The Search for 9 for 9
All of you are now well aware of my other wordly gambling performance in the NRL Finals. After the Preliminary Final weekend I am now 8 for 8 and with a big start being given to the Dragons (-6.5) at this time, I get to take my team the Roosters this week, even though I doubt they will win. The Dragons are just not a team built to blow teams off the park. So although there is a Manly 08 risk here, of mind numbingly boring team all of a sudden blows a team off the park on Grand Final day, I feel confident that taking the Roosters will give me 9 from 9.
The Preliminary Final again saw games that were awesome advertisements for the sport of Rugby League. By a complete miracle, Saturday Night even saw a great advertisement for the NRL, a packed stadium in Sydney for a game that was not a Grand Final. Though I would give Channel 9 and both Sydney papers more of the credit for that crowd than David Gallop and the NRL marketing department. Truly was a great sales job by the media this week.
Friday was without doubt the best Roosters performance I have seen for 3 years, possibly longer. The final score was a blowout, but this game was not in the bag until there were 15 minutes left and those first 65 minutes were a true examination of the mental toughness, skill, stamina and desire of both teams. It would be harsh to say that Gold Coast cracked, but the Roosters certainly stayed committed to their game-plan for longer and were the more disciplined team and in the end deserved their victory. In the end this was not a game won by Carney or Pearce as so many tight games have been for the Roosters this year, instead this time it was Anasta who broke the shackles for the Tri-Colours, with an assist by an absolutely awful video ref intervention.
The Key Moment came around the 50-55 minute mark, Anasta took an inside ball from Carney who was then hit by a Titans player just after he passed the ball, Braith saw Carney get hit late and when he was tackled stayed down, definitely feigning injury, even gesturing back towards Carney to give the Video Ref time to review the play. The Video Ref, as is always the case, enforced the letter but not the spirit of the law and the Roosters got a penalty. So tackle 4 on the halfway line, became tackle 1 on the 20 and 2 plays later Anasta himself burst over for a try that put an end to the Titans resistance. Just a smart, veteran play by a player who has grown into a true leader, personally I don't like that sort of gamesmanship, and if Scott Prince had done it I would have whinged about it for approximately 2000 words in this space, but the rules are what they are and as long as this great game continues to be run by Administrators and the referees department while ex-players are ignored you have to exploit any loophole you can before your opponent does.
Speaking of Scott Prince, I went into this game, from a Roosters perspective, terrified of his short kicking game, but the Roosters defence was so overwhelming between the 20 metre lines that he rarely got to put it into effect and was strangely ineffective when he did. From my memory he only forced 2 line drop outs for the game (and yes I am lazy and should go and check the stats, click on my the ads on this site and I will quit my job and have the time to do such things). This truly was an outstanding defensive performance by the Roosters, the question is can they back it up next week, is it possible for a team to put in its best defensive performance in years 2 weeks in a row? that is the key question for NRL fans and the gambling public as we look towards the game this week. Luckily this Dragons team will not ask as many questions of the defence as the Titans were capable of last week. On the other hand they will also be a much sterner obstacle for the Roosters attack to overcome.
What a game that was on Saturday night, the Tigers threw absolutely everything they had at them, but the Dragons just, in the accurate words of Phil Gould "Strangled the life out of the game". Like so many Dragons games this year they just relied on strong defence a solid kick/chase and ball control, its not flashy, they don't really entertain, if you had a choice of watching a cup of room temperature water evaporate or Manly v Dragons, I would be asking what sized cup of water? However, when they play exciting teams like the Tigers, the Raiders or the Roosters then the contrast in styles makes for riveting viewing.
As mentioned in this space last week, Benji was capable of anything in this game, with 'anything' including the good and the bad. There is little doubt the Tigers would have been out of this game well before the 70th minute without Benji on Saturday night, but that does not negate the fact that Benji was responsible for the 2 killer plays in the last 10 minutes. First his kick out on the full was the reason the Dragons had the field position necessary for their winning Field Goal, this was a particularly galling mistake as it was clear at this point of the game that the Dragons were not trying to win the game, but were waiting for just this type of mistake and for the Tigers to lose it and Benji complied. The most frustrating thing about Marshalls mistakes was that just 3 minutes earlier he had launched a 60 metre bomb on Tackle 2 that gave the Tigers great field position themselves and seemed to indicate that Benji understood the importance of playing the game at the other end of the field at the end of the game, to follow this smart play 4 minutes later with the overly ambitious effort that sailed out on the full was as perfect an example of the yin and yang of Benji that you could ever hope to see. After Soward's clinical field goal, Benji then spilled the ball on Tackle 3 on half way and it was basically game over. The Tigers fought to the end and can be proud of their season, they will deserve to be among the favorites next year, but for now its Roosters v Dragons for the Grand Final on Sunday evening.
Phil Gould cops a lot of stick from Rugby League fans, but for all his faults his insight into the game is unmatched, that is why I find it so odd that I disagree with his assessment of what the Roosters should do this week. Gould's theory is that the Roosters should follow the template of the Wests Tigers last week, play for a 12-12 scoreline and hope Pearce and Carney provide the magic at the back end of the game and win that way. Personally I believe this will be playing right into the Dragons hands. You cannot out-grind the ultimate grinding football team.
My view is that the Roosters should chance their hands early in the game, throw the ball wide on Tackle 5, kick for early 40/20's and generally be prepared to take some calculated risks early to try and jump to an early 2 score lead. The Dragons do not chase well, they are 4 from 10 when trailing by a Try this season, the stats for coming back from 2 Try's down are even worse. The Roosters best chance to win this game is get in front and rather than watching the Dragons choke the life out of the game, instead watch the Dragons just choke, as all the doubts built up from 28 years of failure manifest themselves in the opponents psyche. There is merit to the Gould plan, but I strongly believe there is more benefit in taking some risks and going for the jugular early, if the risks fail and they fall a Try behind due to a (Kenny-Dowall??) mistake, then they can switch strategy and go to a grind it out style. The Roosters will be playing this game on a knifes edge, they just cannot, I repeat, absolutely can not afford to fall behind by 2 Try's, because if St George are given a chance to tackle their way to victory for 70 minutes after taking an early 2 Try lead, then they will happily take the offer, go with one out running, complete all their sets and defend their way to the Premiership.
Anyway your 8 from 8 gambling maestro will now give you some Pre-Grand Final gambling tips for the key gambling options.
Clive Churchill Medal Winner
Braith Anasta - Roosters
I could have taken the easy option here and gone for Carney or Pearce, but Clive Churchill medals are often won by back rowers (props rarely play enough minutes to please the voters) and Anasta will give you a Back Row tackle count with a halves style impact on the passing and kicking game.
Ben Hornby - Dragons
Hornby is a massively under-rated member of the Dragons outfit, if the Dragons win by a small margin then I can see Ben being involved in the key plays that give them victory.
First Try Scorer
Kane Linnett - Roosters
You will get good odds for this pick, probably in the $14 range, Carney and Pearce both do their best work on the edges, and with the desperation that the Dragons defence shows at all times I can just see Carney bursting through a hole, being dragged down and offloading to a Centre of Back Rower, I'm going with Linnett only because he fits that option but also he has genuine pace, so if this scenario doesn't play out he is the most likely Rooster to go the length of the field.
Dean Young - Dragons
The Roosters marker defence can be sloppy at times and I can just picture Young burrowing over from Dummy Half late in the first half.
Finally my drive for an unprecedented 9 for 9 Finals Series against the spread.
You know I'm going Roosters regardless if you read last weeks column where I excoriated any fan who dares tip against their own team, but I am very happy that they are being given a 6.5 start by the bookies. So again, like last week I just don't see the Dragons being a team that can blow a team off the park, so the 6.5 start makes no sense to me and I will gladly take the points.
Lets hope for a cracking Grand Final, this finals series deserves it, but most of all lets hope for a Roosters win!!! (I make no apologies for my bias at this point, any true fan knows the joy of your team being in a Grand Final, well that is any true fan who is not a fan of Cronulla)