“I don’t think you ever got your mind off footy if you’re a head coach,” Interim Cronulla head coach Peter Sharp told the Sydney Morning Herald prior to the season. “You think about it in the middle of the night or when you’re walking down the street. The assistant coach specialises in one area and can be a good bloke whereas the head coach has to belt some bloke over the head occasionally.
“Shane [Flanagan] has an appeal and hopefully he’ll be back and I can go back to being an assistant coach and everyone is happy.”
The poor fucking Sharks. They have a head coach that doesn’t want to be there, a right-side defence that defends like it isn’t, and an (at present) absence of the ASADA crutch to explain away their early season woes.
Sure, you could put their struggles partly down to the injuries to Paul Gallen and Luke Lewis, two huge pieces of the puzzle.
But they are also missing Beau Ryan, which could be considered addition by subtraction. His “comedy”, if you can call it that, is the only thing that keeps him in first grade when fit, even though he’s the Adam Sandler of NRL “jesters”: he’s been living on his Happy Gilmore days despite the fact he’s now just shitting out Grown Ups.
Meanwhile, the Roosters, the defending premiers, are just one win ahead on the table, and already some fans are threatening to tear up their memberships despite their club taking home the crown a little over six months ago . Yes, that’s actually been said on Twitter by a select few fans — after three losses by a combined 11 points.
For one, you can’t tear up your membership. It’s plastic. You can bend it, snap it and cut it, but tearing it up would be a bitch. Second, if you want to jump off the wagon, fine.
But you may struggle to get your seat back when the wagon rights itself.
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, Aidan Guerra. Interchange: (From) Frank-Paul Nu’uasala, Mitchell Aubusson, Kane Evans, Isaac Liu, Dylan Napa, Daniel Mortimer.
The Roosters have named the same extended squad that lost to the Eels last week, but with Aidan Guerra named to start at lock (as he has for the past two weeks anyway thanks to last minute changes by coach Trent Robinson) and with Frank Paul Nu’uasala on the bench. Daniel Mortimer and Dylan Napa have been named outside the 17.
Meanwhile, Remi Casty and Tautau Moga have been named for the Newtown Jets for the first time this year.
The Roosters have lost three straight, and last time they visited Remondis they were touched up in a first half ambush when the Sharks jumped out to a huge 26-0 lead.
The Roosters also haven’t won a game with Sonny Bill Williams in the line-up, averaging a paltry 9.3 points a match in three losses — but that stat is more coincidence than anything, and he was essentially over the line twice in a game the Roosters should probably have won.
If last week was almost a must win game, this week definitely is: not just because the defending premiers face a four-game losing streak if they lose, but because this game is so fucking winnable.
A loss here, while unlikely, would be devastating for a proud club that is in need of at least a comfortable win to shake off the doubt and the premiership hangover.
How they’ll play
It would be absolutely ridiculous not to send it out left; the double decoy play was almost made to bamboozle the Sharks’ right-side defence.
In the first match-up between the teams last year, the SBW-less Roosters destroyed the right-side defence (which at the time included Ben Pomeroy) with Mitchell Pearce leading the way in what was a career-defining performance just after the disappointment of Origin III. Boyd Cordner scored two tries off the play in that game, while James Maloney and Jennings also had breaks down that side. This week, they face the deplorable right-side defence of Todd Carney and Blake Ayshford.
Ayshford has copped a lot of grief from fans, and probably rightly so: he’s missed 17 tackles in six games at an average of nearly three a game. But in the two games without Carney to start the year, he missed just three — total.
Meanwhile, Carney has missed 21 tackles in his four matches at an average of 5.25 a match, and he’s had games of 10 and six misses. He seems to just amble along now, probably still suffering from a hammy injury, but he’s not even sticking an arm out.
Take this long-range effort for the Sharks’ first try last week (Carney is the second to come across after the first initial miss from Nathan Stapleton):
.. and this one, when Ayshford makes a poor attempt at a late tackle but Carney almost pushes Ayshford out of the way and runs out to the wing where no-one is, after a play in which Stapleton pulls a Chris Walker and comes a kilometre in-field:
This is hideous defence from both Stapleton and Carney, and Ayshford’s awful defence is actually the most defensible of the three right-side defenders.
Stapleton has been dropped, but the Roosters still need to go out that way and target Todd Carney, and force Ayshford to come in and poorly attempt to make up for the mistake TC will likely come up with.
The Roosters’ left side attack has fallen off, clearly, in recent weeks, but this is the perfect opportunity for Pearcey to take it upon himself to re-invigorate it.
Team for Round 6: Michael Gordon, Sosaia Feki, Blake Ayshford, Ricky Leutele, Jontahan Wright, Todd Carney, Jeff Robson, Andrew Fifita, Josh Morris, Bryce Gibbs, Tupou Sopoaga, Wade Graham,Chris Heighington. Interchange: Isaac De Gois, Tinirau Arona, Sam Tagataese, Siosaia Vave.
The Sharks have made two changes to the team that lost to Manly last week, recalling Jonathan Wright in favour of four-try hero (albeit from two weeks ago) Nathan Stapleton. They’ve also dropped former Rooster Tinirau Arona back to the bench with Chris Heighington to start at lock
Paul Gallen remains out as does Luke Lewis and a shitload of others, while Todd Carney is only slowly working his way back into form and Jeff Robson will play just his third game of the year.
Carney, in particular, looks a shadow of his former self at the moment. He did have four try assists against the Warriors in their lone win last year but his hamstring seems to really be bothering him. His defensive woes were discussed above, and while he’s still trying hard in attack it’s simply not there yet.
Plus his hair colour choices leave a lot to be desired. I don’t know why he went to the barber and asked for the “Anthony Watts”, but Carney hopefully got a free bowl of soup with his dye job.
How they’ll play
The Sharks have been abhorrent in attack for the most part this year, averaging just 11.5 a match. Taking away that freak flogging of the Warriors, and they’re averaging a pathetic 6.4 points a match. Yikes.
Regardless, there’s always points in a team if they can find the weakness.
The Roosters conceded two remarkably easy tries down the right edge last week, but that is a freakish anomaly; the majority of the Roosters’ tries conceded typically come down the other end.
I — and many fans for that matter — have been quick to pick out SKD for poor reads, but last week he actually did well, coming up with six one-on-one tackles. It’s his wingers (RTS and Mini) who have probably had more to do with the lack of defensive stinginess on that edge.
Here’s the tackles-to-miss ratio and missed tackle percentages for the outside backs, in order of worst to best:
The difference in defensive efficiency between the right and left is startling, and makes last week’s two try effort down the right side even more incredible.
Todd Carney’s adept at throwing long spirals left and right, and on this occasion you’d think he’d try and aim most of his attack down that end. Wade Graham needs to be guarded out there with inside balls, and the Roosters have to swarm him as he can be tough to stop one-on-one.
They simply need more from players such as Carney and Andrew Fifita aside from bad hair-dos and grass-dew tagging.
Fifita has been down on his incredible 2013 form, but still needs to be watched as a battering ram near the line. The Sharks can still set a pretty handy platform up the middle as well, and the Roosters’ defensive line needs to be on from the kick onwards.
The Sharks effectively deployed a “rock the boat” approach in their second meeting with the Chooks last year in which they ruffled the feathers of Sonny Bill and co with extra aggression after each tackle. In the absence of talent, expect them to use a similar ploy this time around.
If I get this wrong, that’s it: no more predictions from me. But it’s hard to see anything but a win for the Roosters, all things considered.
Sure, they have struggled to score of late, with just 20 points in their past three matches. But each of those teams that have beaten them have been in excellent form, while the Roosters have been slow to warm up this year — and they’ve still only been beaten by scores of eight, one and two.
Their season could be a fuckload different, either way — they could easily be 5-1 and just as easily be 1-5. But this three game losing streak may turn out to be a blessing. The Roosters know full well that the target is on their back, they know they are struggling and they are now desperate. They know now that now game is going to be easy and that, despite their struggles, they aren’t that far off.
I just can’t see any scenario in which a team in which their two best backrowers are out and their best playmaker is struggling can beat the defending premiers, but I’ve been wrong before — especially this year.
Regardless, this shapes as a game that the Roosters will finally be able to return to the winners circle, and handily. Although a 1-12 win will suffice, I think a 13+ score is on the cards.
Man of the Match will be Mitchell Pearce, and expect two tries from Jennings and at least one from Cordner.