You know in The Castle when Darryl is being told by his missus to sign over the deeds to his house and he says “I can’t physically bring myself to pick up the pen”?
That’s how I feel about this game. I physically can’t bring myself to say the unmentionable, but it’s on the cards. The Eels are playing with confidence since the flogging we gave them, and the Roosters couldn’t find a white line in a coke den of late.
The Eels are playing with more flair than Jennifer Aniston in Office Space and have been the best team in three straight games against excellent squads in the Sea Eagles, Broncos and Panthers. As a result, the team that has run out of hands to hold their wooden spoons in has suddenly jumped ahead of the defending premiers, who have run out of confidence just as quickly as they ran out of cabinet space.
The Roosters have been largely disappointing, having been pummelled up the middle like a co-ed on spring break and in the past two weeks have scored one try less than Semi Radradra, Jarryd Hayne and Nathan Peats — a fucking hooker — have each scored during the same period.
It goes without saying that I’m not the only one in fear of what could happen, even as inconceivable as it seemed a little over three weeks ago. It shoudn’t happen. It can’t.
But it could.
Am I trying the reverse jinx ruse? Fuckin’ right I am.
Team for Round 6: Anthony Minichiello, Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend, Sam Moa, Boyd Cordner, Sonny Bill Williams, Frank-Paul Nu’uasala. Interchange: Daniel Mortimer, Aidan Guerra, Mitchell Aubusson, Dylan Napa, Kane Evans, Isaac Liu.
Coach Trent Robinson has named a 19-man squad to face the Eels. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves returns from his one-game suspension and has been named to start. Frank Paul Nu’uasala — who ended up starting at prop last week with Dylan Napa moving back to the bench and Aidan Guerra starting at lock — moves back to lock, with Napa, Kane Evans and Isaac Liu named in jerseys 17 through 19.
A final decision on who will drop off will be made prior to kickoff. But it’s likely between Liu — who was impressive last week after a six-week layoff following knee surgery with 73 metres off seven runs and 29 tackles in just 32 minutes — and Napa for that final spot, with the recently-re-signed Evans the most likely to drop off after missing last week with an ankle injury.
The Roosters are nearly at full strength with JWH and SBW both back in the line-up together for the first time since round one. They are missing Remi Casty, who again wasn’t named in either grade and must still be suffering the effects of a calf injury which has kept him out all season.
They’ve scored just one try in two weeks, but also conceded only two in that time. Regardless, they have been well down on form and have conceded an average of nearly 400 metres a game more than four of their five opponents.
The one time they won the metres battle was against the Eels in round two, when they ran for 501 metres more and scored 10 tries to boot.
A loyal reader emailed me earlier in the week and made the great point that while their goal-line defence is back, their defence as a whole is not. They have simply allowed too many metres up the middle and it has enabled a great roll-on and better field position for the opposition, and the Roosters are bringing it back from deeper in their own territory.
They may be struggling with the new third man in rule (above the knees only) as forwards aren’t going to ground as easy as last year, when the Roosters were able to come from behind and bend the knees forward and retreat quicker. But it’s a good rule brought in to limit the hideous cannonball tackle (even if the Roosters never employed the tactic) and they simply need to adjust.
How they’ll play
This is the game the Roosters forward pack needs to get some confidence back. Pound-for-pound they have the bigger pack, regardless of who they use off the bench, and they need to show it early. Sam Moa and JWH need to revisit their 2013 form if the Roosters are any hope of defending their premiership, because this year they’ve been below their standards.
Last season Moa averaged 99.7 metres gained off 11.4 runs, at 8.75 metres per run. This year those numbers are down to 84.4 metres a game off 10.6 runs, at 7.96 metres per run — and in the last two games he’s made just 10 runs and 73 metres in each game.
The decline of JWH has been even more profound, and it’s largely the reason the forward pack has struggled to gain the ascendancy. Last year he averaged 122.31 metres gained from 13.79 runs, at 8.87 metres per run along with 1.47 offloads a game. This season? He’s fallen to an average of just 84 metres gained from 9.5 runs, at 8.84 metres a run and with just two offloads — total. His involvement is well down, and it needs to get back up if the Roosters are a hope in September, let alone the first weekend of October.
But I’m predicting the week off will have done JWH good. He’ll have observed from a distance the lack of go-forward and energy the Roosters showed against the Dogs, and he’ll take it upon himself to rectify it.
Or maybe 2013 JWH just isn’t walking through the door.
At any rate, the Roosters will try and attack the exact same way they did in round two, but with the benefit of possessing Sonny Bill Williams this time.
The Eels allowed 15 offloads last week, largely through running at Nathan Peats and Corey Norman (three ineffective tackles each), so SBW could do well to run at them either up the middle (at Peats) or out attacking the left-side defence, where Norman resides.
Also, it wouldn’t hurt to run at Chris Sandow as often as one can breathe; while his defence hasn’t been atrocious in two games, he was kept in NSW Cup largely for his inability to play it.
It’s time to make him regress back to the mean.
Team for Round 6: Jarryd Hayne, Semi Radradra, Will Hopoate, Willie Tonga, Ken Sio, Corey Norman, Chris Sandow, Tim Mannah, Nathan Peats, Fui Fui Moi Moi, Kenny Edwards, Manu Ma’u, Joseph Paulo. Interchange: Peni Terepo, Mitch Allgood, David Gower, Pauli Pauli.
The Eels welcome back Fui Fui Moi Moi to the team which beat the Broncos 25-18 last week. Peni Terepo drops back to the bench, with Junior Paulo falling out of the squad altogether.
The Eels were also without Nathan Peats (suspension) in their game against the Roosters, while the Eels have since recalled Chris Sandow to the squad and dropped Vai Toutai in favour of Ken Sio.
The Roosters flogged the Eels 56-4 in round two, but come into this game having won two straight and narrowly missing a third after losing to the Sea Eagles at the death in round three.
They’ve won both games since Sandow has been recalled, and he’s offered them superb goal kicking and some off-the-cuff (albeit erratic) brilliance as the dual-spoon holders continue a climb up the ladder. They’ve already won half the number of games they won last year, while the Roosters have already LOST half the games they lost last year.
Jarryd Hayne has been in incredible form, and playing with the trademark pep in his step and swagger that’s been missing the past two years. The injection of Sandow into the line-up has made them infinitely less predictable, and Semi Radradra is a fucking BEAST — he’s Akuila Uate 4.0.
How they’ll play
The Eels used some excellent quick hands against the Broncos for two of their tries last week. Here’s number one:
… and number two:
The first is concerning, because the Roosters’ main strength is tackling in numbers, and they can be found out with quick balls just before the line. In addition, they’ve been pretty poor this year in wrapping up the ball and preventing offloads: They’ve accounted for 83 ineffective tackles this year compared to the opposition’s 43, and been out-offloaded in all but one game — yep, against the Eels.
But this is a different Eels squad to the round two team, one that plays with confidence. They’re offloading it well and using the quick balls seen in gif one to attack.
Those offloads came easy against a decent Broncos defence last week, and they should run their forwards — the like of Kenny Edwards and Joseph Paulo spring to mind — straight at Jake Friend or James Maloney, who are the chief culprits in both ineffective tackles (12 and 10 respectively) and missed tackles (16 and 20).
In short, the Eels would be as silly as their fucked-up board not to send plenty of action at Friendy — who understandably tackles low but is prone to leaving the offload open as a result — and the Artist Formerly Known as BBQ.
The second gif worries me as well, because it shows a willingness to spread the ball early and attack the right-side defence — although this will be somewhat nullified by the Roosters’ penchant for giving penalties away in their own fucking half — four of the five penalties against the Roosters last week came before the halfway line.
The Roosters were caught out by early kicks from within the 50 once for a try in round two to Radradra and two more times in that game which remarkably didn’t result in tries, so Sheck/Mini and Toops need to be on guard for chips and/or grubbers from Sandow and Norman, and also third-tackle runs wide.
They’re going to have their hands full.
The Roosters have been also opened up twice up the middle in the past two weeks by ambling runs from halves — Josh Reynolds made a near-break last week, and Daly Cherry-Evans a full one the week prior. Well, the Eels have three playmakers who deploy similar runs in Norman, Sandow and Hayne, and they’ll attack weak and lazy forward defence up the middle.
And Radradra just scares the living shit out of me.
Is this a must-win game for the Roosters? Probably, if only because despite the positions on the ladder and recent form they really should win. Also, a slip to 2-4 would suck considering they will lose at least three players in Origin, and they play all three games prior to each state battle. Early wins are critical for a cushion.
There’s enough talent on paper for the Roosters to fill a book, and despite their struggles they outclass the Eels almost across the board.
But paper has a funny knack for tearing against sharp attack and confidence.
The Roosters SHOULD win, but I can’t bring myself to utter the alternative, and at this stage it’s a 50/50 proposition. The Roosters will either win by 13+ or lose 1-12. I’d lean towards the former, but if you couldn’t tell already, there’s a lack of confidence in the 26 Rounds office.
Having said that, your friendly neighbourhood Jarmel couldn’t pick a dirty nose at this point, so really the 26 Rounds opinion is irrelevant.
The Man of the Match for the Roosters will be SBW — he should be back to his offloading best, and he’ll be keen to get his individual season firmly back on track after a three-week suspension and not a single win with him in the line-up.