Those poor Raiders. They get pumped 68-4, their best young player, Anthony Milford, asks for a release, and their one glimmer of hope has been to welcome back a fallen star from a two-month criminal charge-related layoff.
On top of that, Terry Campese finally said goodbye to one of the worst hairdos in the NRL, which has upset many a Raiders fan as it was worth the price of a membership, kinda like having a season ticket to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.
The team that travels worse than the Griswalds now has the misfortune of going on the road to face a red-hot Roosters squad whose main concern is whether Guerra fits the role that Aubo was filling so superbly while SBW has been out. Really, that’s the team’s only serious concern; whether the deck chairs have been re-shuffled too much.
Because even with their captain out they move the game’s next great fullback into the number one jersey and they should actually improve because of it. Seriously, this writer is so excited at this prospect of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck breaking the ankles of several forwards with a Shtep down the middle that he’s been carrying a text book around to cover his groin for the past three days.
Oh, and Dylan Napa will come off the bench and resume his battle for top ranga with Joel Edwards — after winning his last redhead-related bout against James Graham in a knock out.
Does life get any better?
Team for Round 22: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Mitchell Aubusson, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend, Sam Moa, Boyd Cordner, Aidan Guerra, Frank-Paul Nu’uasala. Interchange: Daniel Mortimer, Dylan Napa, Isaac Liu, Tinirau Arona.
Anthony Minichiello has been ruled out for up to three weeks, causing a re-shuffle in the team. The Sheck himself has been named at fullback, with Mitch Aubusson shifting to the centres, Shaun Kenny-Dowall out to the wing and Aidan Guerra named to start in the second row.
With Dylan Napa being added to the bench, Roosters fans are getting a small glimpse at the future. It’s long been known that The Sheck has a mortgage on the number one jersey; he simply hasn’t moved in yet. But from 2014, it’s expected he’ll take the reins full-time.
He did play around 15 minutes in the role last week, and Daniel Tupou and Mini — before he went off — repeatedly threw him the ball to give his magic feet enough opportunity to create a magic feat. He did well and repeatedly made metres, but we’ll get a better look at him on Saturday and an even better look next week when Sonny Bill Williams and his offload return from suspension.
Meanwhile, Luke O’Donnell has been ruled out with the flu, being replaced in the starting line-up by Sam Moa with Tinirau Arona — who hasn’t played in first grade since round one — snagging the vacated bench spot.
The Roosters are gunning for their seventh-straight win. During their six-game streak they’ve scored 184 points and conceded just 48 for an average score of 30.6 to 8. They’ve beaten two teams ranked fifth at the time (Sharks and Knights), the team currently ranked fifth (Bulldogs) and the team currently ranked third. So despite the average scoreline making it seem otherwise, it hasn’t been an easy draw.
The Roosters are just making it look easy.
How they’ll play
It’s hard to imagine they’ll change their structure much; Guerra shifts to Aubo’s spot and is a fairly lethal line-runner on his day, while Aubo would actually improve the defence out wide in the centres. SKD now has the sideline to protect him in defence, but recently he hasn’t needed protection as his defensive reads and tackling form in the past month have been outstanding; he’s missed just two tackles in his past seven games since a six-miss shocker against the Eels.
In their early season clash, the Roosters scored three tries from within the 10m zone, and that was before they mastered the double decoy play. Jake Friend and Mitchell Pearce will exploit flat runners on the line all day out left — Boyd could score another double in the form he’s in, but look for Pearce to go one player shorter as the Raiders are no doubt expecting Boyd to be the target on the line. For a visual explanation, here’s the double decoy play in effect (basically, two forwards run at the line, and Mitch can either hit one or dump it back):
The second runner is always Boyd, and the first runner is usually FPN, JWH or the second rower off the bench…. so maybe Napa will score?
Otherwise, Mitch could dump it back and run this play with James Maloney:
The left side attack must be the most feared in the league; Michael Jennings, remember, also lines up on that side and in the second graphic above, Maloney could potentially have put Jenko through a hole.
(P.S. Before you ask, Ryan Heighway [@heighway_], yes — Jake Jarmel is officially .gif happy.)
(P.P.S. There’s your long-awaited mention on 26 Rounds. Soak it up, buddy boy.)
Meanwhile, The Sheck should offer more of an injection on the right edge with MP7 dumping it back off the line 10 metres back for RTS with room to move, but with SBW out the ball is most likely bound for the unstoppable left side.
Team for Round 22: Anthony Milford, Sandor Earl, Jarrod Croker, Blake Ferguson, Jack Wighton, Terry Campese, Josh McCrone, David Shillington, Glen Buttriss, Dane Tilse, Josh Papalii, Joel Thompson, Shaun Fensom. Interchange: (From) Shaun Berrigan, Joel Edwards, Brett White, Paul Vaughan, Reece Robinson, Bill Tupou.
Fresh off the eight-worst loss in Australian professional rugby league history, coach David Furner has wielded somewhat of an axe, dropping Reece Robinson to 18th man and recalling Blake Ferguson for his first match since his suspension prior to Origin Two.
Joel Thompson shifts to the second row, Jack Wighton starts on the wing and Joel Edwards drops back to the bench. Former Warrior Bill Tupou, obtained mid-season, has also been added to a six-man interchange, a move by Furner which strikes fear into the heart of absolutely no-one.
Prior to the Raiders’ 68-4 loss to Melbourne last week, the Raiders had actually won three games — albeit against bottom-feeders the Cowboys, Dragons and Eels. They still sit seventh on the ladder despite the slaughter at home, and there is a fair history this season alone of teams backing up from floggings and winning the next one. The Roosters thumped the Eels 50-0, and the Eels bounced back the next week to nab one of their three wins. The Knights flogged the Tigers 42-10 in round one, and bounced back to beat the Panthers the next week. And most famously, the Warriors were pumped 62-6 by the Panthers, but beat the Knights by 16 a week later.
Can the Raiders do a similar feat?
How they’ll play
Ferguson has been out for nearly two months and everyone has seemingly forgotten what he is capable of in that time, his talent being overshadowed by his off-the-field bullshit. Well, I’m here to remind you with stats that this guy is an excellent rugby league player.
In his ten games this year he’s scored eight tries with 35 tackle busts, nine offloads, 970 running metres, six line breaks, three try assists and two line break assists.
When the Roosters lost to the Raiders earlier in the year, Ferguson didn’t play and the Raiders still found ways to score. After two months out of the game, expect huge involvement from the Origin rep.
He comes up against Jennings though, who has made a habit of shutting down opposing centres this year, so the going can’t get much tougher for Fergo after such a long lay-off. Regardless, expect the Raiders to go out to their most dangerous attacking weapon on the line often — either by running decoys and throwing cutouts or with a mid-range kick in an attempt to exploit the size advantage Ferguson has over Jenko.
The Raiders have some real talent in the forwards, and Papalii is due for a big game. He’s cracked the 100m mark just once in his past three matches, perhaps worn down from the Origin experience, but the Raiders will run him at James Maloney all game without apology.
They’ll also no doubt test SKD with some bombs; the Roosters’ new number five has dropped 22 balls this year at over one a match, and that’s been primarily at the centre position where the bombs aren’t nearly as regular as they’ll be in this game.
You can’t predict anything besides a 13+ win based on form, but this writer will go against the grain here and predict a 1-12 scoreline. The Roosters have lost a bit of stability due to the reshuffle, and the combinations won’t be as well-worn as they have been recently on the right side, both in attack and defence. They are down three regular starters while the Raiders welcome back their best attacking option in Blake Ferguson.
I’m prepared to write off the Raiders’ top-10-all-time flogging last week as an aberration, and they’ll literally have nothing to lose against the best attack and defence in the league in the first-placed Roosters.
The Roosters should still be too strong though, and in their loss earlier in the season they were leading 22-12 with 10 minutes to go before collapsing — and they are a far better team now, even with Sonny Bill and their captain out.
My heart says that Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will be the man of the match in this one, especially if the kick-chase from the Raiders is poor, but my head says MP7 will take the goods. He’s picking every single right option available to him of late and could dominate with his short and long passing on the left-hand side.