The Roosters have won two straight over teams in the top eight, one of them a top four squad who they held to just two tries. The Dragons have won five games all year, sit second last in the competition and score fewer points on average than just one team in the league.
The two teams play on Saturday night at a “stadium” which is nothing more than a glorified schoolyard oval with a nearby Sizzler. One of these teams starts a hooker at halfback, a centre at five-eighth and a coach seemingly out of his depth.
The Roosters are dropping like acid at Woodstock, with four players succumbing to long term injuries in the past two games and a further two coming off rotten head clashes — one of whom has been ruled out of this one. But the Roosters could literally spin themselves around until they become dizzy and still find a way to defend well enough to defeat a Dragons team missing the one player capable of making something happen. No, not Jamie Soward.
Stranger things have happened I suppose, but not often; that’s why they are referred to as “stranger things”.
Team for Round 17
Anthony Minichiello (C) ,Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Mitch Aubusson, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend, Luke O’Donnell, Sonny Bill Williams, Boyd Cordner, Frank-Paul Nu’uasala. Interchange: Daniel Mortimer, Aidan Guerra, Sam Moa, Isaac Liu.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has said on social media that he’s out of tonight’s clash after suffering a sickening head clash just five days ago. Aubo will move to the centres and SKD to the wing, with backup winger Michael Oldfield out for up to eight weeks with a hamstring injury.
The Roosters medical staff, led by Dr John Orchard have long been the champions of taking concussions with the seriousness they deserve. There is no way they’d allow The Matrix to play if he wasn’t 100 per cent. not playing him in this game will also give him a full three weeks rest as perfectly pointed out by Twitter’s very own @Honkstar1974.
James Maloney has been named to return just 10 days after fracturing a few bones in his face but tweeted earlier this week that he was a certain starter:
The loss of RTS aside, this is the closest the Roosters will get to a full strength squad for the rest of the season with Marty Kennedy, Kane Evans and Tautau Moga all ruled out effectively for the rest of the year while Oldfield as mentioned before is also out.
How they’ll play
The Roosters found some easy space down the fringes in the ANZAC Day game,with Jennings scoring two tries and Tupou and Aubo scoring one each. The Dragons didn’t have anyone capable of stopping them then, and they have even less of a chance of stopping them now — weather permitting of course.
Boyd Cordner was the official Man of the Match in that game, largely due to his combo on the left with Aubo but also due to his quick play the balls allowing the Roosters to get a great roll on down the field and near the line.
The Dragons are filled with slow, less-than-agile big men and can be exploited at marker very easily. Expect Jake Friend to continue the form he showed last week out of dummy half, and expect JWH to offload more than he was capable of against the Sea Eagles last week.
Outisde of that, SBW should continue to have that roaming five-eighth/second-row/lock/halfback role he’s invented in the past two weeks, and has the potential to completely destroy the likes of second-game rookie Charly Runciman out wide — the poor dude is about to face the test of his life.
There will of course be space down the middle, and James Maloney is looooooong overdue for a trademark line break. He’s rested despite the broken face, and will be keen to make amends for his poor game in Origin Game Two and an equally below-par performance in the game prior for the Roosters against the Warriors. The last time he broke the line for the Roosters was in round six against the Bulldogs, or just one game prior to the ANZAC Day match.
St George Illawarra Dragons
Team for Round 17
Adam Quinlan, Brett Morris, Matt Cooper, Charly Runciman, Jason Nightingale, Chase Stanley, Nathan Fien, Jack De Belin, Mitch Rein, Michael Weyman, Ben Creagh (C), Matt Prior, Trent Merrin. Interchange: Leeson Ah Mau, Jack Stockwell, Will Matthews, Craig Carvey.
Josh Dugan has been ruled out for this one after taking the early guilty plea and subsequent one-match suspension for a shoulder charge during the Dragons’ loss to the Panthers on Saturday. Adam Quinlan has been promoted to fullback, with Charly Runciman named in the centres after debuting last week.
Trent Merrin returns from suspension and has been named at lock, while Chase Stanley is the five-eighth who has replaced now-London Bronco Jamie Soward. It’s a sad day for Roosters fans: the first game in recent memory that we won’t be able to yell obscenities at the diminutive former Chook.
We’ll miss the horrible pre-goal dance routine; the lack of a running game; the yelling at his own players; but mostly, we’ll miss the one-on-one interviews where Jamie Soward referred to himself in the third person like he’s LeBron James.
For old times sake, and I don’t know why, but this image made me laugh:
Even when he makes a break, he looks sad.
Jake Jarmel will miss Jamie Soward.
How they’ll play
It all comes down to Nathan Fien: he’s their most important player. And it’s the first time that’s ever been said.
Everything runs through him now, with Soward gone and Dugan out. Since Jamie fucked off he’s been the primary kicker with his halves partner, Chase Stanley, kicking it for 100 metres last week; the first time he’s actually booted the thing in four games since coming in at five eighth. Fien has booted it for over 1800 metres in the same period.
So the markers of the Roosters might try and put some early pressure on Fien and could force some errors this way. Either way, the ball is definitely going his way on the fifth, making a predictable attack infinitely more predictable.
With Dugan out, the Dragons will look to their forward pack to hit it up for five tackles, before Fien boots it downfield to try and force an error from the Roosters, which isn’t a bad tactic: the Roosters are fifth in total dropped balls this year and are prone to a case of the dropsies in their own half.
On the line, the Dragons are about as imaginative as a white wall, and will resort to attempting to get Merrin, De Belin and Weyman to barge over before kicking to the wings on the last.
You need proof of their ineptness? They’re second-last in line breaks and are equal third in total kicks this season, while scoring just four points more than the Eels, who are dead last in total points but have played one game less.
Those stats really tell you all you need to know about the Dragons, who are staring down the barrel of a possible wooden spoon just three seasons after winning a comp, and who have lost their most unpredictable attacking weapon in Dugan for this game.
Seriously? Did you not just read those stats about the Dragons? They’re fucking legless!
The Roosters will win by 13-plus. Really, the only question left to ask is: “will the Dragons score?”
They average 14.5 points a match, the second-lowest in the league behind just the Wests Tigers — but a lot of those points have come with at least Jamie Soward or Josh Dugan in their team. They couldn’t find the line at a Charlie Sheen orgy when those players were there; now that they’re out, the Dragons have as much chance of scoring as I did at the Year 10 dance in 1997.
I’m predicting the Dragons will finish this game with no points on the board. A donut. Zip. Nil.
Bank on it.
(But not with real money.)
I’m also picking a smokey for Man of the Match: Mitch Aubusson, even with the shift to the centres. He looked better than in recent weeks last week against the Sea Eagles and was close to the Man of the Match in the ANZAC Day game in this writer’s eyes. He’s capable of scoring two tries and setting up another for Jennings, while defensively he’s due for a strong outing of tackling around the legs Ron Coote-style.