Ding, dong, the streak is dead. Now let’s start a new one: a five-gamer should do this time.
The Roosters were swamped, ambushed, trapped, whatever you want to call it during a Monday Night Massacre (that’s what a 10-point loss this year is, a massacre) versus the Cronulla *Insert Sponsor Name* Sharks.
They lost the battle mentally and physically in the first half, shrinking like little Costanza in the Hamptons, and in the process left the door open for Russell Crowe to make another $100,000 because he totally needs it.
In the past week we’ve complained about refereeing decisions more than Taylor Swift complains about ex-boyfriends (how many does she have?!?!) yet we need to accept it as the norm. What needs to happen now is the Roosters get back to doing what they do best: defending their line and winning in spite of the whistle.
They play a team that couldn’t even name a full squad to start the week, and run out with a guy famous for his forehead and inability to take discreet dumps; a second-rower built like a tank but who thinks he’s a tactical drone; and a halfback whose been through more clubs than Taylor Swift has had boyfriends.
Did this preview warrant two Taylor Swift/boyfriend analogies? You’re damn right it did.
Team for Round 25: Anthony Minichiello, Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend, Sam Moa, Mitchell Aubusson, Sonny Bill Wiliams, Frank-Paul Nu’uasala. Interchange: Daniel Mortimer, Aidan Guerra, Isaac Liu, Dylan Napa.
Anthony Minichiello returns from a three game absence, forcing RTS back to the wing, SKD back to the centres and Aidan Guerra back to the bench.
With LOD and Boyd Cordner out for the rest of the regular season, this is the team the Roosters will have for next week barring any further injuries, and barring the rumoured return of Marty Kennedy from a knee injury.
The Roosters are apparently filthy among themselves after they lost their cool against the Sharks in the first half on Monday, and so they should be. They were ambushed and mentally lost the game early.
But a little birdy told me that the players are not upset; they’re angry.
That game truly could turn out to be the loss they had to have. Their warts were exposed following eight straight wins, four of which were against less-than-stellar opponents and the past four in which their first halves were well below-par.
How they’ll play
Hopefully they come out of the gates with the intensity they’ve started the second halves in their past four games. In those games they’ve scored 42 and conceded 48 in the first 40, in the second they’ve scored 106 and conceded just 28. Reverse that and these boys are more golden than Flavor Flav’s chompers.
No matter what their struggles are though, the left side attack continues to excel. Last week they scored all four of their tries on that side , had one disallowed and made several breaks. What is missing is Cordner, who was the perfect second decoy runner for their plays out there, and Aubo hasn’t quite fit into that role comfortably yet. Expect him to get more accustomed to the role this round and expect Pearce to test him out there if the game happens to be out of reach either way.
The Chooks need to target former Rooster Brad Takairangi in the centres. He’s more suited to the back-row and struggles with the decision-making in defence out there, often standing flat-footed. Dane Nielsen scored an easy try off a deep play from Shaun Johnson down that side last week when Brad was caught in no-man’s land, and the Roosters’ left-side attack is far more lethal than that of the Warriors: of their 102 tries scored this year, 35 have come from the left-side quartet of Maloney, Jennings and Tupou with a further nine from the injured Cordner.
But they could also find love on the other side, and that cutout from SBW — which hasn’t been used for a while now — could make a comeback especially with The Nightcrawler back out on that wing. Jamie Dowling is talented but relatively inexperienced and the Warriors scored one last week down the flank through some quick hands.
Plus, The Nightcrawler is back out there, and here’s the .gif of his Shtep again for your viewing pleasure:
Winger Kevin Gordon can also struggle with his hands out there, dropping the pill 19 times in 20 matches this year including four drops two weeks ago against the Cowboys. Mitch will target him with that precise kick just before the line.
They could also find space from a mid-field bust between a few of their big but lazy forwards, namely Ryan James and Luke Douglas. They’re just too tall to handle smaller, nimbler and stockier players, and someone like a Jake Friend could make a bust or two with a dummy-and-go.
The also need to run SBW or Aubusson at Albert Kelly. The halfback averages 3.8 misses a game but 5.7 in his past three matches.
Expect a big, BIG game from Sonny Bill. He really turned it on to spark the team in the second half after an ill-disciplined first half, and he’s far too proud an athlete to allow for two straight losses under his watch. It’s something the Roosters haven’t done all season and he’s a big reason why.
Gold Coast Titans
Team for Round 25: David Mead, Kevin Gordon, Brad Takairangi, Jamie Dowling, Anthony Don, Aidan Sezer, Albert Kelly, Luke Douglas, Beau Falloon, Ryan James, Greg Bird, Ben Ridge, Nate Myles. Interchange: David Taylor, Luke Bailey, TBC, Matt Srama.
Greg Bird returns from a back injury which kept him out of their last game, as does Luke Bailey. But those returns are compounded by the losses of “Big Mini” Mark Minchiello and Ashley Harrison.
But if you think the Roosters have injury worries, spare a thought for these guys. They’re so down on troops they’ve named TBC to an interchange bench for the first time in a rugby league game since Queensland named him all those years ago. According to NRL.com that space is open as they “attempt to ascertain player availability through their feeder clubs”.
That, my friends, is an injury crisis.
Their last win was against the Dogs by 10 three weeks ago. They’ve since been flogged by the suddenly-hot Cowboys and lost a two-point squeaker against the desperate Warriors last week. They were firmly in the top eight earlier in the season but lost Jamal Idris to moonboot-itis and they simply haven’t been the same team since.
How they’ll play
I’m a big wrap for Aidan Sezer: he’s a big five-eighth who kicks through the line, which I love, and his attacking kicks in the 30-40 metre zone are remarkably accurate.
In 2013 he has 12 try assists and nine line break assists, and does the vast majority of their general play and tactical kicking, booting it for over 7,500 metres this year. By comparison, his halves partner, Albert Kelly, has kicked it for a little over 2,900 metres.
He’ll test the likes of SKD and RTS on the right side with some left-boot mid-range kicks to Anthony Don and Jamie Dowling, who is a natural fullback and can get up there.
The Roosters also need to prepare to be totally unprepared against Kelly. He has a dynamic running game at the line with a quick step and fend, and before you know it he can be through a gap and under the posts from any position on the field. He has nine line breaks, 11 tries and 12 try assists this year in his first full season in the top grade.
But the Roosters’ problem with Kelly is also the Titans’ problem; he’s a free spirit on the field and just as likely to get caught on the fifth as scoring a try.
The Titans will use their size to hammer away up the middle, but outside of the enigma, Dave Taylor, they don’t have a forward like a Sonny Bill or Aubo who can break the line through a hole run or damaging burst. Therefore, expect them to simply get to their fifth and kick, and hope the Roosters either piggy-back them up the field with a cheap penalty or drop the ball on the set following the kick. In the opposition 40 they’ll chip to the wings and try and force repeat sets.
After the loss they had and with the return of the positional steadiness of Mini — who was missed in his absence — you have to predict a Roosters victory here. The Titans are fighting for their playoff lives and are positioned ninth on percentages, but they have too many injuries to key personnel and they’re playing an angry team that will need a measure of revenge, even if it comes against a team that had nothing to do with Monday’s loss.
I’m predicting a 13+ score and for the Roosters to bounce back to their defensive ways and hold the Titans scoreless to become the first team in NRL history to hold six teams scoreless in a year in their last home game of the season.
With that in mind, the Roosters are offering members a free ticket per membership, two for one admission and free entry for kids under 16. It’s the last home game of the year and they are aiming for the magical 20K crowd average for the first time in their history, which would be a massive feat following a couple of years of sheer mediocrity.
It’s been a bumper year at home for the Roosters and this will be the last chance for members to head to the game on their existing membership before the Finals begin.
What better way to spend Father’s day than to watch the Roosters make history?
And as a bonus for loyal 26 Rounds readers, if you go to any bar at the game, mention 26 Rounds and you’ll get… well, nothing. But it would spread the word somewhat.
The Man of the Match prediction is the standard Sonny Bill call: he’ll be fired up after a poor outing and is capable of breaking the line several times in this one.
I don’t want to say this, but I feel it’s necessary: this could also be his last regular season match for the Roosters, so if you’re a Roosters fan who has appreciated everything this marvellous player has brought to the club — his game, his professionalism and his aura — you really need to get out to this one.