All the talk this offseason has been about the Roosters, what with the Australia Day incident and SKD’s trial and subsequent exoneration. It seemingly overshadowed the fact that the Bunnies have themselves had quite the break to remember.
Their owner began yelling abuse at their five-eighth during a Coffs Harbour bonding session, forcing the young bloke to get the hell outta there and overshadowing his reportedly marvellous offseason when he hit the gym and grew from being built like a soggy twig to the size of a fully-fledged stick.
They lost a promising youngster in John Olive, had to deal with rumours of player jealousies thanks to the alleged preferential treatment of their star re-recruit from Rugby, rumours their favourite son and now captain was/is bound for the Broncos, and alleged rumblings that their coach’s seat is suddenly a little warm — and heating up.
Why is this important? Well, you can grow from incidents, trials and tribulations. Pearce will likely learn from his mistakes, SKD will be better for leaving all that crap behind him, and even Dylan Walker and Aaron Gray will grow from what they went through.
But once the rancid stank of player discontent starts to seep into the furniture somewhere, it’s hard to remove. And there’s no Glen 20 available to cover up the waft. Sometimes, the furniture needs to be thrown out before the living room is liveable and stank-free again.
Trust a Roosters fan on this: we had to do it in 2009 and again to an extent in 2012. We had the stank and had to make changes. And if the rumours are true, there’s some real stank coming from down south… or Homebush, or wherever it is “South Sydney” call home these days.
Coach Trent Robinson has elected to start Latrell Mitchell on the wing, contradicting reports that he was slated to debut in the centres. Dale Copley and Shaun Kenny-Dowall will pair up in the 3 and 4 jerseys instead, while another débutante in Jayden Nikorima will partner Jackson Hastings in the halves, as expected.
The front row consists of Kane Evans and Dylan Napa with Jared Waerea-Hargreaves out, and with Sam Moa coming off the bench. In the backrow, Mitch Aubusson will start alongside Guerra and the shock selection at lock of Isaac Liu ahead of Sio Siua Taukeiaho, who many assumed would start but instead will join Moa on the bench.
The extended bench rounds out with Ian Henderson and two rookies in Vinnie Leuluai and former Bronco Mitchell Frei, with our own Burgess, Joe (no relation to the Burgii), named in the 19 jersey.
Its likely the final two drop off the bench and Robbo rolls with the squad that pummelled St Helens two weeks ago — though keep an eye on the Roosters Twitter account an hour before kick-off for confirmation.
1 Blake Ferguson; 2 Daniel Tupou; 3 Dale Copley; 4 Shaun Kenny-Dowall; 5 Latrell Mitchell; 6 Jayden Nikorima; 7 Jackson Hastings; 8 Kane Evans; 9 Jake Friend (c); 10 Dylan Napa; 11 Aidan Guerra; ; 12 Mitchell Aubusson; 13 Isaac Liu. Interchange: 14 Sio Siua Taukeiaho; 15 Sam Moa; 16 Ian Henderson; 17 Vincent Leuluai; 18 Mitchell Frei; 19 Joe Burgess.
The Roosters need to target Hymel Hunt. The centre, brought into the run-on squad at the expense of Kirisome Avua’a, has noted defensive shortcomings and is marked up against powerful recruit Dale Copley. That would require a slight shift away from what they did against St Helens where much of their attack was focussed on the right edge where Guerra, Nikorima and SKD had a field day. But it’s a shift they need to make because Copley should run right over young Hymel.
It was a strange decision to shift SST to the bench as he should be able to steamroll the likes of comparative lightweights in Kyle Turner and John Sutton on the fringes, but instead it will be left to Guerra and Aubusson to find gaps off shortballs.
We don’t have RTS anymore, and the only ones who could possibly replicate that off-the-cuff game-breaking ability are two blokes who have yet to taste actual first grade in Latrell Mitchell and Nikorima. Hopefully there’s been a bit more imagination put into the attack this year from the coaching staff, because it was lacking last year despite leading the comp in points — left often to that off-the-cuff explosiveness of players long gone — and we don’t have the experienced gamebreakers to overcome it. Chips to the wings and hoping for random line breaks won’t cut it this year.
But look for Hastings to try and pin the wingers in the corners with stabby punts and grubbers rather than risking the Inglis return; he’s a more accurate general-play kicker already than Pearce is, and he’s only played 19 games. If he’s able to work well off a platform that should be better than that built by Burgess and… Tyrell?… then we’re in good shape against a depleted squad, despite the fact we’re depleted ourselves.
Also look for Jake Friend to kick early in the tackle count if the opportunity presents itself to get a good pin-down in the far corners, even if it’s Inglis who has to bring it out. The Roosters back their defence and would trust themselves to defend from the corners in.
1 Greg Inglis (c); 2 Alex Johnston; 3 Bryson Goodwin; 4 Hymel Hunt; 5 Aaron Gray; 6 Cody Walker; 7 Adam Reynolds; 8 Sam Burgess; 9 Cameron McInnes; 10 David Tyrell; 11 Paul Carter; 12 John Sutton; 13 Kyle Turner. Interchange: 14 Damien Cook; 15 Jason Clark; 16 Chris Grevsmuhl; 17 Zane Musgrove; 18 Kirisome Auva’a; 19 Nathan Brown.
The Roosters are effectively starting three rookies, two of which have what appear to be weaknesses: Nikorima in size, and fullback newbie Ferguson in positional play and the high ball. Expect Adam Reynolds to direct plenty of traffic at both players in an effort to exploit those perceived weaknesses. He’s the best attacking kicker in the comp and Ferguson is in for a rough night if he isn’t switched on. Aside from the predictable bombs, expect some corkscrew grubbers off the ground against a huge-yet-untested fullback still learning the custodian ropes.
And it would be remiss of coach Maguire not to send Burgess, Grevsmuhl and anyone of size directly at the Roosters’ diminutive little five-eighth; not just because of his size, but because defence is something he hasn’t really played yet (unless you consider the NYC to be a great defensive coaching system, which it isn’t) and it will clearly tire out one of the few kids who has already proven — albeit from a game against a bunch of also-rans — that he can spot and dash through the smallest of gaps.
Though often accused of coasting (I disagree somewhat with that assertion) Greg Inglis, meanwhile, has a habit of stepping it up significantly against the Roosters, and especially in the round one match-up. You may recall the commentary team were ready to heave every accolade upon Inglis short of Knighthood (although I’m sure that was discussed) during their win in round one last year when Inglis took man of the match honours and the commentary team all audibly climaxed at the same cathartic moment because of it.
The Roosters need to contain him through astute kicking (mentioned above) and by limiting the platform his forwards create for him.
There’s seven top-line players missing from this clash, and already both sets of fans are claiming that a loss here is unacceptable. I’d be disappointed in years past at a loss, but we are missing perhaps our three most important players, we’re starting a whole new halves combo who combined are just four years older than this writer, we have a question mark at fullback and new combos in the backs to work through.
There’s an uphill battle here, whether we like it or not, and even if there’s rust apparent in the Big Chief Burgii he still is one of the two best players on the pitch, both of whom play for the Rabbitohs.
While I’m always cut at any lost against the vermin, I wouldn’t be surprised at a loss. In fact, here’s a hot take: I think the Rabbitohs will edge past us. They’ve won each of the past three openers and even with those players missing they still have the lion’s share of dominant talent.
And no, this isn’t some conniving effort at bringing forth a reverse jinx. How dare you accuse me of that. I’d never do something so dastardly: