Sydney Football Stadium
Sunday 4pm (AEDT)
The traditional Anzac Day NRL headliner reverts to a Dragons home game in enemy territory, with the table-topping red-and-whites confronted by the up-and-down Roosters, who sit in fifth place in a logjam with six other teams on eight competition points.
The Dragons defied the critics last week, accounting for the Titans on the Gold Coast with a pack severely depleted through injury and suspension, while the Roosters ran riot in decimating the Raiders in Todd Carney’s first clash up against his former team.
Although Jeremy Smith remains a casualty for the Dragons, they get hard-working prop Michael Weyman back from a week on the sideline. Importantly, their brilliant and clinical backline remains intact.
Last week the Roosters were definitely ‘on’. Having won just one of the past five Anzac Day games, they’ll be out to put on a stern showing on the ‘home’ front.
Watch out Dragons: The Roosters are cock of the walk when it comes to making breaks in play. Their 39 line-breaks are the most in the NRL – and 19 of those have been clean busts.
The Roosters are finding open space in a variety of ways. Todd Carney (6), Mitchell Aubusson (5) and Sean Kenny-Dowall (4) are all in the top 10 in the NRL for line-breaks; Mitchell Pearce leads the league for line-break assists (7 – all from pinpoint passes).
They’re busting plenty of tackles, too: Carney’s broken 33, Kenny-Dowall 32, while Sam Perrett leads the way for dummy-half runs with 58, Anthony Minichiello a solid back-up with 50 (3rd) along with Kenny-Dowall’s 35 (6th).
The Dragons have conceded 40 per cent of their tries to line-breaks, and 50 per cent to passes. Clearly, Pearce’s passing game needs to be dulled, and Carney’s impact silenced.
Watch out Roosters: It’s not impossible to keep an opposition side out of your end of the field, and certainly Roosters coach Brian Smith will be telling his troops to try to limit the number of ‘sorties’ the Dragons’ deadly left-side attackers are able to mount.
Brett Morris remains co-leader in the comp for tries scored (7) and the Dragons outscore their right side by a ratio of three to one.
Darius Boyd needs attention: last week against the Titans he made 216 metres and broke nine tackles, constantly dissolving the defence like Aspro in water.
Where it will be won: Motivation, both individually and as a team unit.
Nothing motivates an NRL footballer more than a) a game against your former club, or b) the chance to impress representative selectors with the big games just around the corner.
Former Dragon Jason Ryles will be out to do both.
Ryles left on okay terms with St George Illawarra, but that’s not the point. Up against a well-oiled machine, he’ll no doubt want to show Wayne Bennett and the Dragons fans – who often stuck it to the big guy – that he’s still got it.
In just 44 minutes last week against Canberra, Ryles made 116 metres from 14 runs, and also made 26 tackles.
Roosters lock Nate Myles is in the form of his career (144 metres, 34 tackles against the Raiders) and will be out to cement a recall to the Queensland State of Origin side with a massive game against the benchmark NRL side.
Elsewhere, rep hopefuls Carney, Pearce, Braith Anasta (the forgotten man) and Dragons five-eighth Jamie Soward and back-rower Ben Creagh will be primed.
Michael Weyman needs a big game to keep his name at the forefront of Blues’ selectors’ eyes.
The History: Played 21; Dragons 12, Roosters 8, drawn 1. The Dragons have won six of the past eight games, although the Roosters hold an 8-6 advantage at the SFS.
Conclusion: The key to getting on top could depend on which team is able to shut down the opposition fullback.
The modern-day tactic when fielding kicks rarely sees wingers return the ball. Mostly, should a winger be targeted by a clearing kick, he’ll link with his fullback and then offer support; if he doesn’t get a pass he’s the first man in to dummy-half, where he’ll attempt to gain some easy metres as a the defence is still forming.
This explains why the top 14 players in the comp for return metres on kicks wear the fullback jersey – and why wingers like Perrett, Minichiello and Brett Morris (32) make so many runs out of dummy-half.
It places particular importance on a good kick-chase, so whoever is ‘in the zone’ here will gain a massive confidence boost.
The modern game is also about completions – and for all their razzle-dazzle, the Roosters fall down alarmingly here. Through six rounds they are completing at a just-fair 73 per cent.
Meanwhile the Dragons are the best in the business with an 82 per cent rate – and that includes a blip-on-the-radar week against the Storm when they blundered to a 68 per cent completion.
Add in the fact the Roosters are making an average three errors more than their opponents, and the smart selection is the “home” side.
Dragons by 6, in a game that should provide the moments of the weekend.
Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & Adam Devcich; Video ref – Paul Simpkins.
Televised: Channel 9 – Live from 4pm.