The Roosters are without three of their six players most likely to make something happen from nothing, and have lost all semblance of a kicking game after naming Mitch Aubusson at five-eighth.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have lost a player who would spear tackle himself for an edge and two points. Don’t worry though Dogs fans, you still have a guy who’s more of a pest than a genital crab and a forward who will literally chew your ear off.
The Roosters have a maladroit forward playing centre, a centre/second-rower playing five-eighth, a second-rower playing prop and a guy called Sam Moa who is actually from Tonga.
None of this makes sense, save for the fact that the Roosters still have Sonny Bill Williams, a player who carved the Dogs team to shreds in round six despite a hail of abuse best reserved for murderers.
Regardless, this will be a battle and sadly for most Roosters fans, they may not like the prediction we’ve come up with.
Team for Round 15
Anthony Minichiello (C) ,Daniel Tupou, Aidan Guerra, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Mitchell Aubusson, Daniel Mortimer, Luke O’Donnell, Jake Friend, Marty Kennedy, Sonny Bill Williams, Boyd Cordner, Frank-Paul Nu’uasala. Interchange: Nafe Seluini, Dylan Napa, Isaac Liu, Sam Moa.
No-one saw this coming.
With Samisoni Langi not named due to a shoulder injury, coach Trent Robinson has reached back into the 2007 archives by naming Mitch Aubusson at five-eighth to replace James Maloney, with Daniel Mortimer to replace Mitchell Pearce and Aidan Guerra named in the centres to replace Jenko.
Dylan Napa has been named on the bench for his long-awaited debut, with Isaac Liu and Nafe Seluini brought onto the bench and Frank-Paul Nu’uasala named at lock. Aubusson has not played five-eighth since his first grade debut back in round one of 2007.
Langi has long been the name many expected to fill the breach, but the impressive youngster did not suit up in the NYC win last week versus the Warriors. This could again be a smoke-and-mirrors ploy from Robbo, who recalled Sam Moa an hour before last week’s match and could call Langi up late.
If he doesn’t, he’s picked a team with pure size to combat the huge wide-running forwards of the Bulldogs. Mortimer should be the goal kicker should Langi indeed not play.
How they’ll play
Aubo hasn’t played five-eighth since 2007 but played a little bit of stand-off against the Warriors and grew up playing the position. But what he is able to deliver is too hard to tell at this stage. So a lot will fall on the shoulders of Daniel Mortimer at halfback in terms of kicking and direction, with Aubo filling a running five-eighth role.
But more will fall on the shoulders of SBW, who has been playing a ball-playing role this season anyway. Moreover, this is his return game at the Bulldogs home and will want to lift with the crowd of mostly-pro Doggies fans expected to repeat the bile and vitriol directed his way back in round six.
He will be given that roaming role he showed again to great effect against the Warriors in the first half last week and on paper is the only Rooster besides their wingers who looks likely to break the now-imposing Bulldogs line. He’ll run at Tim Lafai near the line and try and offload through it at any and all opportunity — because he really is the only one capable of igniting an attack from nothing with three Origin players out.
Expect increased minutes for Sam Moa following his bruising display against the Warriors. He seems the most likely to cause damage in the middle, with all due respect to Marty Kennedy and Luke O’Donnell.
The Guerra decision is a strange one to gauge. He’ll line up against Krisnan Inu and has the height advantage but may struggle in defence in a new position. His naming there could be an attempt to at least match the size out wide of Tony Williams who attacks down that edge.
They’ll need to play a no-frills game with few errors given the significant drop-off in halves play — which is not meant to be a knock on Morts who will bust a gut to get it done. But the Roosters had developed combos across the park, combos which won’t be here. But defence will win this game if it’s indeed capable of being win against a hot Bulldogs team.
However, this is all moot if Robbo is playing mind games and Soni Langi is actually free to play. Aubo would move out to the centres, Guerra back to the pack and the young five-eighth will assume more of the general kicking duties than Aubo would while looking to create more given his skill set.
Team for Round 15
Ben Barba, Mitch Brown, Tim Lafai, Krisnan Inu, Sam Perrett, Joel Romelo, Trent Hodkinson, Aiden Tolman, Michael Ennis (c), Sam Kasiano, Tony Williams,Frank Pritchard, Greg Eastwood. Interchange: (From) Dene Halatau, Josh Jackson, James Graham, Dale Finucane, Tim Browne.
The Dogs are without Josh Reynolds and Josh Morris. Reynolds was again named to warm the bench for the Blues, with Joel Romelo named as his replacement. But other than those two, the Dogs are at full strength.
The Roosters beat them 38-0 earlier in the year but they were without Sam Kasiano and James Graham, and ran out that day with Kris Keating at halfback instead of the hot boot of Trent Hodkinson.
Since then the Bulldogs have won seven from eight and four straight, including a win last week when Josh Reynolds spear tackled himself and was awarded a penalty in golden point for them to win by two.
They’re called the Dogs for a reason.
How they’ll play
The way they always play. Forwards passing before the line to forwards in a better position, Frank Pritchard running at centres, Tony Williams standing flat and James Graham doing his best not to Mike Tyson any Roosters no matter how tantalising Guerra’s ears look.
Barba has been slow to return to form and ran it just five times for 43 metres last week — but still scored two tries. Morts and Aubo (gulp) would still be best placed to kick it elsewhere because he’s still capable of carving given the room.
Trent Hodkinson has been in great form with the boot — both at goal and in play with tw0 try assists last week — but he never runs it. Expect Romelo to assume that running role with Reynolds out, but Minichiello needs to improve his positional play from last week against Hodkinson’s crafty boot on the line.
And while it sucks to say it, expect plenty of ball down the left with SKD defending out there. Tim Lafai is good on his feet with deceptive upper body strength and has scored three tries in seven games this season.
What’s the bet this is the game in which Tony Williams explodes — although naming Guerra in the centres on the side Williams will attack could be a ploy to attempt to match his size out wide.
We can only predict a loss here. The Roosters are missing three of their attacking linchpins — and could lose Kennedy should the Maroons move him up the bench.
The Bulldogs have lost Reynolds and Morris but they have been replaced with like-minded players, while the Roosters have chosen a team to match up size-wise — which does not bode well for scoring the points necessary to win.
Not only that, they’ve won seven from eight while the Roosters have lost two from three and really struggled last week to prevent the go-forward of the larger Warriors pack. The core of the way the Bulldogs play — mobile, big forwards with passing games — remains intact while the Roosters are simply doing their best to match up well.
This could be in the 13+ bracket, but it would not surprise if this were a 1-12 game either way.
Man of the Match for the Roosters will be SBW. He returned to form last week and faces his old team at his old home ground in front of his old fans who will bay for blood. It could be one of the great individual games of the year, albeit one in which 26 Rounds believes will be the Roosters’ second straight loss.