It’s so quiet on Twitter these days that you might as well replace the hash tag with a tumbleweed. The banter is all dried up, replaced by what can only be regarded as the deafening sounds of silence.
I’m talking of course purely about the Roosters’ social media army of fans, which was as loud as Lil’ Jon at a shouting convention last year.
It is still early, sure, and many of us are still drunk on the juices of a sweet-ass premiership victory, the likes of which many of us never expected and which came from the ashes of a moribund 2012 when our captain was let go, our coach was sacked and we finished 13th.
Twitter fiend Ramírez Jnr ™ (@RamirezJnr) — who everyone seems to think also has a second account under the name Jake Jarmel — reflected the sentiment with a poignant Tweet which said that “The premiership has dulled the passion of most of us Roosters fans”.
Is he right? Has the passion been dulled because of the premiership? And if so, what is the reason for it?
Whatever it is, the apparent lack of passion isn’t reflected in the membership numbers.
According to Roosters Chief Operating Officer Ted Helliar, who spoke with 26 Rounds via email, membership numbers are tracking well when compared to the same time last year.
“I can tell you that currently we are about 3500 members up on this time last year,” he said. “We are sitting at about 60 per cent retention meaning about 5000 members from last year are yet to renew.
“We have strong numbers in new members which is obviously a result of premiership success and we see this growing too.”
Roosters fans were somewhat miffed that the prices increased for the Bronze membership and Helliar said the club does expect “some churn” in those numbers, but that the price rise was critical to the move the club towards a sustainable financial model.
“It’s still only $12.41 per game which presents some of the best value in the competition,” he said. “The $99 package simply hurt our bottom line and membership is about supporting the club financially as much as it is about being inclusive.”
He said of the NRL clubs the Roosters’ year-on-year growth is running about third.
“But alas we need everyone to buy into the 20,000 target and encourage all members to renew and new members to join,” he said. “We have some great promotions coming up including a prize from our newest partner… That’s a hint!”
Not bad for a club that everyone accuses of having no fans.
We’ve often been accused of lacking passion but last year, especially on Twitter, the accusation was all but drowned out through hashtags and the sheer weight of numbers. We led the Sydney clubs in crowd average and the fire in all of us was palpable.
So why does the lead into 2014 feel different?
It’s a feeling I’ve felt before: namely, in 2000 and 2010 when we made the Grand Final under the most unlikely of circumstances. One came when we qualified after beating the Knights in a come-from-behind victory, the other thanks to a Braith Anasta field goal that had he missed would’ve meant we were out after the first round.
Those Grand Finals felt more like it was good to just make it, rather than coming with the expectation that we would win. It was good enough.
And perhaps that’s what 2013 was to us: we won the premiership, and that is more than enough. It’s unreasonable to expect a team who gave their all and came from nowhere to snag an unlikely premiership to repeat the dose when there’s a target on their back, right?
But that forgets what we witnessed last year, and an assumption that we can’t improve on a perfect season.
We can, and it could be historic.
Jake Friend had a career year last year, but we need to remember he had a career 12 games. His play at the backend of the season put him into the discussion as the successor to cam Smith for Queensland, but in the first four rounds we were talking about Daniel Mortimer earning more time at rake. He started slow and finished like a boss. If he starts this year the way he finished last year, then the Roosters will be better from the jump.
You could say the same about Mitchell Pearce. He was in very good form prior to Origin, but following that he was great. If he needs to fuel himself with the disappointment of Origin, then I’d be happy to lock him up in the 26 Rounds Time Out corner and force him to watch Game III over and over like it’s A Clockwork Orange.
No-one saw that second half coming, and if he starts out like that then the Roosters are instantly better. Oh, and he’s just 25 this year. He has improvement left.
We also have Sonny Bill Williams. It’s his last year in Rugby League; do you think he’s going to relax with his final chance at a lasting NRL legacy on the line?
There’s improvement left in this club across the board. Shaun Kenny-Dowall can match his improved defence with his once-deadly attack. Boyd Cordner needs to get fully healthy. Aidan Guerra is only starting to realise the talent he possesses. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Daniel Tupou have played a little over a year and their career trajectory is steep.
Roosters fans can and should expect great things from this team. If we think that this is going to be another 2001 or 2011 and that 2013 was a flash in the pan, think again.
But having said that, it’s going to be hard. Real hard.
The Roosters deployed just 25 players last year following a dream run with injuries — and that number is unlikely to be replicated. Plus, they lost some real depth in Marty Kennedy (Broncos), Luke O’Donnell (retirement), Tinirau Arona (Sharks), Lama Tasi (Super League via Broncos) and Michael Oldfield (Super League) — all of whom played first grade in 2013.
And while there is plenty of up-and-coming talent to replace them (Kane Evans, Dylan Napa, Isaac Liu, Kem Seru and Jonathon Reuben to name just five) they are raw.
Roosters fans should be excited about their club’s prospects this year. Their club has a chance to cement their place in history and become the first team in a unified competition to go back-to-back since the Broncos in 1992-93.
But they should also be nervous. The sense of complacency could conversely be construed as a sense of entitlement. And neither of those senses are conducive to passion. Well-known Easts fan Rick (@EastsFan) is among those who has also noticed something different so far this year.
“Complacency by the players/team could quite easily see us finish outside the top eight, and by extension we as supporters have to scrap any thoughts of just cruising along to another premiership,” he said via email. “It took hard work and commitment for us to take the title last year and it will take those two things to even get close again this year. The other clubs will have worked out the chinks in our armour so we will probably have to work even harder this year.
“Us supporters really need to get vocal and show the desire to win again this year as if we haven’t won in decades. This takes passion.
“If the passion isn’t there, no amount of premierships or spoons means anything. You have to ask yourself, ‘what does it mean to me?’
“To me, it’s everything.”
Anticipation breeds excitement, and nervousness breeds passion. There’s a noticeable lack of either out there.
The fire just isn’t there yet; it’s been extinguished by the premiership we’d waited 11 long years for. The banter is non-existent, with Souths fans rightly in their shells and Roosters fans unwilling to draw them out — or any other club’s fans for that matter.
A premiership is a rarity and the feeling may be that perhaps we should just embrace it for what it was and whatever will be, will be.
But what could be is something historic. And while the membership numbers compared to last year are up, there’s a feeling it should be more.
Maybe a few losses will knock us out of the hangover and draw out the passion once again. Maybe it’s too early, and we are asking too much to draw on the passion when we used so much last year. Maybe we’ll find it once again at the World Club Challenge or the Auckland Nines, or maybe we have to wait until round one when a bunch of fans frustrated by a 43-year premiership drought call us scum.
But we need to remember what we were as little as 15 months ago. We need to realise teams like this don’t come around that often.
We need to fire up, especially because we have the team to fire up about.