Roosters v Warriors
This may be third v thirteenth but Sunday’s clash, which provides 11 Kiwi internationals, three Aussie reps and four Origin players in action, presents a real challenge for the Roosters.
And Warriors coach Matthew Elliott is obviously treating it that way. The man who has travelled many miles including a stint at the Roosters under Brian Smith last year, said after his side’s third straight victory, against Manly: “It really makes next week's game the most important one of the season. We've got a bye after that and I really feel we’re on the verge of gaining some momentum.” His side is boosted by the return of Kevin Locke and Russell Packer.
Traditionally, the Warriors lift when they take on the tri-colours, and that’s why they have won 17 of 31 clashes. And Allianz holds no fear; they have won six of 14 there (one draw) although only two victories have come from their past six visits and their big win against the Broncos in Brisbane in Round 12 broke a nine-game away losing streak.
When the Warriors get on a roll they do have the knack of turning three successive wins into four – they had a five-match and four-match run in their grand final year of 2011, a four-win run in 2010 and two four-victory efforts in 2009. Their trouble is that their losing streaks are probably more compelling.
The Roosters have been a mark of consistency. They have used less players, 22, than any other side which shows their stability and good run with injuries, with only the suspended Jared Waerea-Hargreaves missing from their top line-up. And their defensive record of conceding just 12 points a match is a club best for 33 years.
The hit-and-miss Warriors have been inconsistent until the past month, dreadful at times (they have made the most errors – 57 – on the first three tackles than any other side) and a side that drives punters crazy. However, their record against the runaway top three of South Sydney, Melbourne and the Roosters is as good as any in 2013. They lost to the Roosters 16-14 in Round 2, to Souths 24-22 in Round 5, to the Storm 28-18 away in Round 7, and then beat fourth-placed Manly last weekend.
The fascinating match-ups are plenty: Sonny Bill Williams versus in-form ball-player Feleti Mateo; Kiwi Test half Shaun Johnson versus Blues No. 7 Mitchell Pearce, in-form veteran Anthony Minichiello veteran slick but enigmatic Kevin Locke and emerging locks Boyd Cordner versus Elijah Taylor.
Watch Out Roosters: Feliti Mateo is the Warrior who can produce anything on the back of some go-forward and he has a chip-and-regather in his repertoire now (which led to a James Leuluai try against Brisbane) as well as the one-handed offload.
Watch Out Warriors: Sonny Bill Williams, a right-edge attacker while Mateo attacks the left, will be fired up to perform against his countrymen. It will be interesting to see how physical the Warriors get in an effort to subdue SBW.
Plays To Watch: Opponents are finding success with decoy plays aimed at the Warriors’ right-edge defence, around Shaun Johnson and Konrad Hurrell (although they have had changes at left centre over the past few weeks); Manly scored three tries there last round. Both can be hesitant in making decisions and James Maloney and Michael Jennings could have a field day.
Key Match-Up: Obviously SBW v Mateo but the clash of wingers from Auckland, Manu ‘The Beast’ Vatuvei in his 161st NRL appearance and extremely talented Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, in his 19th, could be decisive – especially if James Maloney pumps some high balls to Vatuvei’s corner.
Where It Will Be Won: It will all come down to the Warriors’ ball control and patience. If they go back to their old ways and cough up possession, the Roosters are a slick, assured sort of outfit that would punish them deluxe. The vulnerable Warriors’ right edge must keep Maloney and Jennings in check.
The History: Played 31; Warriors 17, Roosters 13, drawn 1.
Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Chris James; Sideline officials – Jeff Younis & Grant Atkins; Video referees – Jason Robinson & Justin Morgan.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week including the Roosters v Warriors clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Fox Sports – live 6.30pm.
The Way We See It: The Warriors’ winning run will come to an end but it won’t be a Roosters runaway. They have the size, power and finesse to nullify the Warriors’ flamboyant style that can take the over-structured teams by surprise. Jennings to score multiple tries. Roosters by 10 points.
* Statistics: NRL Stats