NRL Preview: Roosters v Raiders
Both the Roosters and the Raiders came up against under-strength rivals that were ahead of them on the competition ladder last weekend, and 80 minutes later they both came out smelling like roses – but only one outfit will walk away from Allianz Stadium with some crucial mid-season chocolates in this post-Origin clash.
The Roosters turned in arguably their most impressive display of the season in overcoming a depleted, but no less determined Bulldogs side, with the likes of Sonny Bill Williams, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Sam Moa all puffing out their sizeable chests to first match, then outgun the biggest pack in the NRL.
Backing up this dominant showing will be top of the Chooks' agenda this week, given their premiership defence has threatened to take flight a number of times in 2014 only to never quite get itself off the ground.
The Raiders on the other hand picked themselves up off the canvas with a resounding win over a Cowboys side that was deserved by the Green Machine faithful as much as anyone at the club for turning out in support despite a series of ugly losses. How much can be read into knocking off a North Queensland team reduced to one leg through Origin and injury will be revealed, with a much sterner test from a Roosters outfit who would like to be further up the ladder than it is at present.
For the home side Michael Jennings, Daniel Tupou and Aidan Guerra have been named, though the likes of Samisoni Langi, Nene MacDonald and Kane Evans could find themselves back in the squad depending on how the Origin trio pull up after Wednesday's bruising encounter.
The Raiders meanwhile will be desperate for Maroons back-rower Josh Papalii to line up come Saturday given in his last start in the lime green he showed a glimpse of fulfilling the game-busting reputation that won him his third Origin jumper despite a serious lack of form so far in 2013. If Papalii doesn't back up expect Joel Edwards to come back into the starting side and Shannon Boyd to come onto the bench.
Watch Out Roosters: Jack Wighton could well make a very fine five-eighth one day, but if Ricky Stuart thinks that day is any time this year we reckon Raiders fans will be about as swift and subtle as a fish hook in each nostril in letting him know their feelings on it. With plenty of criticism over the persistence with the Country Origin rep in the halves, the numbers Wighton has churned out since switching back to his preferred role in the centres in the past fortnight speak for themselves. Two tries, four try assists, three line breaks, three line break assists, seven tackle busts and 277 running metres reads like the boy from Orange is one happy camper out on the right edge, which in turn has given Anthony Milford licence to return to his explosive best without every play being dependent on a bit of attacking genius from the little fella.
Watch Out Raiders: This time last week Sonny Bill Williams was going through the motions of a particularly quiet season by his standards, minding his own business, and then some genius (let's call him Trent R., no that's too obvious, how about T. Robinson) slipped a copy of the NRL draw into the superstar's gym bag, with the Roosters' Round 11 opponents circled with a big smiley face next to it. And all hell promptly broke loose as Williams found himself staring down a side wearing the blue and white he was once so familiar with, an unfortunate group of blokes who have to contend with rugby league's ultimate specimen growing a third, fourth and sometimes fifth leg whenever he lines up against them. With two tries, a try assist that sealed the deal, five offloads, five tackle breaks and a casual 155 metres and 24 tackles, SBW was the difference between the premiers and the competition leaders, and is just too damn good for that type of performance to be a one-off.
Plays To Watch: James Maloney's kicking radar was locked to the Bulldogs' left corner from the word go last week, and with both Daniel Tupou and potential back-up Nene MacDonald capable of leaping tall buildings and opposite wingers with ease, 180-centimetre Raiders flyer Reece Robinson can expect plenty of aerial traffic his way given both the Roosters left-edge wingmen have over five inches on him.
For the Green Machine, look for reserve forward Paul Vaughan to back himself close to the Roosters line, having added a fourth try to his 2014 tally against the Cowboys. The big fella is currently on a par with outside backs Anthony Milford and Wighton when it comes to crossing the white stripe, not to mention outscoring every other prop in the game, and is seriously running the risk of being banned from the Front-rower's Club, where the by-laws clearly state meat pies are to be eaten and not scored.
Where It Will Be Won: The edges. Discounting their capitulation to the Cowboys a few weeks back, the Tri-Colours' attack has well and truly clicked into gear, having racked up an average of 32 points in wins over the Bulldogs, Tigers and Dragons. And the majority of those points have come via the slick combinations dumped NSW halves Pearce and Maloney are starting to recapture with the likes of Williams, Kenny-Dowall, and floating fullbacks Tuviasa-Sheck and Minichiello as they have successfully targeted the outer defences of sides in recent weeks. With centres Wighton and Jarrod Croker the Raiders have the offensive firepower to match the premiers, but with their left edge in particular softer than micro-waved marshmallow this year without the pill, Canberra are going need a bit of steel out wide if they're to be any hope in this one.
The History: Played 55; Roosters 29, Raiders 25. There's few uglier away records in the game than the Raiders' record at Allianz against the Roosters, with only one win the past 19 years at the ground when they've shaped up to the Tri-Colours. That was in 2011 in the form of a 38-12 thumping, while their previous win at Moore Park came courtesy of current coach Ricky Stuart, who kicked a match-winning field goal to sink the Chooks way back in 1995.
Match Officials: Referees – Gerard Sutton and Jared Maxwell; Touch Judges – Dan Eastwood and Jason Walsh; Video Referees – Bernard Sutton and Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports - Live 5.30.
The Way We See It: The Raiders have made a habit of knocking off some prize scalps this year, with all four of their wins coming against teams that played finals footy in 2013. But it was this time last year when the Roosters confirmed themselves as genuine premiership contenders with a run of eight straight wins, and by the looks of it they could be building to something similar. Roosters by 14 points.