The Roosters started the season with lofty expectations placed upon them after snaring Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco. The next month will decide whether their season will be viewed as a success or a failure.
Cronk and Tedesco have enjoyed strong seasons from personal viewpoints, but it is the final finishing position of their team that will leave the strongest legacy.
The Roosters will need Cronk – who looks sprightly following an Origin-free year – to pull the strings if they are to claim the Telstra Premiership.
They steamrolled the Eels to secure the minor premiership last weekend, but they will run into a far tougher proposition when they host the Cronulla Sharks.
The Sharks have a bunch of hard-nosed players who don’t shy away from the tough stuff. Paul Gallen, Andrew Fifita, Wade Graham, Matt Prior and Luke Lewis provide a great platform for semi-final football.
Match: Roosters v Sharks
Finals Week 1 -
Venue: Allianz Stadium
Key match-up: Andrew Fifita v Jared Waerea-Hagreaves. With Dylan Napa still missing through suspension, Waerea-Hargreaves looms as the key man for the Tricolours. If JWH can get the upper hand over Fifita, the rest of the Roosters’ pack will happily follow his lead.
For the Roosters to win: The much-vaunted Roostersdefence needs to stand up once again. They conceded an average of just 15 points a game during the regular season. The composure they show when defending their own line must warm the heart of coach Trent Robinson.
Roosters v Sharks - Qualifying Final
For the Sharks to win: Cronulla are at their best when they turn matches into knock-em-down, drag-em-out affairs. Gallen, Fifita and compnay love a scrap and that’s what finals matches often turn into. Livewire fullback Valentine Holmes will be hoping to turn the hard work of his forwards into points.
Roosters Stat Attack: Errors have proven the Achilles heel of the Roosters all season. They made more than any other team in the NRL yet still finished as minor premiers. They need to tighten up in this area if they are to reach their potential over the next month.
Sharks Stat Attack: After beating the Bulldogs on Sunday, the Sharks have averaged 16 wins a year of the past three seasons. Only the Storm (17.66 average) have a better record during that time.
And another thing: Five of the six forwards that started the Sharks' win in the 2016 grand final are still at the club (Retired hooker Michael Ennis is the only absentee). That level of continuity is just what clubs want when it comes to pressure-cooker finals situations.
Sydney Roosters v Cronulla Sharks, Saturday 7.40pm at Allianz Stadium
Fullback for Roosters is number 1 James TedescoFullback for Sharks is number 1 Valentine Holmes
Winger for Roosters is number 2 Daniel TupouWinger for Sharks is number 2 Sosaia Feki
Centre for Roosters is number 3 Latrell MitchellCentre for Sharks is number 3 Josh Dugan
Centre for Roosters is number 4 Joseph ManuCentre for Sharks is number 4 Ricky Leutele
Winger for Roosters is number 5 Blake FergusonWinger for Sharks is number 5 Edrick Lee
Five-Eighth for Roosters is number 6 Luke KearyFive-Eighth for Sharks is number 6 Matt Moylan
Halfback for Roosters is number 7 Cooper CronkHalfback for Sharks is number 7 Chad Townsend
Prop for Roosters is number 8 Jared Waerea-HargreavesProp for Sharks is number 8 Andrew Fifita
Hooker for Roosters is number 9 Jake FriendHooker for Sharks is number 9 Jayden Brailey
Prop for Roosters is number 10 Siosiua TaukeiahoProp for Sharks is number 10 Matt Prior
2nd Row for Roosters is number 11 Boyd Cordner2nd Row for Sharks is number 11 Luke Lewis
2nd Row for Roosters is number 16 Mitchell Aubusson2nd Row for Sharks is number 12 Wade Graham
Lock for Roosters is number 12 Isaac LiuLock for Sharks is number 13 Paul Gallen
Interchange for Roosters is number 13 Victor RadleyInterchange for Sharks is number 15 James Segeyaro
Interchange for Roosters is number 14 Lindsay CollinsInterchange for Sharks is number 16 Aaron Woods
Interchange for Roosters is number 15 Zane TetevanoInterchange for Sharks is number 17 Jayson Bukuya
Interchange for Roosters is number 17 Ryan MattersonInterchange for Sharks is number 18 Scott Sorensen
- Referee: Gerard Sutton
- Referee: Ben Cummins
- Touch Judge: Chris Butler
- Touch Judge: Kasey Badger
- Video Referee: Bryan Norrie
- Senior Review Official: Steve Chiddy
Roosters: Mitchell Aubusson starts with Victor Radley moving back to the bench. Sean O'Sullivan and Kurt Baptiste were omitted on Friday, while Nat Butcher and Matt Ikuvalu dropped out on game day.
Sharks: Ricky Leutele (knee) returns at left centre, while Kurt Capewell has been dropped to allow Scott Sorensen to move onto the bench. Joseph Paulo and Jesse Ramien dropped off the extended bench an hour before kick-off, while Ava Seumanufagai was cut on Friday.
Head-to-head in NRL era: Played 39; Roosters 22 wins, Sharks 16 wins, 1 draw
Previous result: Roosters won 28-10 at Southern Cross Group Stadium in round 5
Points per game (regular season): Roosters 22.6 (4th); Sharks 21.6 (6th)
Points conceded per game (regular season): Roosters 15 (1st); Sharks 17.6 (3rd)
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League
Craig Wing's prediction: The Roosters' season has been built on their defence which is the one thing you want to have confidence in going into a finals campaign. Luke Keary gelled in attack with Cooper Cronk in his second week back and the team is firing on the back of that. Roosters by 4.