He’s back. The big rugby league weapon with a heart of gold has five weeks of pent up anger in him, and is ready to explode like a beer bottle in the freezer.
That’s right ladies and gentlemen: Brett Stewart is back. Maybe.
Meanwhile, the Roosters welcome back a player named Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, who is also a fine athlete.
Manly get to travel and play at a real stadium this week, with their fans unable to join them on the journey due to an inability to traverse a fucking bridge.
They play a Roosters team resembling a M*A*S*H* unit, down several backups and a five-eighth, but welcoming back a player who was the best front-rower in the game before George Rose fell into his loving, swinging arms.
Team for Round 16
Anthony Minichiello (C) ,Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend, Luke O’Donnell, Sonny Bill Williams, Mitch Aubusson, Boyd Cordner. Interchange: (From) Daniel Mortimer, Frank-Paul Nu’uasala, Aidan Guerra, Sam Moa, Isaac Liu.
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves returns from his five-match suspension against the team he was suspended against and has been elevated straight to the starting squad. If he indeed starts — and after five weeks out it’s understandable if he comes off the bench — then his first hit-up will be worth the price of admission alone.
But counteracting the good news is the bad kind: James Maloney has been ruled out for the clash. According to the Roosters:
CT scans have [on Thursday] revealed that James has a fractured eye socket, ruling him out of Monday night’s Round 16 clash with the Sea Eagles at Allianz Stadium.
James will meet with a specialist (Friday) to determine the full extent of the injury and rehabilitation time.
A replacement for James in Monday night’s squad will be confirmed on match day (1 July).
This is now officially a horror run of injuries.
Marty Kennedy has been ruled out for up to 12 weeks due to the injury he sustained against the Bulldogs in the last two minutes of that match, while potential backup Kane Evans has been ruled out for the rest of the season after a ligament in his ankle tore off the bone. Tautau Moga is also out for the season after re-injuring his ACL after just one game back in Holden Cup, while the Roosters further depleted their depth when they released back-up prop Lama Tasi to the Broncos on Friday.
Now the question remains: who will replace Maloney in the five-eighth spot — especially since U20’s five-eighth Samisoni Langi was again not named to play Holden Cup this weekend thanks to a shoulder injury.
The most obvious choice is to promote co-Man of the Match last week, Daniel Mortimer, to the vacant spot and recall Nafe Seluini to the bench as a replacement hooker — although there remains the chance that Trent Robinson could name Sonny Bill Williams in the role after his five-star second half last week, with Guerra moving into the starting spot and Liu moving up the bench or Napa being called up.
Injuries aside, the Roosters remain the best defensive team in the league by the tiniest of margins over their Monday night counterparts, having conceded an average of just 13.2 points a game compared to the Sea Eagles’ 13.7.
In the past month the Roosters have resembled a sieve in defence, leaking 26, 24, 23 and 18 points — but this week they have their defensive leader back, the man who sets the defensive agenda with his energy at marker, his speed off the line and his unrivalled aggression: Jared Waerea-fuckin’-Hargreaves.
How they’ll play
There was space to be had up the middle in their last game against the Sea Eagles, which the Roosters won despite being down a man in the last 10 minutes. The Sheck exploded for a line break from literally nothing in the first half when he brushed past lazy defence by Brenton Lawrence before being gunned down by the same man, while Pearce made a break off an SBW ball before his pass bounced off the chest of Boyd Cordner in support with the line begging.
So the Roosters must repeat this play: quick hands around the ruck and the nimble backs getting involved up the middle after 20 minutes against the less-than-agile Sea Eagles forwards.
This effect could be minimised with the loss of Maloney, but Mortimer can be just as good in support if is he indeed the five-eighth.
Expect the typical chips to the wing for Tupou who has the size advantage over pretty much any winger in the game — but that tactic has resulted in just one try in 2013. That hasn’t stopped the Roosters from trying though.
What this writer would like to see more of is chips to the other wing. The Sheck has shown outstanding agility to get to most attacking high-balls out there and has an innate understanding of where the touchline is, contorting his body in the necessary ways to put the pill down.
But failing that, expect some room to be created off the added presence of JWH, whose offload has been a much-improved feature of his game and has enabled some career-best running and playmaking from Jake Friend.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
Team for Round 16
Peta Hiku, 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: Jamie Buhrer, Tom Symonds, James Hasson, George Rose.
Peta Hiku has been named at fullback but it’s been reported that, if Brett Stewart pulls up OK following the weekend’s scheduled training, he could be a late inclusion into the squad. He has been out after fracturing a few bits of his spine against the Dragons.
Given starting Stewart from the bench doesn’t serve much purpose, Peta Hiku would drop out and Stewart would be immediately elevated to the starting fullback slot.
The Sea Eagles are coming off the bye, but just prior to that were beaten in Golden Point by the Dogs when Josh Reynolds spear-tackled himself in a new low for the game.
They’ve lost two straight but remain in the top four by a solitary point, having used up their two byes. The fifth-placed Gold Coast have more wins than the 7-1-5 Eagles.
How they’ll play
If Brett Stewart plays they’ll be a different squad, as he immediately livens up their stagnant left-side attack with Matai and Jorge Taufua — although the winger has played well and is fast becoming a 26 Rounds favourite.
If that happens the Sea Eagles become an excellent attacking team, with Lyon, Horo and Willliams on the left balancing an attack across the board.
They’ll depend heavily on their halves as always, and Kieran Foran — last game against the Roosters notwithstanding — tends to step up against old friend Mitchell Pearce. Expect him to combine well by running decoys with Watmough on the left with a pop-pass to Stewart, or taking it himself with his strong running game.
And Daly Cherry-Evans will be a constant threat. In this writer’s eyes at least, he is fast becoming a premier halfback, and will be the pick of the litter in a few years. His kicking on the line is strong, he can be unpredictable (in the best way possible) and is a tough, fearless runner of the ball near the line.
He’ll lead the right-side attack, and Jenko, Tupou and Aubo have to be on their games in reading decoy plays and shutting him down before he gets the chance to run and step — something Jennings has done extremely well this season.
The Roosters were outstanding last week without four top-flight starters in winning against the Bulldogs, while the Sea Eagles have struggled in the past five weeks for just one win and a draw in the five games since these two teams last played, back in Round 9. Not only that, they’ve played the least amount of football possible during that time (two byes) while their star fullback has not played in just as long.
And they’re coming off the bye.
The Roosters haven’t exactly set the world alight in the past month either, with a 2-2 record in that time and with defence about as stable as Britney Spears. But even without Maloney, they should still be too strong for Manly, especially now that their defensive anchor is back patrolling the middle of the field.
I’d expect a 1-12 win for the Roosters, with a Man of the Match performance from Roger Tuivasa-Sheck; that’s right, a winger. His level of involvement is at an Everest level at the moment, and he should be able to create something up the middle with that footwork, or off some play inside him from SBW.