Sydney Roosters v Wests Tigers
With most players rested and refreshed after a week off for Representative Round – and the remainder needing to pick themselves up quick smart after the adrenaline of a thrilling win or the letdown of an agonising loss – the regular NRL battles resume.
And Round 9 kicks off with a belter of a Sydney derby at Allianz Stadium where a Roosters side that has looked pretty good for most of the year amazingly comes in on the back of four straight losses with an unexpected 12th-place ladder ranking.
The visitors are surprise packets Wests Tigers, up in fifth having bounced back from two worrying losses with a strong win over the Bulldogs in Round 8.
It's a measure both of how close the competition is and how different our pre-season expectations were of these two sides that the Tigers are going "surprisingly well" and the Roosters are in strife, yet the seven ladder places between them are made up of just two competition points. With a win here – of any margin – the Roosters will jump ahead of the Tigers on the ladder.
The Roosters welcome back Aidan Guerra and Mitchell Aubusson, with Willie Manu and Lagi Setu dropping out.
The Tigers have moved Chris Lawrence to the centres for the injured Tim Simona, while Keith Galloway is back at prop shifting Sauaso Sue to the bench and Jack Buchanan out of the side.
Watch out Roosters: The brilliant but previously injury-prone James Tedesco has added much-needed consistency to his game this year and has been one of the form players right across the NRL. He is the competition's new tackle-busting specialist, having broken 43 tackles in eight games – well clear of second-placed Dane Gagai (36). Tedesco's combination with young halfback Luke Brooks is flourishing and the platform being laid by a pretty impressive forward pack is giving him plenty of room to move.
Watch out Wests Tigers: The Roosters are a far better side than their 3-5 record and 12th place on the ladder indicate. They just have to click sooner rather than later. Their sizeable Kiwi contingent –Sam Moa, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Shaun Kenny-Dowall – will be pumped after a big win over the Kangaroos, but it's the halves who look to pose the biggest threat. Origin hopefuls James Maloney and Mitch Pearce have every reason to put in a big showing here; Pearce is surging towards and Origin recall and Maloney is coming off arguably his best game of the year after three try assists in Country's win over City.
Key Match-Up: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck v James Tedesco. In terms of speed, footwork, evasiveness, support play and scintillating broken play running it doesn't get much more exciting than these two. The Roosters halves will need to do their best to keep the ball away from Tedesco to limit his effectiveness on kick returns while the Tigers forwards will need to muscle up to stop the Tricolours pack laying Tuivasa-Sheck a golden platform. Tedesco, as mentioned, leads the league for tackle breaks while his opposite is running for a staggering 235 metres per game – easily the best in the competition in any position.
The History: Played 25, Roosters 17, Tigers 8. The merged club has bested the Tricolours just once in the past 10 meetings. They have also sung the team song on just one of their past 10 visits to Allianz; only three of those were against the Roosters, the others were to Souths (twice), Canterbury, Cronulla, Brisbane and the Warriors.
What Are The Odds: Roosters $1.33 v Tigers $3.10. The Tigers have firmed from Sportsbet's opening quote of $3.30 on the back of an incredible seven times the money being placed on them by punters in head-to-head betting. The Tigers have been very well backed at the line as well. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Jared Maxwell & Chris James; Touch Judges: Jeff Younis & Brett Suttor; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy & Luke Patton.
Televised: Channel Nine, Live, 7.30pm (NSW); Delayed, 9.30pm (QLD).
The Way We See It: The Roosters have to come good at some point – is this the week? We don't think the Tigers deserve to be the significant outsiders the bookies have them as, but having said that we can't quite see the Roosters going five games without a win. The home side by four.