Sydney Football Stadium
For the third time this season, Freddy Fittler’s Roosters have found themselves in a desperation “wooden spoon clash” that will go a long way towards deciding who ends the season propping up the table.
Yep – you read that right, the Warriors (last year’s fairytale story) could well end up with rugby league’s most unwanted prize.
They currently sit just three points from last place – currently occupied by the Roosters – and a loss here would be like throwing burley out for the sharks… they’d be in real trouble.
Ivan Cleary’s men travel to Sydney on an uninspiring three-game losing streak which includes last weekend’s dismal loss to a reserve grade-strength Bulldogs outfit on home soil.
The Roosters meanwhile have had to endure more pain since their most recent loss to the Dragons, largely centring around some despicable off-field exploits which resulted in a suspension for prop Nate Myles.
Not surprisingly, Fittler has made a few changes to the squad that was thumped by St George Illawarra a fortnight ago. Gone is Myles for obvious reasons, which sees Shane Shackleton promoted from the bench, while giant youngster Stanley Waqa has been named to play just his second game of the year. A reshuffle in the backline sees halfback Mitchell Pearce joined by Ben Jones at five-eighth while fellow redhead Tom Symonds is added to the centres.
Similarly, Ivan Cleary has scythed through his underperforming squad. Lance Hohaia is dumped to the bench, with Isaac John named to make his NRL debut at five-eighth, while Jerome Ropati has earned a recall allowing Simon Mannering to move to his preferred role in the back row. Most importantly, the team welcomes back inspirational skipper Steve Price – but can he make the difference?
Watch out Warriors: It’s been a disastrous season to date, and you can’t argue that the Roosters are in a good situation right now… but when their backs have been truly up against the wall this year, the Bondi club have tended to come good.
In their past two “spoon battles” the Roosters have managed to grind out seven-point wins against the Sharks, and there is considerable motivation there to ensure club legend Craig Fitzgibbon is not sent to Hull with a wooden spoon in his suitcase.
Fitzgibbon did everything within his powers to lift his side against the Dragons a fortnight ago – he finished the game with two tries, two line breaks, 37 tackles, 134 metres and he finished with his tank absolutely on empty.
But the Warriors aren’t as threatening as the Dragons. If Fitzy can pull out a similar effort this weekend – and if he can drag at least one or two team-mates along with him – the Roosters will be a threat.
Watch out Roosters: Without Braith Anasta, the playmaking duties at the Roosters have fallen squarely on the shoulders of young Mitchell Pearce, who favours his kicking game. Pearce’s strength is to kick to the wings – particularly aiming at the large frame of Shaun Kenny-Dowall – however he will be well advised to mix up his arsenal for this clash because the Warriors are one of the best teams in the business at defusing cross-field bombs, with a success rate of 72 per cent (second only to the Bulldogs this year).
This is because they’ve got the giant frame of Manu Vatuvei on one wing, and the fantastic hands of Kevin Locke on the other. Speaking of Locke, how good is this kid? Despite having only played six matches, he is already one of the Warriors’ biggest threats in attack. With limited chances, he’s already scrapped for four tries, five line breaks and 25 tackle breaks while averaging 113 metres a game.
Where it will be won: Or is the more appropriate phrase – “where it will be lost”? Both teams have become masters of losing matches in the past five weeks.
The Roosters lost to a Cowboys outfit minus its Origin stars, and last weekend the team that was left with the wooden spoon in 2008 stormed into New Zealand and came away with a win.
While a good start is always essential, this game will be won in the final 15 minutes – both teams have shown they are capable of throwing away certain victories with the clock winding down; now is their chance to reverse that!
We also like the look of the Roosters’ back row – the creativity of Setaimata Sa, the relentless work-rate of Craig Fitzgibbon and the slightly rejuvenated form of Willie Mason.
By comparison, the Warriors have a one-dimensional back row which is just work, work, work. Only, it doesn’t seem to be working.
The history: Played 24; Roosters 10, Warriors 13, drawn 1. Warriors have a slight edge, whereas at the SFS, it’s all even. After 11 games, the Warriors have won five, the Roosters have won five and there’s been the one draw.
Conclusion: Favour the Roosters. The Warriors were a train wreck against the Bulldogs last round, and it is impossible to see how they can turn that around in seven days.
Stacey Jones must be wondering why he came back for this when he could be watching the weekly slaughter from his couch instead.
The Roosters aren’t much better mind you, but they’ve had a lot more fight about them since they flooded the team with teenagers.
Match officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – David Abood & Grant Atkins; Video Refs – Steve Clark.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live from 2pm.
• Statistics: NRL Stats.