FIRE DOUSED | After returning to finals action in 2015, the St George-Illawarra Dragons struggled un...
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It was one of 2004?s great highlights ? the 2004 preliminary final against the Cowboys. Despite the entire league world willing the North Queensland fairytale to continue, the Roosters? picked up an emotional win to charge to their third successive grand final. And come Saturday night in Townsville, Roosters coach Ricky Stuart has called on his players to show all of their character in order to prevent the second-placed Cowboys gaining revenge infront of over 20,000 raucous Queenslanders.
In seasons past, a trip to Townsville was merely a chance for opposition sides to touch up their tans on one of the Sunshine state?s famous beaches.
But under Graham Murray, the Cowboys have developed into everyone?s second favourite team over the past two years ? possessing a unique blend of unpredictable attack and aggressive defence.
Following yesterday?s heartbreaking last-ditch loss to St George Illawarra, Stuart implored his players to show their strength of character over the coming weeks.
?We?re as tough bunch of guys ? there?s a lot of character in this group,? Stuart said.
?This is a tough comp, so we?ll need to draw on that to get us through.?
Despite a number of uncharacteristic handling errors, Stuart was relatively happy with the Roosters? performance.
?We?re playing good football, a few things went against us today that maybe on another day wouldn?t have,? he said.
?That?s football. It?s how you react to those things that will shape your season.
?I know we have the toughness and the commitment to each other to bounce back from that.
?It won?t get any easier this week ? but it?s a challenge. That?s why you play the game, to challenge yourself.?
The Cowboys have proved virtually unbeatable at home over the past year, drawing on a parochial home crowd to intimidate the opposition.
Once the easybeats of the NRL, the Cowboys rode a wave of emotion on the back of their brilliant late season form in 2004 to place themselves amongst the upper echelon of the competition.
And after seven rounds, the Cowboys have proved last year?s heroics were no fluke ? currently sitting in second place on the NRL ladder behind surprise packets Manly.
The Roosters will have to be wary of pint-sized dynamo Matt Bowen, who tore Penrith?s big men to shreds last week with several scything line breaks.
Bulldogs discard Jonathon Thurston has proved a revelation in his new surroundings and will be keen to continue his outstanding form in order to claim his maiden Queensland Origin jumper - having been named in a 22-man squad today along with incumbent Scott Prince.
But the Roosters big man duo of Jason Cayless and Adrian Morley will need to show the way up front against the NRL?s hottest front-row pack in Jason Cayless and Carl Webb.
The Roosters will fly north on Friday morning before having a final hit-out that afternoon.
Importantly, despite yesterday?s loss, Stuart said his players were focussed on the job at hand.
?They?re disappointed, but they know they can bounce back,? he said.
?They won?t rock up to training having lost faith in our procedures, they just have to stick solid and tough it out.
?It will turn for them, because they are working so hard for it and believe in each other.?
Saturday night?s game shapes as a vital one for the Roosters to keep pace with a host of teams on 12 and 10 competition points heading into the upcoming rep season ? which is destined to rob the club of Stuart and at least five players.
A loss could see the club slip eight points behind leaders Manly after just eight rounds, ensuring the blockbuster clash will evoke memories of last year?s preliminary final, won 19-16 by the Roosters.
The Roosters could be without Brett Finch and Jason Cayless, who were both charged with grade one offences following yesterday's game.
Finch proves the major concern, already having 93 carry-over points from late last year.
Finch was charged with contrary conduct following a brawl late in yesterday's game, while Cayless was charged with a grade one dangerous throw.
Cayless has no carry-over points, and will be free to play on Saturday with an early guilty plea.
Saturday?s game kicks off at 7.30 pm at Dairy Farmers Stadium. Anthony Minichiello Joel Monaghan Chris Flannery Ryan Cross Chris Walker Amos Roberts Brett Finch Jason Cayless Stuart Webb Adrian Morley Michael Crocker Craig Fitzgibbon Luke Ricketson
Craig Wing Richard Fa'Aoso Ben Hannant Anthony Tupou