Roosters. Cowboys. For some reason, every time I see this game on the schedule my mind takes me back to that fateful hot night in April, 2012, when the Roosters took their game to Darwin to face the Cowboys in a climate they were more than used to.
It was a disaster no matter which way you slice it, and the Roosters were sliced like a victim of Dexter’s during a 50-12 shellacking. Even the crowd was disappointing, considering the Roosters — had they just played the damn game at Allianz — would surely have amassed the 10,008 they drew up there in addition to saving on the expenses of accommodation, flights and ice to strap to their arses after a right-royal public spanking.
A lot has changed since then. The Roosters are now Smith-less and full of SBW, Jenko and Maloney. They’ve won a premiership.
The Cowboys have changed coaches, seen a seventh tackle, and made a public plea to their fans to finally get dem teef fixed by getting their stadium sponsored by a local dentist.
Shit, they aren’t even playing in Darwin this week, as the lesson was more than learned. But that night scarred me. And while I don’t think we’ll see a 38 point drubbing this week, I can see the Chooks coming away with more disappointment from another venture into the tropics.
Team for Round 10: Anthony Minichiello, Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, James Maloney, Sonny Bill Williams, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend, Sam Moa, Boyd Cordner, Mitchell Aubusson, Aidan Guerra. Interchange: (from) Daniel Mortimer, Frank-Paul Nu’uasala, Isaac Liu, Dylan Napa, Samisoni Langi.
Mitchell Pearce has been stood down for the game against the Cowboys by the Roosters, as covered by 26 Rounds here. As a result, Sonny Bill Williams shifts to five-eighth and James Maloney to halfback with Daniel Mortimer and Samisoni Langi named on an extended bench.
Remi Casty was a late scratch after succumbing to yet another leg injury, and has been named to once again start for the Jets alongside Kane Evans.
So unless Robbo makes a later change and puts Mortimer in at halfback, Mitchell Aubusson will start in his 150th game for the club in Sonny Bill’s regular role, and could have a chance to push his utility credentials with an expected 80 minute performance. While it’s highly unlikely that he gets a shot off the bench for the Blues with “always hurt Kurt” (Gidley) bound to get that utility spot, Aubo has proven this year alone the value he has off the bench as a hole-running backrower, a centre-on-demand and most recently as a hooker last week when he played 27 minutes.
But Aubo’s defence is the most underrated aspect of his game, and something that should hold him in decent regard with selectors, assuming they are paying attention (is Bob “Those Kicks Were Flukes” McCarthy still a selector?).
He makes 32.3 tackles for every miss, second only at the club to Sonny Bill Williams. He doesn’t allow offloads, with just two ineffective tackles all year, which leads the club by a country mile, and makes 97 tackles for every ineffective one. Throw in his running game and the effective (enough) passing game he displayed out of dummy half, and one has to wonder how he didn’t get a start in the City-Country game at the very least, and why he never has.
It doesn’t pay to be under-rated I suppose.
How they’ll play
Speaking of Aubo, he could find some space out on the right between Jonathan Thurston and Kane Linnett, especially when you consider the players around him include the returning-to-form Sonny Bill Williams and Shaun Kenny-Dowall, and RTS floating behind him.
Take a look at this defensive structure in which JT is forced to commit to the ball carrier and Linnett fails to respond and close the gap outside him:
It’s not that Linnett is a horrible tackler, far from it: he’s missed just four tackles all year. But given Thurston misses around three a game, he needed to make a decision to come in there.
The Roosters have gone down the left side of the field a lot recently with Daniel Tupou and Michael Jennings in superb form of late, but more action could be had down the right-hand side, especially if SBW actually does play five eighth and can choose from hitting Aubo with a short ball, cutting him out to hit SKD or dumping it back to a floating RTS to let those dancing feet do their thang.
Brent Tate is a strong defender out right, but the winger out there, Matthew Wright, should be no match in the air for Daniel Tupou — assuming the referees continue the recent trend of penalising blockers. Teams have repeatedly used blockers against the Roosters — illegally, I might add — and the Roosters have been reluctant to pull the trigger for the past five rounds on the play because of it. However, it may be time to dust off the kicking boots because the half usually responsible for delivering Toops the ball with a pass has moved one in. They could do worse than try to replicate this, after all:
It may also be worth improving their horrible kick-chase from last week which led to a career performance from Kurtis Rowe. They failed to get up in one line and the youngster had a field day as a Tedesco-Lite. The Roosters need to improve it not just for pride’s sake, but because they could force an error from Michael Morgan.
The former halfback has taken some time to get used to the role and is not a natural under the high ball. To wit, he’s made 10 errors this year; compare that to RTS who has made just eight but has run it nearly 40 more times this season. He makes one error for every 9.53 carries this year.
NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS
Team for Round 10: Michael Morgan, Matthew Wright, Brent Tate, Kane Linnett, Antonio Winterstein, Johnathan Thurston, Ray Thompson, Matt Scott, Rory Kostjasyn, James Tamou, Gavin Cooper, Jason Taumalolo, Tariq Sims. Interchange: (from) Cameron King, Ethan Lowe, Ashton Sims, Scott Bolton, Glenn Hall.
Antonio Winterstein, Ray Thompson and Tariq Sims return from injury, with Curtis Rona (ankle injury) and Robert Lui dropping out — the latter an unfortunate dropping for the Roosters considering his woeful defence. Scott Bolton moves back to the bench whiled penalty magnet Glenn Hall has been named 18th man.
The Cows have won their past two games, both at home and by 13-plus. They’ve won four of five games at home this year, none away. They flogged a Parramatta team up there in the humid tropics, and overcame a gallant Broncos side through the sublime guidance of their superstar five-eighth. It’s about time 1300Teef Stadium (shout-out to This Week In League for that one) became a cauldron. Shit, it’s already as hot as one up there.
But hey, at least this game isn’t in fucking Darwin.
How they’ll play
Everything runs through Thurston, but the move of Michael Morgan to fullback has been a revelation for the Cowboys. You could see what they were trying to do when they shifted him from halfback — Matt Bowen was a little more than just a fullback, responsible as much for general play as he was in a floating role. Morgan already had the skill set to at least attempt to replicate what Bowen provided — passing, kicking, steppy play — but no-one knew he had this much speed.
He lit up the Broncos last week off a short ball from Thurston and ran away for a breakaway effort, and he’s run down a fair few players as well this year just to drive home the point that he can fucking run.
His previous life as a ball player causes problems because he’s getting the ball with space out the back and he can shape to pass or kick, and once he’s through against this team he will score because they Roosters don’t have anyone with the pace over distance to match him.
The Roosters, therefore, need to shadow him and keep an eye on him wherever he may be behind the play.
They will have a hard time scoring against the Roosters though if Sonny Bill ends up playing five-eighth: they have replaced Pearce (2.78 misses a game) with Aubusson in the open spot in the line after all the shifts are made.
They will face a defensive juggernaut (assuming no late changes are made), but there are still gaps to be found. SKD has been great this year but Thurston is likely to target him with repeating runners to really test him; If you think Pearce is good at the flat ball on the line, Thurston is the master of it. He sacrifices his body and passes as late as possible, and SKD and nearby cohorts need to be on guard with Thurston having racked up 11 try assists (or a third of their 33 tries) and 12 line break assists already this year.
And if Paul Green is a decent coach he’ll exploit Mini’s inability to bend over for rolling grubbers. He would have seen this up close last year and this year Mini hasn’t been much better.
If I were the coach I’d hammer away at this tactic all game and just continue to roll the kick in: either they’ll get a repeat set — which will be huge in the heat up there — or Mini will bomb it.
I have predicted a win every year this year. But I’m breaking that this week.
The tropics will hurt a Roosters squad that has looked far less fit than last year, and they are playing without their chief line-break creator in Pearce. They won last week but only because they were playing the Tigers, and took home possibly the worst 24-point win ever.
It’s also important to remember that Paul Green knows the Roosters system well, while Maloney will be playing with a needled-up shoulder and his running game will suffer one in closer to the ruck and with the weight of the entirety of the organisational play.
I think the Cowboys win. They are hitting some form and on the verge of their first three-game winning streak. They’ve proven tough to beat at home and I think they’ll come home with the cookies by a 1-12 margin.
However, this is all assuming of course that Robbo doesn’t promote Daniel Mortimer to halfback, and if he does we may have to rethink the forecast.
Man of the match for the Roosters could be Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, whose nimble feet on dump-backs from SBW and/or Maloney could cause some troubles for the Cows — here’s hoping he can also come up with something like this again: