And you think the Roosters have problems. Sure, the club is 0-4, staring down the barrel of equalling their worst start in 50 years and fielding a team that has already used 21 players in those four games, with at least another four rounds left before three of their most important and experienced players return.
But spare a thought for the New Zealand Warriors. Or don’t. But for the sake of… something, humour me and take the time to feel for the team across the Tasman.
They signed a hooker* who is an expert in dummy half runs only to watch him average fewer runs and metres per game (3.7 runs, 25.3m) than his backup who is a guy called Jazz (six and 35.5) and their 33-year old halfback, Jeff Robson (5.5 and 44.75), who they signed seemingly to shift their best player, Shaun Johnson, out of position to one wider of the ruck where he is far less effective, while also forcing a born five-eighth in Tuimoala Lolohea over to the wing, which in turn has forced their most damaging running back in Koni “Snapchat” Hurrell back to either the bench or reserve grade.
In short: that’s three players forced out of position or out of the team to accommodate a player who wasn’t close to being as good as any of those guys in his prime but who’s running it more than their hooker whose strength is running.
Got it? Good.
Oh, and they signed the Roosters’ best player last year for nearly double what the Roosters offered only to watch him struggle through the first four games.
So break out the snot rags and let our collective hearts weep at the plight of the team that has, as expected, stymied the career of our once-anointed hero, proving that not even RTS is immune to being McFaddened.
The Roosters have injuries and inexperience to blame; the Warriors have a team capable of a premiership and have just the solitary win through four games. So remember, the Roosters may be struggling, but the Warriors have no excuses and all the pressure.
*This article previously stated the Warriors signed a premiership-winning hooker. This has been corrected and we apologise for this egregious error.
Robbo’s named the exact same squad he named on Tuesday last week in what smacks of a copy and paste job from the coach; heck, even Abraham Papalii has been named in the number 24 jersey again, because apparently 18-23 are in the wash or something. As we all know, the coached pulled a last-minute swifty and shifted Aidan Guerra to 5/8, Jayden Nikorima to the bench and Isaac Liu to the starting side. And AAP’s resident scoop James MacSmith (@) reports that similar changes are likely to take place ahead of Sunday’s clash:
26 Rounds reported in the team announcement on Tuesday that JWH may make a surprise appearance with the big fella targeting a return this week or next, but it appears that timetable may be optimistic — so don’t expect him back any earlier than previously reported.
1 Latrell Mitchell, 2 Daniel Tupou, 3 Brendan Elliott, 4 Blake Ferguson, 5 Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 6 Jayden Nikorima, 7 Jackson Hastings, 8 Sam Moa, 9 Jake Friend (c), 10 Dylan Napa, 11 Aidan Guerra, 12 Mitchell Aubusson, 13 Sio Siua Taukeiaho. Interchange: 14 Isaac Liu, 15 Kane Evans, 16 Mitchell Frei, 17 Eloni Vunakece, 24 Abraham Papalii.
Poor goal-kicking has cost the Roosters dearly in games against the Raiders and Sea Eagles, as the club has rifled through three kickers during that time (Latrell, SST and a hobbled Jacko). Hastings was slated as the first choice goal-kicker but abdicated the duties thanks to a quad injury through the first three-and-a-bit games. But AAP’s scoop MacSmith reports that the injury is behind the young half:
Those who witnessed the World Club Series flogging of St Helens will note that Jacko kicked 5/7 in that game, and while his first attempt was a horrible miss from in front, it looked like nerves that were eventually overcome — and led to a kicking performance which included a few from out wide. So hopefully the Roosters’ collective goal-kicking “yips” are behind them.
Now, for the rest of the attack. It may be tempting to go down the left side but Brendan Elliott is more of a right-side attacking centre than a left-edger and thus out of position. Besides, the Roosters haven’t made a habit of going down there much this year, so why change something that’s been so success–oh, yeah. Regardless, Tupou will be marked up against the comparatively diminutive Tuimoala Lolohea and thus bombing to that edge may be the tactic du jour rather than relying on anything resembling fancy footwork from Elliott.
The other edge, however, offers the Roosters a chance with Ferguson coming up against Solomone Kata who defends alongside Robson, the latter of whom has made just 78 per cent of his attempted tackles the past three games, including six misses versus Melbourne. Given the irresistible form of SKD out there and the danger Ferguson always presents, that seems the attacking side the Roosters will likely defer to more often than not.
The Roosters executed their right edge plays much more effectively last week. One was a chip kick from Jacko that found SKD (that mid-range chip that prevents blockers getting there in time that we secretly love here at 26 Rounds) but two involved simple plays with decoys, as you can see here with one decoy:
And here with two:
Notice SST is a decoy in each play? His running game off flat-balls needs to be prepared for, and it’s opening up deeper play off his decoy line. Yes, there remains an over-reliance on Ferguson beating his man for the play to come off, but at least there is some semblance of attacking structure, something that was missing through the first three games.
And the following sounds easy in theory, but isolating Shaun Johnson off deep plays seems like something the Roosters’ young padawan in Latrell may be able to exploit. Johnson only missed one tackle last week but it was freakin’ woeful:
That’s Nathan Ross attacking him one-on-one and racing away for a try and, really, either of the Roosters’ back three have the opportunity to isolate the reformed touch footy player mid-field, assuming the Roosters play deep enough to enable it.
New Zealand Warriors
The Roosters have moved this game to Gosford, thus robbing the non-travelling Roosters fan the chance to “welcome back” Roger Tuivasa-Sheck at Allianz. RTS has been somewhat of a disappointment across the bug dutch, with some labelling him “Return To Sender”, but he’s improved (in attack at least) every week and starts again at fullback this weekend.
The UnZud club won its first game of the year last week, a drubbing of the hapless Knights. Typically a slow-starting club, they’ll be keen on making an earlier march up the ladder than they traditionally make with another win against a struggling Bondi club.
1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 2 Tuimoala Lolohea, 3 Blake Ayshford, 4 Solomone Kata, 5 Manu Vatuvei, 6 Shaun Johnson, 7 Jeff Robson, 8 Jacob Lillyman, 9 Issac Luke, 10 Ben Matulino, 11 Simon Mannering, 12 Ryan Hoffman, 13 Albert Vete. Interchange: 14 Jazz Tevaga, 15 Sam Lisone, 16 Charlie Gubb, 17 Konrad Hurrell.
Like every other club has against the Roosters this year, the Warriors are going left with the ball and attacking the right-side defence. Repeatedly. Shit, they’d be stupid not to.
Blake Ferguson missed seven tackles last week, and is averaging 4.25 misses a game and completing just 74 per cent of his attempted tackles. That’s horrendous, but really that’s not where the story lies: the story is in his piss-poor reads. In the below clip he is in way too deep covering a hole that Guerra already has covered, thus forcing SKD to slide in off his wing and leading to the following:
The above is hardly an isolated incident this year (remember the first two tries scored against that defence by the Cowboys?). That right edge has been deplorable in defence all year and Ferguson needs to pick up that aspect of his game, or Kata and Vatuvei will have a veritable feast to devour.
However, there’s nothing a defence can do if Shaun Johnson is on. The Chooks traditionally do a good job on him but their right side woes are a relatively new phenomenon. Here he simply bamboozles a clueless Knights defence last week:
You’d be hard-pressed to be angry at conceding a try as magical as that, and he’s worth the price of admission alone when he’s on. Hey, and if you’re a member you’ll have to pay this week anyway despite it being a “home” game, so go test the theory out.
For reference, this is the club’s worst start since 2007 when it started 0-5, which at the time was its worst start since the 1966 season when it lost all 18 of its games. Additionally, they’ve moved the game to Gosford where they’ve won just three of 10. Ever.
Yet this week’s game against a disappointing Warriors squad is perhaps the club’s best chance at getting a digit on the board in the next three rounds with the Bunnies and Panthers next on the agenda.
So will they get there?
In the Roosters’ favour is that the Warriors do not travel well — they’ve lost both their games away this year to the Tigers and Bulldogs, and historically they’re just horrendous travellers. And while they do have the better squad on paper, that squad is performing below expectations: they are playing Shaun Johnson too wide off the ruck at five-eighth, their running hooker is barely running and RTS looks out of shape despite his workload improving each week. Also, their 40-18 win masked some serious flaws: they still missed 26 tackles against a Knights team that can barely run, they conceded 18 points and despite owning 68 per cent of possession and holding the Knights as a result to under 1000 metres gained, it was a mere 22-point win. At home.
And this game shapes as a bit of a must-win for the Roosters. Rare is the season when a must-win game pops up after five, but a small slice of infamy is on the table for the Roosters should they lose. While this season is certainly a transition year — and Roosters fans, really, need to adjust their expectations to suit — a fifth straight loss puts them in the conversation with Chris “one marker” Anderson’s 2007 squad and the historic 1966 team. Robbo is too good a coach for that and despite all the injuries, this squad is still too good for that. They’ve got something to prove and Sunday could be the day to do it.
It’s why we at 26 Rounds think the Roosters will eek out a victory here and avoid the equal-worst start for the club in 50 years by improving to 1-4 with a 1-12 victory.