Dan Walsh, Staff Writer
"It's not about the tries; we're playing to stop tries."
Hardly something you'd expect to hear from one of the NRL's most devastating attacking weapons, but Roosters centre Michael Jennings says the left-side combination he forms with five-eighth James Maloney and winger Daniel Tupou is focusing on shutting down their opposite numbers rather than breaching them.
The trio have been defensively sound over the past two rounds, keeping the best right-edge attack in the competition – Manly's Daly Cherry-Evans, Jamie Lyon and David Williams – from scoring two weeks ago and repeating the feat against a Bulldogs attack engineered by in-form halves Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson.
"We've got that defensive combination, with Jimmy, Toops and myself, going well," said Jennings.
"We pride our game on our defence. It's not about the tries, we're playing to stop tries.
"We've been good over the last couple of weeks but there's always room for improvement."
The NSW three-quarter was in sublime offensive touch last year, with 20 tries and 17 line breaks seeing him regain the Kangaroos jumper he last wore in 2009, but the dynamic runner's defence has come on in leaps and bounds this year, missing just seven tackles in five games and preventing a certain try from Manly's Peta Hiku with a crunching hit on his own line.
Jennings was quick to credit Trent Robinson's precise defensive patterns for his rapid improvement.
"Our structure in defence has improved my game a lot and back before coming [to the Roosters], who knows if I make that tackle or not?
"I'm glad I was able to stop that try and I'm happy with my defence at the moment, but like everything there's always room for improvement."
Shaping up against Will Hopoate this week presents another stern test for Jennings, and he said he had been impressed by the Parramatta recruit's form since returning to the NRL from a two-year missionary sabbatical.
"He's been good. It's good to have Will back, he's a quality player," said Jennings.
"He's still slowly getting amongst it. I think it's pretty tough for him playing in the centres being out of the game for two years.
"I think he'll start playing some really good footy when he gets some more games underneath his belt, but hopefully we can keep him under wraps this week."
Despite the premiers dropping their past two games to be sitting outside the top eight, Jennings said the mood around the Roosters camp was relaxed, and the side was confident they could turn the corner when they take on the Eels at Pirtek Stadium on Saturday.
"We're not panicking, it's two losses. "It's still early days. They've been two hard losses, two tough losses where we've put in everything that we could to try and win that game.
"It's two hard losses for us but there's no panic in the camp. We're just doing our best to focus on what we need to do."