ANZAC Day is a special day without rugby league; we have a few beers, remember the fallen and honour those who continue to fight for this country.
But with rugby league, it becomes a day filled with good-spirited banter when a proud club comes up against a merged entity in what can honestly be considered the highlight of any regular season, in any year.
There’s always one tool who yells out during the last post, but other than that it’s a game that’s played and watched in the right spirit, no matter how silly some Merge fans are when remembering rugby league history.
They claim 16 premierships, even though they only have one — yes, it was against the Roosters, but it’s just one.
Those 15 premierships left the door at the same time that Illawarra walked in, and unless the merger dies then they aren’t coming back. If you don’t think that’s the case, then Steelers fans can argue that they have 16 premierships too and, clearly, they don’t. And as Roosters fan Ryan Heighway points out: try and claim the spoons that Illawarra earned for them are theirs, and they are the first to deny it.
Just ask Steve Menzies about how mergers screw up records — Manly wrote a letter to the NRL asking that the games he played and tries he scored as a Northern Eagle count towards his “one club” total. But as it stands, he retired having played 280 games for Manly and 69 for the Northern Eagles, scoring 151 and 29 tries respectively for each club.
So yes, the St George Dragons have 15 premierships. The Merge have one, or 12 less than the Roosters and one more than the Illawarra Steelers.
Thems the breaks.
Team for Round 8: 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, Isaac Liu, Dylan Napa, Daniel Mortimer.
The Roosters hope to welcome Daniel Tupou back into the line-up that beat the Sharks last week and move MotM Shaun Kenny-Dowall back to his right-side centre position and Mitch Aubusson to the bench.
However, Twitter fiend Jimmy (@choox75) overheard on 2GB yesterday that Toops was still struggling with a hamstring injury, which would force the Roosters into the same changes they made late last week should he succumb.
Kane Evans, who was dropped from the 17 last week, has again been named for Newtown.
Sonny Bill Williams will be keen for a huge game — he’s yet to break the line, score a try or set one up this year, and he’s again been hammered in the press for allegedly declining the opportunity to play in the upcoming Australia-New Zealand Test.
The Roosters won the season series against the Dragons 70-10 last year, and the Anzac Day Clash 34-10. But as we have seen over the course of this season, the Roosters aren’t quite the same machine as they were last year — leading into that game the Roosters were 4-2 and were coming off a 38-0 destruction job of the Bulldogs, while this year they’re going into it having won just one of their past four games and have scored just 34 points in that span.
Yet there are holes in this Dragons squad if the Roosters care to find them. For all of their success this year, the Dragons are leaking just over 21 points a match, and come into the ANZAC clash winning just one of their past four matches and conceding 100 points in that span.
How they’ll play
Hidden in the win last week is that the Roosters scored just the solitary try from a system play, when Boyd Cordner took a pass from RTS to barely crash over. They scored tries from a wayward Carney kick, a spilled bomb and a long range masterpiece set up again by RTS.
In short, if they are to contend, they need to fix their passing game because the Dragons have two wingers who are capable under the high ball in Brett Morris and Jason Nightingale, and a fullback in Josh Dugan who could really hurt them on the kick return if the line is disjointed.
Therefore, if they want some action they could always head right for a change and hit the space between Beale and Widdop. You’ll see in this Gif that Gerard Beale is guilty of ball-watching, and a flat ball to the second decoy beats Beale all ends up, forcing Morris and Widdop to come in:
This is where SBW, RTS and SKD could shine. SKD in particular is coming off his best game in four years attack-wise and could get lucky with a direct run, while the misreads from Beale could open up the wing for either RTS or Mini if Morris is forced to come in.
If SKD moves out to the wing and Aubo becomes the centre, so much the better. SBW could be the game’s biggest decoy if the Roosters can muster a similar play on the right to their patented double decoy left-side play.
On the other edge, assuming RTS retains that role he played last week as a ball-playing fullback, they can find gaps simply through the bamboozlement of the Dragons’ defence which tends to stop its defensive line advancing. Sam Tomkins did it with ease last week on one occasion (watch the defence start to back pedal even before Tomkins gets it):
RTS is stronger in the upper body than Tomkins and while he’s not as quick he’s certainly as light on his feet. It would be a tough effort to actually score in a similar fashion this week, but it shows that the Dragons can be opened up around the edges of the ruck.
They could do worse than attack their forwards inside Mitch Rein, as they can be slow to react. Matt Gillett scored two tries against them three weeks ago, while Ben Roberts — yes, Ben Roberts — had two line breaks in the second half two weeks ago, one off a short ball up the middle and the other attacking the left edge.
Look for Jenko to wreck that edge, assuming Mitch and Maloney can get him some quality ball at speed.
ST GEORGE-ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
Team for Round 8: Josh Dugan, Brett Morris, Nathan Green, Gerard Beale, Jason Nightingale, Gareth Widdop, Michael Witt, Jack Stockwell, Mitch Rein, Dan Hunt, Joel Thompson, Ben Creagh, Trent Merrin. Interchange: Bronson Harrison, Tyson Frizell, Mike Cooper, Leeson Ah Mau, Jack De Belin.
The Dragons name have made a few changes to their squad. Joel Thompson is back in the starting second row after missing last weekend with a concussion. Prop Dan Hunt has been recalled to the starting side after being benched on Saturday, with Leeson Ah Mau dropping back to the bench and Jack De Belin dropping back to 18th man. Dylan Farrell remains out, with Nathan Green taking his place in the centres again.
The Dragons are 4-3 this season but a win by the Roosters would see the Bondi club instantly leapfrog them in the standings thanks to a superior for-and-against. They are currently sixth on the ladder, the Roosters 11th. As mentioned earlier, the Dragons also come into this game with just one win from their past four.
How they’ll play
The Dragons have the big boppas and bump-off style runners that could cause the Roosters no end of dramas. Joel Thompson is a solid hole-runner and Trent Merrin is a beast, as anyone who plays Fantasy or Supercoach will tell you. He can offload, he stays upright and swivels, and his leg drive is phenomenal. He needs to be watched near the line, and on the fourth tackle before the 50 metre line — his drive is used to set a decent platform for the kicker.
Speaking of kickers, Gareth Widdop has proven himself to be one of the more creative five-eighths around, and if RTS is playing fullback he needs to be aware of the chip-and-chase and the grubber through the line, especially on the fifth. Widdop has shown he isn’t afraid to chance his arm and stick his finger up at so-called “percentage plays”.
The Roosters defensive line, for all its scrambling, is not the line of last year. It’s a little broken, a little scattered, and can be vulnerable on the play following a quick play the ball. The defensive line here is just woeful and eventually resulted in a try to Wade Graham:
… and Dugan could have a fucking Mardi Gras attacking that kind of defence. The Roosters need to focus on maintaining an even and quick defensive line.
The Dragons will also definitely attack Pearce, likely with flat balls at a second-rower running on his outside — MP7 was lacklustre at best last week in defence and was caught shirt-grabbing a number of times.
This is a huge game for the Roosters. They want to show their fans, and of course themselves, that they are capable of more than they showed against the Sharks last week in which they scored just the solitary try off a system play. Somehow, they are still premiership favourites despite averaging just 11 points a match in the past month and winning just once. It just shows the expectation that many have of this star-spangled squad — expectations that they have fallen well short of this year.
But if there is a game to show that they’re back, it’s this one in front of 40,000 fans at Allianz. They aren’t scoring easily and every game is played at a finals intensity, but they announced to the world they were a threat in the last ANZAC clash, and history could hopefully repeat against one of the surprise squads in the NRL.
Like the Roosters, I’ve gone 3-4 this year because I’m both a fucking idiot with predictions and a massive homer, one who’s under the belief that the season-changing win is just around the corner.
To keep with the tradition, I’ll go a 1-12 scoreline in favour of the Roosters — but it’s an un-confident, money-less bet I’m placing.
Man of the Match will be Boyd Cordner. He could poke holes in the defence off short balls and will repeatedly test this Dragons squad out around the left edge. SBW will be in the running though after having his name again trashed by News Corp.