Dairy Farmers Stadium
The Roosters are hunting a home final – and the Cowboys look likely to have their eyes scratched and limbs pecked if they don’t put up a better fight than recent weeks.
After getting over an epic battle with Manly last weekend to guarantee a finals berth, the Roosters now have their sights set on the top four.
While currently in the ‘solid’ spot of sixth (a position in the McIntyre System which has had some success in the past 11 years, beating third on six occasions) the Roosters can get into the top four if the Titans lose and they win against the Cowboys by more than the Warriors win over the Eels (or the Warriors lose).
They could even catch Penrith in the unlikely events of Penrith losing by 40 to the Sharks and the Roosters winning by 40 against the Cowboys (much more likely).
The result of this could be a top-four berth (where all premiers since McIntyre System was implemented have come from) and a home final.
The consequences of a loss could be dire. Both Manly and Canberra could then jump ahead of the side and they would be forced into sudden-death football from seventh or eighth and we already know the eighth-placed team will face the minor premier Dragons.
Anthony Minichiello is due back from injury at fullback, seeing Jonathan Ford miss out. Jake Friend is due to start at hooker, pushing Nick Kouparitsas to the bench, Nate Myles is moving up to prop from the second row, meaning Mose Masoe joins the reserves list. Frank Paul Nuuausala is the new man in the second row. Daniel Conn has been suspended, with Martin Kennedy and Lopini Paea coming onto an extended bench as cover.
For the Cowboys, the end of the year couldn’t come quick enough. But they will still be playing for pride in front of some loyal fans who have only seen four wins in Townsville this year.
They are certain to finish 15th and would be the wooden spooners if not for Melbourne’s indiscretions with the salary cap.
Fullback Matthew Bowen celebrates his 200th game, becoming only the second player to do so for the Cowboys. He goes back to his favoured position after playing halfback last week, which means Shannon Gallant is out. Aaron Payne moves from hooker to half and Clint Amos comes on at hooker from the bench, with Anthony Watts rejoining the team on the bench.
Watch out Cowboys: Roosters centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall is in blistering form and thanks to a hat-trick last week against Manly he is within striking distance of the top tryscorers’ mantle. With 18 tries for the year Kenny-Dowall is three behind Akuila Uate, two behind Israel Folau and one behind Brett Morris. If he can manufacture another hat-trick against the Cowboys he can draw level and while it’s not common to score four tries in a match, Reece Robinson did just that against the Cowboys last weekend.
Kenny-Dowall, or ‘SKD’ as his fans call him, also has 17 line-breaks, which is equal sixth in the competition and he averages 128 metres gained. His 2954 metres this season is seventh in the competition.
Adding more danger is his 144 tackle-breaks, second most in the NRL.
Watch out Roosters: The Cowboys have not been a thorn in anyone’s side for quite some time but perhaps the fact he celebrates game 200 might bring out some old Matt Bowen magic. Bowen can excite the masses better than most when he gets on a roll and if the Roosters give him some space perhaps he can give the Cowboys’ faithful some fond feelings to take into the off-season.
He has contributed to the team’s playmaking with eight try assists and seven line-break assists but what we’d really like to see is him take on the line like the old days. Two recovering knees aside… when Bowen backs his instincts and takes on the defence he can be more elusive than Inglis, Marshall and Uate combined!
Where it will be won: This game is the Roosters’ to lose, basically. And the only way they are likely to lose it is if they get away from the game plan. With this in mind the game will be won if the Roosters stick to the plan coach Smith lays out for them, and he’ll have a meticulous one like always. He won’t shackle them, but he will ask they set up attacking options with disciplined play.
With the Cowboys having weaknesses everywhere there will be temptation to attack with reckless abandonment but the forwards still need to lay the platform for the backs to shine.
They also should be using this game to fine-tune their defence. The Cowboys will try to throw some trick shots at them and the temptation could be there to back off their intensity in tackling to save petrol for the finals. But this just breeds laziness into the defensive psyche and the Roosters cannot afford this in the big games.
The history: Played 25; Cowboys 6, Roosters 19. Despite the one-sided head-to-head results the Cowboys upset the Roosters in Sydney earlier this season to notch up one of just five wins this year. The 32-14 result also gave the Cowboys three in a row over the Roosters.
Home ground advantage is basically non-existent though, with the Roosters leading the ledger 9-3 at Dairy Farmers Stadium. Expect plenty of points… the average total match points over the past eight games tallies more than 54.
Conclusion: Back the Roosters. It can’t get much clearer than that. The side has plenty to play for, it needs momentum going forward and the Cowboys are, quite frankly, a rabble on the pitch at the moment.
Match officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Luke Potter & David Munro; Video Ref – Chris Ward.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.