One of the NRL’s best modern traditions continues this Good Friday when the Roosters host the Broncos at the SFS.
With both sides hurting badly from thrashings last Sunday the match shapes up as one of redemption – or, without wanting to sound blasphemous, even resurrection – as they look to get things back on track.
In recent years the majority of the special Good Friday moments have come to those wearing the Brisbane jersey, the Queenslanders having won the past six Easter encounters. But the Sydney boys are buoyed by a new era at the club and are out to stop the streak.
Thanks to the absolute shellacking at the hands of the Bulldogs (if you were under a rock the tri-colours went down 60-14 last weekend), the Roosters have dropped down to sixth place on the NRL ladder and seen their differential plummet into the negative.
They welcome back centre Phil Graham for this match, which pushes Ben Jones out of the side. The only other named change (you never know with Brian Smith, there could by seven more before the match starts…) is James Aubusson is slated to start at hooker, with Nick Kouparitsas moved to the bench. This has been the case for the opening three rounds; however, in each encounter the Greek international Kouparitsas has run out to start, so expect the same again.
The Broncos were pounded by the Warriors in a second-half blitz last Sunday, handing them a second consecutive loss and dropping them all the way down to 15th on the NRL ladder, ahead of only the winless Sharks.
Despite leading early in the second stanza, the Broncos were belted 48-16 and in a serious blow to their premiership chances, have lost Israel Folau and Denan Kemp to injury for the next month at least.
Ben Te’o will start at centre for Folau, which allows forgotten man Ashton Sims to return to the NRL in the second row.
Gerard Beale will take Kemp’s place on the wing, with his bench spot to be taken by either Ben Hunt or Mitch Rivett.
Watch out Roosters: Ben Te’o might be known predominantly as a forward but if he is taken lightly as a centre, the chooks could be plucked. Te’o has some silky skills and knows how to bust the line. He has averaged 104 metres a game so far this year and has two line-breaks, three line-break assists, a try, eight offloads and 15 tackle busts. The Roosters should also be prepared for a big game from Ashton Sims.
Left out of the side for the opening rounds in favour of part-time players, Sims has a point to prove.
Watch out Broncos: Roosters coach Brian Smith hasn’t shackled his side and will probably encourage them to have a crack from long range.
With the Broncos having conceded four tries from over halfway already this season it has become apparent they occasionally fall asleep on the job. With the Roosters posting four tries from over halfway in 2010, they have already proven their ability to chance their hand and you can be sure Mitchell Pearce and Todd Carney will be looking to create wherever they are on the field.
Where it will be won: Making the most of chances. Both teams have already shown they can break the line with relative ease. With 20 line breaks a piece from just three rounds, the teams run equal second in the category behind the Warriors.
Looking into this further we see the Broncos are the NRL’s cleanest line-breakers, with 15 of the 20 being ‘clean’ breaks or breaks where they steam through a hole. Just four are from busts and one is from dummy-half.
For the Roosters, they lead the NRL in line-breaks from busts with 11, showing an ability to break through defenders before setting up support. Eight of their breaks are clean and one is from dummy-half.
Line-breaks become even more important, depending on how a team capitalises on them. Brisbane have five tries this year coming directly from line-breaks – meaning they have taken maximum value out of 25 per cent of their breaks.
The Roosters have fared better, scoring eight tries directly from breaks, for 40 per cent success. The side that can take these chances when they come is obviously going to be heading towards victory – and an Easter weekend off with two competition points in the bag.
The History: Played 32; Roosters 11, Broncos 21. In recent times the Roosters have been the Broncos’ whipping boys. Brisbane has won the past five, and eight of the past nine games.
The overall record at the SFS is 13-5 to the Broncos. It has now also been six straight Good Friday wins for the Broncos, with the last time the Roosters won this traditional clash being back in 2003.
Conclusion: While Brisbane have found a way to lift for this Easter contest in the past six years they enter this year’s clash much more vulnerable and without anywhere near as much talent as they have had on display in recent times.
Folau’s loss is huge.
The young team is certainly capable of winning but they have shown an inability to compete for 80 minutes and if the Roosters take advantage of the down-times, they could rack up some points just like the Warriors did. The Roosters are hurting very badly after leaking 60 points and should be fired up.
The lean is towards the home side to break the losing Easter streak – but don’t be afraid to tip an upset if your gut tells you to.
Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Adam Devcich; Video Ref – Steve Clark.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 8.30pm (AEDT); Fox Sports – Delayed 11.30pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.