The season’s first short round concludes at what looks likely to be the Sharks’ new home, although it’s the Roosters and Storm doing battle on this occasion in Gosford.
It’s been a tough start to the year for both sides, although Melbourne have fared much better without setting the world on fire; they sit in sixth spot on the NRL ladder ahead of the Roosters who are down in 12th.
The Storm have hung tough in their matches and appear to still have plenty of improvement left in them, while the Roosters have played most of their matches without spark – and if they don’t find something from somewhere, the top eight will start to become but a dream for season 2009.
They have stuck fairly solid to the team that edged out Cronulla last week, with Rohan Ahern the only player to make way, with Mitchell Aubusson returning to the team.
Shane Shackleton and Mark O’Meley are playing for City Origin on Friday night – but O’Meley wasn’t even originally named for the Roosters for the second week running (he is a late inclusion but is unlikely to play).
The Storm have also retained a similar team to the one that prevailed over Manly in the grand final rematch, with Anthony Quinn returning to the wing from his concussion at Joseph Tomane’s expense.
Prop Scott Anderson has been added to an extended bench, however the selected side could change given Billy Slater, Greg Inglis, Jeff Lima, Cameron Smith, Adam Blair, Ryan Hoffman and Brett White (18th man) are involved in representative football.
Just how well they come through the Friday fixtures could be crucial to their chances in this match, even though they have a few days’ grace.
Watch out Roosters: The Storm halves are licking their lips knowing the Roosters have let in more tries from kicks than all teams bar Penrith so far this season. You can bet your bottom dollar Cooper Cronk and Brett Finch will pepper the Roosters from the boot, looking to add to the misery that has seen 10 tries conceded by the tri-colours so far in 2009.
Cross-field kicks will be the most-used weapon, as the Roosters defuse just 50 per cent of this style of kick. They will also be bombarded with grubber kicks as they are ranked 15th at defusing them.
Watch out Storm: The Roosters are heading left because it’s their dominant side… and, quite frankly, they are struggling big-time to bust through on the right or up the middle.
Of the 24 tries the Roosters have scored this season 18 have come on the left side compared to four on the right and just two up the middle. It is their only ‘go to’ area; consequently they’ll be sending the ball that way all evening.
The Storm right-side defence has been pretty solid though, conceding just six tries to rank behind only Newcastle and St George Illawarra.
Where it will be won: Patience and timing. The beauty of the Storm’s play is the fact they stay patient and stay in games even when they’re not firing on all cylinders.
The Roosters have also been patient at times but they fail to ramp it up a notch when the game is there for the taking. They have led teams at halftime on numerous occasions, only to fall into a heap due to pushed passes and stupid errors at crucial times.
Whichever side plays disciplined, patient rugby league through the tough periods and then lifts the tempo when the time is right will come out on top.
If it comes down to game-breakers, Melbourne obviously have more, although Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce could be primed for a massive match after missing Country vs City selection. He is seemingly behind Peter Wallace and Jarrod Mullen for the coveted NSW jersey but some big performances against quality opposition, in front of the Blues’ coach Craig Bellamy, can’t hurt his chances.
The History: Played 18; Roosters 9, Storm 9. The Storm has won five of the past seven clashes between the two clubs although the Roosters have triumphed on two of the past three occasions. They have never met at this venue.
Conclusion: The Roosters may have won last week but they are still playing far from inspiring rugby league. The Storm rose a little against Manly last start and they are significantly ahead of the Sydney side at this early stage of the year.
It would be a huge surprise if the Roosters were to take the points but a lot could hinge on how the Melbourne stars get through the rep games. If they come through unscathed and are focussed on the job at hand they should not only win, but win well, and perhaps boost their attack that has been down so far this season.
Match officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – Mohamad Fajajo & Steve Chiddy; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.