Schick Hydro Preview: Roosters v Dragons
A week ago, this looked like a game between two sides playing for nothing more than pride.
Suddenly, the stakes have been significantly raised.
The Dragons were expected to have their season officially ended by the Sharks on Saturday night, but instead put in their best performance of 2016 to inject new life into their finals hopes.
They were helped by results going their way, and with the teams above them set to go head-to-head in the coming weeks, the Dragons could very well sneak into the top eight with a hat-trick of wins.
Their task is far from a fait accompli, with the three-time defending minor premiers standing in the way this weekend.
It's been a tumultuous year for the Roosters, but the boys from Bondi are starting to hit form with their best 17 finally available.
A 22-10 win over the defending premiers last weekend confirmed their status as the best 15th-placed side in history, and they will be hell-bent on making sure they move up a few rungs on the Telstra Premiership ladder before season's end.
The Roosters head into this one with the same 17 that took down the Cowboys while the Dragons have added Leeson Ah Mau and Jacob Host to an extended bench as cover for the injured Tariq Sims (ankle).
Watch out Roosters: They've been accused of playing 'safe' footy in 2016, but the Dragons threw that form out the window against Cronulla. From the opening set of the game they were willing to chance their arm with offloads and expansive play, and while it cost them an early intercept try, they didn't shy away from their newfound confidence. The Dragoons finished the game with 18 offloads and just five errors in what was their best attacking output of the season thus far.
Watch out Dragons: It's been a season of 'what ifs' for the Roosters, and the biggest hypothetical has been how they would have fared had Mitchell Pearce been available from the get-go. Injuries and suspension have restricted him to just nine matches in 2016, but they have all been quality. The Roosters halfback dominated State of Origin rival Johnathan Thurston on Sunday with two try assists, three line break assists and a whopping 494 kick metres and is arguably in career-best form.
Key match-up: Blake Ferguson v Josh Dugan. Two great mates go head-to-head in a showdown between players who probably didn't think they'd be wearing the No.1 jersey at this stage of the season. While Ferguson played fullback in Round 1, the NSW Blues star spent the next 14 matches on the right edge before eventually returning to the back a month ago. After a shaky start, Ferguson has excelled in his new role, scoring two tries, setting up four more and making bulk metres in attack. For Dugan, the 2016 season was meant to see him make a permanent switch to centre, but those plans were scuttled after just two weeks. In the 12 matches he's played at fullback, Dugan has averaged nearly 200 metres and five tackle breaks per game. He was fantastic in his return from a broken jaw against the Sharks and will relish his side's new attacking flair.
The history: Played 35; Roosters 15, Dragons 19, Drawn 1. The Roosters have won seven of the past 10 meetings between the sides, but the Dragons did emerge 20-18 victors back in Round 8. While the Red V have enjoyed success in Anzac Day matches, their last win in a non-April 25 clash was the 2010 Grand Final.
What are the odds: Another upset is on the cards according to Sportsbet punters, who have backed the Dragon to defeat the Roosters. 65 per cent of the money is on the Dragons to win the match, with punters predicting it will be big, with 13+ to the Dragons the best backed in margin-betting.
Match officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin. Assistant referee: Tim Roby.
Sideline officials: Ricky MacFarlane and Chris Butler.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live coverage from 3:30pm; Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 4pm.
The way we see it: While the Dragons have more to play for, it seems as though the Roosters are using the last month of the season as a statement for 2017 and beyond. They have the talent to be a top four team, and will want to exact revenge after their heartbreaking loss earlier in the year. Roosters by 8.
This article first appeared on NRL.COM