Roosters v Dragons Preview

ANZAC Day Preview: Ancient rivalry, hot young talent

Brad Fittler on the Roosters' line-up

Beau Scott previews the ANZAC Day clash

Braith Anasta: We've got so much to play for

This traditional ANZAC Day clash looms as a defining encounter for both sides, with Brad Fittler’s charges desperate to arrest a two-game rot while Wayne Bennett’s Dragons need to squash any seeds of self-doubt following their surprise surrender to the Knights at Kogarah last week.

The Roosters ran up the white flag against the Warriors in Auckland last round, capitulating after holding a 16-0 lead with less than 30 minutes left on the clock. Before that they let the Broncos race out to an 18-0 lead before clawing back into the contest – it’s this worrying lack of consistency that sends coaches round the twist.

The Roosters languish in 13th position, level with six other sides on four points. Gone for this week are Sonny Tuigamala, replaced by Sisa Waqa, while Ben Jones makes way for Setaimata Sa in the centres. Shane Shackleton drops back to the bench, making way for Willie Mason who starts.

Meanwhile the Dragons are still scratching their heads – one of the toughest defensive units so far in 2009, they uncharacteristically let the Knights in for three tries in seven minutes to lose control of a game they looked destined to win.

Still, Wayne Bennett-coached teams don’t lose back-to-back too often and they were missing key personnel at key moments last week.

Their campaign looks settled, with the side fourth in a tie with the Bulldogs and Knights on eight points. Significantly, Michael Weyman returns from a one-week suspension, with Jarrod Saffy back to the bench. Neville Costigan returns too – timely given the medial ligament knee strain to Luke Priddis that will have him out for a month.

Priddis’ absence does pose questions about how they will go about giving hooker Dean Young a breather – he had to play 73 minutes last week. Chances are Mat Head (in jersey no.18) may finally get a run, which will allow skipper Ben Hornby to tag-team it with Young.

Also, Chase Stanley and Ricky Thorby are missing from last week’s bench.

Watch out Roosters: Jamie Soward has a point to prove against the club that released him. Since those disappointing days two years ago, and certainly this year, Soward has developed into a potent attacking weapon – especially with the boot. He set up two tries with kicks last week, the first a preposterously perfect-weight cross-kick into the open hands of Wendell Sailor, the second a deft chip and regather before offloading in one motion for Sailor to benefit again.

The fact is, some players try these things and have a poor success rate; Soward tries them and more often than not they come off. At least they are in 2009.

Also, the Roosters have limited attacking options at present – they have not scored a try on their right flank all season, so the Dragons will be confident of holding out Sisa Waqa here. Instead, all of their venom has been expelled on the left side, where they have scored eight tries. But again, the Dragons’ defence should be ready.

Watch out Dragons: There will be a host of Roosters representative players ready to “dig in” on ANZAC Day after being left out of the NSW selectors’ 40-strong first draft for State of Origin. No Willie Mason. No Braith Anasta. No Mark O’Meley. No Craig Fitzgibbon.

Nothing spurs a good performance like the suggestion you’re no longer good enough to represent at Origin level – and with the door still open for any one of these four players should they force their credentials, the Dragons will need to brace for a heavy onslaught on Saturday.

Expect all three jilted forwards to carry the Dragons’ defence on their backs as they improve their average game stats dramatically. And that goes for Anasta’s creativity, too.

Where it will be won: Going the distance. The Roosters have lost two of their four games this year after leading at half-time. And worryingly for Wayne Bennett, the Dragons have lost both of their games after being in the driving seat as they entered the second stanza.  

The History: Played 19; Dragons 10, Roosters 8, drawn 1. The Dragons hold a narrow advantage from the past eight clashes, winning five to the Roosters’ three. They won the corresponding game last year 26-6 at ANZ Stadium.

Conclusion: It will be a high-emotion, crackerjack game. The Dragons get a huge boost with the return of Weyman and Costigan, but the Roosters will be all heart as they face a crossroads in their premiership campaign.

In the end discipline in defence will be crucial, and the Dragons have the edge here. They have missed just 122 tackles (20.3 a game) to the Roosters’ 179 (29.8) with an effectiveness of 89.8% (second to the Storm) compared to the Roosters’ 85.4%.

This year’s tougher Dragons unit will start favourites – but don’t be surprised if Brad Fittler’s squad carries out a magnificent ambush.

Match officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood & Steve Chiddy; Video Ref – Steve Clark.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 3pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.