Dan Walsh, Staff Writer, NRL.com
Bulldogs v Roosters
Friday, 7.45 pm
Headline writers have been getting quite a bit of mileage out of the ‘Déjà vu Dogs’ chestnut so far this year as they’ve tripled up on one-point wins, and forgive us a bit of creative larceny here, but there’s more than a hint of the fancy French phenomenon – though with a decided twist – about this Round 11 showdown between the Dogs and the Chooks.
Wind the clock back a year or so and the Bulldogs were still battling to replicate the form that saw them make an inspired run all the way to the 2012 decider, with off-field controversies surrounding their attacking lynchpin, and a few false dawns interspersed with tough losses as sides puffed out their chests and took it to the competition’s trendsetters.
The Roosters meanwhile had taken the NRL by storm with a take-no-prisoners defensive mindset that had them entrenched at the pointy end of the competition ladder and were busy congratulating the likes of Mitch Pearce, Michael Jennings, James Maloney and Boyd Cordner on their call-ups to higher representative honours.
Hit the fast-forward button and there’s a wee bit of Freaky Friday role reversal going on, with the Bulldogs now sitting pretty in first place and raiding their reserve grade playing stocks to replace Josh Reynolds, Trent Hodkinson, Josh Morris and Tony Williams; all of whom will be donning deserved sky blue jerseys next Wednesday, while the Chooks are locked in a mid-table logjam and to a man have points to prove after their worst performance under Trent Robinson, a 42-10 thrashing at the hands of the Cowboys, was compounded by the Origin snubbing of Pearce and Maloney.
Des Hasler has gone for a something old, something new approach with his back-up halves, pairing veteran Reni Maitua (in his first NRL start this year) alongside exciting youngster Moses Mbye, while Krisnan Inu also cracks the top grade for the first time in 2014 as Chase Stanley moves into the centres to cover the absence of Josh Morris. Dale Finucane starts in the back row for Tony Williams, which also brings Pat O’Hanlon back into the 17.
For the Roosters, Shaun Kenny-Dowall shifts to the left wing, while Samisoni Langi (left) and Mitch Aubusson (right) start in the centres for NSW pair Daniel Tupou and Michael Jennings. Pearce returns from his club-imposed ban, which moves Sonny Bill Williams back to the second row, while Dylan Napa also gets a start for the injured Boyd Cordner, and Kane Evans and Remi Casty join the bench with Aidan Guerra on Queensland duty.
This game also marks the 10th anniversary of the 2004 Grand Final showdown between the teams - with a special $20 fixed general admission ticket and $50 fixed general admission family ticket.
Get your ticket to NRL Round 11
Watch Out Bulldogs: Remember how Mitch Pearce bounced back from the disappointment of losing Origin Three last year? With career-best form that guided the Chooks to their first premiership in over a decade, that's how, and saying Pearce will be primed for a big showing is the biggest no-brainer since the incident that sees him running out at ANZ rather than Suncorp Stadium this week. Despite plenty of criticism coming their way Pearce and trusty offsider Maloney have still proven themselves two of the best in the game at putting their teammates into the backfield; behind only Cowboys superstar Johnathan Thurston for line break assists with 12 and 11 respectively. With two of the best hole runners in the game in Mitch Aubusson and Sonny Bill Williams (another who will be chomping at the bit to answer recent criticism) at their disposal, the Bulldogs edge players will be well aware that any wrong decision in defence comes with a price.
Watch Out Roosters: How about that Bulldogs pack? More adaptable than MacGyver wearing a Batman utility belt. Confronted with a Warriors wall they couldn't belt their way through in Hamilton, Tony Williams and Sam Kasiano simply pulled out some silky skills beyond the realm of mere 120-kilogram mortals, while James Graham made light work of running down a winger seven years his junior in the dying stages of the match to go with his 204 running metres and 36 tackles.
T-Rex may have earned himself a call-up to a different blue jersey, but the world's biggest halfback will be out to prove his sublime cut out ball for Mitch Brown's opening try was no fluke as the entire Dogs pack can be expected to up the ball-playing anti in the absence of regular playmakers Reynolds and Hodkinson. That's a scary prospect when you consider that the Bulldogs forwards have either scored or thrown the last pass for seven of the ten tries they've scored against the Dragons and the Warriors in the past fortnight.
Plays To Watch: The Bulldogs to put plenty of pressure on the untried Roosters left-edge defensive combination of Langi and Kenny-Dowall; Mitch Aubusson surgically attached to Mitch Pearce's hip; Mick Ennis to take the pressure off his halves pairing with an increased kicking load out of dummy-half; and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to continue his auditions for So You Think You Can Dance? with footwork that wouldn’t look out of place in a River Dance number.
Where It Will Be Won:
While they undoubtedly have the advantage in the oh-so crucial halves show down, it'll count for a lot less than it should if the Roosters big men can't keep the Dogs monster pack on the leash, and they'll need to do a sight more than the effort they posted against the Cowboys to have anymore than Buckley's at doing it. The Chooks conceded a whopping 1547 running metres as Matt Scott, James Tamou and Tariq Sims ran riot up the middle, and if they can't tie down their opposition then the likes of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (36 metres) and Sam Moa (53 m) at least need to increase their output to match a Bulldogs outfit that knows no other way than straight up the guts.
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The History: Played 163: Roosters 80, Bulldogs 78, drawn 5. While the Dogs hold a slight 6-4 advantage in their past 10 meetings, it's either a blow-out or a thriller when these two clubs clash, with precious little in between. Five of those games have been decided by four points or less, while the average winning margin in the other five encounters has been a whopping 31.6 points.
What Are The Odds: The Roosters are the $1.42 favourites with Sportsbet.com.au, but the money is virtually 50:50 with plenty of support coming for the Bulldogs from punters.
Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Adam Gee; Touch Judges – Jason Walsh & Chris Sutton; Video Refs – Steve Chiddy & Luke Phillips.
Televised: Channel 9 - Live 7.45 pm.
The Way We See It: The Roosters should have far too much on the line and too much class for a Bulldogs side without its key attacking artillery, though we don’t think it’ll be the blow-out the bookies are predicting, particularly if the Bulldogs pack continues to dominate as it has all year. Roosters by four points.