1. Sonny Bill Williams (LW: 1)
SBW started again at five-eighth, and despite throwing a lolly-pop ball over Jenko’s head into the first row, was the Roosters’ best attacking weapon on Monday against the Sea Eagles.
He ran it seven times for 103 metres with a line break, two tackle busts, an offload, a line break assist and a try assist — and he almost had one more but for a combination tough-pass/weak-grab to Jennings in the first half. He also created space out wide for two more tries and was a threat to do something special every time he touched it. Defensively he still managed to rack up 19 tackles (two missed) despite technically standing a defender wider amid a mountain of defence in the first half when the Roosters were down 57-42 in possession.
The Roosters now have the blueprint of how to win. They can start two halfbacks, one either side of the ruck, and let Sonny Bill pop up on whichever side looks promising — which is essentially any part of the field he happens to be on at any given time. His size attracts defenders and enables him to offload through the line or pass before it better than any other player in the NRL, and his running game means you have to commit two or three defenders every time he touches the rock.
What a fucking athlete. Whether he stays or goes, we have been treated to 16 games of pure rugby league genius unmatched by any other athlete in the game, maybe ever. He has it all.
2. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (LW: NR)
Welcome back, boy-eeeee.
What a return match from the game’s best front-rower; a man of the match performance that included 21 runs for 180 metres, an offload, 26 tackles, no penalties and no errors.
But the most important statistic that can be directly related to JWH’s return is this one: two tries conceded.
In the past month, the Roosters have allowed 26, 24, 23 and 18 points. They held the Sea Eagles to just 12 in his return, with the defensive leader providing controlled aggression (the slap nothwithstanding) and unsurpassed energy off the line and at marker for the entirety of his stint.
The Roosters have missed this big boppa for five straight matches, and in one game they regained their defensive mojo against a top four team.
3. Michael Jennings (LW: 2)
Jennings tweaked an ankle in the second half but still combined well with SBW and Toops out wide, scoring two tries with a line break assist on top.
He missed a season-high three tackles (as @heighway_ pointed out to a hungover @26rounds on Tuesday morning) but none crucial, while in attack he ran for 53 metres off seven runs with three tackle busts, a line break and an offload to boot.
This year he’s missed just nine tackles in 14 matches. Last season he averaged three misses a game. You can credit Robbo all you want but there’s a pride that’s gone into Jenko’s defence this year after being dropped last year by Penrith to NSW Cup and released at the end of the season.
So I credit Gus. And Gus also credits Gus.
4. Mitchell Pearce (LW: 4)
Mitch is trying to get some grubbers in goal looking for repeat sets and had two stabs at it against the Eagles, but Manly managed to just get back into the field of play every time. He’s seemingly aware of the criticism and is looking to amend it, but the execution is slightly off.
But to counteract it, his last two games (one was Origin) he has shown a greater focus on running the ball, and he looks lighter on his feet than in recent years.
Against Manly he ran it three times for 31 metres with two near-breaks and a near-try (ruled an obstruction). He also had a line break assist when he put SBW through with a flat ball, along with three tackle busts and an offload. And with the BBQ out, he almost exclusively controlled a better kicking game, amassing 390 metres off just 13 kicks.
It was a solid bounce-back effort after a below-par Origin Two.
5. Boyd Cordner (LW: 6)
Boyd is not a goal kicker. He couldn’t kick a can down the street without hitting a pedestrian on the other side of the road, much less turn four into six.
He shanked three goals, one from the sideline, and his form is not great when stepping in to launch it. But it’s hardly his fault given the Roosters don’t have a suitable backup to the BBQ unless Morts plays major minutes, and we can’t seriously begrudge him for having a crack.
But whatever he can’t do in conversions, he makes up for with borderline Origin-level ability.
He runs a great line and makes metres, choosing the right run every time. Against Manly he had 11 runs and made 119 metres, almost scoring a try, with four tackle busts for good measure and no errors. Defensively he missed three tackles but made 25 in an outstanding performance against a top four team. It was a performance which would announce to selectors that he’s in good enough form to waltz into a bench spot for the Blues if something happens injury-wise to one of NSW’s back rowers.
He wouldn’t let the team down, that’s for sure. Unless he demands to kick goals.
6. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (LW: 5)
This writer still gets shivers just thinking about that head clash with James Hasson. Roger lay motionless afterwards, his arms rigid from the trauma, and was taken off early in the second half.
Amazingly doctors have cleared him to play despite the short five-day turnaround, but they wouldn’t let him play if he is still suffering from concussion. The Roosters medico, Dr John Orchard, championed the outlawing of the shoulder-charge due to the head trauma the hits can cause, and there is no doubt he puts the players’ long term health first. So if The Matrix does indeed play, it means he’s fully recovered. I have no doubts about that.
RTS slips this week, not because he went off so early but because he had a tough night with the hands — three errors in all, with one of course being a result of the head clash. But his involvement was also slightly down on recent weeks despite scoring a try off an improving combination with Shaun Kenny-Dowall. He finished up with six runs for 42 metres with three tackle busts, a line break and an offload, so he doesn’t slip that far really.
The Matrix has become a fan favourite and is one of this writer’s favourite Roosters to watch along with JWH and SBW.
7. Daniel Tupou (LW: 9)
Taniela has games like this in which you think this guy should be a shoo-in for Origin. A dominant running game combined with strong defence and great reads — talent-wise this kid is up there with Blake Ferguson.
But his next game he might not be as energetic, which is partially due to the machine around him, but other times if he doesn’t make initial impact he leaves it up to the rest to do it.
He’s spent the year yo-yo-ing up and down the rankings, being as high as fifth to being not ranked at all. Once he gets some consistency week-to-week, the kid has the talent and impact to remain in the top six at the very least.
Against the Eagles he was at his best, with 14 runs for 132 metres with five tackle busts, a line break and a try assist. His combo with Jennings is a sight to behold now, with the try Jennings scored off Tupou’s break one of the best this year. He’s staying deeper now and it’s paying off.
If only we could see it with every game — although granted, the ball can go away from him at times — he would be higher than 7th.
8. Frank-Paul Nu’uasala (LW: 10)
Frank-Paul’s last month or so has been fantastic. It’s been so good that he’s almost reclaimed the “wrecking ball” moniker again.
His running game is at its best and he’s making an impact, which is all any Roosters fan ever wanted out of the Kiwi international. Against the Eagles he started at lock and ran it 10 times for 89 metres with two offloads and 22 tackles with two misses. He did give away a penalty and had two errors, but moves up the rankings because of the timeliness and impact of each hit-up, especially against Manly when he had three huge runs spread out across the second half to ease pressure off his teammates.
He’s playing his way into a big contract — whether that’s at the Roosters from 2014 onwards remains to be seen, with the Eels and Warriors both in the market for the back rower.
9. Luke O’Donnell (LW: NR)
LO’D provides the attitude and borderline arrogance that the Roosters pack needs. He returns to the rankings this week by backing it all up with his running game.
He had 18 runs for 152 metres, and made 22 tackles without a miss. He’s been huge this season and has probably sewn up the starting front-row spot ahead of Sam Moa unless injury strikes again or he decides to go clubbing and threatening bouncers.
10. Jake Friend (LW: NR)
Jakey-boy scored a fantastic solo try against some shoddy marker defence, and was close to Man of the Match against the Eagles. He ran it six times for 57 metres with five tackle busts and a line break along with 50 tackles in a superb all-around game. He benefits big-time from having JWH back, and should rise as the games progress with his scrum partner back in action.
Sam Moa, who struggled to make the same impact off the bench we know he’s capable of with just 69 metres off nine runs; and Mini, who ran hard and busted three tackles — and even forced a rare repeat set with a grubber.