Preview: South Sydney Rabbitohs vs Sydney Roosters

The Roosters are basically incapable of setting up for a field goal. It’s been an issue for the club in the Robinson era, dating all the way back to 2013 when, granted, the club didn’t really need them. In the first five matches the Roosters had at least two games where a modicum of ability to shape for the dropkick would have been much obliged for the struggling fan in all of us: in Round 2, when the club had a set on the line and the score tied at 20 apiece, and last week with the score tied at 26 all when Jackson Hastings was caught on the fourth and thus unable to shape for one.

And, if you’re going by Greg Inglis’ powers of deduction, we probably could have used a field goal two weeks ago when we were down two and looking to tie it. Alas.

Well at the very least the Roosters, despite an inability to slot a field goal, can take solace in the fact that they can read a scoreboard despite being on the wrong end of it five straight times, with a sixth time and some unwanted club history looming.

Sadly, they aren’t counting any competition points, with even the Knights managing to stay ahead of them on the ladder with just one point.

Or what Inglis would describe as “two points”.

Sydney Roosters

Coach Trent Robinson is probably going to persist with the Guerra-at-five-eighth experiment, at least until Mitchell Pearce comes back — he’s named the same squad as last week but in the past two weeks has pulled the last minute change of shifting Aidan to the halves with Niko to the Bench and Isaac Liu to start in the back row.

The Roosters yesterday signed Penrith backrower/centre Chris Smith, effective immediately. The deal has been in the works for a couple of weeks and by all reports he is fit and ready to go, though it’s unclear if he’ll see time in first grade this week and 26 Rounds has heard bupkis on that front. For more on who the hell he is, click here and enjoy the gif.

There have been calls from fans for Tyler Cornish to get a start, and the calls have merit: he’s a good ball player who may be able to get the ball wider to his centres, especially to the wildly-neglected left side (more on that side later). However, 26 Rounds hasn’t heard anything in the way of rumours signalling a change is imminent, and demoting Nikorima at this stage could effectively kill the kid’s confidence after just five games.

This is the club’s second five-day turnaround in the space of the past four rounds. At least this one is in Sydney, albeit against a club that has had the benefit of the maximum eight days’ rest following a bruising encounter against the Manly Sea Eagles last Thursday.

1 Latrell Mitchell, 2 Daniel Tupou, 3 Brendan Elliot, 4 Blake Ferguson, 5 Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 6 Jayden Nikorima, 7 Jackson Hastings, 8 Sam Moa, 9 Jake Friend (c), 10 Dylan Napa, 11 Mitchell Aubusson, 12 Aidan Guerra, 13 Sio Siua Taukeiaho. Interchange: 14 Isaac Liu, 15 Kane Evans, 16 Mitchell Frei, 17 Eloni Vunakece, 24 Abraham Papalii.

There are holes in the South Sydney defence, despite Manly only scoring 12 points last week. They missed 39 tackles in total, with a huge portion of those coming from just three players: halves Cody Walker (six) and Luke Keary (five), and back-up prop Tom Burgess (five in just 26 minutes of game time). Running plenty of traffic at these players seems the ideal way to go, no?

This may be a game in which Aidan Guerra can make an actual play at five-eighth by running at Keary, as former Bunny Dylan Walker did to great effect last week:

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That hit-and-spin move was once Guerra’s bread-and-butter, but it — along with the rest of his true impact — has gone missing this season.

And while the Roosters found some space spreading it left in round one with forgotten winger Joe Burgess crossing for a double in Daniel Tupou’s absence, they’ve barely gone back there recently, and especially when compared to years gone by.

Take the club’s attacking focus when Michael Jennings was on board out left and the Roosters won the comp in 2013 as the benchmark: the centre averaged 9.74 runs and 11.11 metres per run with 3.3 tackle busts.

This year? In the two games before he went down, Copley was averaging just 7.5 runs and 8.07 metres per run, and had none in the 16 minutes before he left the game against the Cowboys in round three. His replacement through two games, Brendan Elliott, is on average getting slightly more opportunity with 10.5 runs a game (although he had just eight runs last week) but is not getting great opportunity with enough space (just 6.24 metres a run, second-lowest at the club this year and in front of just Ian Henderson).

It comes down to the quality of the ball as much as the quantity of it, and the left side, sadly, is getting neither, hence the calls from some fans for Cornish — seen as a better ball-player than the instinctive off-the-cuff runner in Nikorima — to be promoted in an effort to get the ball wider, quicker.

In short: don’t hold your breath hoping the Roosters suddenly change gears and get quality ball out to their left fringe, especially when it’s expected that Robbo will again pull Nikorima from the starting squad and start a second-rower in his place.

South Sydney Rabbitohs

Bryson Goodwin returns for a Bunnies squad that downed the Sea Eagles by four last Thursday, shifting Kirisome Auva’a to the centres — and there are rumours (as reported by AAP via The Daily Telegraph) that Adam Reynolds may make a shock early return from a broken jaw. According to coach Michael Maguire:

“He trained yesterday with us. He’s coming along really well … we’ll have to wait and see.”

His return for the Bunnies will be a welcome boost for a club that has been hit-and-miss since losing him in the round one clash against the Roosters, having lost two straight in the games prior to last week’s away win — including a 42-12 shellacking from the Dogs on Easter and an 8-6 loss to the Dragons in which Greg Inglis famously tried to kick a field goal to win a game in which they were down two. Classic stuff.

Far too many memes were made about it, and many of them were embarrassingly shite. But the staff here at 26Rounds did enjoy this one given the Rusty Crowe tie-in:

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1 Greg Inglis (c), 2 Bryson Goodwin, 3 Kirisome Auva’a, 4 Hymel Hunt, 5 Aaron Gray, 6 Cody Walker, 7 Luke Keary, 8 George Burgess, 9 Cameron McInnes, 10 Sam Burgess, 11 Chris Grevsmuhl, 12 Kyle Turner, 13 Nathan Brown. Interchange: 14 Damien Cook, 15 Jason Clark, 16 David Tyrrell, 17 Thomas Burgess, 18 Paul Carter, 19 Michael Oldfield.

The Rabbitohs are attacking the Roosters’ right-side defence. They’d be moronic if they went anywhere else but out that way, seriously.

What, you think I’m being too harsh on the right edge defence and in particular on Blake Ferguson who is missing an average of more than four tackles a game and is too often caught on poor reads? If you think it’s harsh, well, allow the gifs below to hit you with some knowledge.

You may remember this play from a mere two weeks ago…

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Look familiar? Well, it’s because it bears a striking resemblance to this play from the Cowboys debacle in round three, for one try…

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…then the second one almost immediately after…

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…oh, and this near-try here…

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…which was repeated here just last week, even down to Ferguson rushing the man about to receive the ball, and which this time resulted in a try …

giphy (2)

So the Rabbitohs are going that way. It’s up to the Roosters to push them back with a renewed ability to read the defence — especially Ferguson, who is either committed to a hole that’s already covered or is rushing too quickly up on players and never connecting or even slowing the play, thus drawing SKD in and opening up the Red Sea for an attacking team shaping left.

This website is fast becoming a broken record in talking about this, but it’s no more broken than the right side defence which hasn’t improved one bit as the season has progressed — and one can argue it’s regressed as doubt has set in out wide and teams are looking to exploit it more regularly.

It needs to be fixed, stat: but given there’s been just a five-day turnaround, are we expecting any real improvement given the club was provided just four days of training within which to perform the rugby league equivalent of open-heart surgery?

Again: the Rabbitohs are going that way.

Prediction?

The Roosters haven’t lost both games to Souths in a season in the Robinson era, but it also hasn’t lost five straight in that time… or six for that matter. It also hasn’t started a season with this many losses since 2007, and after this Friday, sadly, that sad start may extend to become the worst in 50 years.

The Rabbitohs, even if their halfback and his incredible kicking game remains out, still have the majority of the strike power in this game, especially with Ferguson struggling and Tupou barely able to make an imprint.

The Roosters are relying too heavily on two players in Shaun Kenny-Dowall (10.3 metres per run, seven tackle busts a game and 0.8 line breaks a game for an amazing 70% VARR) and Siosiua Taukeiaho (8.89 metres per run and just 4.57 minutes between each run with an impressive — for a forward — 16% VARR) to make something from nothing, and there is simply too much pressure on Jackson Hastings to conjure up the entirety of the club’s attacking structure on both sides of the park — especially since he’s the only one who can do it and the Rabbitohs will know where it’s coming from.

The defence at the moment — out right and on the goal-line in particular — are a shambles and there’s almost slim-to-no chance they had a real opportunity to buff out the kinks within just five days. Every week has shown improvement, and the club almost to a man is digging in. And the losses, especially the recent close ones, are frustrating for the fans, and even more so for the players.

Regardless, the staff of one here at 26 Rounds is expecting a win for the vermin (13+) out at ANZ Stadium, although we’re similarly expecting a marked improvement from their showing in round one when they were demolished.

But hey: at least we can fucking math.

 

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