Griffin: Where grand final will be won and lost
The Roosters struggled with Melbourne's defensive pressure last week.
They completed at barely 70 per cent and have had a habit of putting themselves under pressure all season (16th in the NRL at 73 per cent). Composure and patience with the ball has never been more important for the defending premiers.
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They have the attacking structures and individual brilliance to win any game, but they need to improve on last week
s performance. The Raiders are experts of dragging their opposition into messy, niggling contests. Their defence has been rock solid in two finals. They have conceded only three tries and defeated the Rabbitohs with only 45 per cent of possession, so the Roosters need to build pressure and be prepared to play off slow ruck speed and stop start tactics.
The other concern is how they will back up from a brutal preliminary final and the fitness of Luke Keary and Jake Friend.
Bring the D. In the big games their defence has been almost impregnable. They dominated the Storm in last year's grand final. Melbourne couldn't handle the speed and intensity of their defensive line and scored their only try from an intercept in the 62nd minute. In fact, in their past three finals appearances they have not conceded a point in the first half and have conceded only six in each game. If they can reproduce a similar defensive performance on Sunday, they are going to be very hard to beat. Another major key for the Roosters is the inclusion of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. Their forwards had to withstand an almighty challenge from the Storm and the return of JWH couldn't come at a better time. He is fresh and ready to fire which will help counteract the surging Raiders pack led by Josh Papalii.
The Roosters' ability to handle Canberra's unpredictable attack. The Raiders have a unique attacking style. They throw fewer passes and run from dummy-half more than any team in the NRL. The Roosters had trouble with them both times they met this year, conceding an average of 21 points. Late offloads from Bateman and Tapine, and Hodgson's kicking game troubled them in round 21. They have a brilliant defensive system, which will be tested by the unstructured skill and athleticism of Canberra. Jack Wighton has a great running game and the intelligence and precision of Josh Hodgson poses the biggest threat. The other challenge is to remain composed against an opponent who will do everything in their power to niggle and frustrate them off their game.
One to go! We can do something special and become the first team in 26 years to go back-to-back. It was only talk way back at the start of the season - now we are here. There have been a lot of disruptions during the year with Origin and injuries, but we have come through it all. We are confident in our ability and know what grand final day is all about. This is our chance to create history.
He has been the Roosters' best all season. His game has gone to another level in his second year with Cronk and Keary. He is the No.1 player in the NRL for linebreaks, tackle busts and running metres. He has also come up with some fantastic try assists with his passing game which has improved since arriving at the club. He plays with enormous energy and his speed and footwork create havoc no matter where he injects himself. Defensively, he is the best fullback in the game. He organises his front line very efficiently and has the size and speed to save just as many tries as he scores.
He has been a little quiet, but he is capable of anything. Latrell has the ability to score from anywhere on the field. Sometimes through his size, footwork and speed, he just scores because he wants to. He forms part of the Roosters' lethal left edge that will see plenty of ball. He finished the season as the highest points scorer in the NRL and second highest try scorer with 18. Mitchell loves the big stage. His conversion from the sideline last week to give the Roosters an eight-point break was all class.
IF I WERE THE ROOSTERS
Kick early, chase hard and back our defence. Work hard at marker on their dummy-half runners and limit the penalties. Deny the Raiders any field position and cheap possession that will build their confidence. Put Nicoll-Klokstad and Rapana under kicks for Tedesco and Tupou to contest. Go after Papalii in attack and defence - make him work hard every set. Lock up and stay up around Bateman, Tapine and Whitehead and no dummies from Wighton - he is a runner. Hodgson is their general - every time we defend him well, we take something away from them. In attack, power through the middle early - use Cordner and Aubusson to bend their edges back. Get Mitchell early flat and fast ball on the left to take on Leilua in between the red lines. In good ball set up left post and get Tedesco and Manu opportunities off the back of shape at their right edge. Composure is the key. The Raiders proved again last week how resilient they can be defensively, so build pressure and stay patient - the points will come.
WHAT TO EXPECT
The Roosters will go straight for the throat. They destroyed Melbourne in the first 20 minutes in last year's decider and look for them to attempt to do the same to the Raiders. They blew Souths off the park in the qualifying final and led eight-nil in last week's preliminary final. With the fastest moving defensive line in the NRL they will go after the Raiders from the kick-off and try to unsettle them. Cronk in his ninth grand final will direct the show along with Keary who will be busy. They will test out Nicoll-Klokstad and Rapana with their kicking game at every opportunity. Their attack will be simple and structured - fast and intense - looking for any opportunities to release Tedesco, Manu and Mitchell.
Keary (ankle) …….. plays
Friend (calf) …….. likely
Grand final experience. They looked nervous in the early stages of the preliminary final and this week will be something they have never experienced. The Roosters are back for a second year and six of them were there in 2013. Keary won a comp with Souths in 2014 and Cooper Cronk is lining up for his ninth grand final appearance and shooting for his sixth trophy. Will Sezer and Wighton be able build pressure with their kicking game? Josh Hodgson will do his share but at vital stages the halves will be required to execute under pressure. The Roosters back three are clinical in defusing kicks and lethal on kick returns. Defending Mitchell and Manu - Leilua is under an injury cloud and will need all his speed and strength to take care of Mitchell. Manu will be sweating on defensive errors from the left edge, which has been a problem all season.
Start fast: It's all about the first half. The Raiders have to go with the Roosters right from the first whistle. The defending premiers put Melbourne away quickly last year and will be looking to do the same Sunday. Canberra need to do everything right with the ball and produce their best defensive 40 minutes of the season. If the scores are close, or even better the Raiders are in front at half-time, the Roosters will be in uncharted waters and nervous. The Roosters have failed to win a game this season when they are either level (two games) or behind at halftime (there). Discipline will be extremely important. Even though they like to push the boundaries with the referees its important that Canberra don't shoot themselves in the foot.
Scoring against the Roosters. They have only conceded six points a game in the finals. The Roosters have not let in a point in first halves. In their two previous meetings this season the Raiders scored 24 and 18 and were unlucky not to rack up more in round 21. Late offloads by Bateman and Tapine cracked them that day and Hodgson is always a threat with the ball in hand or off the boot. The Roosters were wobbling at times in the middle during the second half against the Storm, but their jamming line speed continually killed any ball movement. If the Raiders can build pressure and persist down the middle of the field, they have a few more weapons then Melbourne. The change of angles by Papalii, Bateman and Whitehead are hard to defend. Wighton needs to run at every opportunity and get Hodgson another play the ball to scheme off. Their outside backs are all potential try scorers on short sides. Any points will be vital, even if it's penalty goals in the first half. They all add up and 10 or 12 points might win it.
Let's spoil the party. The Roosters are raging favourites to go back to back, and no one gives us a chance. The pressure is all on them. We can win this and cause one of the biggest upsets in NRL history. All season we have answered every challenge. The belief in this team is unbreakable. We have gone to Melbourne twice and defeated the minor premiers. Our defence has never been better, and our group has never been tighter. We can take the Roosters down on Sunday and win the whole thing. Take the trophy back to Canberra for the first time in 25 years for everyone to enjoy. This is the opportunity of a lifetime!
He has been so important to the Raiders. When he was injured over the last couple of seasons, they were lost without him. This year he has been there all the way guiding them to this point. Hodgson is classy, he plays with time around the ruck. He knows his teammates strengths well and can bring them onto the ball with a pass or a kick, while remaining a run threat himself. The Raiders are the No.1 team for forced turnovers thanks to his game changing one on one steals. He is also one of the best defensive hookers in the NRL. His ability to read the opposition attack and turn up at crucial times, has saved his team points on numerous occasions in 2019.
Against the Rabbitohs last week he ran for 180m from 18 carries, created seven tackle busts and scored the winning try. He was too powerful for the Storm in round 22 when he smashed through the line to complete an amazing 22-point comeback. His move to the front row this season has been a masterstroke, and he is thriving on the extra work and responsibility. Papalii is still quick across aground and has sharp late footwork. This makes it extremely difficult for defenders to control his 112kg frame and stop him offloading or generating quick play the balls. He will be a handful for the Roosters to control.
IF I WERE THE RAIDERS
I would spend the week preparing for the first 20 minutes. We have to start fast - we might not win the game in the first half, but we could lose it. Explode out of the blocks with controlled aggression and more intensity then the Roosters. Simple sets with the ball and a low risk kicking game - bomb the left-hand tramline and trap Morris and Tedesco in that corner or kick it into touch and walk to the scrum and get ready to unleash another ruthless defensive set. Bring our backrowers under the ball and have our spine looking for running and second phase opportunities. Be positive, trust your instincts, and if it feels right - do it! We need to put points on them. Finally, at some stage of the game, they will have their good periods with the ball. This is our opportunity to win the game. Defend for each other, attack Cronk and Keary and assist from the inside on Mitchell and Manu. Tedesco will be the big tackle - be there when its your time. Most importantly compete harder than they do on last play and kicks. Defuse it and if we have to another set, so be it, its part of the process of winning.
WHAT TO EXPECT
RAIDERS: UNBREAKABLE BELIEF
In March not many people other then Ricky Stuart and his players would have believed they could win the competition. Maybe some of them even had their doubts. That's what makes them so dangerous now - they're here against the odds, and I don't think they will die wondering. This will ensure a frantic, intense opening to the game. Watch for the Raiders to do everything in their power to get on top of the Roosters in the opening exchanges. Lots of swarming physical defence and simple aggressive attack. They throw less passes than any other team so don't expect much ball movement. They will be unpredictable at times as is the nature of their individuals in Bateman and Leilua etc. Look for early field position kicks from Hodgson and Wighton (two 40/20s). In the end it might come down to Hodgson and Papalii. If they are in range at the back end of the game watch them lift and inspire their team.
Joey Leilua calf)... will play
PREDICTION: ROOSTERS BY 6
LISTEN! In the season finale, Matty Johns is joined by James Hooper and Paul Kent to go over this Sunday's grand final, plus how the build-up to the NRL's biggest weekend can weigh on the favoured team (and how the Roosters are counteracting it!).