The Sydney Cricket Ground hosts the first game of NRL Round 4 when the Sydney Roosters welcome the Brisbane Broncos.
Last Thursday, the Broncos went down 25-24 at home to St George Illawarra, dropping a game many tipsters had pencilled into the win column. That loss saw Brisbane fall to ninth in the standings, two spots below the Roosters who won a tricky match-up against Parramatta on Friday night. After a tight opening hour, the Roosters put on 18 points in the last 18 minutes to take the game 32-18.
Recent history between these teams has Brisbane with a slight edge over the Roosters. The Broncos have won six of the last ten match-ups, including doing the double in rounds 11 and 24 last year.
Injuries and availabilities have forced Roosters coach Trent Robinson into some mixing and matching at the selection table, with co-captain Jake Friend to miss with a shoulder issue and halfback Cooper Cronk returning from a hamstring complaint.
Victor Radley has been named to cover the hooker position in Friend’s absence and Luke Keary and Cronk will renew their premiership-winning halves combination. Latrell Mitchell will return to his natural home in the centres after a fortnight at five-eighth.
Prop Jared Waerea-Hargeaves is a late withdrawal for the premiers, unable to come up after playing with rib cartilage damage last week. His absence is a huge loss for the premiers.
For Brisbane, Matt Lodge returns from suspension after an enforced holiday for taking out Melbourne’s Cam Munster in Round 1. He gives the Broncos front row a bit more beef – a much-needed boost with the likes of Siosiua Taukeiaho and Zane Tetevano running the ball up for the Tricolours.
Lodge’s return is offset by the loss of New South Wales Origin centre James Roberts with what looked like an achilles complaint, but was reported by Brisbane as a foot problem. Going on how ‘Jimmy the Jet’ reacted after his breakaway 70-metre try against the Dragons last week, I’m sticking with an achilles injury.
Brisbane forward Tevita Pangai Junior has been the subject of an interesting sub-plot to this week’s game. Pangai Junior followed up his spectacular yet short 44-minute Round 2 outing against the Cowboys with a lengthier 70-minute shift against St George Illawarra where he knocked out 172 metres and made 30 tackles.
But the talk this week has been all about the reports strongly hinting at a possible ‘million dollar switch’ for Pangai Junior from Brisbane to Bondi at the end of his current one-year deal. Is it a mischief making, rumour-mongering or news breaking of a done deal? Who knows.
All I know is that Trent Robinson prefers his front rowers to stick their tackles, and Pangai Junior has some work to do in that department. His 13 misses this year is three more than Roosters’ front rowers Waerea-Hargreaves, Tetevano and Taukeiaho combined.
The Roosters have been steady without being electrifying so far, as you’d expect from the reigning premiers. Like all teams with premiership pretensions, Robinson has his team working to a tempo that builds throughout a season, peaking just in time for finals.
So there’s no need to panic when you notice young centres Joseph Manu and Mitchell haven’t scored a try between them while the team has crossed the chalk 13 times.
Mitchell and Manu have an opportunity to cause havoc this week against their Brisbane counterparts Jack Bird and the incoming Kontoni Staggs. Bird whiffed on five tackles against St George Illawarra and the 20-year-old Staggs has just 12 games to his name. Both can expect an awful lot of business headed their way in the early stages.
Roosters forward and co-captain Boyd Cordner has started the season strongly, scoring two tries and racking up an average of 115 metres per game. His defence is solid as ever and will be critical as 2019 rolls on.
Last week, Brisbane made 14 errors against the Dragons, almost as many in one game than they’d made in the first two rounds. With rain forecast Thursday night, Anthony Seibold’s ‘detergent on the ball’ training regime may well get another test.
If they do that against the premiers, they’ll get slaughtered. Being disciplined with the ball in hand has to be Brisbane’s number one priority against a team loaded with potent attacking weapons like Mitchell, Manu, Daniel Tupou and James Tedesco. Any one of these four can swoop on a loose ball and be a dot on the horizon before you even know what’s happened.
The recipe for this Thursday might not really fill the hearts of fans wanting to see open, flowing rugby league. Add together some forecast rain, a ground that’s seen a lot of traffic in the last fortnight and two hefty forward packs who are more than happy to grind away at each other, and it may not be a contest for the ages.
That said, this is a key game between two clubs with clear intentions for the top four. Brisbane need to win more than the Roosters do, but they’ll fall short away from home as the Chooks do what they need to do.
Roosters by 8.
1. James Tedesco, 2. Daniel Tupou, 3. Latrell Mitchell, 4. Joseph Manu, 5. Matt Ikuvalu, 6. Luke Keary, 7. Cooper Cronk,
8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, 9. Jake Friend, 10. Siosiua Taukeiaho, 11. Boyd Cordner, 12. Mitchell Aubusson, 13. Isaac Liu
Interchange: 14. Lindsay Collins, 15. Zane Tetevano, 16. Poasa Faamausili, 17. Angus Crichton
Reserves: 18. Nat Butcher, 19. Sitili Tupouniua, 20. Sam Verrlis, 23. Lachlan Lam
1. Darius Boyd, 2. Corey Oates, 3. Kontoni Staggs, 4. Jack Bird, 5. Jamayne Isaako, 6. Anthony Milford, 7. Kodi Nikorima, 8. Matt Lodge, 9. Andrew McCullough, 10. Joe Ofahengaue, 11. Alex Glenn, 12. Matt Gillett, 13. Tevita Pangai Junior
Interchange: 14. Gehamat Shibasaki, 15. Jaydn Su’A, 16. Thomas Flegler, 17. David Fifita
Reserves: 18. Patrick Carrigan, 19. Shaun Fensom, 20. Izaia Perese, 21. Richard Kennar
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