Sydney Roosters v Brisbane Broncos
The up-and-down Roosters get the chance to shake off their three-game losing streak up against the Origin-depleted Broncos – although they can’t expect their home ground advantage to do them any favours. Incredibly, Brisbane boast a better record at Moore Park than they do at Suncorp Stadium, winning a whopping 68 per cent of matches at Roosters HQ!
A hat-trick of losses to the Warriors, Sea Eagles and Bulldogs have seen the tricolours plummet to 12th on the ladder at the midpoint of the season. They are the lowest-ranked of three teams on 12 competition points, with the third-worst points differential in the league (178). Still, they are just one win outside the top eight.
Meanwhile the Broncos sit in outright second place, although they too have had their troubles over the past month, with a succession of defeats to the Warriors, Sea Eagles and Storm cushioned only slightly by an unconvincing (despite the scoreline) 50-24 win over the Newcastle at home last Sunday.
Roosters coach Brian Smith spent last weekend’s bye round plotting how to get his charges back into attacking form – the downer for them in 2012 is they are averaging the fewest tries in 23 years (just 2.75 per game). And adding to the challenge this week is they’ll be without chief playmaker Mitchell Pearce to New South Wales Origin duty.
On the other hand, the Roosters will never get a better chance to take down the Broncos, who are missing five key players – captain Sam Thaiday, Petero Civoniceva, Ben Hannant, Matt Gillett and Justin Hodges – to the Maroons. Indeed this is Brisbane’s toughest challenge yet, given they rested up with a bye in the lead-up to the first game of this year’s Origin series, and have yet to discover how quickly this makeshift unit can gel.
In Roosters team changes, Brian Smith has promoted Adam Henry from NSW Cup feeder team the Jets to make his first grade debut on the wing for Peni Tagive, while BJ Leilua rejoins the squad after a week in NSW Cup, displacing Brad Takairangi who hits an interchange bench that numbers 20 at this stage. Daniel Mortimer fills in at halfback for Mitchell Pearce, as he did in Round 11. Tinirau Arona and Justin Carney are new faces on the pine.
Meanwhile it’s somewhat of an historic week for the Broncos, with Lachlan Maranta – the grandson of inaugural 1988 Brisbane chairman Barry Maranta – making his first grade debut on the wing, with regular flanker Gerard Beale shifting to the centres to fill in for Justin Hodges. Other changes include Josh McGuire and Scott Anderson suiting up at prop for Hannant and Civoniceva, with Ben Te’o substituting for Thaiday in the second row. Nick Slyney and Dunamis Lui join their interchange.
Watch Out Roosters: Gerard Beale will give Tautau Moga a torrid time on the right side of the field. Beale has crossed for seven tries and seven line-breaks and will be keen to continue his hot form from last week when he gained a whopping 177 metres for his side – his fifth-biggest career contribution.
Brian Smith will have briefed his players about showing steel in the early stages and urged the Roosters maintain intensity even when they get on the scoreboard. Last week the Broncos crossed for four tries in the opening and closing 20 minutes against the Knights, highlighting their ability to turn the switch when they need to.
Poor goal-kicking may have cost the Broncos the win against the Sea Eagles in Round 10 but Corey Parker has turned things around recently and the Roosters won’t be handed any advantage if the game is close. Parker booted eight from eight last weekend.
Danger Sign: Peter Wallace will target the flanks with plenty of cross-field bombs: the Broncos rely on these attacking kicks more than any other side, with 41 booted so far. They’ll be confident of good results given the Roosters are the worst in the comp at defusing cross-field bombs, successfully fielding just 37 per cent punted their way.
Watch Out Broncos: While the Broncos were punishing in the opening and closing quarters last week coach Anthony Griffin would be livid at the way they drifted out of the contest in the middle stages. The Roosters won’t be gifted the same opportunity here.
Braith Anasta and Mitchell Pearce need to step up and try to exploit the fact the Broncos are missing five superstars. Anasta may run the ball more than his average five runs a game – he has scored five tries in 16 appearances against the Broncos, behind only Brad Fittler (nine) for the most by any No.6 in history. Mortimer has a good strike this year too, with two tries in five outings.
The Broncos make the second-most ‘flop’ tackles in the league, which help to slow down the speed of the play-the-ball. But they may struggle to achieve that here without key contributors Thaiday, Hannant and Civoniceva. This could see the Roosters play up-tempo in attack, with the Broncos in danger of testing the refs’ patience if they linger too long in the tackle.
Danger Sign: The Roosters may kick for the goal posts or send runners hurtling at the sticks when in close range – the home side have scored more tries in centre-field than all other sides (13) while the Broncos have leaked a quite-high 11 to date.
Anthony Minichiello v Josh Hoffman: Two fast and furious, pinball-like runners of the football whose forays will ensure their sides retain full enthusiasm for the battle. Minichiello ranks second for runs this year (with 225) and is averaging 151 metres a game, while Hoffman ranks fourth for runs (210) and averages 161 metres each outing.
Where It Will Be Won: Attacking the short left side. This clash brings together two teams that love to challenge the opposition on the short left edge, with the Roosters hitting the corridor with the second-highest frequency to date (93), closely followed by the Broncos with 90. Both Dale Copley and Sam Perrett are likely to get their names on the scoreboard.
The History: Played 35; Broncos 22, Roosters 13. Brisbane have dominated in recent times, winning six of the past eight clashes. Allianz Stadium will hold no qualms either – they’ve won 13 of 19 games played at Roosters HQ! However, the Roosters won the last clash at Allianz, 25-6 in 2010.
The Last Time They Met: The Broncos defeated the Roosters 24-6 at a wet Bluetongue Stadium in Round 6 last year.
Both sides found the going tough early on in the heavy conditions, with the only points in the opening half hour a penalty goal to Corey Parker for a modest 2-nil lead to the visitors. However, back-to-back tries to the Broncos inside the final 10 minutes of the first half saw them head to the sheds with a commanding 12-nil lead: first Jharal Yow-Yeh crossed out wide on the right side of the field before Dale Copley stepped inside the Roosters’ cover defence to score his first try of the evening in the left corner on the stroke of halftime.
Two more unanswered tries in the opening 20 minutes of the second half, to Copley and Ben Hannant – both from grubber kicks and Roosters mistakes in the greasy conditions – saw Brisbane extend their lead to 24-nil.
The Roosters rallied soon after, with BJ Leilua finishing off a right-side sweep to post their first (and only) points with 11 minutes remaining.
Completions let the Roosters down – they got through just 21 of 34 sets (62 per cent). By comparison the Broncos completed 31 of their 40 sets (78 per cent) which helped them grind out 397 metres more than their opponents.
Justin Hodges was devastating for the Broncos, making 19 runs and 154 metres with two offloads, while the Roosters were well-served by prop Martin Kennedy (11 hit-ups, 113 metres and 34 tackles) and hooker Jake Friend (45 tackles).
Match Officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Adam Devcich; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Steve Carrall; Video Referee – Bernard Sutton.
The Way We See It: An intriguing match-up that could go either way. While the Roosters will get their chance we get the feeling from talking to the Broncos camp that Anthony Griffin is in no mood for another substandard defensive effort. We’ll tip the Broncos by seven points.
Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed 4pm.
• Statistics: NRL Stats