This is the battle of two teams with the most appropriate sponsors.
The Steggles Roosters travel to North Queensland’s 1300SMILES stadium to play in front of 13,000 fans with roughly 1,300 teeth between them.
What a perfect marriage between sponsor and club — we’re a dentist, and your fans are clearly in need.
The Chooks have lost four of their past five games against the Cowboys, including that ridiculous “home” game for the Roosters in Darwin last year, played in temperatures the Cowboys sleep in.
The Cowboys have struggled this season for just four wins, while the Roosters have won their past four games and conceded just four tries, all from kicks. But they are down their two first-choice props while the Cows have the two best in the game.
And just like a Steggles chicken, the Roosters could be roasted up in the basting Townsville heat.
Team for Round 10
Anthony Minichiello (C) ,Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, TBC, Jake Friend, Martin Kennedy, Mitchell Aubusson, Sonny Bill Williams, Boyd Cordner. Interchange: Daniel Mortimer, Frank-Paul Nu’uausala, Aidan Guerra, Luke O’Donnell.
At the time of writing the Roosters haven’t named a replacement for the suspended Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. The likely option is to bring Frank-Paul Nu’uasala into the front row and either Lama Tasi or Dylan Napa onto the bench in his place.
For what it’s worth, FPN was effective in the last 11 minutes following the send-off against the Sea Eagles, and ran it seven times for 76 metres — he averaged a little over seven metres per run in the first four games of the season playing at lock.
They could also bring Luke O’Donnell up to the front row, even though he isn’t a natural prop. Against the Eagles he ran it nine times for 78 metres, and the game before against the Panthers he gave it up for four offloads.
Otherwise, they bring Tasi — who hasn’t played first grade all year but is a natural front-rower — into the starting side, or Robbo pulls a swifty and starts Kane Evans, who was named to play for the Newtown Jets on Saturday.
How they’ll play
Without JWH’s improved offload they’re going to struggle — and it’s hard to say what his replacement will provide as we don’t know who it is yet.
If it’s Tasi, look for MP7 and Friend to aim him at Rory Kostjasyn and the like, as he has a late step at the line which can bamboozle defenders. If it’s FPN, he’ll pass before the line ala Sam Kasiano or James Graham, and if it’s Luke O’Donnell, look for him to drop the ball.
This could be Shaun Kenny-Dowall’s chance at redemption after a horror game with his hands at Brookvale. He’s marked up against Kane Linnett and could find some space out wide.
For all his dropped ball against the Eagles (five), he was at least trying to get something happening in attack (six tackle busts and 10 runs with a line break) while his defence was quite good (12 tackles, just one miss). Expect the Roosters to go back right with the three acronyms — SKD, SBW and RTS — aiming to exploit Linnett and Winterstein out wide.
The Roosters should also make an effort to target Tariq Sims with some late stepping. The second rower can hit hard in defence but is just as likely to miss: he’s equal with James Maloney for misses this year at 28 but he’s played fewer games than the five-eighth. In his past four games alone, the back-rower has missed 20 tackles, including eight against the Broncos. Jake Friend could have a field day with some in-and-aways which in the past four rounds have left Sims grasping at ghosts.
North Queensland Cowboys
Team for Round 10
Matt Bowen, Ashley Graham, Brent Tate, Kane Linnett, Antonio Winterstein, Johnathan Thurston (C), Ray Thompson, Matt Scott (C), Rory Kostjasyn, James Tamou, Tariq Sims, Gavin Cooper, Dallas Johnson. Interchange: (From) Scott Moore, Glenn Hall, Ashton Sims, Scott Bolton, Jason Taumalolo.
The North Queensland outfit has four former Roosters — Antonio Winterstein, Kane Linnett, 2006 two-game wonder Glenn Hall and former Paddo Tiger James Tamou. They also start Sims, who is fighting for the same spot in the NSW team that Boyd Cordner is reportedly a front-runner for.
Tamou and Matt Scott form the best one-two front-row punch in the league, and will face a Roosters team missing its two first-choice props.
But the Cowboys have been just north of disappointing this season despite rolling out one of the most impressive squads on paper — names such as Thurston, Sims, Scott, Tamou, Johnson and Bowen have led their club to a poor 4-5 showing in 2013, including a shellacking last week from premiership favourites the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Despite all this talent, the Cows have scored just 152 points all season while conceding 160.
How they’ll play
It usually all revolves around the play of Thurston, for obvious reasons, as the half already has nine try assists despite the Cowboys’ struggles offensively.
But recently the Cowboys have been trying to deploy Sims — who is slowly returning to his best after a horrid injury run — near the line. He’s like a missile that’s being shot out of a cannon at point-blank range and has been excellent in the past three rounds, in attack at least. He’s had eight tackle busts and run for an average of over 100 metres in the past three matches, two of them wins.
They’ll also aim some chips towards The Sheck, as the winger has been what can be considered the only real weak link in the past three rounds, with two of the four tries the Roosters have conceded in the past four matches coming from attacking chips auimed at the winger. Linnett has the size and jumping advantage over RTS and they also deploy the rangy Gavin Cooper on that edge.
Their biggest advantage in this game is the Scott/Tamou combo. Scott has the better offload and will attempt to offload through the line and spin to get one away, so the Roosters need to gang tackle and get around the legs to nullify him.
This writer doesn’t like the idea of the Roosters without Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. While the Roosters did manage to extend the lead while he was off on Monday, he has been far and away their most damaging and consistent forward. His offload was creating second-phase opportunities for Jake Friend — prior to the Eagles game he’d had 14 offloads in three matches — and the second phase play often led to points in that set.
The Roosters will depend greatly upon the young shoulders of Cordner, who has been outstanding, and SBW. Mitchell Pearce has been exceptional in the past month, as has Michael Jennings, while James Maloney is probably due for a big game after several quiet(er) performances in the past three matches.
But the combination of the heat, a short turnaround after a tough game on Monday, the suspension of JWH and the Cowboys keen to atone for a shellacking from the Rabbitohs has the staff here at 26 Rounds more nervous than usual.
That’s why 26 Rounds is predicting a Roosters loss for the first time this season — a 1-12 loss, but a loss nonetheless.
As we only pick Man of the Match among Roosters, Sonny Bill will take the gong as he should have the freedom to offload at will. But will he be able to lead the first real under-strength Roosters squad to a win?