Bulldogs v Roosters
A showdown between two sides not afraid to chance their arms sets up a tantalising Sunday afternoon showdown.
The Bulldogs have seemingly shrugged off the funk that saw them under-perform dismally in 2010, with two hard-fought but dominant wins seeing them share top spot on the NRL ladder.
Their opponents the Roosters got the better of the Rabbitohs in their physical Round 1 encounter – although a worrying lapse in intensity saw the Roosters leak 22 points and actually trail with seven minutes to play before getting out of jail. Last week they appeared to be cruising against the Sea Eagles but again released the pressure and were over-run by a more committed opponent.
The winless Rabbitohs are a good barometer for this clash – the Dogs were behind with half an hour left last week before a trio of tries saw them assert their overall dominance.
In just two weeks the Bulldogs have ticked a few boxes on the sheet on coach Kevin Moore’s clipboard – the new halves combination of Trent Hodkinson and Kris Keating has slipped seamlessly into action; fullback Ben Barba is contributing as coach Moore would have liked (up to 24 touches a game now); centre Jamal Idris is stamping himself as a dominant force; and prop Aiden Tolman is giving them the go-forward that was sadly lacking last year.
They have one change to last week’s line-up, with lock David Stagg returning, pushing Corey Payne to the bench, with Chris Armit dropping out.
The Roosters have named the same 17 as last week, adding two-try first-round hero Tom Symonds to their extended bench.
Coach Brian Smith might be looking to the gods for some intervention this week – the Roosters have lost five of their past six games at ANZ Stadium. And in the corresponding Round 3 clash last year they sustained their biggest defeat by a Bulldogs side.
Watch out Bulldogs: Canterbury need a more committed kick-chase, or the Roosters will make them pay dearly. Worryingly, the Dogs have tallied the most poor kick-chases to date (eight), which would account for the high number of tackle busts they’ve conceded so far (69).
By comparison, the Roosters have made just one poor kick-chase and they’ve yielded just 41 tackle-breaks in two weeks. That’s the fewest by any side.
Danger Sign: If the Dogs aren’t charging down the field chasing Hodkinson’s kicks, especially deep to the right, expect the likes of Sam Perrett and Anthony Minichiello to exploit Bulldogs winger Steve Turner and make a break from deep in their own half. Great attacking player that he is, Turner has made just seven of his 13 tackle attempts in 2011, missing four and being ineffective on two occasions for a disappointing 53.8 per cent effective rate.
Watch Out Roosters: Jamal Idris wants his Blues Origin jersey back! The dreadlocked powder keg won his head-to-head battle with rep star Chris Lawrence in Round 1 (albeit narrowly); last week he added the scalp of Test centre Greg Inglis with a rousing display that included 12 tackle-breaks, three offloads, a line-break and a try. He also added 14 runs for 140 metres, massively up on his career average of 93 metres.
Idris’ involvement was infectious – his centre partner Tim Lafai, filling in for the injured Josh Morris, smashed his way to 13 tackle-breaks, an offload and a line-break plus 13 runs on debut.
The key to the Bulldogs’ barrage out wide seems to be the good early ball Hodkinson and Keating are feeding their centres. They are running less than half the number of times last year’s band did (6.5 a game to 13.7 last year). With more space and time to wind up, Idris is proving almost impossible to stop, with Kane Linnett the man charged with the huge task this weekend.
Danger Sign: If Hodkinson and Keating send it wide early, you’ll know what’s about to unfold.
Plays To Watch: Ben Barba (a try assist and two line-breaks so far) lurking midfield looking for an easy way through some tired Roosters defenders; Michael Ennis sending battering ram runners at the Roosters defensive line looking for holes; Aiden Tolman – who is currently averaging the most minutes (67), runs (23), metres (173.5) and tackles (37) ever recorded by a Bulldogs prop – charging into the Roosters without fear; Mitchell Pearce firing precision spiral passes from close range, hoping to get the likes of Mitchell Aubusson through (like last week); Shaun Kenny-Dowall testing out Lafai down the right edge.
Where It Will Be Won: Intensity. The Roosters dropped off against the Sea Eagles last week. They surrendered the lead with 30 minutes to go, coughing up two tries to their opponents.
Conversely, the Bulldogs took it to the Rabbitohs midway through the second half when they were behind on the scoreboard, scoring three tries in the final 24 minutes. If the Roosters don’t remain switched on after the break, the Dogs will pounce. If the Dogs get ahead early? Well, the Roosters’ task will be even tougher.
The History: Played 156; Roosters 77, Bulldogs 74, drawn 5. The Bulldogs have won five of the past eight games although the Roosters hold bragging rights, having won 36-32 in a nail-biter at the SFS in Round 19 last year. But it should be noted the Bulldogs dished out their biggest ever win over the Roosters in the corresponding round last year – a 60-14 hiding at ANZ Stadium. Also, the blue-and-whites hold a formidable 8-2 record at Homebush.
Conclusion: This game is too close to call. The Bulldogs don’t appear to have too many weaknesses, or players who aren’t performing, so they’re pretty much playing to potential.
But the Roosters have scope for improvement from the likes of Todd Carney, Nate Myles and even Shaun Kenny-Dowall. If they step up this week they can muzzle their opponents. The Roosters by six points.
Match officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Adam Devcich; Sideline Officials –David Abood & Adam Reid; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.
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