Nigel Wall, NRL.com
The Roosters and the Sea Eagles each boast awesome packs of forwards capable of bending the opposition line in attack and stopping their rivals dead in their tracks in defence. Each club boasts creative and brilliant halves who will have a huge say in how many points their sides post on the scoreboard. And both teams are brimming with speed to burn out wide.
But does one team hold an advantage that could prove the difference on Sunday? Here’s our rundown on how the two teams match up, position by position (as officially named on Tuesday).
Anthony Minichiello may have lost a metre of pace over the years but he’s still an important linkman in attack and dependable fielding and returning kicks at the back. ‘Mini’ has made the fourth most runs by any No.1 in 2013, along with 58 tackle busts (eighth most). He possesses a potentially lethal offload.
Brett Stewart’s mere presence bamboozled the Rabbitohs last week; he came through a three-week injury lay-off in fine shape, scoring a try and making a try assist. He’ll pose a huge psychological threat, particularly attacking the Roosters’ left edge in tandem with Jamie Lyon.
Daniel Tupou and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck combine for a wonderful mixture of size and speed. Tupou’s height will pose a threat in the air for the likes of David Williams and Jamie Lyon, while Tuivasa-Sheck’s lightning-fast footwork could crack the Sea Eagles open. The pair lead all wing combinations for tackle busts (166) but have crossed for just 22 tries between them.
David Williams and Jorge Taufua are the most lethal try-scoring duo in the comp, with 39 so far. Taufua will prove a handful for Tuivasa-Sheck and centre partner Shun Kenny-Dowall – he leads all wingers for tackle busts (93) and line-breaks (32). Williams is a wonderful finisher and he won’t shirk his share of the tough stuff out of dummy-half; however his defensive reads can sometimes be a little off-cue.
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Michael Jennings has electric footwork and a wind-up from a standing start unrivalled in the NRL. To date Jennings has the most line busts (17) and tries (19) by any centre this season; together with partner Shaun Kenny-Dowall the Roosters three-quarters have busted more tackles than any other combination in the NRL (149 compared to Manly’s 110). However, the downside is Jennings has tallied more mistakes than any other centre (29). Kenny-Dowall has a dangerous offload but he too is prone to making mistakes (24) and he has conceded more penalties than other centres (15).
Jamie Lyon is the form centre of 2013. The Manly skipper’s greatest asset is his ability to put a teammate away into open space from anywhere on the field – he boasts an NRL-high 16 line-break assists so far, along with six try assists and almost an offload per game. The Roosters can’t afford to hang off Lyon as he makes his diagonal runs across-field or else he’ll put on a spurt and burn them himself. Possible downside is he’s made 23 errors so far. On the left edge Steve Matai possesses a devastating left-foot sidestep that has helped him to 11 tries, 61 tackle busts and 10 line busts. Defensive lapses are his weakness – he misses almost 2.5 tackles per game.
James Maloney is a wonderful running pivot who loves to hit gaps hard – he leads his position for line busts with 17 so far. But he’s an accomplished playmaker too; his 16 line-break assists rank second behind Johnathan Thurston, while his 23 try assists rank second behind Jarrod Mullen. He needs to watch his discipline though – he is the ultimate NRL ‘bad boy’ in 2013, with 24 penalties conceded so far. He’s made 24 errors.
Kieran Foran has laid on plenty of left-edge attack for Manly in 2013, with Justin Horo and Jorge Taufua the main beneficiaries. Foran has tallied 19 try assists so far. He’ll pop up when least expected too – in particular following through a Daly Cherry-Evans grubber kick beside or between the goalposts. He presents only a minimum liability with 13 errors and 14 penalties.
Mitchell Pearce leads all halfbacks for the important categories of line-break assists (21) and try assists (24) – although that’s hardly a shock given the Roosters have scored more points than any team this season. Pearce always displays great energy and is at his best when his forward pack dominates. However, his long-kicking game can deteriorate when he’s placed under pressure, resulting in poorly directed kicks and easy kick-return metres. Like Maloney, he needs to watch his discipline, with his 20 penalties conceded the most by any No.7.
Daly Cherry-Evans has wowed the NRL at the back end of the season, with his strong running game, ability to shrug off would-be defenders and prolific offloading spearheading the Manly assault. The Roosters must get him to ground early – DC-E has made a whopping 38 offloads and 63 tackle busts – both category bests. His ability to generate repeat sets through deft kicks into the in-goal will be invaluable to the maroon and white and his combination with Jamie Lyon on the right edge will be a major factor should Manly prevail. He needs to remain calm and watch his handling though – he has tallied 20 errors so far.
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Sam Moa form a formidable pairing that combine brawn with athleticism. JW-H is averaging 14 hit-ups and 122 metres but his biggest threat comes with his ability to get away a late pass – his 30 offloads are easily the most by a front-rower. Moa has good footwork at the line and is averaging almost 100 metres a game, with four line-breaks.
Brenton Lawrence has been the front row find of 2013, combining work rate with skill, speed and force. He leads all bookends for line busts (five) and ranks second behind Andrew Fifita for tackle busts (with 48). Throw in an average 108 metres, 19 offloads and 29 tackles a match and he’s a valuable cog. Veteran Brent Kite is no stranger to this stage – he won the Churchill Medal for his effort in the 2008 grand final win over the Storm. Although nearly 33 he’ playing big minutes (nearly 50 a match) with an average 12 runs, 95 metres and 25 tackles a game.
Jake Friend gets through a mountain of defensive work in his average 60 minutes on the park with 38 tackles but it’s his ability to set up runners that is so highly valued by his teammates. Friend has registered eight try assists and eight line-break assists – each the third-most by a hooker in the NRL. Importantly he has made fewer mistakes than any other rake (just three all year).
Matt Ballin is an 80-minute player who thrives on the tough stuff, with 45 tackles a match. He may be a limited threat in attack, with just three try assists and two line-break assists, but he’s no stranger to having a dig himself and memorably scored from dummy-half in the 2008 win over Melbourne. Needs to watch his discipline though, with 20 penalties conceded.
Aidan Guerra is a solid performer who has started on five occasions for the Roosters and been injected off the bench 15 times. He averages 22 tackles a game and his strong running has yielded almost four tackle-breaks every outing. Sonny Bill Williams will be primed for a huge 80 minutes in what most are expecting will be his final game in the NRL. SBW has an outrageous passing game, both at the line and offloading. He leads his position for try assists (six) and line-break assists (12) and also boasts an NRL-high nine line busts and 57 offloads.
Anthony Watmough needs just one metre to clock up 30 kilometres of runs in his NRL career – in 2013 he’s averaging 127 metres a game. He ranks second to SBW for offloads (with 44) and has proven tough to pin down with 48 tackle busts. Justin Horo has thrived since moving to Manly from the Eels; he will look to Kieran Foran for opportunities close to the Roosters’ line on the left edge. Horo leads all back-rowers for tries (with nine).
Frank-Paul Nuuausala is a no-frills worker who possesses a good offload and solid work rate, with 55 metres of territory and 22 tackles in 45 minutes of game time.
Glenn Stewart is the most creative lock in the league, with a position-best seven try assists along with four line-break assists. ‘Gifty’ is a proven performer at this level, having won the Churchill Medal in 2011. But his 3.3 missed tackles per match in 2013 are a concern, as are his 16 errors and 18 penalties conceded.
The Roosters’ bench of Daniel Mortimer, Mitchell Aubusson, Isaac Liu and Dylan Napa boasts GF experience, mobility, muscle and tough defence. Throw in the likely additions of Boyd Cordner and Luke O’Donnell and they won’t miss a beat when coach Trent Robinson signals his changes.
The Sea Eagles’ bench of David Gower, Jamie Buhrer, Tom Symonds and George Rose has a focus on defence, although Rose’s bulk could prove telling as a battering ram close to the try line. Worryingly Gower has averaged only 16 minutes in 2013.
Sea Eagles: 78.5