Round 2: Roosters v Bulldogs preview
Opening round losses keen to be wiped from the memory.
Few expected the Wests Tigers to challenge the might of the Roosters - arguably the best side on paper going into the new season - but they indeed did and consigned the Bondi boys to a last-minute loss in front of a boisterous ANZ crowd.
Fast forward six days and the Roosters find themselves at home in the comfy confines of Allianz Stadium for the start of what many understand to be the last season at the venue in its current configuration. Whether that plays into the Tricolours' hands is another matter, but they'll be keen for a strong showing at home in front of what hopefully will be a solid crowd, despite a poor timeslot.
Defence doesn't seem to be the issue for Trent Robinson's men - they restricted the Wests Tigers to just ten points on Saturday (six of them right at the death) - but their attack, even with Cooper Cronk installed at half, looks as though it might take a couple of weeks to gel. Hooker Jake Friend came in for some criticism of his performance out of dummy half as well, so how he goes will be of note, especially considering the club just signed Kurt Baptiste from UK club Leigh as a backup option.
The visitors come to Allianz having conceded 36 points against the Storm in Perth - a scoreline that many agree flattered the premiers and didn't paint a true picture of the improvement in Canterbury's game. There's plenty to like about what Canterbury produced with the ball - particularly when juxtaposed against footage of any of their matches last year. That said, for a few of the Storm's tries the Bulldogs were unnecessarily leaky in defence. New coach Dean Pay will need to review his defensive structures and reports are bench forward Greg Eastwood has already been cut through fears he's been rushed back to top grade without match fitness. Asipeli Fine is likely to come into the match-day squad as a little bit of extra insurance.
The Roosters are the club Canterbury has faced the most, and one of the few against whom they don't have a positive win-loss ratio. The old 'Eastern Suburbs' boys have won 86 of 171 clashes while Canterbury have won 80, the other five matches drawn since 1935.
Since it opened in 1938, the 27 games played between these sides are slightly balanced in the Tricolours' favour with 15 wins to Cantebury's 12.
Last year both clashes were won by the Roosters by narrow margins, who have dominated the recent history of this fixture which was most recently a Grand Final contest in 2004.
Who to watch: Cooper Cronk was arguably the biggest off-season player movement, leaving the Storm to take up residence in Sydney. The fact he didn't seem to have a huge amount of cut-through in the season opener could be down to a number of things - but the most important consideration is the addition on Friday of his regular halves partner Luke Keary. With no slight on the abilities of Mitch Cornish, Keary's return is likely to lessen the load on Cronk's shoulders and could prove key to the Roosters getting their groove back.
While the Bulldogs' fanbase was largely complimentary of their side's performance in spite of an 18-point loss, the focus of most negativity seemed to be on five-eighth Matt Frawley. His new halves partner Kieran Foran seemed to have widespread support for a solid opening hit-out but the man wearing the six appeared to struggle with the Storm's up-and-in defence and his kicking game left a bit to be desired. With a couple of fringe halves nipping at his heels in ISP, Frawley needs to get a handle on his game management quickly alongside Foran - starting with Friday's clash with the Roosters.
My tip: Both clashes last year were decided by 6 points or less and these teams for mine are more evenly matched than most suggest. The Roosters will in all likelihood dominated, but don't count the 'Dogs out. Roosters by 4.