Round 7: Bulldogs v Roosters preview
There's no good way to predict the result of this one. The Roosters have proven to be consistently inconsistent - looking like world-beaters one week, and completely deficient the next. Canterbury on the other hand turned in one of their best performances in recent years to down the Cowboys last week - but will that lead to a rich vein of form, or is it a flash in the pan?
Logic with the Roosters 3-3 start to 2018 says they're due a win after being roundly beaten by the Bunnies last week. It was only through the Rabbitohs' lack of quality depth across the park that the Tricolours weren't beaten by more last Thursday, and the defence then was still a concern. One of the key concerns remains the role of co-captain Jake Friend and his efficiency out of dummy-half, with fans calling for him to step aside at varying points this season. This column can't see coach Trent Robinson going that far, but his performances need some tidying up if the Roosters are going to hit a groove.
Canterbury meanwhile, played some of their worst footy a fortnight ago when they visited Canberra and offered the Green Machine its first win of the year... then hopped a flight to Townsville and turned in a fantastic performance against the Cowboys, leaving the 2015 premiers with one win and five losses after six rounds. Several players stepped up last Saturday and the 'Dogs willingness to throw the ball around was refreshing.
Over at the selection table the Bulldogs haven't made any changes to their winning formula, but the Roosters sure have. Reece Robinson goes to the reserves bench with Joey Manu moving to the wing and Mitch Aubusson listed in the centres and Nuuausala is added to the bench. Kiwi enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves will come off the bench this week with Zane Tetevano listed to start in the front row. Taukeiaho is listed in the reserves as an outside chance of an early return - expect FPN or Butcher to make way if he is passed fit.
These two have met 172 times, with the Roosters holding a narrow 87-80 advantage since 1935, when Easts won that first clash 87-7. Since the 'Dogs moved to ANZ Stadium the Bulldogs have won 11 from 17 against the Tricolours there, including the 16-13 triumph in the 2004 Grand Final. The Roosters have won the last three consecutive matches between the two sides, however.
Who to watch: The last time Canterbury had a big lumbering guy with wild hair in the second row, he became a premiership player and won the Clive Churchill Medal in 2004. Raymond Faitala-Mariner has been a revelation for the Bulldogs in an otherwise dark couple of seasons lately, drawing the odd comparison to one big Willie Mason along the way. He was outstanding in the 'Dogs win over the Cowboys last weekend and will be hard for the Roosters' defence to contain.
If there's one word to describe Cooper Cronk's first month at the Roosters, it would probably be patchy. He's shown glimpses of what he's capable of at times, and has the benefit of working with great players like James Tedesco still, but the spine at Bondi simply isn't the same as what he enjoyed at Melbourne. With greatest respect to Jake Friend, he's not in the Cameron Smith class and while 'Teddy' certainly gives Slater a run for his money there's definitely more on Cronk's plate and he is still clearly adjusting to changed responsibility since moving to Sydney. If the Bulldogs make a concerted effort to target him, the Roosters could struggle once again.
My tip: The Bulldogs have the skill and ability to win this contest, but whether they do so or not will come down to attitude. And we can say the same about the Roosters. Backing the fact Canterbury aren't known for putting in good back-to-back performances and how dominant this week's visitors were when they hosted the same clash in Round 2, I think I'll stick with them, but only by a narrow margin. Roosters by 1.