Five weeks ago, everyone had pencilled the Roosters? down for an easy win against the Raiders in Canberra on Sunday afternoon. But after a bizarre start to the first four rounds of the NRL season, eraser sales have surged to record highs as the Roosters seek to avoid their third consecutive loss this week against the competition leaders.
The gritty Raiders find themselves occupying top spot on the NRL ladder with Manly, after inspirational wins in successive weeks ?during which the battered green machine were forced to play with no reserves at certain stages of both games.
Conversely, the Roosters find themselves clinging to eighth spot, after being outclassed by Wests and Brisbane over the past two weeks.
Coach Ricky Stuart ? who will head back to his former stomping ground at Canberra Stadium ? sensed his new-look side was on the verge of turning in a good performance after an improved showing against the Tigers.
?The effort?s there ? but we?re a brand new football team,? Stuart said.
?I don?t expect to have players out there creating miracles for us.
?There were some good signs there against the Tigers, we showed a lot of improvement from last week and have got a good base to build on from there.
?I don?t think we?re too far away from putting together some good form, I just hope it?s sooner rather than later.?
For Brett Finch and Joel Monaghan, Sunday?s clash represents a chance to stand up and deliver against their former club.
Finch produced a solid display against the Tigers in only his second game back from two broken hands, and says he is looking forward to the challenge of denting the high-flying Raiders? progress.
?It?s always good to go back down there, I have a lot of friends and family there, and the Raiders always put up a good show,? Finch said.
?They?re extremely tough to beat in Canberra, and their confidence is sky-high, so we have our work cut out for us on Sunday.
?We?ve had two close games down there since I?ve been at the club, and I can?t see this match being any different.?
The Raiders? inspiration has come from a source which most pundits predicted would be their undoing during the 2005 season.
Veteran Queensland star Jason Smith has formed a dynamic partnership with Dragons off-cast Lincoln Withers in the halves in just four weeks, which has laid the platform for their outstanding early season form.
Ex-NSW Origin star Matt Adamson has also proved the critics wrong with some solid early season work ? after most believed the Raiders? two marquee off-season signings would produce little value this year.
But Raiders captain Simon Woolford has warned his troops against complacency heading into a clash with one of their renowned bogey sides.
?With no disrespect to the team?s we?ve played so far, our biggest test will come against the Roosters on Sunday,? the nuggety hooker said following Saturday?s demolition of the Dragons.
?They?ll be a good gauge of where we?re at.?
Canberra has traditionally struggled against the Roosters ? having only won two of the last 14 meetings between the pair ? including losing the last seven straight.
But Sunday?s match shapes as their best chance to break their run of outs against a Roosters outfit still searching to find their new identity on the park.
For the Roosters, Anthony Tupou was unstoppable against Wests on Sunday, and will look to continue his form in the nation?s capital on the weekend.
Amos Roberts turned in a much improved performance, after increasing his involvement when switched to five-eighth midway through the second half. Make sure you get down to the nation?s capital on Sunday to cheer on the Roosters in a vital game for the club ? as all three grades search to end their form slumps. Jersey Flegg will kick off at 11.30am, with first grade starting at 3pm.
ANTHONY MINICHIELLO JOEL MONAGHAN CHRIS FLANNERY RYAN CROSS AMOS ROBERTS CRAIG WING BRETT FINCH JASON CAYLESS STUART WEBB ANTHONY TUPOU ADRIAN MORLEY CRAIG FITZGIBBON LUKE RICKETSON (C) MICHAEL CROCKER RICHARD FA?AOSO NED CATIC BEN HANNANT