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Roosters v Raiders
Monday 7pm

From the cellar to the roof then back to the cellar, all in the space of three seasons? Who’d have thought that was a possible outcome for the Roosters prior to the start of 2011? Yet it’s exactly the scenario unfolding for the tricolours as their miserable year snowballs.

Last week, fresh off their second bye, they delivered a truly diabolical performance (we won’t call it an ‘effort’ as there wasn’t the slightest bit of that involved) against the Knights who were minus their captain and go-to man Kurt Gidley. It was their eighth loss in their past 10 games and proclamations of their premiership co-favouritism have all but faded from memory.

This week they come up against another of the season’s under-achievers Canberra – with only the Titans below them in last place on the ladder but with a valuable bye up their sleeves.

Consequently this is the match that could go a long way to determining who gets the wooden spoon in 2011.

The Raiders out-enthused the lethargic Eels 25-12 at home last week, with halves Sam Williams and Josh McCrone calling the shots. Rookie Williams gets his chance to again shine this week with Mitchell Pearce on NSW Origin duty, while the Roosters are further diluted by the absence of fullback Anthony Minichiello and prop Nate Myles to the Blues’ and Maroons’ Origin camps respectively.

Roosters coach Brian Smith has opted to blood Mark Khierallah, a regular for feeder club Newtown in the NSW Cup, in the No.1 for Minichiello. Kane Linnet moves to the bench to accommodate the return of centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall while perennial Mr Fix-it Braith Anasta shifts to five-eighth with Todd Carney assuming the No.7 in Pearce’s absence. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves comes off the bench to start at prop for Myles, Tom Symonds and Brad Takairangi (for Boyd Cordner) are the new second-rowers while Aiden Guerra fills in at lock for Frank-Paul Nuuausala who is serving a one-week suspension for unnecessary knee contact on Knight Junior Sa’u last week. Tinarau Arona is the new face on the bench.

Meanwhile Raiders coach David Furner has elevated Tom Learoyd-Lahrs to start at prop for the injured David Shillington with Trevor Thurling and Josh Miller named on an extended bench.

The Raiders have a massive venue hoodoo to overcome this week – they have been victorious at the SFS just twice in 21 games played over the past 17 seasons!

Watch Out Roosters: A lack of attitude is killing the Roosters. After last week’s 18-10 loss skipper Braith Anasta accused his team-mates of failing to “put in” and it’s hard to argue against that. They completely dropped their heads against the Knights, missing a coach-killing 50 tackles – 18 more than their season average.

The tricolours register 13.6 errors a match – only the Titans make more. Last week they tallied 17 as they struggled to complete just 22 of 36 sets (61 per cent).

Penalties are also a worry – they’ve conceded 92, the fourth most by any side.

Meanwhile the Raiders may have lost prop Shillington but their other engine room enforcers Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Dane Tilse and Brett White salvaged the pack some much-needed pride last week, pounding out 147 metres, 118 metres and 117 metres respectively. The Canberra pack has under-performed all year but this performance showed they still have the desire to help the side push back to finals contention. A repeat effort here and the Roosters will struggle to hold the opposition out.

Danger Sign: If Canberra’s ‘big boppers’ charge hard and straight in the opening 15 minutes you’ll know they’ve got a game plan to wear down the Roosters through the centre of the ruck.

Watch Out Raiders: The Roosters will be hoping Shaun Kenny-Dowall can hit the ground running after two weeks on the sideline with a knee injury. SKD is their most valuable attacking option and he gives the Roosters menace down the right edge, where the Raiders are vulnerable (see Where It Will Be Won).

Winger Sam Perrett was impressive in his return from injury last week, with 17 runs for 140 metres and adding a team-high five tackle-breaks. The Roosters have really missed his go-forward from dummy-half and he can really lift the side here.

On the left side of the field, fellow winger BJ Leilua has proven forceful, tallying 10 line-breaks (sixth most in the comp). He’ll test out the right-side defenders Joel Thompson (27 misses for the year) and Reece Robinson.  

Aside from that, with Anthony Minichiello, Nate Myles and Mitchell Pearce missing it’s unlikely the Roosters will ask too many questions of the Raiders.

Danger Sign: If Perrett can get into dummy-half often and run at the Raiders before they’ve had time to reset their defensive line he can either burst through or else leave the refs with no alternative but to penalise the visitors for not getting back 10 metres. On the body of evidence they’ve shown recently, momentum from plays like this is the Roosters’ only chance.

Plays To Watch: Carney linking with SKD down the right edge; Anasta firing cut-out face balls for Leilua; Sam Williams and Josh McCrone backing themselves and taking on the slow-to-react Roosters forwards at the line; The Green Machine’s prop rotation ripping in.

Where It Will Be Won: Making inroads. This clash throws together the two least penetrative sides in the competition (Roosters 1255 metres average gain, Raiders 1243) so whichever unit can find a way to bust the opposition line, or grind out more territory, should hold all the aces.  

There’s not a lot between them in the major attacking stats categories either. The Raiders make 3.5 line-breaks a game to the Roosters’ 3.4; the Roosters average 11 offloads to the Raiders’ 10.5; and the Raiders average 33 tackle busts to the Roosters’ 32.

If it comes down to missed tackles, incredibly the Roosters hold the advantage, missing four tackles less than the Raiders each game (32 to 36). That is, unless they give up the ghost like last week.

The pivotal area on the field will be the right fringe – it’s a real weakness for both sides. The Raiders have surrendered 23 tries here in 2011, while the Roosters have leaked 20.

The History: Played 50; Roosters 28, Raiders 22. The Roosters have won 15 of the past 20 games, including the past two. The Roosters hold a dominant 13-3 record at the SFS. Conclusion: Only the Roosters’ dominant record against the Raiders, in particular at home, prevents us from suggesting you put your house on the visitors. But the Green Machine have really found a few gears over the past month. After recording the worst figures in their history for metres gained and line-breaks during the opening three months of the season they’ve incredibly turned it all around – so much so they’ve tallied the best record in the NRL over the past month, marching out 1489 metres a game and 6.3 line busts.

On the strength of that trend we’ll stay in the Raiders’ camp rather than ponder what side of the bed the Roosters will get out of come Monday morning. Raiders by eight points.  

Match Officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Henry Perenara; Touch Judges – Adam Reid & Gavin Morris; Video Ref – Chris Ward.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.