Wests Tigers players say they will need to watch out for a pair of Roosters playmakers looking to play themselves into NSW State of Origin jerseys when the two clubs collide at Allianz Stadium on Friday night.
Just two competition points separates the fifth-placed Tigers and 12th-placed Roosters and Tigers players know their opponents will be focused and desperate to get their club back in the winner's circle after four straight losses.
But following a weekend of representative footy in which Roosters pivot James Maloney easily outpointed Blues incumbent Josh Reynolds, who is set to miss at least one game after being charged for tripping, Tigers players know their opposing halves have something extra to play for.
The Blues halves spots are the most hotly-debated topic ahead of the interstate rivalry resuming in a month's time. Neither Reynolds nor Bulldogs teammate and fellow Blues incumbent Trent Hodkinson have been in stellar form, but then again Maloney and club halves partner Mitchell Pearce haven't quite hit the highs of previous years thus far either.
The best of the Blues halves options on form in the early rounds, Adam Reynolds, is out of contention with a knee injury.
Maloney's three try assists and man-of-the-match showing for country, in which he shook off a slightly dusty start to control proceedings expertly alongside rookie half Jack Bird, is exactly the sort of performance he needed and it has this weekend's opponents on notice.
"They're going to be keen to stake their claim for the State of Origin team," Tigers halfback Luke Brooks told NRL.com.
"They're coming into form at the right time of year [in terms of] their personal games.
"Maloney, he was man of the match in City Country, he's playing well and I think it will be good for them with their combinations. If they can keep playing well you never know they might get picked [for NSW]."
Brooks's teammate, second rower Dene Halatau, has no doubt club footy will be the Roosters pair's focus, but the extra carrot of a possible Origin jersey may help them find another level.
"Their halves are trying to play themselves into [Origin] – no-one really knows what's going to happen with the Origin halves, so they're going to give themselves every chance to be there," he said.
"I know they'll be focused on club footy but that will give them a bit of extra motivation to be performing well."
A run of four straight losses should have the whole club fired up for Friday, he added.
"They're not sitting where they want to be sitting on the table but it doesn't change the fact that they have quality players and a very strong forward pack," Halatau said.
"Every time you play against them they play a very physical game, they roll forward and control the ruck very well so I don't expect anything different."