They’ve really impressed me in the last few weeks. They really opened up against the Bulldogs and, while it was a toil against Manly in Wollongong last Saturday night, they just found a way to win, even if it was with two minutes left in the match. That’s how you know a team is going well: they hung in and found that last try to get it done.
The season-ending shoulder injury to captain Gareth Widdop has been a blessing in disguise because it means their spine has found its groove. The injury to Widdop has forced coach Paul McGregor’s hand. Widdop was never a fullback. Fullback, behind halfback, is now the most important position on the field. You have a look at the teams with sharp fullbacks: they’re the ones in the best form. Look at Brisbane: they are struggling because Darius Boyd is struggling. Fullbacks are the modern-day five-eighths. They are the link between the halves and the outside backs.
I’m particularly enjoying Corey Norman and Matt Dufty working down the left side of the field. That combination is really building. On the right side, it’s the running of Ben Hunt. He’s getting back to his best, and his best is when he is a running halfback.
QUESTIONS FOR ROOSTERS
I reckon the Roosters’ win against the Storm was the best for that club in many a year. Their bench had two debutants, with just 10 or so matches between the rest of them, and then they lost Keary with concussion in the final 20 minutes. It went to golden point but they still did enough for Latrell Mitchell to nail the match-winning field goal.
People shouldn’t underestimate how much that sort of match takes out of a player, both physically and emotionally. Look at a bloke like Victor Radley. I watched him closely against the Storm. Storm giant Nelson Asofa-Solomona ran over the top of him a few times. Victor thinks he can smash everyone in every tackle, but he can’t. He’s a little knocked around, not least because he’s been playing hooker for the last three weeks.
Keary is a massive loss for the Roosters. People shouldn’t underestimate the significance of him being ruled out.
He’s been the key for the Roosters because he’s unlocked their attack on the left side. That’s the big question for them: what will they do without him?
I am assuming they will start with Latrell at five-eighth and put backrower Mitch Aubusson in the centres. Defensively, that makes them strong but, with no Keary, do they play more down the right side? Does halfback Cooper Cronk take more control and play to backrower Angus Crichton and centre Joseph Manu?
Maybe. But the right-side defence for the Dragons has been their weakness early this season. Why would the Roosters not try to expose that?
PLAYER TO WATCH
The player to watch is the player you cannot help but watch: Tyson Frizell. He suffered a ruptured testicle — it hurts just saying it — in the first round loss to the Cowboys and was supposed to be out for six weeks but came back in half that time. That says a lot about him. He starts matches on the edge then goes to the middle and still plays 80 minutes. Watch how he runs the ball: he has that Webcke mentality. His last run is as hard as his first run. He’s a machine.
I’ve been really impressed with Dragons halfback Ben Hunt lately. Last week, against Manly, he was dynamite. Defensively, late in the game, he ripped in and was upending blokes almost twice his size.
But it’s his running game that’s most impressive. When he’s running, he’s running smart.
His favourite time to run is when the opposition has four defenders on a short side. He will wait until backrower Boyd Cordner, or the first defender off the ruck, is under pressure. He digs quickly into the line, throws a dummy to the outside, and comes off hard on his right foot. He does that right-foot step so well. The opposition knows its coming. But when they are under fatigue, that’s when he gets them. He did the same thing just before half-time in this same match last year and scored. He broke the Roosters’ hearts there and then.
JOEY’S TIP: Dragons by 2
FIRST TRYSCORER: Tariq Sims
Andrew Johns is an Immortal, a Newcastle great and a commentator for Channel Nine