Ben Blaschke, NRL.com
Bulldogs v Roosters
It’s a shame a game that should have been billed as an NRL blockbuster this Friday night will be somewhat overshadowed by the State of Origin show; an even bigger shame that the Roosters will travel to Homebush minus State of Origin trio Mitchell Pearce, James Maloney and Michael Jennings.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t myriad side stories accompanying this clash which make it very much a must-see.
Although the Bulldogs and Roosters have already met once this season – the Roosters romping to a 38-0 win over an injury-plagued Canterbury outfit in Round 6 – this is the one Bulldogs fans always had pencilled into the diary as Sonny Bill Williams makes his long-awaited return to the home of his former club. And while the media hype might not hit the same crescendo as it did in April, no doubt the ‘boos’ ringing out from the Canterbury faithful certainly will.
The Bulldogs won’t be lacking for motivation this week. That 38-0 loss earlier in the year was an embarrassing way to end a big week and they have already stated that they haven’t forgotten the pain of that result.
But they will also know the situation is very different this time around. Having welcomed back a plethora of injured and suspended stars since then, the Bulldogs are now one of the form teams of the competition following their slow start, having won seven of their past eight.
And although they will be without Josh Reynolds and Josh Morris to Origin duty, they appear better able to cover for their absence than perhaps the Roosters are given the influence of their big three.
However, the biggest concern for Roosters coach Trent Robinson will be a recent dip in form which has seen them lose two of their past three and very nearly throw away a match-winning lead to battling Parramatta. Last week’s loss to the Warriors was a surprise and Robinson will know that they can’t afford to spurn so many try-scoring opportunities against the Bulldogs this week.
Still, while both sides have seen their backlines decimated by representative duties, the forward packs remain intact and this clash promises to be one of the heavyweight battles of the season.
Joel Romelo comes into the Bulldogs squad at five-eighth in place of Josh Reynolds with Tim Lafai replacing Josh Morris.
The Roosters have named Daniel Mortimer at halfback with Mitch Aubusson his surprise halves partner, while Aiden Guerra comes off the bench into the centres in place of Jennings.
Boyd Cordner moves from lock to second row with Frank-Paul Nuuausala starting in the 13 jersey. Isaac Liu, Nafe Seluini and Dylan Napa come into the squad on the bench.
Sonny Bill Williams has scored 17 tries in 35 games at ANZ Stadium with Andrew Ryan and Issac Luke the only other forwards to have scored more. However, only one Roosters prop (Nate Myles in 2011) has scored against Canterbury in the past 25 years and only one Bulldogs prop (Jarrad Hickey in 2007) has scored against the Roosters in the past decade.
Only twice before in the past 25 years have the Roosters defeated Canterbury twice in a season (2005 and 2008).
Watch Out Bulldogs: Canterbury’s left side will want to keep a close eye on young Roosters dynamo Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, who has been in superb form in 2013. A brilliant finisher with a tremendous work ethic, the 20-year-old leads the Roosters for metres gained (130 per game), line-breaks (12) and tackle-breaks (49) this season and has played every minute of every game.
Watch Out Roosters: It has taken him some time but finally Bulldogs fullback Ben Barba is starting to heavily influence the outcome of games again. Barba – last season’s top try scorer – has scored seven tries in 11 appearances in 2013 but five of those have come in his past four outings and he heads into this clash on the back of consecutive try doubles.
Plays To Watch: The inside ball to Frank Pritchard close to the tryline. Pritchard can be a hard man to stop and the Bulldogs love using that to their advantage by turning the ball inside to him when attacking the line. He will often run hard for Michael Ennis to run to the short side then turn it back from the play-the-ball, while he scored a clever try from a Trent Hodkinson inside pass against Manly last Friday night.
Counter to this is the love of fellow big men James Graham and Sam Kasiano to receive the ball in a similar position but to then pass the ball before the line – the idea being to wrong-foot defenders that might have been rushing in looking to get numbers in the tackle.
Key Match-Up: Trent Hodkinson v Daniel Mortimer. This game will provide an interesting test for the two young halves, particularly Mortimer who has huge shoes to fill in the absence of both Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney.
Mortimer hasn’t spent a whole lot of time in the No.7 jumper during his career but this week’s halves partner Mitch Aubusson has spent even less in the No.6, so plenty rides on Mortimer’s shoulders.
Hodkinson is at least in his regular spot, having earned back his place in the top 17 this season, but the absence of Josh Reynolds also means he has far greater responsibility.
Where It Will Be Won: With both sides having a number of backline players unavailable due to State of Origin, it will be more important than ever for the big men to gain the upper hand and make room for their young backs to capitalise on opportunities. Both the Bulldogs and Roosters boast particularly imposing forward packs and we don’t expect them to hold back in his good old grudge match.
The History: Played 161; Roosters 79, Bulldogs 77, drawn 5. Canterbury hold a slight edge over the Roosters in recent times with eight wins from 15 games since the two sides met in the 2004 grand final. Ironically, that grand final is the only game in the past decade where the winning team has scored less than 24 points, with the average being 33.9 points.
Match Officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Gavin Badger; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Jason Walsh; Video Referees – Bernard Sutton & Justin Morgan.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week including the Bulldogs v Roosters clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
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Televised: Channel 9 – Live 7:30pm.
The Way We See It: The Bulldogs never looked like winning back in Round 6 but we think they can even the score this time around. Although both sides are missing players to Origin duty, the fact that the Roosters will be without both halves in Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney is a huge blow. Recent form also suggests a reversal of fortunes with Canterbury riding a hot streak and the Roosters not at their best over the past month. Bulldogs by 10 points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats.