Mitchell Pearce's battle with Luke Brooks will be pivotal to the outcome of the Roosters-Tigers clash. Credit: Robb Cox. Copyright: NRL Photos.
Roosters v Wests Tigers
With Representative Round done and dusted we get back to business with a tantalising Friday night clash between two Sydney teams currently sitting fourth and fifth on the ladder and a humdinger of a contest beckoning.
It is perhaps a measure as much of the seasons these two sides experienced last year as much as their on-field form so far in 2014 that we view Wests Tigers, 15th last year and currently in fourth, as having an outstanding year, while for the defending premiers – currently in a very respectable fifth – everyone is asking how it's all gone so wrong.
Contradicting the naysayers, the Roosters are building nicely, and while four wins and four losses may not be where Trent Robinson's squad would have been hoping to sit with one third of their games played, that three-game losing streak from Rounds 4-6 came at the combined losing margin of 11 points.
The side's worst performance came in Round 1 when they were swamped by the Rabbitohs, and leaving out a shellacking of a woeful Eels outfit in Round 2 their last game – a dominant 34-14 victory over the Dragons in Round 8 – was arguably their best performance of the season, with a partially maligned James Maloney finding some form, setting up a couple of tries.
The visitors have one extra win to show for their efforts this year but the form line is slightly less promising – their best performances were arguably in Rounds 2 and 3, while their unexpected and dour Round 8 loss at their spiritual home of Leichhardt, where they usually grow an extra leg, was perhaps their least inspiring effort this season.
Despite that loss they're still entitled to be pretty happy with how they're travelling, although they will again be without the injured Braith Anasta at five-eighth. Blake Austin moves from the bench to cover for him, having deputised well in his club debut in Round 7 against the Eels. Centre Tim Simona serves the second week of a two-week suspension – with the first having been served in the Pacific Test, his place is taken by Keith Lulia. Cory Paterson is the new face on the bench.
For the Roosters, the only change from the victorious Round 8 side is French prop Remi Casty wearing jersey 17, with Dylan Napa moving to an extended bench alongside Daniel Mortimer, although either could yet be a late inclusion. James Maloney has been named despite leaving the field with a shoulder injury in the side's last outing.
Watch the NRL LIVE with a 2-week free trial.
Get the NRL Digital Pass now!
Watch Out Roosters: Much has been made of the Tigers' relentless and aggressive young bench so far this year, and with good reason. That form was rewarded with a Test debut for Martin Taupau last week, and how often have we seen someone given a taste of representative footy take their game to another level?
Taupau was excellent for the Kiwis in that game with 89 hard-running metres off the bench in limited minutes, to go with his better-than-100-metres per game for the Tigers over eight rounds. Another of the Tigers forwards in action over the rep weekend was Origin-bound prop Aaron Woods, who must have gone within a whisker of turning out in green and gold rather than gold and blue. He stamped his class on the Dubbo fixture with 142 metres – bettered only by partner in crime Andrew Fifita (182 metres) among all forwards in that match, to go with 28 tackles. When the Tigers have been good in 2014 it's been off the back of furious go-forward from the likes of Woods and Taupau.
Watch Out Wests Tigers: While the Tigers present danger in the form of rep players, the Roosters' big threat could come from players who were overlooked on the weekend just gone. Much has been written about the surprise omission of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves from the Kiwis side, so expect the big man to be angrier than usual as he looks to prove a point not just to NZ coach Steve Kearney, but also himself.
In fact for every Roosters player who should be pumped after a big rep weekend – think Sam Moa, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Daniel Tupou – there is another with a point to prove. Frank-Paul Nuuausala and Shaun Kenny-Dowall are others who may be considered unlucky to miss out and looking to make a statement come Friday night.
Plays To Watch: Leaping Dan Tupou presents a very attractive target for his inside playmakers looking for a cross-field bomb. At 6'5" and with that much athleticism it's almost unfair, as we saw in the Country-City fixture, so expect the likes of Mitchell Pearce to bomb plenty of chances his way in attack. For Wests they are again without senior men Robbie Farah and Braith Anasta, it will again be up to the likes of Brooks and Austin to conduct proceedings – Brooks's short kicks and Austin's jagged runs, both close to the line, should again feature heavily.
Where It Will Be Won: Discipline. Whenever we talk about the Roosters we seem to talk about penalties, but at this stage the tricolours are only fourth-worst when it comes to feeling the referees' wrath, giving up 61 penalties in eight games – while the Tigers are second-worst, conceding a massive 69 penalties (the Titans are chief offenders with 70). At this rate it could be a bit of a penalty-a-thon, and with games so tight this year, a free piggy-back into opposition territory is usually the first and last invitation most teams need to take advantage.
The History: Played 23; Roosters 15, Wests Tigers 8. The Bondi boys have had the wood over the joint venture club in its 14 years in the NRL, particularly of late – Wests Tigers have beaten the Roosters just once in the past eight meetings, and that was at Leichhardt in 2011. The Tigers also have a terrible record at the venue, having won just once in their past 10 visits. That was against St George Illawarra, although just two of those other nine losses were against the Roosters.
Although, they are also on a five-match losing run against the home side at this venue, having not beaten the tricolours there since 2009.
Match Officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Chris James; Touch Judges – Russell Turner & Grant Atkins; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Luke Patten.
Televised: Channel Nine, Live, 7.30pm (NSW), delayed, 9.30pm (Qld).
The Way We See It: Make no mistake, either team could win this at a canter or it could be a tightly fought drag-'em-out affair. For whatever reason Wests Tigers don't seem to much enjoy the trip to Moore Park, and their task isn't made any easier with a few seasoned veterans missing against the much more settled Roosters side. For those reasons we'll cautiously take the home side by six points. But don't write off the visitors – they've had no problems with their underdog status so far this year.