So big is this game, the team (of one) at 26 Rounds decided to split the match preview into two parts for your reading pleasure. To skip to part two, including the Rabbitohs breakdown and match prediction, click here.
Here it is. The battle for the minor premiership, one that is perhaps a small taste of a potential grand final between two of the game’s original teams.
One team has won 12 premierships including TWO in the colour television era; the other has won 19 and none as a comparison.
(This writer refuses to acknowledge the 1909 premiership when the Rabbitohs reportedly agreed to abandon the final versus the Tigers but turned up, kicked off and scored against no-one to seal it. Further proof that stats are deceptive without analysis.)
One team has been in the NRL since inception, while the other took a couple of years off, returned and were pumped 40-6 in their first game back before watching their hated rival snare their first premiership in 27 years.
One team has all their members turn up to a game, while the other has 10,000 that inexplicably go missing. But to be fair, it’s hard for the Dalai Lama, Benji Madden and the myriad of random celebrity Rabbitohs fans who love “foozball” to attend every match.
The Rabbitohs have a near-full strength squad, and unless you’ve been Bradley Manning’s cellmate the past two weeks you might have heard that they have four brothers playing in the same squad! Yes, the Burgii are back, and in greater numbers. Like the Sand People:
Meanwhile, the Roosters are missing a starting front rower who received a three-week suspension for a pancake flip — to put it another way, he received the same total weeks for that one tackle as two Rabbitohs players did combined for grabbing the testicles of another player without his permission and for twisting the leg of a player with a knee injury.
They are also without Boyd Cordner and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck who are both out with ankle injuries. They are fighting down form, the odds, and an expected penalty count that could look like the totes at the fuckin’ trots by the end of this game.
Regardless, this is the game that all Roosters and Rabbitohs fans have been waiting for since round one ended: not just because of the rivalry but because it’s the ultimate litmus test of where each are respective to form, talent and chances to win the premiership.
But the odds are well in favour of the home team in this one, in more ways than you can imagine. It’s just fitting that the Roosters neighbour the training facilities of the NSW cricket team, because they may need all the box protectors they can get their hands on.
Roosters team for Round 26: Anthony Minichiello, Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Mitchell Aubusson, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend, Sam Moa, Aidan Guerra, Sonny Bill Wiliams, Frank-Paul Nu’uasala. Interchange: Daniel Mortimer, Isaac Liu, Dylan Napa, Tinirau Arona.
The Sheck has not been named after ending the Titans game on crutches thanks to an ankle injury. This means a reshuffle with Aubo moving to the centres, SKD to the wing and Tinirau Arona onto the bench. RTS joins an out-of-action crew that already includes Boyd Cordner, Marty Kennedy and the suspended Luke O’Donnell, and not much at this stage is known about the extent of the injury. We’ll update once the Roosters let us know a bit more.
But the judiciary didn’t further affect the Roosters as many expected it would, however; Sam Moa escaped sanction for his shoulder charge, while Frank Paul Nu’uasala was charged for a dangerous lift but avoided penalty with an early guilty plea.
For people thinking this game is just about securing the minor premiership, think again my friends: This is about securing their own slice of modern history. The Roosters momentarily became the most penalised team since 1994 when they entered round 25 against the Titans averaging 8.64 penalties conceded, just less than the 1994 Knights (9.41) before inexplicably conceding just four on Sunday, driving their average back down to a paltry 8.43 – below the Eels’ average of 8.51.
What the hell happened?!?!? We have fallen away, people, from becoming the most penalised team in 20 years to being just the most penalised team in 18. WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED?!?!?!
Thank God the NRL chose to appoint Ashley Klein to this one. In five games under Ashley Klein the Roosters have won two games by a total of six points, and lost three by a total of 29. But more than that, 57.1 per cent of penalties in games adjudicated by Klein have gone against the Roosters: 40 against, 30 for.
The Roosters have won just one penalty count under his watch, against Cronulla when the Sharks used spoiling tactics to slow the play down on the line to the tune of four straight in one attacking raid.
In short, can we still become the most penalised team in 20 years?
How they’ll play
How they always have. They haven’t strayed from the left side targeting all year and not much will change in this one — even though it’s been read well by both the Titans and Sharks recently. They come up against the Dylans, who have been solid defensively for the Rabbitohs to much surprise.
This year the Roosters’ halves have been exceptional: Pearce has 21 try assists, Maloney has 20, and they are thereabouts in line break assists as well with 18 and 16 each, respectively, and obviously a lot of that has come down the left hand side, especially since State of Origin.
Heading out right might reap more rewards but with RTS out and Mitch Aubusson shifting out there once again, the speed and skill has been nullified. Regardless, Shaun Kenny-Dowall has the strength and size advantage over Nathan Merritt, while a wrap-around play could be on the cards for Aubo from Sonny Bill Williams with the occasional cameo from Mini.
What could really work is a deep play, with Pearce running to the line and dumping it back behind SBW to Mini to create a three-on-two and get Merritt in two minds about whether to come in or not. This has worked before to some acclaim, but the Roosters have almost exclusively run the left-side double decoy play out left — and given that side of the field is almost at full-strength (Boyd excluded) It seems likely they’ll try and hammer away at that side of the field.
What was lost in that round one shellacking is that the Roosters actually broke the line six times to the Bunnies’ four; Souths just finished off their chances far better. You may remember the Roosters bombed a try with Jenko and Tupou out left, while Aubo actually broke the line twice. So there are holes to be had in the Rabbitohs defence, but the reason the Bunnies are on top is their tremendous scrambling defence. This writer has lost count of the number of times Greg Inglis has held someone up over the line this season and in seasons past.
The mid-range chip for the right side also seems a likely tactic, especially after Merritt failed to diffuse a bomb against the Tigers in that 20-minute ambush last week. SKD is a likely target there provided he can get a hand to it or at least challenge in the air, and he’s scored a couple this year off those kicks.
But it all comes down to Jared Waerea-Hargeaves in this writer’s opinion.
He was back to his best last week with 17 hitups, 147 metres and two offloads, and it’s that last stat that is crucial to the Roosters making easy metres. Jake Friend has perfected running the second phase play this year and the Roosters will be able to find space out wide if JWH can get his hand free. Sonny Bill can offload at will but the combo with Jake is not as dominant out right as it is down the middle.
This can lead to tries from five metres in each side of the goal posts, with the Roosters to look to get the likes of Sam Moa, Guerra and Sonny hitting small holes from 10 out, or for Jakey to score one himself: he’s scored six tries this year and they’ve all been of the burrowing nature, while he also has eight try assists and seven line break assists in his coming-out year.
But, most importantly, the Roosters need improve their strike rate with the line begging. Little known fact: They’ve actually broken the line more times than their past two opponents and lost both games, and as mentioned earlier broke the line more times than the Rabbitohs in round one.
Overall, the Roosters have broken the line 131 times this year to lead the NRL and have scored a league leading 106 tries at a strike rate of 0.81 tries per break. But what this tells me is that the Roosters have had at least 22 chances gone begging (and as @Heighway_ noted, total tries includes tries scored off kicks, intercepts etc, therefore they’ve certainly bombed more than 22 tries), and to win this one they need their support play to be at its best and capitalise on each opportunity as it arises.
By comparison, the Rabbitohs have broken the line 109 times and scored 97 tries at a rate of 0.89 tries a break. So, yeah. Gotta make ’em count.
To continue on to part 2 of the Rabbitohs-Roosters preview, including the Rabbitohs breakdown and match prediction, click here.