Sydney Roosters v Warriors
Saturday 7.30pm AEST
The Warriors fly across the Tasman this weekend for what promises to be one of the more entertaining games of Round 5 – a trait that is fairly typical of the Kiwi club these days.
Fresh from a 26-6 demolition of the Gold Coast last weekend, the Warriors are gradually building towards the season most pundits are expecting them to have and another win over the Roosters would have them right on track to repeat their heroics of 2011.
While they currently sit 2-2 after four rounds, it has been an encouraging start to the new year with their two losses coming in a scintillating game against Manly in Round 1 and another thrilling afternoon against Canterbury a fortnight later.
Most pleasing has been the form of young halfback Shaun Johnson. It is all too common when emerging players attract the level of hype that Johnson has for them to underwhelm, but the 21-year-old has made every post a winner so far this year. Similarly, his halves partner James Maloney’s reputation only continues to grow after a series of mature performances in 2012 and he will be keen to impress Roosters coach Brian Smith this week ahead of his move to Bondi next season.
No doubt Smith would like to have Maloney already in his stable following last Sunday’s 44-4 capitulation against Melbourne. The Roosters have proved to be somewhat enigmatic this season with their remarkable come-from-behind win against South Sydney in Round 1 and gritty defeat of Canberra two weeks ago mixed in with an 18-0 loss to Penrith and that disastrous effort against the Storm.
The big issue will be what impact last week’s loss will have on their confidence and whether they can stop this free-scoring Warriors side from running riot as well. Despite scoring two wins in 2012, the Roosters’ attack has sputtered along somewhat this season and they could struggle to compete if this becomes a high-scoring contest.
Enforcer Mose Masoe returns on the bench for the Roosters, with Brad Takairangi dropping out.
Feleti Mateo has earned a promotion to the starting side in the second row with Lewis Brown moving back to a six-man bench that includes Glen Fisiiahi and the returning Sam Rapira.
Whatever the result, this weekend’s clash will see the Roosters reach a milestone of sorts: a loss would see them become the fourth club to record 900 losses (from 2025 games) while a win would be the 300th of Brian Smith’s coaching career. Only two other men – Wayne Bennett and Tim Sheens – have achieved this feat.
Footnote: Since veteran Smith made his debut as a first grade coach back in 1984, a total of 96 other coaches have been appointed to 144 positions across the premiership.
Watch Out Warriors: The Warriors built a reputation last season as the offload kings but it is the Roosters that have taken that crown so far in 2012 with an NRL-high 55 offloads from their four games so far. While they have only scored seven tries this year, two of them have come on the back of offloads, as well as five of their 14 line-breaks. The Warriors will want to keep an eye on back-rower Frank-Paul Nuuausala who leads the way with 10 offloads while Mitchell Pearce (9) and Joseph Leilua (6) have also been prolific.
Danger Sign: The Warriors have missed more tackles than any other side so far this season with 164 and also boast the worst effective tackle percentage (83.5 per cent) in the premiership, failing to wrap up the ball on 77 other occasions. Not surprisingly, halves Shaun Johnson (21) and James Maloney (26) have missed 47 tackles between them while Nathan Friend has been the biggest culprit in the forwards with 17.
Watch Out Roosters: The Warriors heavily favour their left side when it comes to running try-scoring plays, with Manu Vatuvei a favourite target. In fact, of the 18 tries they have scored in 2012, 10 have come on the left edge compared with just four on the right. Vatuvei has scored a team-high three tries and added 19 tackle-breaks so far this season. Also, the Warriors have scored more tries from beyond 50 metres than any other side with three.
Danger Sign: The Roosters have been seriously let down by their kicking game in 2012, ranking last for total kick metres over the opening rounds with just 1728 at just 432 per game. By comparison, Canberra has averaged 666 metres per game with the boot. Mitchell Pearce has averaged 268 metres as the Roosters’ main kicker which is well below the NRL’s top man Jarrod Mullen (484).
Mitchell Pearce v Shaun Johnson: The NSW State of Origin halfback takes on the hottest young talent in the game in a fascinating duel. Pearce is the steady playmaker with a strong passing game and a level head while Johnson is all speed and brilliant footwork. Pearce will direct his side astutely, Johnson will provide the moments of brilliance. The battle promises plenty.
Where It Will Be Won: Defence will play a huge role. The Warriors may know how to cross the stripe but they have struggled to stop the opposition doing the same this season. Conversely, the Roosters haven’t found it easy to score points in 2012 but could change all that should the Warriors continue to miss tackles. This one is all about holding firm.
The History: Played 28; Warriors 16, Roosters 11, drawn 1. Neither side has dominated to any great extent of late; however these two clubs will always share some history following their memorable clash in the 2002 grand final. The Roosters’ last premiership win was also the Warriors’ maiden grand final appearance.
The Last Time They Met: The Roosters ran out narrow 13-6 winners in Round 13 last year after a rock-solid second-half defensive performance.
Leading 12-0 at the break following two quick-fire tries in the final five minutes of the half to Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Aiden Guerra, the home side then gifted the Warriors a try of their own in the 44th minute when BJ Leilua failed to ground a grubber and Simon Mannering dived on the scraps to score.
In a bizarre moment, Leilua then picked up the ball and raced 100 metres to ‘score’ at the other end. When the whole play was sent upstairs and the word ‘Try’ appeared on the big screen, Roosters fans cheered in the belief that it was Leilua that had scored. In fact, video referee Pat Reynolds had awarded the try to Mannering and the Warriors trailed by only six points.
However, they couldn’t crack the Roosters’ brick wall defence despite numerous opportunities and Todd Carney sealed the deal with a field-goal in the 78th minute.
Rival fullbacks Anthony Minichiello and Kevin Locke enjoyed strong games. Minichiello made 154 metres, five tackle-breaks, a line-break and a try assist while Locke ran for 157 metres and made four tackle-breaks.
Match Officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – Adam Reid & Nick Beashel; Video Referee – Paul Mellor.
The Way We See It: It’s hard to know exactly what to make of the Roosters at this stage. At times they have been resolute, showing that they won’t go down without a fight, yet they leaked points like a sieve against Melbourne in their last outing. Not that they’re alone there. Whatever the case, they will need to be at their very best to beat a Warriors side that is looking dangerous. On the evidence provided thus far, the Warriors should get the competition points here. Warriors by six.
Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Delayed 9.30pm AEST.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.