The Spit is a bitch to cross and the ground has rubbish facilities, with fans who will spit on you for no reason, and only won’t spit on you if you happen to be on fire.
If you asked the writers here at 26 Rounds two weeks ago what result we should expect, you would’ve been told to expect a loss.
But since then Manly have been somewhat exposed. They allowed three tries in the second half last week against the offensively-challenged Dragons who almost stole the game, and where quickly beaten with successive tries in the second half against Souths a week earlier.
Manly feed off momentum and struggle against it. Think of the 2007 Grand Final when they were beaten 34-8 thanks to a Storm onslaught. Now think to the following year when they beat the Storm in a record 40-0 performance.
Momentum matters with this team and the Roosters need to get a serious roll-on and sustain it to win against a team that, again, they’ve beaten just twice in their past 10 attempts.
For what it’s worth, 26 Rounds believes they will.
The Roosters may only score four tries in the match but they will be in quick succession, and their competition-leading defence should take care of the rest.
(Now that I’ve said it, the jinx is in effect. If we lose, don’t blame the referees. Blame 26 Rounds.)
Man of the Match will be Sonny Bill Williams, who should create sheer carnage on the right edge and set off the point-scoring barrage we need to win this one.
Win or loss, the margin will be 1-12. Just don’t expect to see the 26 Rounds staff anywhere near a TAB prior to the match.