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Warriors v Roosters preview

Warriors v Roosters
Eden Park
Saturday 7.30pm (NZ)

It doesn’t take long for the pressure to build in the NRL. A week ago these two clubs were eagerly ramping up preparations for their opening game of the 2013 season – complete with new coaches, new signings and the hope of a much-improved year than the one they’ve just left behind.

But having both lost their Round 1 clashes, they suddenly find themselves facing off in a clash that will result in at least one of them still winless after 160 minutes of football.

The Warriors are notoriously slow starters but there must be particular concern from their fans following last Saturday’s horror 40-10 thrashing at the hands of Parramatta. 

Having fallen apart at the back end of 2012, particularly defensively where they conceded a mammoth 195 points in their last five games at almost 40 per game, starting a new year on the same note was hardly the tonic their confidence needed.

The time to stop the rot is now. After all, a second loss in a row would be tough to take... but consecutive beltings would be nothing short of disastrous.

The good news is that the Warriors have always been a far tougher side to beat on home soil and they will be looking to a big Eden Park crowd to lift their spirits. Let’s not forget, the core of this squad contested a grand final 18 months ago, so it’s not as if they’re lacking in talent.

While the Warriors were particularly disappointing last week, the Roosters can at least take solace in the fact that they fell at the hands of one of the competition’s big guns and were far from disgraced in the process.

Sure, they were always a step behind the eight-ball, but there were glimpses of better days ahead.

Bolstered by four big-name recruits, centre Michael Jennings looked particularly dangerous with some of his incisive runs, while five-eighth James Maloney and back-rower Sonny Bill Williams will only improve with time.

This clash looms as one of particular significance for the latter two. Maloney spent three very successful seasons with the Warriors and played a key role in their charge to the 2011 grand final so he more than anyone will be keen to put in a good showing against his former club. Williams, meanwhile, remains a hugely popular figure in New Zealand after winning a World Cup with the All Blacks two years ago and he won’t want to disappoint those eagerly following his return to the NRL.

Manu Vatuvei’s ankle injury sustained against the Eels sees Bill Tupou earn a recall out wide with Steve Rapira moving into the starting line-up at the expense of Feleti Mateo, who drops back to the bench.

Roosters coach Trent Robinson has named Sonny Bill Williams in the starting side with Mitch Aubusson dropping back to the bench. Luke O’Donnell has again been named on a six-man bench after missing last week’s loss to the Rabbitohs.

Watch Out Warriors: The Warriors’ edge defence remains a huge concern for the home side after Parramatta tore them apart out wide last weekend. In 2012 they conceded just 15 tries through the middle – the sixth best record in the NRL – but let in 56 on the edges and a further 38 out wide on the sidelines. While their left-side defence was the bigger problem last season, it was their right side that caused issues against Parramatta who crossed for five of their eight tries there. And with Michael Jennings lurking on the Roosters’ left they can expect plenty more questions to be asked this Saturday. 

Watch Out Roosters: Although their ball security was sorely lacking at times last week, the Warriors showed enough intent to suggest that they are working towards the same style of game that suited them so well in 2011. 

The Warriors are at their best when keeping the ball alive and running teams ragged around the rucks and even though they were carved to pieces by Parramatta they still produced 10 offloads to the Eels’ three. In fact, only three teams – Penrith, Cronulla and the Gold Coast – produced more in Round 1. If they can pick their moments better they could cause plenty of headaches for the visitors.

Plays To Watch: The Roosters’ two tries against South Sydney came in remarkably similar fashion and both on their left-hand edge. 

The play begins with a play-the-ball to the right-hand side of the posts and Roosters players set deep to the left. As the ball comes from dummy-half to halfback Mitchell Pearce, they put bodies in motion with the obvious option being to spread the ball wide through the hands. However, in both tries last Thursday it was a surprise short ball that resulted in the try. The first saw Pearce look to hit a flying Frank-Paul Nuuausala with a short, flat pass – the ball taking a deflection for James Maloney to cross. The second saw Pearce send the ball wider to Nuuausala at second receiver, who in turn gave the short, flat pass for Sonny Bill Williams to stroll across. 

Key Match-Up: Konrad Hurrell v Michael Jennings. Man mountain Hurrell gave the Roosters nightmares in this clash last season, scoring two barnstorming first-half tries and causing them all manner of headaches on the right edge; however he faces a very different opponent this time around in new recruit Michael Jennings. A classic clash of raw power v speed and footwork, this is shaping as one of the great one-on-one battles.

Where It Will Be Won: Edge defence is the key. A weakness of both sides in 2012 and again last week when they were regularly exposed, the winner of this match is less likely to come down to who throws the most at their opponent as which side deals with it the best. 

Rest assured that if the Warriors defend like they did last week they will be found wanting – but let’s not forget that South Sydney also scored four of their five tries out wide to the left, including a hat-trick to Nathan Merritt.

The History: Played 30; Warriors 17, Roosters 12, drawn 1. In addition to leading the all-time record the Warriors boast 10 wins to four losses on home soil. The Warriors have won six of the past eight clashes.

Match Officials: Referees –  Ashley Klein & Phil Haines; Sideline Officials – Adam Reid & Shane Rehm; Video Referees – Paul Mellor & Luke Patten. 

Televised: Fox Sports 1HD – Live 5.30pm AEDT.
The Way We See It: Even on home soil, it’s tough to back the Warriors right now. Having lost eight games in a row to finish their 2012 season, they showed no signs of improvement against Parramatta and will need to convince us that they’ve turned the corner before we start throwing tips their way! 

The Roosters are also a work in progress; however although they were never really in the hunt against South Sydney there were enough signs to suggest that they will improve significantly as the season progresses. We believe they will take their first steps towards doing that this Saturday night. Roosters by 12 points.

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