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Two old rivals go head to head this Saturday night in their final game before the State of Origin series takes hold. This looms as a huge clash for both sides – albeit for slightly different reasons.

The Roosters scored an emphatic victory over Newcastle last Sunday to join a group of six teams locked on 10 competition points and remain right in the thick of the top eight mix. A win over the Warriors this weekend would not only cement that standing but, more importantly, give them vital breathing space as they prepare to go without halfback Mitchell Pearce and possibly fullback Anthony Minichiello in the coming weeks (depending on Origin selections).

The Warriors are far less likely to be hit by the representative season, with Queensland-born prop Jacob Lillyman most likely their only absentee (James Maloney remains an outside chance for NSW), however they must view the coming month or two as a huge opportunity to make their move.

Still sitting two points outside the top eight following a topsy-turvy start to the season, they can’t afford to fall further back with a loss to the Roosters. However, they are gradually finding their feet and scored their biggest win of the season in ending Brisbane’s six-match unbeaten run last Saturday night.
This isn’t the first time these two sides have met in 2012. Six weeks ago the Warriors made the trek across to Sydney’s Allianz Stadium facing a similar scenario and came away empty-handed as the Roosters produced one of their most complete performances of the year to score a 26-8 victory.

The Roosters dominated up front that night and the hosts will need to show much greater resolve through the middle if they hope to reverse that result.

However, the Warriors have always been a far tougher prospect at home and with their confidence growing they will no doubt be keen to impress a big Mt Smart Stadium crowd.
The Warriors have lost hooker Nathan Friend to a broken jaw suffered in last week’s win over Brisbane – his place taken by Alehana Mara who is playing his first NRL game since the final regular season match of 2011. 

Roosters coach Brian Smith has named the same line-up that downed Newcastle last Sunday, with Jack Bosden added as 18th man.

Jacob Lillyman will be keen for another big performance for the home side after running for 113 metres and scoring a try in just 30 minutes of game time against Brisbane. It was his fifth consecutive win at Mt Smart Stadium and his record against the Roosters is good too with four wins from six clashes.

On the other side of the ledger, Roosters enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves will take plenty of stopping, having increased his playing time (48.1 minutes per game), average runs (11.7) and average tackles (27.6) this season.

Watch Out Warriors: The Sam Perrett factor is a significant one for the Roosters and it is vital that the home side is awake to the dangers he presents. One of the busiest players in the NRL, Perrett is renowned for his dummy-half scoots.

In fact, when you take the starting No.9s out of each side’s respective line-ups, Perrett’s 47 dummy-half scoots in 2012 sees him sit third in the NRL behind only Justin Hodges and Beau Ryan. All up this season Perrett has made 1155 metres at 128 per game and contributed 47 tackle-breaks with the ball in hand. He will test the tiring Warriors forwards.

Danger Sign: Will the Roosters do a Warriors on the Warriors? Last year it was the Kiwi club that ran opponents ragged with relentless second-phase play but the tables have turned in 2012 with the Roosters producing 128 offloads over the opening nine rounds – second only to Cronulla. The Warriors, by comparison, rank 12th with just 83 offloads.

Similarly, the Roosters have conceded just 81 offloads while the Warriors have conceded 100. The home side will need to up their effective tackle rate to limit the Roosters’ attacking opportunities.

Watch Out Roosters: It is no secret that Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson presents a clear and present danger to whichever side he faces, but it is out wide that the Roosters must be particularly aware whenever he receives the football.

Johnson’s combination of sheer speed and skill make him a real handful – as he displayed last Saturday when he left Justin Hodges stranded with a burst of pace to set up his side’s opening try. Notably, the Warriors have scored a whopping 34 tries out wide so far in 2012… and just four up the middle.

Danger Sign: The Warriors would be well advised to utilise the cross-field kick this weekend with wingers Manu Vatuvei and Bill Tupou among the top target men in the NRL. More importantly, the Roosters have struggled to defend these kicks in 2012 with just five of 13 cross-field bombs defused at 38 per cent. Only the Gold Coast rank worse this season.

James Maloney v Braith Anasta: An intriguing battle of the playmakers – not least because Warriors five-eighth Maloney is set to replace Anasta at the Roosters next season. It is also very much a case of the old guard in former NSW representative Anasta tacking on the new guard, with Maloney one of a number of players touted as potential Blues either this year or in the not too distant future. The pair will have a significant say in the fortunes of their respective sides this weekend.

Where It Will Be Won: The Roosters forwards dominated when they met in Round 5, running for 1560 metres to 1080, making 174 hit-ups to 135 and forcing the Warriors to make 60 tackles more. A similar performance this week would no doubt produce a similar result, so it is vital that the Warriors’ big men step up and lay a platform for their dynamic little men to come into the game.

The History: Played 29; Warriors 16, Roosters 12, drawn 1. This rivalry dates back to the 2002 grand final – a game won comfortably by the Roosters but sparked to life following Richard Villasanti’s ‘headbutt’ tackle on Roosters captain Brad Fittler. The Warriors edge the all-time record and boast nine wins to four losses on home soil. The Roosters have won their past two meetings but the Warriors had dominated with five wins in a row before that.

The Last Time They Met: The Roosters scored an impressive 26-8 win over last year’s grand finalists in their Round 5 meeting.

With both sides still finding their feet in 2012 it was the Roosters that settled into the task with Shaun Kenny-Dowall scoring an easy try after just four minutes following from clever lead-up work by Mitchell Pearce and Anthony Minichiello.

The Warriors’ defence was found wanting again 17 minutes later when Mitch Aubusson brushed aside a woeful attempted tackle from Shaun Johnson to race over and score and it was 16-0 within the half-hour when Brad Takairangi’s speculative grubber sat up perfectly for Anthony Mitchell.

The Warriors finally got themselves on the scoreboard with seven minutes remaining in the opening half, with Jerome Ropati finishing off a backline move on the left edge to make it 16-4 at the break.

The Warriors briefly threatened a comeback in the second half with fullback Glen Fisi’iahi – standing in for the injured Kevin Locke – scored a scintillating try off a Johnson short ball, but they couldn’t conjure any further points and the issue was put to bed in the dying seconds as the Roosters kicked ahead twice for Minichiello to score.

Minichiello was superb for the Roosters, running for 180 metres to go with his late four-pointer, while prop Martin Kennedy laid a superb platform with 193 metres up front.
Elijah Taylor and Nathan Friend both made 41 tackles for the visitors but, tellingly, not a single Warriors forward topped 100 metres. 

Match Officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Henry Perenara; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Adam Reid; Video Referee – Bernard Sutton. 

The Way We See It: The Roosters have shown great fight at times this year and can never be underestimated, but this Warriors outfit have found some form over the past three weeks and are a much better side when playing at home. With their star-studded backline hitting their straps, we think the Roosters will have their work cut out for them. Warriors by eight points.

Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 5.30pm AEST.

*Statistics: NRL Stats

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