There’s one way for the Roosters to get themselves out of the hole they’re in next year: give total control to Sam Walker. He’s the future of that club and the man who should be running that team.
I know he’s missed the majority of the year with a knee injury, but I can see him playing as an on-ball halfback next year. What I mean by that is playing both sides of the ruck. He should be on the left when he sees an opportunity, he should be on the right as well when he’s counting numbers in his favour.
The modern-day practice of halves tending to stay to one side of the field doesn’t suit him, and it shouldn’t suit the Roosters. He has to get his hands on the ball as much as possible if the Roosters are to become title contenders in 2024.
Part of that formula is also having Brandon Smith revert to being a running dummy-half. He doesn’t have the creativity or skill of a player like Api Koroisau, but I can see him playing far more directly next year.
A number of injuries and suspensions have hurt the Roosters this year, but I suspect a lot of the outside noise has really got to them as well. There’s been a lot of talk about James Tedesco throughout the State of Origin series and as much as they won’t admit it, I think it has worn them down as the year has gone on.
Just a quick word on Joseph Suaalii: some criticism of him recently has become a pile-on. He’s a 20-year-old doing his best for himself and his family, and I think the criticism has been extreme. I really feel for him.
We know he comes from humble beginnings and the continuous references to his rugby union deal has been over the top. I watched the Wally Lewis story the other night and people should remember, these players are only in the game for a short time – and it can have consequences later in life.
Do we really begrudge him for wanting to make the most out of the time he’s got?
This is Manly’s grand final on Thursday night. If they lose this game, they can’t make the top eight. I thought they got the benefit of a couple of really dodgy calls late in the game against the Dragons last week, and this game will have monumental consequences for their season.
I’m expecting their right-side attack of Daly Cherry-Evans, Haumole Olakau’atu and Tolu Koula to really test Luke Keary on the Roosters’ left. Cherry-Evans brings the skill, Olakau’atu the power and Koula the speed. It’s almost a perfect mix.
I’m worried the five-day turnaround will hurt the Sea Eagles, and despite the Roosters clearly lacking confidence, you can see they busted their backsides against the Broncos last week. It’s just not happening for them at the moment.
The Victor Radley and Jake Trbojevic match-up is one I’m really looking forward to, and how Keary handles Olakau’atu could also decide the result.
Joey’s tip: Roosters by 6
First try-scorer: Billy Smith
Man of the match: James Tedesco
Huge round for the finals race
This weekend will go a long way to determining the top four and the top eight with three huge matches: Panthers against the Storm, Cowboys and Broncos as well as the Rabbitohs and Sharks in Perth.
I can’t see Penrith dropping a game against Melbourne. Nathan Cleary’s kicking was 10 out of 10 last week against the Sharks. He just suffocated the life out of them. They’re a lock for my top four along with the Broncos and Warriors.
I suspect the Storm and Rabbitohs will be battling for fourth spot, and that last game against the Broncos in round 27 might be so crucial for Melbourne. I’m still leaning towards South Sydney to get fourth, and I think they’ll get home against Cronulla in a tight one this week.
The Sharks’ make-or-break game will be against the Knights in Newcastle for round 26, and I suspect Kalyn Ponga can lead his side into the finals. That seemed crazy a month ago, but they’ve found form and have a favourable draw.
I think the Cowboys’ top-eight chances will come down to the last game against the Panthers, who might be inclined to rest a bunch of players. North Queensland are in for me, but they’ve hit a couple of hurdles with the suspension of Valentine Holmes, who is so crucial to them, and Jeremiah Nanai’s injury.
I think the Raiders can steady themselves to make it, but I expect the Sharks to fall out of the eight.
Just on this weekend’s double-header in Perth, this is a great opportunity for the city to push to be the NRL’s 18th team. They need a big crowd at Optus Stadium to show they care about rugby league.
Battle of the speedsters
I don’t think the NRL has ever been blessed with such an exciting group of speedsters as what we’ve got at the moment. It brings back memories of the old foot race on grand final day to crown the fastest man in the game.
Just think about it: Alofiana Khan-Pereira, Jason Saab, Josh Addo-Carr, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Reece Walsh, Tolu Koula, Dominic Young, Xavier Coates ... they’re all brilliant athletes. How good would it be to see them go up against each other?
Who would you have winning over 100 metres?
I’m probably siding with Khan-Pereira, but if it was any longer than 100 metres I reckon Saab would be the man.
Cronulla’s fullback conundrum
When Billy Slater talks about fullback play, it usually pays to listen. So when he says Nicho Hynes should go back to the No.1 for the Sharks, then I treat those comments with a lot of respect.
Despite Will Kennedy’s injury and Kade Dykes being out for the season, I still reckon Hynes should stay at halfback in the front line. I’ve never been a fan of weakening one position to strengthen another.
Braydon Trindall and Matt Moylan probably haven’t played a lot of footy together apart from the first few rounds this year when Hynes was injured, so I would be keeping the Dally M Medal winner in the No.7.
But there would be one change I’d make if I was Craig Fitzgibbon: play Ronaldo Mulitalo as another fullback option in attack to help Connor Tracey. It might be different, but different is what the Sharks need at the moment if they are to make the finals.
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