"Photo: Paul Barkley / Melba Studios"

Team News:

The Sydney Roosters make the unorthodox trip to Townsville to kick-off their 2015 NRL campaign with a clash against last year's semi-final opponents the North Queensland Cowboys on Saturday night.

Usually one half of the season-opener against arch-rivals the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the opening weekend of the footy season, the boys from Bondi will need to put tradition behind them as they take on one of the game's toughest road trips to start their year.

With plenty of history between the two sides including last year's dramatic semi-final clash at Allianz Stadium, plus the many mouth-watering battles out in the middle with two star-studded sides named and finally The Master v The Apprentice as Trent Robinson once again battles his former Assistant Paul Green for bragging rights, this is certainly a match not to be missed.

The Roosters are without just one certain starter in the form of injured Co-Captain Jake Friend, who underwent Off-Season shoulder surgery seeing the young Queensland rake unavailable until what is expected to be a Round 10 return.

Friend's absense sees one of the Roosters new recruits Matt McIlwrick step-up for his first start in the famous Tricolours after a Pre-Season switch from the Canberra Raiders, while fellow former Raider and new recruit Blake Ferguson has also been named.

Ferguson's return to the game will end an 18 month absence from the game following a much publicized chain of events in the 2013 season.

Ferguson's arrival sees Shaun Kenny-Dowall shift to the wing, a place many suggest the Kiwi international has a bigger impact on the game from.

In the only other big changes to the side that has claimed back to back Minor Premierships in the past two seasons is the fleet-footed Roger Tuivasa-Sheck's move to fullback in place of the now retired Anthony Minichiello and Aidan Guerra's shift from lock to the No.12 jersey occupied by Sonny Bill Williams in 2013-14.

Guerra's move allows Isaac Liu a start and Siua Taukieaho a chance at a Roosters debut from the bench.

The last time the Red, White and Blue tasted victory in Townsville was in 2013 with last year's match ending in a 42-10 loss to the Cowboys.


Key Match-Up:

Mitchell Pearce v Johnathan Thurston

Pearce will be keen to continue his last 2014 form when the year kick's off this Saturday night in Thurston's Townsville. The Maroons halfback, arguably the best player in the world, will however be the hurdle that Pearce must overcome to control the match and guide his side to victory.

The two have had numerous battles in seasons past in both NRL and State of Origin footy and this Saturday night's showdown is set to sit amongst some of the best encounters between the pair.

Thurston is coming off his first full Pre-Season in years and with yet another contentious exit from the Finals last year, plus the loss of the Origin Shield to the Blues, the game's premier No.7 will be no doubt driven to show he can deliver that Title to Townsville beginning on Saturday night.

Pearce on the other hand is again coming a little less fresh with the halfback featuring in both the NRL Auckland Nines tournament and All Stars fixture in the Pre-Season. Added to that the now added pressure to lead the side weekly after being appointed the Roosters Co-Captain alongside Jake Friend with Anthony Minichiello now retired.

His form at the back end of last season however had him close to Australian Squad selection in the Four Nations and if all the whispers out of Roosters HQ are true about the young playmaker feeling fitter and looking better out on the paddock than ever before, then we're in for a treat come Saturday night in Townsville as Pearce looks to lead his side to a season-opening away victory.

 

Roosters (1-13): Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Blake Ferguson, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce (c), Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Matt McIlwrick, Sam Moa, Boyd Cordner, Aidan Guerra, Isaac Liu

Bench (14-17): Mitchell Aubusson, Dylan Napa, Kane Evans, Siosiua Taukeiaho, Marty Kennedy (18), Nene Macdonald (19)

You can check out both sides by CLICKING HERE now.


Hear exclusively from Assistant Coach Steve McNamara on the side named, notable shifts in position and role from some well known faces, plus the challenge that is the Cowboys by CLICKING HERE now.