Preview: Sydney Roosters vs Newcastle Knights. Confidence: what IS that?

So this is what it’s come to, huh? The battle between two teams with just a win apiece, battling it out to see who can claim 15th place on the ladder for at least a week?

Who the heck saw this coming for our club? Minor premierships for three straight years and a title during that time, and now it’s locked into a make-or-break battle with a team whose only recent success is collecting the full set of Mata’utias?

This may sound like a downer, but be fair: this website has largely been positive all year. I don’t mind not winning the comp, but losing so many eminently winnable games has taken its toll.

So allow me a brief dalliance to be glib. Yes, everything points to an easy victory this Saturday against a team that’s copped two 50 point hidings and just lost its star half, again.

Yet this writer cannot feel confident any more. He doesn’t even know what confidence is any more. He’s like Brian Fantana asking Ron Burgundy about love: right now, he thinks confidence is the proverbial Chinese or Brazilian chick who he doesn’t know the name of that he met in the bathroom of a K-Mart. And he’s pretty sure that’s not confidence.

So drench him in some Sex Panther by Odeon already and wash him down with a fire hose, because this is worse than the time the raccoon got in the copier. Well, maybe not that bad… but it’s clear 26 Rounds needs a win.

Heck, we all need a win.

Sydney Roosters

Some big changes this week and here’s the two most notable: Mitchell Pearce and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves are baaaaack! Pearce slots straight back into his number seven, shifting Jacko to five-eighth, while JWH returns in the number 17 jersey after a long layoff.

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Source: Twitter.

Isaac Liu returns from a one-game suspension and has been named at lock, with Mitch Aubusson shifting to the centres — meaning Brendan Elliott has been dropped. Joe Burgess retains his wing spot. Ryan Matterson retains a spot in the 17 with Connor Watson the 18th man this weekend.

Dylan Napa, Eloni Vunakece and Kane Evans were not charged by the Match Review Committee, to no-one’s surprise, while Sam Moa is free to play after taking an early guilty plea — so the Roosters are only down Siosiua Taukeiaho who’ll be back in 2-4 weeks (aside from the season ending injuries to Dale Copley and Ian Henderson).

In short: this is almost the full-strength squad we’ve been craving and with that near-completeness comes this fact: there are no more excuses, especially against the Knights this Saturday.

1 Latrell Mitchell; 2 Joe Burgess; 3 Mitchell Aubusson; 4 Blake Ferguson; 5 Shaun Kenny-Dowall; 6  Jackson Hastings; 7 Mitchell Pearce; 8 Sam Moa; 9 Jake Friend (c); 10 Dylan Napa; 11 Boyd Cordner; 12 Aidan Guerra; 13 Isaac Liu. Interchange: 14 Kane Evans; 15 Eloni Vunakece; 16 Ryan Matterson; 17 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves; 18 Connor Watson.

Attack Uate. If there’s one thing the Roosters do more than anyone, it’s kick to the wings and you’d be silly not to test out Akuila at every stage possible. His hands have been OK this year (compared to recent years) with just under an error a game coming from the winger, but bombs are heading his way on Saturday, as they should.

But that shouldn’t be the only way the Roosters attack him this weekend. To wit, peep the coming gifs.

Somehow he’s still far too far in on this play versus the Broncos just two weeks ago, and this is such a simple play that the Brisbane squad exploited:

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How and why was that wing even open?

It’s hardly an isolated incident. Here he is again just last week leaving that wing wide open and simply not keeping an eye on his man (though his centre has a bit to answer for here too):

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He just gets stuck following the ball rather than defending his spot and this can be exploited, as it has repeatedly this year. Watch him up the back here drifting and following Milford, leaving his wing wide open in the end:

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Granted, his inside man on that play should have wrapped Milford up and Uate would have eventually had to make a play… but who scores down the blind anymore? Anyone playing the Knights, that’s who.

With Joe Burgess out left and with Pearce back, the Roosters should be able to spread it that way with much greater ease than they have all season, and Aubusson playing left centre this week in theory offers the Roosters a selfless player who can read what’s in front of him and simply draw and pass.

There’s plenty of other holes across the park for the Knights as well: they’re starting a young half in Will Pearsall and his partner in the halves, Trent Hodkinson, is averaging nearly three misses a match.

Newcastle Knights

The Knights stand just one competition point ahead of the Chooks and they’ve been in the wars recently: they’ve suffered some massive losses including a 53-0 shellacking from the Broncos (that random field goal sealed the deal apparently) and a 16-point loss to the Sea Eagles. And in a further blow, Jarrod Mullen — who has struggled with hamstring problems his entire career — looked to have been taken out by a sniper against Manly and fell, clutching one of his hammies. The poor bloke cannot catch a break, and neither can his club at this stage. He’s out until at towards the end of the year, and he joins one long casualty ward at the Hunter.

They have managed to collect two-thirds of the Brothers Sims, though, along with the whole back catalogue of Mata’utias. Which is nice.

1 Dane Gagai; 2 Nathan Ross; 3 Sione Mata’utia; 4 Pat Mata’utia; 5 Akuila Uate; 6 Will Pearsall; 7 Trent Hodkinson; 8 Sam Mataora; 9 Danny Levi; 10 Daniel Saifiti; 11 Tariq Sims; 12 Korbin Sims; 13 Jeremy Smith. Interchange: 14 Tyler Randell; 15 David Bhana; 16 Jacob Saifiti; 17 Pauli Pauli; 18 Brock Lamb; 19 Jack Stockwell; 20 Mickey Paea.

The Knights will be shattered with the loss of Jarrod Mullen; they looked somewhat dangerous with the ball in the first half, and Mullen is a fantastic exponent of the attacking kick — his loss is huge. As such, I honestly don’t know where their points will come from. They’re likely going to attack by going left and attacking the Roosters’ right, a tactic everyone has exploited this year.

But honestly? I have no idea what the Knights will do. Gagai is dangerous on his day, I guess?

Oh! This is a play the Knights may exploit against the Roosters’ fragile and confused right edge defence, and given Ferguson’s inability to wrap up the one-on-one tackle this year we could see some action like this with whichever one of the myriad Mata’utia boys is out on their left edge (Peter I think?):

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Yeah. So if they do that every time, perhaps they’ll find some curry — because without their most creative half it may be a struggle to score points.

(Thank God I found SOMETHING.)

Actually, Peter Mata’utia is out this week with a knee injury and been replaced by his brother Pat.

So… scratch that.

Prediction?

The Knights aren’t good. They’ve won just the one game after all, and eked out a draw earlier in the year, so they’re ahead of the Roosters. But with all of the Roosters’ major talent now back aside from SST, the Roosters really have no excuse not to win this game and win it comfortably.

Per NRL.com, the Knights have missed the second-most tackles in the competition (259 at 32.4 per game), they make the least amount of metres (just 1262.1 metres a game versus the Roosters’ 1421), they get to their kick the least amount of times in the comp and make the fewest average metres a game from kicks. They’re averaging just over two tries a game compared to just undet three for the Roosters.

But like the unusually down intro attests to, it’s hard to feel any real confidence in a result until it happens. The Souths victory, as sweet as it was, has already been forgotten since two easily winnable games were lost and Robbo’s wallet got $40,000 lighter.

Victory, even though one just occurred no less than two weekends ago, seems a lifetime away. It should be this Saturday. It also should have been last Monday, and the Monday before…

You’d say the Roosters win this 13+. But I refuse to put any money on it. I just want the sweet taste of victory once again, because a loss against the Knights may break us all.

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