It’s a rarity to watch a game between a first grade squad and their feeder club, but Monday offers the Roosters the potential for a rare glimpse into their future.
The reserves squad at the foot of the mountains has been quite the pipeline of talent for the Chooks. It raised Brad Fittler and brought him through to us where he became a living deity and won the Roosters a competition in 2002 — and no, we don’t recall what happened the next year and don’t want to get bogged down in semantics.
It brought us Michael Jennings who did this when he was finally ready to step up to the big leagues:
And they’re still holding for us a halfback who started out with the Roosters 20s and who we’re all still waiting to grow up.
We just brought through another one of their players to the roster… so the question is: who’s next? Do we bring Dallin Watene-Zelezniak up from our reserves? What about Matt Moylan? Josh Mansour? The unhappy Elijah Taylor?
Or do we bring up Trent Merrin and finally bring Sally Fitzgibbons back where she belongs: near a beach? I’m sure she’s loving life out west where people would rather line up for an hour to go to the Wet ‘N’ Wild wave pool rather than travel an hour to where the waves are free.
Regardless, the atmosphere for a 7PM game on a work/school night between two teams with a combined record of 3-9 and with one of those teams sporting fans who live an hour west of the stadium is going to be positively electric. Great job scheduling, NRL.
On a positive note, the queues for booze at Allianz will be much quicker to shuffle through than those at the Krispy Kreme drive-thru — known out west as an “attraction” — so the 30 Panthers fans that have enough time to make it to Moore Park will be in for a real treat.
With the loss of Siosiua Taukeiaho for between four and six weeks to a knee injury, Robbo has been forced into a minor reshuffle with the recently-extended Isaac Liu finally named on a Tuesday to start. As we know, the past three weeks has seen him brought in late to start anyway with Guerra shifting to five-eighth and Jayden Nikorima to the bench… but with the additional back-row injury this week, it will be interesting to see if Robbo sticks to that plan considering he’d now have to promote one of the lesser-experienced forwards in Frei or potentially Abraham Papalii — who in 10 minutes of action and four runs last week made a line break, a tackle bust and an offload for an exceptional debut VARR of 75 per cent.
Or do they bring in to the starting line-up former Panther Chris Smith, signed last week and available despite his mere one game of first grade experience (last year) and despite his omission from the Tuesday team list? Or do they shift Napa to the back-row — a position he’s played well in the past and may help counteract Penrith’s size — and promote Kane Evans, despite Napa’s exceptional performance in the 10 jersey last week? Or do they just run the team with a standard halves pairing for a change after finally breaking through last week without one?
Interesting times ahead.
The Roosters seem to prefer the flat attack when that close to the line, whether we like it or not. If they stick to that flat attack against the Panthers, though,they could find some love. While this looks like a hard-earned try, it’s Gavin Cooper who scored and he’s not necessarily the powerhouse-style of tryscorer (though he scores a ton of tries for a forward):
So the crash ball here from a drifting Friend to someone like Guerra could be the play, or even using that play as the decoy and throwing deep out to the improving Brendan Elliott.
Or perhaps dumping it to Abraham Papalii may work when he’s on? The youngster has surely earned a few extra minutes after a scintillating 10 minute cameo in which he made four runs for 64 metres with a line break, tackle bust and offload for an incredible 75 percent VARR.
The Panthers are coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Cowboys, one in which they were tied 18-all heading into the 74th minute before Lachlan Coote kicked a field goal and Kyle Feldt sealed it with a late try. The club is just a win ahead of the Roosters but have pretty much been in the battle every game this year.
Former Roosters rental and resident powerhouse Suaia Matagi returns to Allianz after signing an offseason deal with the foot-of-the-mountainers. He’ll come off the bench.
Coach Anthony Griffin has named Elijah Taylor on an extended bench after dropping him at the last minute before their loss to the Cows — the versatile back-rower is a favourite of the 26 Rounds staff and he’s reportedly on the outs at Pepper Stadium and of course been linked to the Roosters, as everyone seems to be.
1 Matt Moylan (c); 2 Josh Mansour; 3 Waqa Blake; 4 Peta Hiku; ; 5 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak; 6 Te Maire Martin; 7 Jamie Soward; 8 Sam McKendry; 9 Peter Wallace; 10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard; 11 Bryce Cartwright; 12 Isaah Yeo; 13 Trent Merrin. Interchange: 14 Leilani Latu; 15 Jeremy Latimore; 16 Suaia Matagi; 17 James Fisher-Harris; 19 Tyrone Peachey; 20 Elijah Taylor.
The Panthers’ strength lies out on their left edge with the likes of Josh Mansour and Peta Hiku… which sadly comes up against the Roosters greatest weakness in their right-side defence. This seems like a play that is destined to be run against the Roosters on Monday albeit it may likely come a bit easier against that right-edge shambles:
However, they’re fairly balanced when it comes to sharing the ball across the park: their centres both hit double-digit runs last week and their two wings are astute kick returners and get heavily involved in that aspect. And they’re stacked with players in the forwards and centres who can ball play, so the left edge defence, while great so far this year, needs to be on high alert still as the smallest of opportunities could be capitalised on:
The Panthers, leading that game against the Cows 18-10, noticeably tired down the stretch. After making 737 metres off 80 first half runs, they made just three extra metres off 6 extra runs in the second half and put the cue in the rack when it came to offloads (13 in the first half, just four in the second).
So don’t fret too much if the Panthers jump out to an early lead — they’ve been in every game, sure, but they’ve also only won two.
Last week’s win against the Rabbitohs may appear to have been the point at which the Roosters could turn their season around. They’ve been steadily improving each week and it all culminated in the best individual performance from a prop in Roosters colours since Jared Waerea-Hargreaves went down in August last year.
The thing about career-best performances is that they generally only happen once, but if Dylan Napa can replicate even 75 per cent of that brutal performance that he put in last week, then the Roosters have a decent shot here.
The loss of Taukeiaho is big. His workrate was exceptional (13.5 runs a game and nine metres a run, just 4.6 minutes between each run and with 2.33 tackle busts; and 25.5 tackles a game with just 0.67 misses at a rate of 97 per cent completed) and more importantly he’d become an 80-minute forward, thus solving some of the interchange conundrum that Robbo had faced in the early part of the year. But he did go off after 26 minutes and the Roosters ultimately did not skip a beat against a disappointing Bunnies, in large part because Napa was on a freakin’ mission.
So if Napa and the forwards step up again as they did against the Bunnies — and they’ll have had 10 days since that encounter to recover — we here at 26 Rounds think they can, albeit in a squeaker of the 1-6 variety. For some reason, we here feel really confident in a Panthers/Roosters half/full double and for Guerra to score a try at some stage. The Panthers’ putting the ball away in the second half last week and playing conservative footy provides hope that the Roosters — who have been in four tight games — can find time to recover from any deficit should one arise.