UPDATED: The Warriors have won three straight games, have moved to 13th on the ladder and their fans are understandably feeling a little good about themselves after beating the Sea Eagles by two last week.
Meanwhile, the Roosters beat the Eels by 14 and you’d think every Roosters fan — this writer included — had just come from a funeral.
It might have something to do with the fact that Ashley Klein has been named to referee their team for the third time in four matches. Those matches included a knock on ruled a knock back, six forward passes in a row and decisions about as consistent as the sounds of crickets from a crowd in an Adam Sandler film (Happy Gilmore excepted).
But it probably has more to do with the fact the Roosters haven’t set the world alight in two straight games and the opposition has found more gaps in their defence than a dentist would in a Souths fan’s teeth.
Should they really be worried though? After all, keeping with the LOL@SOUFFS theme, the Warriors have as many wins as the Souths fan base has dollars.
And in addition, the Warriors have fans like this guy:
So what’s all the worry about, really?
Team for Round 14
Anthony Minichiello (C) ,Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Luke O’Donnell, Jake Friend, Martin Kennedy, Mitchell Aubusson, Sonny Bill Williams, Boyd Cordner. Interchange: Daniel Mortimer, Frank-Paul Nu’uausala, Aidan Guerra, Isaac Liu.
Sonny Bill Williams and Boyd Cordner have both escaped suspension and will line up this week against the in-form New Zealand Warriors: Sonny Bill’s high tackle was too low a grade to warrant a week off, while apparently Boyd Cordner’s inability to connect was enough to see himdodge suspension.
Cue the conspiracy theorists.
So the Roosters will now — pending last minute changes — run out the same squad which struggled to put away the Eels. There were rumours, inklings, rumblings even, that Sam Moa would return this week but there’s been no mention of it elsewhere besides Twitter.
But that hasn’t been conclusive before. He suffered his injury May 5 against the Panthers and it was initially diagnosed as a 4-6 week injury. This round coincides with the predicted recovery time. He is sorely needed, as Luke O’Donnell struggled last week against the big front row of the Eels.
How they’ll play
Hopefully not the same way they played against the Eels last week, or the way they played against the Warriors at Eden Park all the way back in round two or that matter, when the Roosters raced out to a 16-0 lead before narrowly escaping thanks to an all-time shank at goal from Shaun Johnson.
The Roosters showed enterprising early running play against both the Eels and Warriors, getting the ball early and often on both occasions to Michael Jennings, who is in tremendous form at the moment.
He comes up against Konrad Hurrell for the second time this season, and — while the bulky speedster is in great attacking form with three tries in the past two matches — he can be found out easily in defence, especially against the speed and power of Jenko.
The BBQ will try and get him some early ball, and look for Jenko to create easy metres on the left and/or put Tupou away for a run.
It’s also been a long time between line breaks, at club level at least, for Maloney. He’s again coming up against his former club, and in round two he had a dominant kicking performance without breaking the line, his trademark. He comes into this game in superb touch, but look for him to finally break the line in this one with the focus firmly on his outside men who have been brilliant of late.
Finally, Sonny Bill Williams WILL have a good game on Sunday. He is too talented and, more importantly, too proud athlete to have three straight quiet performances. He’s had fewer than 100 metres run in the past two matches, along with three errors, two penalties, no tries, try assists or line break assists, and just one offload.
NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS
Team for Round 14
Kevin Locke, Glen Fisiiahi, Dane Nielsen, Konrad Hurrell, Manu Vatuvei, Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson, Sam Rapira, Nathan Friend, Russell Packer, Feleti Mateo, Simon Mannering (C), Elijah Taylor. Interchange: (From) Ben Matulino, Jacob Lillyman, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Dominique Peyroux, Ngani Laumape, Suaia Matagi, Charlie Gubb.
The Warriors have won three straight games heading into the Bro Show versus the Chooks, including a last-start win against the Sea Eagles to propel them from the bottom of the ladder all the way to 13th. Their last loss was a 62-6 capitulation against the Panthers.
Russell Packer returns after pissing himself on the field two weeks ago, with former Roosters assistant coach Matt Elliott naming an extended bench.
Kevin Locke was named but remains in doubt. He withdrew with a hip injury just prior to the Sea Eagles clash, and it seems he has yet to fully recover from the injury that has plagued him this year.
The Warriors have typically had the wood on the Roosters, having won 17 of 31 clashes (one draw) since they came into the NRL in 1995, and they’ll have the advantage in size in the forwards with JWH and Moa both out.
How they’ll play
These guys it would seem are at the whim of how their halfback plays, with the team as erratic as the talented number seven. In the past month they’ve had 60 put on them by the Panthers before putting 56 on an understrength Broncos squad.
But their great form recently has coincided to the return to prominence of second rower Feleti Mateo. In the past three wins he’s had 13 tackle busts, four try assists, 16 offloads and around 400 metres gained. He’s made up for a poor — nay, sad — start to the season, and needs to be wrapped up early on the fringes.
They have the talent across the park to really make the Roosters work, with the tackle-busting Hurrell and the Origin-experienced Dane Nielsen in the centres, with the sheer monstrous size of Manu Vatuvei on one wing and the blazing speed of Glen Fisiiahi on the other. With Shaun Johnson’s bullet passing, they can spread it wide on any occasion and the outside men need to be on their toes.
Shaun Kenny-Dowall needs to be on guard following a below-average defensive performance last week. Nielsen is big, fast and can be a handful on the line, and will team up with Mateo to create two-on-ones, cut-outs and through-the-line offloads to attempt to wrong-step the Roosters’ main weak link — the right-side defence.
A month ago this is an easy win. The Roosters were red hot, while the Warriors were simply pathetic. But since then the Roosters have hit some hurdles — partly due to some key front-row personnel being out, but mostly due to what seems like complacency. Their rut has coincided with two poor games from SBW, and the superstar will need to atone for those performances if the Roosters have a shot of matching the Warriors up the middle.
The Warriors cannot be discounted. The beat the Sea Eagles, Knights and Broncos in their past three matches and historically are beating the Roosters more often than not.
But the Warriors have struggled to travel all year, having won just once away from home in seven attempts — the lone win being the 56-18 massacre of the Origin-decimated Broncos two weeks ago.
The Roosters should win this one 1-12. They’ll be smarting from a weird win against the Eels and they know they underperformed. Trent Robinson would have hammered away at training the importance of aiming up against a squad that may have turned a corner.
Man of the Match will be Michael Jennings. He was fantastic against the Eels and incredible in Origin One, and comes up against the defensively-crippled Hurrell.
But then again, Ashley Klein is refereeing. Jenko will probably get sent off for a chicken wing tackle or something.
So all bets are off, actually.