While it’s not panic stations just yet the Roosters can ill afford to lose further ground to the NRL pack as we approach the midpoint of the 2012 season – but to stay in touch and avoid their fourth loss from their past five starts they’ll need to get the better of a Bulldogs side that’s rediscovered their bite.
Brian Smith’s charges were undeniably unlucky when falling 18-10 to premiers Manly at Brookvale Oval last weekend, having a crucial try to Daniel Mortimer disallowed after a foul-play call on Brad Takairangi that was later rubbished as incorrect by referees boss Bill Harrigan.
But what’s done is done and the Roosters must regroup to meet the threat of the Bulldogs who dominated the Sharks last Monday night. Canterbury’s 26-6 victory, just their second from their past six games, sees them retain seventh position on the NRL ladder.
While just two competition points separate the Bulldogs and the 13th-placed Roosters, there is a considerable void between them when taking into account their attack and defence: the Bulldogs boast a +69 differential while the Roosters have a shaky -60 tally.
The Roosters will be hoping halfback Mitchell Pearce is good to go after Origin, while the Bulldogs will be relying on centre Josh Morris to back up.
Pearce’s expected availability sees Daniel Mortimer relegated to the Roosters’ interchange which boasts five players at this stage. Brian Smith’s only other personnel tweak sees Tautau Moga and Peni Tagive swap positions, with Moga to play in the centres and Tagive pushing out to wing.
With Josh Morris returning, Bulldogs coach Des Hasler has shifted Tim Lafai to the wing to cover for Bryson Goodwin after he injured his spleen last Monday night. Joel Romelo has been added to form a five-man bench at this stage.
Watch Out Roosters: The Roosters will still have nightmares about Tim Lafai after his brilliant solo try last meeting. Lafai bamboozled a swarm of defenders with a succession of sidesteps from 12 metres out. He made eight tackle-breaks and a line-break as well. He’ll fancy trying his luck again.
Frank Pritchard and Sam Kasiano are a powerful and skilful tandem team: the pair have combined for 32 offloads and each make around 102 metres a game. Kasiano leads all props for line-break assists (six) – he has halves-like precision and timing with his passes. And Pritchard, who ran for 140 metres with five tackle busts last outing against the Roosters, has contributed three try assists and three line-breaks.
Final execution – dotting the Is and crossing the Ts – is letting the Roosters down. They
have been denied possible scoring plays on 14 occasions when the ref has referred things to his video counterpart, more than any other team. They need to find their scoring mojo.
Danger Sign: Any time the Bulldogs advance inside the Roosters’ side of halfway – the Bulldogs have crossed for an NRL-high 17 tries in this region. In a real red flag, the Roosters have conceded the second-most four-pointers from between 21 and 50 metres from their goal-line (13).
Watch Out Bulldogs: Prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves will hit the ground running against Aiden Tolman and Sam Kasiano. The Kiwi firebrand’s aggression has the potential to inspire his team-mates and he will feed off the memory of his 16 strong hit-ups for 158 metres last time the sides met.
Braith Anasta will be keen to impress for the tricolours one last time up against his former club. It’s been seven years since the captain last stepped out for the Bulldogs – ironically against the Roosters at Allianz Stadium in 2005. He’s managed just three wins against his former club in that time.
Expect the Roosters’ big fringe runners to target opposition five-eighth Josh Reynolds on his tryline – his 45 missed tackles are the second most in the comp.
Mitchell Aubusson is warming back to top form and will make his presence felt on the right edge. The skilful back-rower is surprisingly strong when he hits the defensive line, making 33 tackle busts to date. He’s also made four line-break assists and has sprinted into open space on five occasions.
Danger Sign: Any time Mitchell Pearce or Braith Anasta put the ball on their boot in an attacking situation – the Roosters have scored 14 tries from kicks, the equal most by any team. Meanwhile the Bulldogs have conceded eight tries to kicks. In particular, watch Anasta target team-mate Aidan Guerra on the right edge.
Anthony Minichiello v Ben Barba: It’s the battle of the metre-eaters, with Minichiello ranking third in the comp and Barba nipping at his heels in fifth place. Minichiello’s form is back to that of his golden years: he makes 155 metres a game, has scored five tries, made 41 tackle-breaks, 10 offloads and five line-breaks. Meanwhile Barba has enjoyed plenty of success against the tricolours, with six tries from only four games – including a hat-trick. Add to that a total of 20 tackle-breaks, three line-breaks and three try assists in past meetings (including a whopping 213 metres last time they met) and it’s a given the Bulldogs’ No.1 will have a say in proceedings on Monday night.
Where It Will Be Won: Scoring plays around both the goalposts and the corner posts. This game features the two sides that score the most tries through the middle third of the field (both teams have 12 to date). High balls to the flanks will be dangerous too – these teams rank equal second worst at defusing cross-field kicks (just 41 per cent successful).
Expect a frantic pace with plenty of offloads: the Bulldogs make 13 offloads a game and the Roosters 12 – but last time they met the Roosters made 22 and the Bulldogs 17.
The History: Played 158; Roosters 78, Bulldogs 75, drawn 5. The honours are even four games apiece over the past eight match-ups. The Roosters hold a slender 10-9 advantage at their Moore Park HQ.
The Last Time They Met: The Roosters defeated the Bulldogs 32-28 in a tug o’ war at Allianz Stadium in Round 21 last year.
The tricolours overcame a poor completion rate (just 64 per cent) to edge home against an opponent who were their own worst enemies, with a staggering 49 missed tackles cruelling the Bulldogs’ chances on the night.
The blue-and-whites were first to strike in the 13th minute when Ben Barba fielded an attacking grubber in front of his goalposts and raced 98 metres to score against the run of play.
BJ Leilua and Aidan Guerra crossed within the space of 180 seconds to secure the Roosters a 10-6 lead after 23 minutes, before Tim Lafai scored a stunning, sidestep-filled solo try to wrench the lead back for the ’Dogs with 32 minutes gone.
However, the Roosters struck back immediately, with Guerra catching a Braith Anasta bomb for a 16-12 lead they would take to halftime.
Nate Myles extended the advantage with a simple barge over in the 46th minute before back-to-back tries to Steve Turner (52nd minute) and Joel Romelo (59th minute) saw the visitors seize a 24-22 lead.
A Roosters penalty goal drew the sides level in the 63rd minute before Sam Perrett crossed in the right corner for a try that was converted for a 30-24 lead. Another penalty goal edged the Roosters out to an eight-point advantage with eight minutes remaining.
Jonathan Wright scored off a Ben Barba grubber with three minutes on the clock to give Bulldogs fans a glimmer of hope, but when Steve Turner’s conversion was waved away, their challenge was spent.
Match Officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Adam Devcich; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Dan Eastwood; Video Referee – Paul Mellor.
The Way We See It: Neither side has exhibited any great consistency so placing faith in either could end up a costly misdirection. The Bulldogs have been strong but if they aren’t at the top of their game the Roosters can surprise them. If you need an upset in your footy tips, this might be the game to gamble on. Roosters by six points.
Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 7pm.
Statistics: NRL Stats