Roosters v Raiders
We can't get much more diverse than the results recorded by these two teams last weekend. The Roosters continued their seemingly relentless march with a 42-6 win over the Panthers, which in the end took them to the top of the competition because the previously first-placed Rabbitohs lost to the Cowboys. The Raiders were blitzed 68-4 by the Storm. It was a nightmare – but unfortunately for the Raiders they didn't have the luxury of being able to wake from it.
The Roosters got their win on the road, and being the perfectionists they are they probably remember the game as much for being down 6-0 early as the fact they then scored 42 straight points. Given that they are the best defensive team in the competition, it was a relatively soft try for them to concede, and it certainly spurred them on. The win was their sixth straight. Overall, they have 15 wins and four losses, and a points differential of plus-273.
The Raiders were beaten at home, where they hadn't previously lost this season. They looked okay early on, but then they started making mistakes and the Storm started doing brilliant things and that combination soon saw the game start to get away from them. By halftime it was 32-4, and after halftime it just got worse, the Storm winning the second half 36-0. The Raiders had won three in a row before that, but only against mediocre opponents the Cowboys, Eels and Dragons.
The seventh-placed Raiders are in that crowded mid-section of the table, where a couple of losses in a row could see them quickly plummet. And, courtesy of that flogging from the Storm, they now have a disastrous differential of minus-104. The eighth-placed Knights are only one point behind them, and the ninth- and 10th-placed Titans and Warriors only two points.
The good news for the Raiders is that star centre Blake Ferguson returns for this game, after having been stood down for four weeks by the NRL as a disciplinary measure. They are going to need Ferguson's ability to make things happen out of nothing and use his strength to score when it looks like he is going to be denied.
The Roosters have switched Roger Tuivasa-Sheck from wing to fullback to replace the injured Anthony Minichiello. Shaun Kenny-Dowall moves from centre to wing and Mitch Aubusson from second row to centre. Aidan Guerra rises from the bench to second row and Dylan Napa is the new bench player.
The Raiders have switched Jack Wighton from centre to wing to make way for Ferguson, with Reece Robinson dropping to what is a six-man bench. Second-rower Joel Thompson and prop Dane Tilse rise from the bench to the starting side, with Joel Edwards and Brett White dropping to the bench. Bill Tupou is added to the bench.
Watch Out Roosters: The Roosters will be well aware of what they have to be ready for. The Raiders will have been embarrassed by what happened against the Storm and will presumably come out desperate to atone with a big performance in this game. We've already seen huge turnarounds in form from one round to the next in the NRL this season. The Roosters have got to be ready for an improved Raiders outfit.
Watch Out Raiders: Where do you start with the Roosters at the moment? The danger is spread around too much for you to try to limit it to one or two areas. Their halves are killing it; their forwards are creating a huge push and have skill on top of that; the wingers and centres named for this game have scored 31 tries between them this season; and they have been able to replace the injured Minichiello simply by switching their identified fullback of the future – Tuivasa-Sheck – from the wing for this game. They must be loving life at the moment, the Tricolours.
Plays To Watch: Anything Roosters halves James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce do when they get a bit of space. The short balls to straight runners. The bullet-like long balls that put support players on the outside of defenders. The angled runs and short balls back inside. They are each on top of their game.
Meanwhile the Raiders will try to get Ferguson heavily involved in his first game back. He's a powerhouse when he runs the ball, but he's also pretty close to the best in the NRL when it comes to bringing the ball down off kicks for tries. The Raiders will probably have to create a couple of tries that way if they are to win, knowing how hard it is to run through the Roosters to score.
Key Match-Up: Two players who are new to playing fullback at this level will have a big influence on how this game goes. Tuivasa-Sheck has certainly run for a lot of metres on the wing for the Roosters. In his 18 games this season he has clocked up more than 100 metres 14 times, including more than 150 six times, and over 200 once. Anthony Milford has been at fullback for four games for the Raiders now, registering totals of 162, 172, 135 and 120 metres. They both know how to step and/or speed their way into the clear, and they both know how to score tries. It's going to be fun watching them.
Where It Will Be Won: We're dealing with two heavy-duty forward packs here. The Roosters may again be without the suspended Sonny Bill Williams, but they still boast hard men Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Luke O'Donnell and Frank-Paul Nuuausala, plus fabulous edge runner Boyd Cordner. The Raiders will look to Shillington, Dane Tilse, tackle-buster Josh Papalii and, coming off the bench, Brett White to carry the load up front. There is dynamite in both sets of backs, so if one pack can establish a genuine advantage over the other it could be the road to victory.
The History: Played 54; Roosters 29, Raiders 25. The past 10 clashes have been split, five apiece. The Raiders have won the past two, and three of the past four, but the Roosters have won three of the past four at this venue.
Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Alan Shortall; Sideline officials – Ricky MacFarlane & Dan Eastwood; Video referees – Ashley Klein & Reece Williams.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week, including the Roosters v Raiders clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live, 5.30pm.
The Way We See It: It really is a danger game for a team when their opponents are coming off a massive loss. You want proof? After losing 62-6 to the Panthers in Round 10, the Warriors won their next five games to breathe life into what was almost a corpse of a season for them at that stage. The Raiders are capable of bouncing back dramatically, particularly with Ferguson returning to their side. Taking all of the form into consideration, the Roosters should win, but they do need to be on their guard. Roosters by 12 points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats.