If you want to analyse this match on paper alone, then the Bulldogs may as well not even bother turning up on Sunday. Coming up against the Roosters, who sit in first place thanks to a points differential of 38, it’s a David and Goliath situation for the Belmore boys.
Their start to 2010 has been uncharacteristic. Many expected the team that went one game from the grand final last year to pick up where they left off. Instead, they come in to this game on the back of a morale-sapping loss to premiership favourites St George Illawarra, which followed on from a stuttering performance against the Knights in Round 1.
By complete contrast, the Roosters are riding a wave of adrenalin – two wins, 80 points scored and a backline that stepped up another notch in Round 2. Mitchell Pearce has been in scintillating form during the first two rounds, but he’s been ably supported by his fullback, centres, wingers and five-eighth. That’s a lot of man-power in attack.
Pearce has been the go-to man for the Roosters thus far and has many talking up his Origin chances already, which is justified based on his performances. Pearce has four tries to his name, plus two try assists and six tackle-breaks. He’s kicked 17 times for 635 metres, but with the support play around him, he’s willing to run the ball – 10 of their 14 tries coming from line-breaks or passes.
There’s no pinpointing where it may come from with the Roosters, though, with the scoring evenly spread across the park.
The Bulldogs need to turn the tide this week, or they’ll be on the line to go down to the Bondi boys the same way the Wests Tigers and South Sydney went before them. If they are to shut down the Roosters’ attacking raids, the Bulldogs’ defence will need to be much better. It may not be the worst in the competition, but 75 missed tackles and 53 ineffective efforts in the opening two rounds are too many if they want to be in the match.
The return of hooker Michael Ennis will be a boost to their attack, as he is able to relieve some of the pressure from Brett Kimmorley. The two were among the most lethal pairings last season, and it is difficult to believe that connection has simply disappeared in the off-season.
David Stagg and Ben Hannant have been playing with their usual commitment. Stagg is the top tackler after two rounds with a staggering 95; Hannant has been no slouch either with 67. They’ll need to be in the same form this week too, as another three members of the forward pack will be on the sideline. Mickey Paea has been a force off the bench for the ’Dogs, but suffered a medial ligament tear during last week’s game against the Dragons and will be out for six to eight weeks, as will Michael Hodgson who suffered the same injury in that game. Gary Warburton will miss two weeks through suspension and Dene Halatau is still a few weeks away from full fitness.
Watch out Bulldogs: The Roosters have been strong across the park. Much has been made of their backs with Carney, Minichiello, Perrett, Graham and Kenny-Dowall all in fine touch and reaping the benefits of a Pearce playing with confidence and direction.
But their forwards have been pulling their weight as well. Nate Myles has been tencious in making 66 tackles – only missing two – and isn’t put off by the hard work, leading the chase on Nathan Merritt in Round 1 as the Rabbitoh raced away for what seemed a certain try. If the Bulldogs are to match this Roosters outfit, they’ll need to be on their game across the field as well.
Watch out Roosters: As the saying goes, beware the wounded dog! Last week would have been a wake-up call for the Bulldogs and they must be close to rediscovering the form that served them so well last season.
The Roosters will need to be wary of going in over-confident. The Bulldogs may not have been impressive in the opening rounds, but they’re still capable of hurting teams and in Ben Barba they have a player willing to come into the play and take some risks.
Where it will be won: You can’t score without the ball, and maintaining possession will be crucial.
The Bulldogs have had dismal completion rates of 66 and 65 per cent so far – gifting that much ball to a team that can score from anywhere will hurt them. Meanwhile, the Roosters may have scored 14 tries – but they’ve also let in eight. They went to sleep late in the game against the Tigers and won’t want to give a club that doesn’t mind a comeback that kind of chance.
The history: Played 154; Roosters 76, Canterbury-Bankstown 73, Drawn 5. There’s plenty of history between these two teams and the past decade has seen a fierce rivalry become even stronger. They’re almost square over time and their past eight clashes are tied at four apiece, but of the nine games played at ANZ, the Bulldogs have won seven.
Conclusion: The Roosters appear to be enjoying their football this year and have a new lease under coach Brian Smith. The side appears relaxed, with everyone knowing their role and working together as a team.
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, have looked tired, frustrated and at times lost. Their attack has lacked creativity and their defence has lacked conviction. On paper, this should be a no-brainer. But if the first two rounds have taught us anything it’s that no team is a sure bet, and no lead can be too big.
Canterbury will turn up this week and put in better showing, but the Roosters will make it three from three.
Match Officials: Referees: Jason Robinson & Bernard Sutton; Sideline Officials: Steve Carroll & David Abood; Video Ref: Sean Hampstead.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports 2 – Delayed 6pm.