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Roosters v Cowboys
Sydney Football Stadium
Monday 7pm

Hidden away at the end of a short round of football, this match shapes as being vital in the grand scheme of things for these two clubs.

The 2009 wooden spoon recipients the Roosters continue to impress in 2010, winning their first real arm wrestle of the year against the Wests Tigers last week to move up into fifth spot.

If they are to continue to push for a finals berth it is games like this – against a travelling, Johnathan Thurston-less Cowboys – they must win.

Plus, with teams below them having the week off and a guaranteed two points, the tri-colours could drop to eighth spot should they fall.

For the Cowboys, this match could well represent their season. With the prognosis on Thurston sketchy and Origin coming up anyway, they can ill afford to fall further behind the pack.

They are currently in 13th spot on the ladder and a loss could drop them to 15th – the lowest rung for teams still in contention for a premiership ring.

Despite winning last weekend the Roosters have some changes. James Aubusson returns to the top grade at hooker, which sees Sam Brunton dropped.

Jason Baiteri has also been left out of the side, with Aidan Guerra back.

Anthony Minichiello, Sam Perrett, Todd Carney, Frank Paul Nuuausala and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves all need to survive rep football to make it on the park, while Nate Myles is also away from the squad as 18th man for the Australian team.

For the Cowboys, Will Tupou is out which sees Ashley Graham move from wing to centre and John Williams come onto the wing.

Eighteen-year-old Australian Schoolboys representative Michael Morgan, a star from the club’s Toyota Cup side that leads the competition, replaces Thurston who is of course out of the side again due to shoulder problems.

Aaron Payne returns from injury at hooker, pushing Clint Amos to the bench, while Luke O’Donnell should also be back at lock, squeezing Steve Rapira to the reserves.

Dane Hogan has been added as further cover. as Willie Mason and O’Donnell have to get through Friday night rep football to hold their place.

Watch out Roosters: The Cowboys are coming to the left, looking for the dominance of Willie Tonga to come to the fore. The North Queensland boys have scored more than double the amount of tries on their left side compared to the right, with 14 four-pointers on the left and just six on the right.

In great form, Tonga is now averaging 112 metres a match, has nine line-breaks and seven tries and 33 tackle-breaks.

Tonga and left-edge second-rower Scott Bolton make up for almost half of all Cowboys line-breaks, so if the Roosters can contain the pair they are on the way to victory.

Watch out Cowboys:
One of the lesser-known heroes of the Roosters’ turnaround has been Nick Kouparitsas. The former back-rower has found a new lease on life since adding the ability to play hooker to his game. Coming from the bench, he gives the Roosters some added pep.

He has three clean line-breaks for the year, four line-break assists, three try assists and a try of his own.

Surprisingly, he doesn’t have a single offload this year – although his skills in contact were a feature of his junior career. Maybe they’ll be displayed here.

Where it will be won:
Taking chances. This week’s Big League magazine reveals both of these sides have massive problems converting their line-breaks into points and if they can’t rectify this, they may continue to struggle as the season develops.

The Roosters are only scoring from 30 per cent of their line-breaks, while the Cowboys are worse, converting just 24 per cent of their breaks to points.

Whichever side can improve on this conversion rate in this match should take the points. This means supporting each ball carrier with intent and anticipating breaks so players can be in place to finish off plays.

The history:
Played 24; Roosters 19, Cowboys 5. One of the biggest dominations between two sides in the NRL – although the Cowboys have stemmed the trend in recent times, winning four of the past eight including the past two encounters.

Last season’s SFS match went to the Cowboys 32-16, handing the Roosters the wooden spoon on Craig Fitzgibbon’s farewell. At the SFS, the Roosters hold an 8-2 advantage.
Conclusion: It’s hard to trust the Cowboys, especially without Thurston. There are some good raps on young Morgan, but at just 18 his prime time in the big league is probably still a while off.

Who knows, he could pull off an Andrew Johns, Amos Roberts or Jordan Atkins and win man-of-the-match on debut… but if not then the Roosters are deserved favourites.

Stick with the tri-colours unless they lose all of their rep stars… and even if they do, consider them favourites still.

Match officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Ashley Klein; Sideline Officials – Gerard Sutton & Luke Potter; Video Ref – Chris Ward.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.
Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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