Round 4: Roosters v Warriors preview
A Sunday night contest could become the focus of the Rugby League world as two future stars potentially debut for an injury depleted Sydney Roosters side as they host the New Zealand Warriors at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Dominant during the opening two rounds of the competition after wins over Manly the Wests Tigers, the Roosters were quite a step below South Sydney last Friday, even before injuries struck late in the match. An opening half of errors and ill-discipline hurt the Tricolours significantly, costing them field position and meaning they were having to defend a South Sydney side that looked red-hot. The Bunnies were able to run out to a 24-0 lead just after the half-time break before they put the cue in the rack for the night, which allowed the Roosters to add some respectability to the scoreboard. Although, the margin of defeat for the Roosters was only 10 points, it flattered them, given that they were only able to able to score late in the match with two tries in the final seven minutes to bring the score back to 26-16.
Despite the poor performance, three major injuries would have caused the most headaches for coach Trent Robinson - a serious concussion to Lindsay Collins as well as series knee injury to Lachlan Lam and a season-ending ACL rupture for Luke Keary. Potential superstar Sam Walker has been named to make his NRL debut at halfback in Lam's place, whilst Drew Hutchinson moves from the interchange to the starting line-up at five-eighth for Keary. In better news, the home side are boosted by the return of Victor Radley at lock. A potential debut for boom rookie Joseph Suaalii could have to wait, with a contract issue set to sideline the 17-year-old for at least another week.
The Warriors fortunes could not have been more different, having pulled off one the biggest comebacks in recent years when they came from 31-10 down to score a remarkable and controversial 34-31 victory over Canberra in the Australian capital last weekend. Dominated throughout the first half, the Warriors opened the scoring early in the contest before the Raiders started to take control and the visiting side were a step below the 'Green Machine' in the contest, their defence easily split by some strong Raiders attack. A fast start for the Warriors in the second half gave them an outside hope of making a comeback, however when the Raiders hit back just five minutes later, it looked to have extinguished any hopes of the comeback. However, a mounting injury toll came to haunt the Raiders after losing three players during the half, meaning that there was just one player on the bench and fatigue began to set in. The Warriors had half an hour to overturn a 21-point margin and they were able to do just that. The win wasn't without controversy, with a forward pass missed by officials in the lead up to a Ben Murdoch-Masila try. The Warriors took the lead back in the 78th minute and had a nervous wait in the 80th minute as the bunker reviewed a Canberra error which upheld a no-try live decision.
Unlike his Roosters counterpart, Warriors coach Nathan Brown has not been forced into mass changes with just the one alternation to the winning side - centre Peta Hiku has been ruled out for a few weeks with a knee injury. Former Canterbury outside back Marcelo Montoya is set to make his first appearance for his new club.
Who to watch: There is no doubt that the Rugby League world's eyes will be firmly placed on Roosters debutant Sam Walker this weekend. Walker comes from a famous Rugby League family and he has already shown his skills across the NSW Cup for North Sydney. He'll will need to bring his best straight away for the Roosters alongside another relatively inexperienced half in Drew Hutchison.
An NRL favourite, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was a hero last weekend for the Warriors, with his try-saving tackle on Jordan Rapana being the difference between victory and defeat for his Warriors side. 'RTS' will need to be at his peakif the Warriors are wanting to beat the 2018-19 premiers on Sunday.
The favourite: The Sydney Roosters are heavy favourites for the contest this weekend despite the heavy injury toll.
My tip: This game is harder to tip for me personally than what most would be thinking. The Roosters still possess the best backline in the comp but with a new halves pairing there could be some issues, especially if they don't clean up their game from last weekend. The Warriors could be good enough to steal victory but lack the consistency to make the killer blow for the upset. Sydney Roosters by 8.