Wests Tigers v Sea Eagles preview
3 hours ago | Tim Costello
September comes early as top four teams square off.
Even though we're still six weeks away from the thrills and spills of finals footy officially kicking off, an early taste of what lays ahead awaits when the Roosters host the Dragons on Sunday afternoon.
The Roosters - coming off their best attacking game of the year where they piled on the points against the Manly Sea Eagles, have seemingly clicked into gear at the business end of the season and will be looking to unleash their attack on one of the competition's true contenders. The likes of Tedesco, Mitchell, Keary and Cronk all looked in ominous touch last week and will be looking to continue on their merry way.
The Dragons meanwhile have just come out the other side of a gruelling period where rep footy has more than tested the endurance and depth of the playing squad. Their all-star forward pack in particular have been feeling the pinch with hooker Cameron McInnes the only member of the Red V's pack not to pull on a rep jersey in recent weeks. After a testing, but eventual 14 point victory over the Cowboys last week they'll be looking to reset and find their best form coming into the concluding rounds.
The tri-colours will welcome back underrated forward Isaac Liu and utility Mitchell Aubusson onto the bench in place of young forwards Nat Butcher and Lindsay Collins.
The Dragons will be hoping fire-breathing forward Tyson Frizell returns in the back-row although there is still some doubt around the hamstring injury which ruled him out last week. If he does play, Luciano Leilua will slip back onto the bench with Blake Lawrie missing the final 17.
Last meeting: Round 8 2018 - Dragons 24 Roosters 8
In the traditional Anzac day blockbuster, the Dragons were flying high as competition leaders and accounted for the Roosters 24-8. It was a day which reportedly forced a re-think around the Roosters attacking structures and a day many Dragons stamped themselves as genuine Origin contenders.
Who to watch: Back to his scheming creative best in the Roosters big win last week was Co-Captain Jake Friend. With season high stats of 88 running metres, 4 tackle busts and 2 try-assists the number nine helped spark his team into gear. From the outside looking in, it seems the Roosters have been trying too hard to base their game around the strengths of Cooper Cronk for much of the year, but they've always been at their best playing an up-tempo game on the back of Friend jumping out of dummy-half. It's no coincidence they found their best attack on the same day Friend did.
After a limited amount of minutes off the bench this year, young back-rower Luciano Leilua was gifted some genuine game-time in the absence of Dragons rep forwards in recent weeks and has shown some good signs. The younger brother of Raiders centre Joey has had some big raps on him for a couple of years now and could be ready to announce himself as a genuine strike weapon for the Dragons premiership charge. Will likely slot back onto the bench this week, but looks for his footwork and strength to be testing some tiring defenders in the latter stages of this contest.
The favourite: After their strong showing last weekend the 4th placed Roosters hold favouritism oved the 2nd placed Dragons.
My tip: Expect to see a far more energized Dragons outfit than the one we've seen in recent weeks in a match that could prove crucial to their confidence moving towards September. It's hard to see them returning to their very best just yet though and the Roosters attack looked too good to resist last week. Expecting them to lay on a couple of late tries late to further tighten the battle for top four positions. Roosters by 12.
1. James Tedesco 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Latrell Mitchell 4. Joseph Manu 5. Blake Ferguson 6. Luke Keary 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 9. Jake Friend 10. Sio Siua Taukeiaho 11. Boyd Cordner 14. Isaac Liu 13. Victor Radley 12. Ryan Matterson 15. Zane Tetevano 16. Mitchell Aubusson 22. Lindsay Collins
1. Matthew Dufty 2. Jordan Pereira 3. Euan Aitken 4. Timoteo Lafai 5. Jason Nightingale 6. Gareth Widdop 7. Ben Hunt 8. James Graham 9. Cameron McInnes 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Tariq Sims 13. Jack de Belin 14. Jeremy Latimore 15. Kurt Mann 16. Leeson Ah Mau 17. Luciano Leilua
Referees: Ashley Klein, Chris Sutton; Sideline Officials: Chris Butler, Nick Beashel; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Luke Patten;