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Brett Finch: Our attack needs to improve

Nathan Cayless: We'll be better this week

Roosters v Eels
Friday, 7.35pm

HARD to believe this is already a crunch game for the 14th-placed Roosters who have had to not only contend with some dire form on the field but also some poor form off it.

Brad Fittler is reeling from having senior rep players Willie Mason and Nate Myles admit to breaking the club’s strict alcohol code; the duo have been stood down this week. It leaves their pack severely depleted as it faces the brunt of an Eels outfit that has shown it can play with grit and luck to notch successive wins over the past fortnight.

The alarm bells are blaring at Bondi: the Jekyll-and-Hyde Roosters were smashed by 40 points by Souths in their season opener, dished out a 28-4 hiding to the Raiders in Canberra, then looked to have last week’s game against the Tigers in their keeping when cruising to a 12-nil lead after just 10 minutes.

Even at 18-10 at half-time fans got the feeling it was just a matter of time before they landed the killer punch; instead they had no answer to a Benji Marshall-led romp that saw them lose by 16 at the final bell.

Their only changes this week are to cover for their disgraced back-rowers: Frank-Paul Nuuausala gets Myles’ no.10 jersey and Shane Shackleton is in for Mason.
Jake Friend joins the bench after a one-week suspension with Martin Kennedy in jersey 15.

Although Ben Jones has been named on the bench there’s every chance he’ll start at fullback again, with Sam Perrett shifting to the wing.

And what a difference a year makes! This time in 2008 the Eels were ducking for cover – literally – embroiled in off-field scandal. Now under new coach Daniel Anderson they are flying under the radar.

While they aren’t setting the world on fire there have been signs of promise in their opening two wins. A bruising 26-18 loss to the Warriors in New Zealand was followed by a determined 14-8 win over the Rabbitohs. Last week they “got out of jail” 18-16 against the Raiders at home but it was their ability to reverse the contest and nab the points that would have the coach and Eels fans most pleased.

This week they are strengthened by the return of Weller Hauraki from suspension, with Joe Galuvao back to jersey no.15. Todd Lawrie completes their 18-man bench.

Watch out Roosters: Defence is letting the Roosters down big time – they’ve conceded a whopping 17 tries in three games to be the NRL “patsies” in this category.

What’s worse, they are letting them in all over the park: six from kicks (most by any team), one from dummy-half, five from line-breaks, two on turn-overs… the few times they’ve been beaten creatively have been from a pass (once) and with two offloads.

It’s a rag-tag bunch of statistics that will have Fittler extremely concerned. As they showed last week they have plenty of points in them – but if they are going to keep running up the white flag when the opposition has the ball, it will be a long, cold season.

Also, while you wouldn’t ordinarily highlight the game of veteran Luke Burt it should be noted he has scored 14 tries in 10 games against the tri-colours.

Watch out Eels: The Roosters couldn’t possibly play as badly as a unit as they did at times last week, could they? If they can get their mind on the jobs defensively there’s no doubt the Eels’ back three will be in for a tough night. Mitch Aubusson and Shaun Kenny-Dowall are great at competing for the high ball, while Sam Perrett will be a constant menace adding metres for his side.

And the Roosters can really play attacking footy: their sweeping second-man play that led to Kenny-Dowall’s try last week was textbook perfect, with Anasta pivotal. If they muscle up in defence they’re right in the contest.

Where it will be won: The battle of the halves. While Brett Finch won’t be mentioned in any representative despatches this season, his opposite Mitchell Pearce will be and is – and at the moment it’s for the wrong reasons.

Pearce is playing horrible, rushed footy. He’s making mistakes and pushing his passes, which are forcing turnovers. The lumbering Roosters defenders are being exposed, having to quickly face up and defend – not their strong point.

If Pearce can steady the ship and keep the Roosters on the front foot, they won’t be forced into defensive crisis situations.

The History: Played 119; Eels 59, Roosters 55, drawn 5. The Eels have the wood over the Roosters, winning five of the past six clashes, most recently 28-24 in Round 22 last year. The Roosters won 32-12 in Round 10.

Conclusion: You get the feeling the Eels are building to something. Their strike weapons Jarryd Hayne (168 metres against the Raiders including a crucial 95-metre intercept try), Feleti Mateo (18 runs for 118 metres) and Krisnan Inu (three offloads last week) have plenty up their sleeves. And recalled giant Eric Grothe Jnr is back to his best – last week he made 14 bullocking runs and busted the line twice.

But the compelling statistic is that the Eels haven’t conceded a point in the last 20 minutes of any of their three games to date. Against a Roosters side that surrendered 18 points in that period while scoring none last week… well, you make the call.

Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Steve Lyons; Sideline Officials – Steve Chiddy & David Abood; Video Ref – Tim Mander.

Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed from 9.30pm AEDT (8.30pm Qld time); Fox Sports – Delayed 1.30am Sat.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.

Brett Finch: Our attack needs to improve

Nathan Cayless: We'll be better this week

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