Today the New South Wales Rugby League released the season draws for 6 of its premier competitions, ...
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2004 TELSTRA PREMIERSHIP GRAND FINAL
NICOLSON SPORTS CONSULTANCY GRAND FINAL SCOUTING REPORTS
Everything you need to know and probably a lot you didn?t, in one comprehensive guide of the (likely at press time) players from the Roosters and Bulldogs who will battle for premiership glory on Sunday.
As for a prediction, the guide gives a good account of how NSC thinks the players will fare, but ultimately expect a Roosters victory by 6 points.
PREDICTION Roosters 16 (Hegarty, Fittler tries; Fitzgibbon 4 goals) Defeat Bulldogs 10 (Utai try; El Masri 3 goals) Clive Churchill Medal ? Brad Fittler, Roosters
SYDNEY ROOSTERS Player: Anthony MINICHIELLO Position: FULLBACK At His Best: Very dangerous kick returner, invariably breaks the first tackle, defuses bombs well, scrambles well to get into defensive positions behind the line, loves to run back on the angle off Finch and Fittler, great line breaker at speed.
At His Worst: Gets a terrible dose of the yips with the ball in his hands or should we say not in his hands, has a tendancy to drop the pass that will put him through a whole, can overwork himself which leads to mental and physical errors, can fall off makeable tackles.
Expect: Huge workload on kick returns and be a focal point of the Roosters attack in the red zone running off Finch and Fittler, and at least one key error. Rating: 8.25/10
Player: Shannon HEGARTY Position: LEFT WING At His Best: Excels at bring the ball up from dummy half, good positional play outside his centre, genuine finisher?s speed.
At His Worst: Can commit some fundamental errors in defence by pinching in too early allowing opposition winger open space.
Expect: A lot of dummy half runs and is a decent bet as first tryscorer in the big one. Rating: 7.25/10
Player: Ryan CROSS Position: LEFT CENTRE At His Best: Poetry in motion in the clear, likes to back his speed on the outside of his man, works well positioning his winger off both shoulders.
At His Worst: Can be poor defensively and run over by a strong running centre, can be greedy with the ball when in the clear.
Expect: An improved performance on last year as he gets another chance to win his first ?played in? premiership. Rating: 7.50/10
Player: Justin HODGES Position: RIGHT CENTRE At His Best: Powerful runner able to go through his opponent, strong offloading ability, can lay on a big hit in defence.
At His Worst: Can lack confidence if he doesn?t start the game well, defensive liability when confidence down, niggling tactics only distract him and can give away penalties.
Player: Chris WALKER Position: RIGHT WING At His Best: Explosive over 20metres, pet play is to run inside angles off Finch in the middle of the ruck on tackle 3 or 4, has excellent footwork when in the clear to beat cover defenders.
At His Worst: Total non-involvement, dodgy ball control, poor defensive play and limited work rate bring the ball back from his own half combine to make him almost invisible.
Expect: Has copped it in the media this week, will go searching for the ball but it?s hard to predict which Chris Walker will show up this year. Rating: 6.75/10
Player: Brad FITTLER ? Position: FIVE EIGHTH
At His Best: Controls the game like a halfback, kicking game top notch and can organise his runners superbly, can break the line in the red zone with straight running off short balls, shores up his side of the defence.
At His Worst: Cedes to Finch too often in attack and the kicking game, can arm grab in defence at times when the runner cuts back against the grain, no longer the line breaking threat from anywhere on the field.
Expect: A champion performance from this legend in his last game, regardless of the result Fittler will be close to the best player on the field. Rating: 9.00/10
Player: Brett FINCH Position: HALFBACK At His Best: Controls the game like a conductor, has learnt the finer points of marshalling the troops and is as good an organiser in the NRL, strong long kicking game and has an effective bomb generally from 40m out, loves to hand off to inside runners in the centre of the field and when in the red zone lines up his hole hitters on the fringes of the ruck.
At His Worst: Can take too much responsibility and not give Fittler enough reign with the ball, prone to fundamental errors when the pressure gets to him.
Expect: Didn?t disgrace himself in last year?s decider but is a better and far more composed player this time around, will ensure the Roosters have great field position with his kicking game and could take home the Clive Churchill Medal. Rating: 8.25/10
Player: Jason CAYLESS Position: PROP At His Best: Good go-forward man in the early stages, goes all out early, hits hard in defence
At His Worst: Can get caught flat footed in defence around the ruck, after initial hitup burst in first stint can turn into only a defensive factor when he returns to the action.
Expect: A strong opening but form suggests he will lack impact in his second stint. Rating: 7.00/10
Player: Craig WING Position: HOOKER At His Best: Dynamic from dummy half can split the markers and eat up the yards behind the play the ball, has the ability to be a hole runner further into the game and is very effective in that role, stronger front on defender than his size would suggest.
At His Worst: Gets nullified by strong marker play and then overplays his hand with the ball to compensate, if his timing is off in defence can get trampled but it is rare.
Expect: Another great Grand Final effort from this brilliant player, was one of the Roosters best last year and count on him performing once again. Rating: 8.75/10
Player: Peter CUSACK Position: PROP At His Best: No-nonsense prop who simply does what the game plan asks for and to the best of his ability, takes it up, sets the platform and defends just as the coach asked.
At His Worst: Not the modern day prop in terms of agility and endurance, but won?t play lengthy minutes to drain his effectiveness though.
Expect: Should Stuart call on his most experienced prop he knows he will get a typically solid effort from the South Sydney bound Cusack. Rating: 6.25/10
Player: Michael CROCKER Position: SECOND ROW At His Best: Tough as nails backrower who gets through a lot of the work that goes largely unseen like cover defence, plugging holes on the edge of the ruck etc, can pull off some great hits and can break the line when running on the fringes.
At His Worst: Gets knocked out an awful lot, can give away silly penalties in the play the ball and for high shots, not the most effective metre gainer in the traditional hitup sense.
Expect: An energetic and willing performance but could lack impact if he cops another head knock so close to what appeared to be two against the Cowboys. Rating: 7.25/10
Player: Adrian MORLEY Position: SECOND ROW At His Best: Barnstorming runner of the ball who will quite literally take it through the defence instead of just up to it, strength to create off-loads but focuses on getting the extra metres from leg drive, punishing defender, excellent endurance, feared on field presence.
At His Worst: Can tread a fine line between ball and all tackles vs. dangerously high shots, not a dirty player but reputations are tough to shake.
Expect: Another prime time performance from the best English import the NRL has seen since Ellery Hanley, will likely play the full 80mins now Ricketson is out. Rating: 8.25/10
Player: Craig FITZGIBBON Position: LOCK At His Best: Has an incredible work-rate that won him the Wally Lewis Medal winner from the Origin series, tireless in defence and loves to hit the ball up through the blindside corridor, solid off-loading skills to create second phase play, excellent goal kicker.
At His Worst: Not many faults for this superb backrower outside of a lack of genuine attacking ability particularly as a ball runner, also watch his play the balls as at times you could argue the ball drops onto the ground rather than being placed on it.
Expect: Consistent quality work from the 2002 Clive Churchill Medal winner. Rating: 8.75/10
Player: Chad ROBINSON Position: BENCH PROP/BACKROW At His Best: Gives you a handy prop/second rower for the rotation to spell Cayless and Cusack up front, willing worker who doesn?t make many mistakes.
At His Worst: Can have played his stint and gone unnoticed, but if you do notice him it is probably because he made an error.
Expect: Solid 20-30 minutes from the bench without any fanfare good or bad. Rating: 6.25/10
Player: Ned CATIC Position: BENCH PROP At His Best: Rips into the opposition for a ten minute burst making inroads up the middle and can pull off some bell-ringers.
At His Worst: Error prone hands and makes poor decisions in defence rushing out to put on the big hit, that being said he has improved in leaps and bounds this season.
Expect: Could very well start in place of Cusack for impact value, and not be seen again. Rating: 5.50/10
Player: Anthony TUPOU Position: BENCH PROP At His Best: Bursts into the game with some big charges that keeps the Roosters momentum going, can pop a great offload for support players usually Minichiello.
At His Worst: Can get off-load happy and commit turnovers, something he has yet to have the pressure of avoiding in a game of this magnitude.
Expect: Him to be the Roosters biggest impact from the bench, will be counted on for 40+ minutes. Rating: 6.75/10
Player: Stuart WEBB Position: BENCH UTILITY FORWARD At His Best: Spells Wing at dummy half and can eat up any easy metres the markers allow him, good defender to boot.
At His Worst: Poor decision making out of dummy half can stifle any attacking flow, depends on what role Stuart wants from him ? runner/passer.
Expect: Could surprise people on the biggest stage as he?s more than simply a Premier League call up, has a lot to play for having been 18th man in the corresponding fixture last year. Rating: 5.50/10
CANTERBURY BULLDOGS Player: Luke PATTEN Position: FULLBACK At His Best: Fundamentally sound especially the two defensive aspects of his position (bomb defusing and in-goal coverage), good support player, rarely makes a key mistake.
At His Worst: Can be a turnstile in defence when the tackle needs to be made, lacks impact returning the ball from kicks.
Expect: A higher level of urgency from the normally calm Patten, has openly stated he wants to make the most of this opportunity after tasting defeat as a teenager in 1999. Rating: 7.00/10
Player: Hazem EL MASRI Position: RIGHT WING At His Best: Kicking goal, simply the best sharpshooter in the NRL, not flashy but can finish the opportunities he gets particularly challenging for cross kicks from Sherwin.
At His Worst: Can make poor defensive reads especially on potential overlaps, lacks genuine wingers speed and can be turned around with kicks, not a great kick returner as he lacks the size to earn the extra metres.
Expect: A flawless goalkicking performance from the superboot as it will be his biggest contribution. Rating: 7.25/10
Player: Ben HARRIS Position: RIGHT CENTRE At His Best: Very strong front on defender with the ability to rush up and close down the play, old style centre willing to do the hard yakka and wait for opportunities to present themselves from the halves.
At His Worst: Can get beaten laterally and with speed on the outside, since returning from injury this year has lacked the line breaking ability he showed in his rookie year.
Expect: Disappointing season from the kid from Taree, has this opportunity to re-establish himself as a star of the future otherwise Jamaal Lolesi will be back in this spot next season. Rating: 6.75/10
Player: Willie TONGA Position: LEFT CENTRE At His Best: With a hop, skip and a jump ?little Willie? is past his opposite number and streaking down the field, has made some of the game?s best defensive centres look very silly, breakaway speed makes him the Dogs most lethal attacking weapon with ball in hand.
At His Worst: Defensively has improved greatly this year but is still not a safe bet to shut down his side of the field.
Expect: Is the Dogs go-to man outwide and matches up (at the moment) favourably with Hodges who he cut to ribbons last time they played, nerves his only enemy to a big game. Rating: 7.75/10
Player: Matthew UTAI Position: LEFT WINGER At His Best: Loves nothing more than getting the ball 10m out from the line and storming over defenders like they?re ten pins, stocky unit helps out bringing the team out of their own end well.
At His Worst: Isn?t as punishing a defender as his stature may suggest, gets a bit run crazy with the ball in hand when a pass to an open team mate is the better option, can be outjumped if corner is targeted by cross kicks.
Expect: Utai to rip in and try to get the Dogs go-forward happening from dummy half early in the set, if he gets some quality ball he?ll be a threat but Tonga could be doing all the damage himself. Rating: 7.25/10
Player: Braith ANASTA Position: FIVE EIGHTH At His Best: Selects when to run and pass at the right time and judgement like that creates opportunities for himself and his runners, long kicking game a factor when used, when he?s on song is able to conjure something out of nothing like few other players.
At His Worst: Still somewhat of an enigma after four seasons and whispers that he is overrated continue to circle and is yet to dispel them with a dominant performance in a big game, up and down defender sometimes excellent sometimes not so good, giving up the attacking platform entirely to Sherwin.
Expect: We?re all waiting for Anasta to take the baton from Fittler as the next champion pivot, we may still be waiting if he can?t bring his A game on Sunday. Rating: 7.50/10
Player: Brent SHERWIN Position: HALFBACK At His Best: Controlling the play every ruck after a big bopper carts the ball into the defensive line, hands-on halfback who thrives on a big workload in the attacking structure, best short kicking game around, deadly in the red zone with runners and kick chasers sweating on his decision making.
At His Worst: Losing composure if early decisions fail to play out as planned, rushes plays and can put his runners into ?hospital? positions, can overplay his short kicking game when searching for points when a smarter less risky play is needed, left exposed in defence he can be run over which can deflate his energy levels badly.
Expect: If the forwards lay the platform then Sherwin can weave his magic, he has the ability to win this game for the Bulldogs if he?s sharp early. Rating: 7.75/10
Player: Mark O?MELEY Position: PROP At His Best: Human bulldozer with perfect physique for a front rower, keeps legs driving when he hits the defensive line which earns him valuable extra metres, capable defender, developed his offload ability greatly this season and endurance levels have risen.
At His Worst: Not many poor games lately, but can knock on with fatigue like any workhorse, not the best defender who can get sloppy around the ruck.
Expect: A premier front row performance from one of the genuine threats to Shane Webcke?s reign as the NRL?s top prop. Rating: 8.25/10
Player: Adam PERRY Position: HOOKER At His Best: Gets the ball to his go-forward men quickly and efficiently, stabilises the centre of the ruck with solid defence.
At His Worst: Doesn?t do much wrong, but is limited skill wise and isn?t a dominant defender.
Expect: Consistent service from dummy half and maybe a few darts. Rating: 5.75/10
Player: Roy ASOTASI Position: PROP At His Best: Determined runner who picks his spots to run when coming off the bench, effective up the middle and on the fringe, good offload ability and has great speed for a forward.
At His Worst: Doesn?t have great endurance and looks like he?s not quite sure if he?s a prop or a backrower which translates into missing the key hit up his team needs deep in their own half.
Expect: A whole hearted effort if he starts, big on potential and could really deliver the Dogs some big plays. Rating: 6.50/10
Player: Willie MASON Position: SECOND ROW At His Best: Can carry his team on his back with emotional and powerful charges, lifts the side when he gets going and can cause major damage to any defensive line on the edge of the ruck, hits hard when he has time to set up the runner, creates excellent second phase play, sells the decoy run well, momentum shifter.
At His Worst: Lacks motivation in some areas especially when his side is on top which is a problem because he switches off when he could really dominate and that stops him from realising his full potential in every game, defensive technique can lapse if too emotional.
Expect: Big Willie to try and stamp his authority on the biggest game of his career so far, with Price out it is up to Mason to carry the load so expect a big game. Rating: 8.25/10
Player: Andrew RYAN ? Position: SECOND ROW At His Best: Moved wider of the ruck and has thrived in a far more rounded role in the side, great cover defender which is utilised with his position in the defensive line, loves to run off a Sherwin or Anasta cut out pass on the left side and step around his defender, great endurance.
At His Worst: Not the best front on defender which is why he was moved to the edge of the ruck, has otherwise eliminated most of his deficiencies in the last two years.
Expect: Likely to step into the captaincy role which guarantees 80mins of quality. Rating: 7.50/10
Player: Tony GRIMALDI Position: LOCK At His Best: Doing the clean up work around the rucks, very good defender and can eat up the minutes.
At His Worst: One dimensional as a defender doesn?t leave much scope for weaknesses because he doesn?t attempt much else.
Expect: No frills approach to his job which is to patrol his side of the ruck and shut down runners. Rating: 6.50/10
Player: Reni MAITUA Position: BENCH UTILITY At His Best: Coming on towards the end of the first half and assuming spot duty as the Bulldogs Mr Fix it, nothing flash but that?s why Folkes likes using him in the plug like role.
At His Worst: Trying to overplay his hand in attack and can be targeted by wider running forwards and outside backs.
Expect: Could start if Folkes decides to move Mason to prop, either way you won?t notice Maitua all that much but that will suit Folkes just fine. Rating: 5.50/10
Player: Corey HUGHES Position: BENCH HOOKER At His Best: Scheming out of dummy half and off the back of second phase play from his forwards, good tackler and has a handy kicking game when needed.
At His Worst: Likes to niggle the opposition when on top which detracts from his solid play, extra bulk has limited his speed.
Expect: Will pop up and give the Dogs some extra creativity around the play the ball when he spells Perry. Rating: 6.25/10
Player: Sonny Bill WILLIAMS Position: BENCH BACK ROWER At His Best: Just playing his natural game which combines amazing strength for an 18 year old with pure footballing ability, can bash it up or run it wide with equal effectiveness, can offload at will which opens up space for his support runners, pulls off some bone crunching hits, plus he has the speed of a three-quarter.
At His Worst: Still raw despite the obvious skills, can overplay his hand in the offload department and can go for the big hit one too many times.
Expect: A Grand Final win in his rookie season could top the icing on the cake for this current and not just future superstar of the NRL, he?ll go a long way towards helping the Dogs challenge for the title. Rating: 7.25/10
Player: Jamie FEENEY Position: BENCH BACK ROWER At His Best: Running backrower who when used right can find holes on the fringes while being able to cart it up when needed, good cover defender, support play a feature for a forward.
At His Worst: Gets stuck behind bigger name forwards in getting the ball and lacks impact in the game, with limited game time and no specific role can look out of place in first grade which is unfair.
Expect: If he plays then he will be asked to play a larger role than he has since mid-season, it?s not easy turning it on after months out of the loop. Rating: 6.25/10
Roosters Total Rating: 124.25 @ 7.31 per player (7.71 per starter)
Bulldogs Total Rating: 119.25 @ 7.01 per player (7.23 per starter)
Comments, criticisms, questions etc ? [email protected]
Warrick NICOLSON ========================= Freelance Sports Journalist NICOLSON SPORTS CONSULTANCY ?Your definitive sports resource? Ph: 0402 851 485 Fax: 02 9653 1483 [email protected]