Sydney Roosters v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
Last round really started to separate the wheat from the chaff in many cases, with half of the eight games featuring heavy wins to title contenders over sides essentially out of the finals picture.
The high-flying Roosters were one such side, doing it easy in a big win over Wests Tigers on Friday, while the Bulldogs were an exception. Their agonising two-point loss at Belmore to a Cronulla side level with them at the start of the round was a huge blow.
They are still sitting in seventh but with the Sharks having moved ahead of them their quests for either a top-four finish or a home final have taken a hit.
Des Hasler's men are still counting the cost of that 18-16 loss with five-eighth Josh Reynolds ruled out for six weeks with a knee injury. One silver lining is that in Moses Mbye, Canterbury are one of the few sides in the NRL that could lose a top-line playmaker and replace him with another. Mbye slots straight into Reynolds' No.6 jersey in the only change from last week with prop Aiden Tolman (hamstring) still another week away.
Meanwhile it's steady as she goes for Trent Robinson. The impressive form of rookie winger Brendan Elliot has alleviated the ongoing absence of winger Shaun Kenny-Dowall, with no changes to last week's 17 but with Kane Evans, Matt McIlwrick and Suaia Matagi added to an extended bench.
Meanwhile 26-year-old halfback Mitchell Pearce this week becomes the youngest-ever player to rack up 200 first grade games at the age of 26 years and 115 days, breaking fellow Rooster Craig Wing's record of 26 years and 194 days in 2006.
The match also sees milestones for James Maloney (150 NRL games) and Dylan Napa (50 games).
Watch Out Roosters: It's no secret the Bulldogs aim to play a big and powerful forwards-focused style of football, and that's certainly reflected in their stats. Canterbury have the highest amount of hit-ups and hit-up run metres of any team this season with an average of 86.1 runs for 786.2 metres per game. They also have the second most post-contact metres with 575.9 metres per game and are making the most dominant tackles with an average of nine per game.
Watch Out Bulldogs: If the Bulldogs look to dominate up front the Roosters look to set a platform with their forwards and shred you with their outside backs. The Tricolours have one of the most exciting backlines in the competition with fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (100 tackle breaks – second most in NRL) and centre Michael Jennings (55 tackle breaks – equal 12th) capable of blinding speed and footwork. Winger Daniel Tupou's lanky gait is as hard to stop along the ground as his 195-centimetre frame is to stop in the air, while athletic centre Blake Ferguson looks to be approaching peak form at the right time. The Roosters have the most tackle breaks of any side with just over 31 per game this year and make 843 metres per game in the backs compared to 644 per game for Canterbury.
Key Match-Up: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves v James Graham. The contrasting styles of these two teams are almost highlighted by their starting senior props. Waerea-Hargreaves averages just over nine runs for 91 metres while Graham has 16.5 runs per game for almost 130 metres. While Waerea-Hargreaves' style is based on fiery hit-ups and fierce tackles, Graham has silky ball skills and late pass at the line. Each man still makes around 30 tackles per game and both will have a big say on how the opening exchanges of this match play out.
The History: Played 165; Roosters 82, Bulldogs 78, Drawn 5. The Roosters have won four of the past five against Canterbury, although the Bulldogs have won five of their past six matches at Allianz Stadium against all sides.
Match Officials: Matt Cecchin & Ashley Klein; Touch Judges: Nick Beashel & Russell Turner; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy & Ben Galea.
Televised: Channel Nine, Live, 7.30pm (NSW); Channel Nine, delayed, 9.30pm (QLD).
The Way We See It: These sides are both serious finals contenders – the Roosters a chance of a top-two finish – and this should present a high-quality match-up. The Bulldogs will be smarting from their Belmore loss to Cronulla last week and desperate to make amends but crucially, they are without key men Josh Reynolds and Aiden Tolman and coming off a five-day turnaround. The well-rested Roosters have had a seven-day break and go in unchanged, fit and firing and should be too strong in this one in the back end of the game. Roosters by six.
This article first appeared on NRL.com