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Roosters v Wests Tigers
Sydney Football Stadium
Sunday 3pm

Revenge is the sweetest of motivators – but the Wests Tigers have other things on their mind after serious injuries to Lote Tuqiri and Chris Lawrence last week all but wiped out their potent left-side attack.

They’ve also lost halfback Robert Lui – which means Benji Marshall will need to start from the drawing board with new halves partner and NRL debutant Jacob Miller. 

This clash sees a rematch of the 2010 semi-final classic that nudged 100 minutes of playing time before the Roosters stole victory through a runaway Shaun-Kenny-Dowall try. Of course Braith Anasta’s last-minute field goal in regular time added to the drama, but it was the overall skill and intensity of the clash that had all fans, not just followers of these two sides, marvelling to the max.

Three weeks into the 2011 season and the Tigers are outside the top eight despite a 2-1 record, with the Roosters two places below them in 11th spot with just the one win on the board. The Tigers were outclassed by the table-topping Bulldogs 24-14 in Round 1, before stringing together determined wins over the Warriors (20-12) and Raiders (34-24). Meanwhile the Roosters ran riot against the Bunnies in their season opener (40-29) but were then over-run by the Sea Eagles (27-16) and Bulldogs (24-20).

Given overall form lines, it would appear the Roosters have the slightly better CV so far this year – which is a worry for the injury-ravaged Tigers.

Personnel-wise the home side has lost winger Sam Perrett with a broken ankle (out eight weeks), with former Raider Justin Carney set to make his debut for the club. Centre Kane Linnett makes way for Mitchell Aubusson, who shifts from the back row. Jake Friend has been named at hooker, with Mark Riddell benched, with two-try hero from week one Tom Symonds joining the interchange band.

The Tigers have called in Mitch Brown for Tuqiri (broken arm), with Tim Moltzen starting for Lawrence (dislocated hip). Halfback Lui is gone too (ankle), with 18-year-old Miller slated to make his NRL debut. Geoff Daniela also joins their bench.

Expect plenty of points to be scored – the Tigers have scored an average 23 points in their past 20 daytime matches, while the Roosters aren’t far behind with 19. And Benji Marshall needs just nine points to reach 100 scored at the SFS. 

Watch out Roosters: The Wests Tigers don’t rely on the bounce of the ball to get their points. They have scored 13 tries so far in 2010 and none have come from kicks – they’re the only side not to have posted points from the boot.

Further, they are simply lethal at converting line-breaks into tries. They have scored eight times from a bust this year – and have only totalled 17 line-breaks to date. That’s an incredible strike rate of a try nearly every second line-break.

Danger Sign: Even though he’s missing his go-to men Lawrence and Tuqiri, Marshall will still have faith in their replacements. Marshall has eight line-break assists (second in the comp) and seven try assists. 

Chris Lawrence was the leading line-buster for the Tigers (with four) prior to his injury. If Marshall heads left and gives Moltzen some chances, they can pierce the Roosters. In his last full season in 2009, Moltzen made 76 tackle-breaks, 18 line-breaks and nine try assists for the Tigers. Until now, everyone wondered how Tim Sheens was going to use him in 2010. Injury has forced Sheens’ hand, but he’s a capable substitute.

Watch Out Wests Tigers: Dally M medal winner Todd Carney has had a sleepy start to 2011 but that can’t possibly continue for much longer. Last year Carney was the game’s most devastating playmaker, with 21 line-breaks, 19 line-break assists and 18 try assists. In two games this year he has just two line-breaks and is yet to offer a line-break assist or a try assist. 

Danger Sign: Check Carney’s body language early. If he’s clapping his hands together and communicating with his troops, you’ll know he’s ‘on’. 

Plays To Watch: Benji going left… Benji going right… just Benji; Shaun Kenny-Dowall’s one-handed offloads on the right edge; Mitchell Pearce’s flat cut-out passes to the right side for BJ Leilua; Jason Ryles taking no nonsense from Andrew Fifita; Simon Dwyer’s crunching hits; Wade McKinnon’s broken-field runs.

Where It Will Be Won: We doubt the Tigers will find a way through the Roosters, who have yielded an NRL-low 62 broken tackles to oppositions. (So there will be no Andrew Fifita 50-metre runaway tries this week…) Out wide looks their best chance and, encouragingly, while the belief is they are at their best heading left, in truth they are pretty strong down the right too, where they have scored 32 per cent of their tries.

But they’ll be heartened by the stat that shows the Roosters have conceded nine of their 13 tries on the right edge.
The Roosters will miss the involvement of Sam Perrett (average 116 metres), with the pressure on Justin Carney.
The selection of Mitchell Aubusson at centre for Linnett could be crucial. Aubusson was the top one-on-one tackler in the NRL in 2010, making 76. He’s clearly seen as a way to nullify the Tigers’ brilliance.

The biggest test awaits Tigers rookie Jacob Miller up against Roosters’ No.7 Mitchell Pearce (four try assists). It’s unlikely Pearce will be overshadowed, especially this close to Origin calculations. Expect ‘Junior’ Junior to have a huge game.

Also, Lui’s combination with Marshall led the league for touches by a halves pair, with Lui (64) and Marshall (62) the only duo each above 50 per game.

The History: Played 18; Roosters 11, Wests Tigers 7. The Roosters have won five of the past eight games, including their unforgettable 19-15 win in Week One of last year’s semi-finals series. In nine games at the SFS, the Roosters hold a formidable 6-3 advantage. But the venue yielded sweet reward for the Tigers just two years ago when they recorded their biggest ever win over the tri-colours (40-24).

Conclusion: With so much disruption it’s tough to stay in the Wests Tigers’ camp. Anything is possible with Benji Marshall pulling the strings but we can’t see them overcoming a Roosters side that will be desperate to stay in touch with the top eight.

Match Officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Grant Atkins; Video Ref – Tim Mander. 

Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.

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* Statistics: NRL Stats.