Roosters - Bulldogs Preview

When the Sydney Roosters played the Bulldogs in round nine of last years National Rugby League competition, it was classed as the grand final that never was.

The two teams were sitting on top of the table at the time, but the previous year the Bulldogs were expelled from the competition due to salary cap breaches.

The Roosters went on to take the premiership convincingly in 2002 and so the match last year was quickly circled on every rugby league fan's calendar.

Tonight, the Roosters meet the Bulldogs again, this time to kick off round three of the new season.

As with last season, the teams are at the peak of their powers at the top of the table but this year, things are very different.

This time, the match is almost a sideshow to the ongoing Bulldogs saga, which in the last five days has resulted in the resignation of club's chief executive Steve Mortimer and allegations of a positive drug test against star forward Willie Mason - which Mason and the club have denied.

The Roosters, however, are determined to focus on football matters.

Veteran lock Luke Ricketson said once the game began, the off-field dramas would be forgotten.

"It'll probably create a bit more hype for a bigger audience of people," Ricketson said.

"But after 20 minutes, when everyone gets a bit tired, the game will flow as much as they've practiced and as much as we've practiced.

"It'll come down to the wire, I'm sure."

Ricketson said he was sure the Bulldogs would come out to silence the critics, just as they did two weeks ago against Parramatta.

"They're a sort of side that will generally respond to this sort of press and media," Ricketson said.

"They're just a pretty competitive side, I don't feel like there's going to be any difference in how they play the game.

"It doesn't really matter what's going on outside of footy."

The Roosters improved markedly last week against Manly at Brookvale Oval after a disappointing performance against Souths in the opening round.

Ricketson said the Roosters had been slightly off the ball in the opening two rounds.

"It's been a bit indifferent," he admitted.

"Obviously, we started the season a bit slow but I think in the next month or so we will start to pick up the heat a little bit and play a bit better footy."

The Bulldogs welcome back Kiwi test winger Matt Utai,who was suspended for two matches for a high tackle in a pre-season trial against Canberra .

They scraped through last weekend against Cronulla, battling back from an eight-point deficit to score a four-point win that was only sealed in the 77th minute.

Ricketson said the Bulldogs had dangerous players all over the field.

"Brent Sherwin's kicking game is something that is very effective for them and it's very hard to defend against a player of that ability," Ricketson said.

"Certainly, across the board their forward pack is big, strong and mobile.

"It's really something that they've got in their favour.

"If you don't shut down that area of their game, their go forward is as good as anyone."

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