If you missed part one, including the intro detailing battles past and the Roosters team analysis, click here.
Knights team for Finals, Week 3: Darius Boyd, James McManus, Joey Leilua, Dane Gagai, Akuila Uate, Jarrod Mullen, Tyrone Roberts, David Fa’alogo, Danny Buderus, Willie Mason, Robbie Rochow, Beau Scott, Jeremy Smith. Interchange: Matt Hilder, Chris Houston, Neville Costigan, Alex McKinnon.
Tyrone Roberts injured his knee in the Knights’ win against the Storm when he buckled with no-one around him, but he should be fit to play at this stage.
The Knights are without Kade Snowden, who is suspended, and are also missing Craig Gower and Kurt Gidley with injuries. NSW winger James McManus has been named after missing last week’s battle, with Kevin Naiqama dropping out of the squad. But according to Whacko’s Whispers on Twitter:
If he doesn’t play, obviously Naiqama will come back in.
The Knights have now won four straight after a two-game losing streak, but beat the Storm despite being down in the possession count 51-49 and losing the line break battle 5-4.
A lot has been made about how they muscled up last week, but the Storm actually made more running metres (1615 to 1591) and as we will see below, the Knights won with a mobile forward pack and quick hands out the back, which kind of plays into how they might beat the Roosters this week.
How they’ll play
The Roosters were opened up on the wings four times by Manly in Week 1, and the Knights found easy space last week through Gagai, Leilua, Uate and Naiqama against the normally-miserly Storm last week. They made four line breaks, one each from Uate and Naiqama from nearer their own territory.
Therefore, they’ll spread it early and with quick hands through Jarrod Mullen, whose passing game is simply exceptional.
A lot is made of their size but the employ a mobile, second-rower heavy squadron for the majority of the game. Their two front-rowers, Mason and Fa’alogo, were on the field for just 28 and 24 minutes respectively last week with Chris Houston and Alex McKinnon getting the lion’s share of the minutes last week off the bench. That may change as they attempt to combat the aggressiveness of the Roosters pack, but a lot of the heavy lifting last week was done by those two benchies (17 and 13 runs respectively), Darius Boyd (19), Gagai (21) and Robbie Rochow (15).
Given the nature of their win and how easily they opened up the Storm on the edges last week, it would be remiss of them not to stick to the tactic – especially given the Roosters tactic to force teams to go around them with the temptation of open pastures.
Tyrone Roberts, if he plays, needs to be watched like a hawk. His running game is among the best for an NRL half, and last week he had two offloads and a line break assist with 10 runs for 96 metres and a line break. He has a great show-and-go and good upper body strength, and is able to burrow through the line or break it clean.
But the key is Mullen. His spiral pass both ways is incredible, and he’ll look to spread it with cutouts whenever he can to Gagai and Leilua. The Roosters’ defence needs to be on song to nullify the early cutouts, with SKD and Jenko the key men to cut it off at the elbow before anything occurs.
Many of the “experts” i.e. the Johns boys are expecting the Knights to cause the upset, and there is merit in their prediction. Matt Johns in particular makes the point that the Roosters can suffer when the big forwards from the opposite forward packs aim up (see the losses to the Sharks and the Titans).
But the Roosters since those two losses have overcome two aggressive packs in Souths and Manly, and as we have seen above the Knights have had their greatest success spreading the ball rather than employing a huge pack that will beat you into submission – and the Roosters have overcome wide line breaks in their past two matches with the best scrambling defence seen in a long time.
What Johns forgets is that the Roosters have been the best defensive team all year – a historically stingy team that can hold even the best attacks in the comp to nil. They can score from anywhere and have been playing better than the two teams the Knights have beaten.
The Knights have been the form side of the finals, no question – but the Roosters have the big game players across the park, and they welcome back JWH just in time to add some real starch.
It would be a massive upset for the Knights to win, and while it’s on the cards, it would be an upset for a reason. Therefore, I’m predicting the Roosters will win this one, with an 18-10 score or something along those lines.
Man of the Match will be JWH. He will feel the urge to repay his team-mates after missing last week, and it will be his first game in three weeks – the last time he had this much time off this season, he returned against Manly and had 21 hitups for 172 metres with 26 tackles, no penalties and no errors. If he can get close to those numbers the Roosters should win on his shoulders alone.
I’ll be at the game, as I am sure you will. And as I am sure that a truckload of Knights fans will too. Whatever happens, it’s been a remarkable ride.
Toast to that, yeah?