Schick Hydro Preview: Bulldogs v Roosters
A shock loss to the Gold Coast Titans on Monday night means the Roosters need to win at least 10 of their 14 remaining fixtures if they want to make the finals in 2016.
With two games against the red-hot Broncos, Sharks and Storm still to come, Sunday's clash against the Bulldogs – who they will meet again in Round 17 – shapes as a must-win proposition.
The Bulldogs stretched their streak of trading wins for losses to nine games with a 36-4 victory over the Wests Tigers at the weekend and they'll be hoping to end that pattern on Sunday afternoon.
These two sides have a storied history with the 2004 grand final standing out as the most memorable match-up of the modern era. Andrew Ryan's 80th minute tackle on Michael Crocker proved to be the match-winner as the Bulldogs held on for a famous 16-13 win that saw Brad Fittler bow out of the game.
To add to the rivalry, the Roosters have made a habit of luring Canterbury players to the eastern suburbs, with Braith Anasta, Willie Mason, Mark O'Meley, Nate Myles and of course Sonny Bill Williams all making the move in recent years.
Both sides have named unchanged line-ups for this one.
Watch out Bulldogs: Roosters skipper Jake Friend has quickly become the number one tackler in the game and is on track to obliterate some records. Friend has already made 565 tackles through the opening 10 rounds, passing 60 tackles on four occasions. To put his efforts in context, Brisbane's Andrew McCullough led the league with 1,296 tackles in 2015 from 27 games. If Friend continues at this pace he will finish on 1,356 tackles from just 24 appearances. So to sum it up, don't run at the Roosters No.9.
Watch out Roosters: While the Tricolours have poached a glut of former Bulldogs over the years, the blue and whites have one former Rooster in their ranks. Sam Perrett played 148 games for the Bondi boys but made the move to Belmore in 2012 where he has since played in two grand finals. The 31-year-old's move to fullback last week was a roaring success with Perrett crossing for a four-pointer, setting up three tries and running for a season-high 169 metres. The Roosters are the only NRL side he has not scored against.
Key match-up: James Graham v Dylan Napa. Experience meets youth in a colossal showdown between two of the game's finest front-row forwards. Graham has been a pillar of strength in 2016 leading the NRL in hit ups (170) and sitting second in metres made (1,719). He averages roughly 37 tackles and 170 metres a game and is churning out big minutes to lead arguably the best pack in the competition. Napa revelled in Jared Waerea-Hargreaves's absence, picking up the mantle as the Roosters' pack leader. The fiery forward has had a stellar season headlined by a Herculean 80-minute showing against Souths where he ran for 141 metres and bashed the Rabbitohs time and time again with 51 bruising tackles.
The history: Played 167; Bulldogs 78, Roosters 84, Drawn 5. The Roosters have won six of the past seven between the two sides, scoring 38 points in three of those victories. The Tricolours won all three meetings in 2015 with former fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck scoring in each encounter. Their last meeting was in week two of last year's final series where a Shaun Kenny-Dowall hat-trick inspired the Roosters to a 38-12 win at a cauldron-like Allianz Stadium.
What are the odds: 60 per cent of Sportsbet punters are backing the Bulldogs in head to head betting. The Roosters aren't friendless with plenty of money coming in for them at the line (+4.5). Curtis Rona is the only one punters want in the first try scorer market, while Sam Perrett is the punters' lock to score a try at any stage during the match. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Jared Maxwell. Assistant referee: Gavin Reynolds. Sideline officials: Jeff Younis and Chris Butler.
Televised: Channel 9 – Live coverage from 3:30pm. Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 4pm.
The way we see it: It's now or never for the Roosters who could finish the round in 16th spot on the ladder if results go against them. An impressive recent record against the Bulldogs plays into their favour, but it's hard to back them based on this season's form. Canterbury returned to their brutal best against the Tigers with their big men running rampant in conditions that will once again suit them this weekend. They won't have it all their way against the formidable Roosters pack, but they should be too strong and run away in the final 20 minutes. Bulldogs by 10.