Roosters Season Preview, Part 1: “There is no spoon?” The Keanu guide to the 2016 Roosters

Every time there’s a barrage of questions, my mind always wanders to Keanu Reeves.

Do yourselves a favour and watch The Matrix again (or in the case of Twitter fiend @RamirezJnr, for the first time, probably). But don’t watch it for the plot: watch it for Keanu and one of the more superb acting jobs by the world’s supreme “good kind of bad actor” (phrase courtesy of CommunityTM). In fact, save yourselves the trouble: the fine people over at That’s The Title did the honour of collating Keanu’s largely question-based acting chops in the Matrix into 4:45 minutes. See for yourself:

One of the pertinent questions Keanu asks is “there is no spoon?”…while holding a spoon. The whole movie is a Frequently Asked Questions segment about the Matrix, narrated by a guy capable of a decibel level no louder than Shaq with laryngitis.

Now, why the hell am I devoting so much time to Keanu here? The answer is twofold.

Firstly, like Keanu, we have a ton of questions about the Roosters as we head towards 2016 – basically, we’re Neo in his first day in the Matrix. We’ve had a fullback leave that we did not prepare for, a half who may be out an extended period…

(Which we won’t discuss here – I’ve discussed this at length on Twitter when it happened and I’m effin’ exhausted. All I will say is that I expect to see him have some significant time off and it will be up to the NRL how long that is. But I digress.)

… a second rower who wrecked his pec and a prop who’s still recovering from a knee injury. We also don’t know the outcome of Shaun Kenny-Dowall’s trial (which also will not be discussed here – for reference, read up on “sub judice” laws in Australia to determine why this blog and media in general do not comment aside from court-delivered arguments in ongoing investigations/trials).

We haven’t started a season with this many questions since 2002 – and the club we have now doesn’t have the same depth of experience or talent that the ’02 Freddies did.

But back to Keanu: if you listen closely enough to one of his many questions, through the monotone mumbles and seemingly inane need to question everything, you can hear a faint, almost undetectable upward inflection at the end.

That upward inflection is hope. At least I hope it’s hope. It may be naivety. It’s definitely bad acting. But through all those questions, there’s the excitement of the great unknown. “What is the Matrix?” he asks, hoping for any other answer than “it’s an interface that covers up the fact you’re a battery”.

So to answer your questions, namely: what the hell am I talking about? And why the hell are we nearly 500 words into a Roosters season preview and only about 100 of them have mentioned the Roosters?

Because it’s imperative that we all learn a little something from Keanu. Whatever questions we have, we need to remember to ask those questions and the ones below with the monotone-yet-hopeful, almost-inaudible upward inflection Keanu has amazingly turned into a career.

Who are our halves, and are they ready?

We don’t know when Pearce is back and it looks as though through necessity we are going to roll out the youngest halves in the premiership. But if the World Club Series showdown is anything to go by, the future is the present and the present is exceptional.

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Source: Twitter

Jayden Nikorima looks every bit as good as advertised, and now the bitching from Broncos fans once we’d signed him makes a ton of sense. He has swerve and instinct, and a confidence that shouldn’t be present in a kid that young. He’s the size of Sam Obst and that bum fluff on his upper lip is troubling, but the kid can play.

In the WCS he tore St Helens apart and had a hand in five tries – and his combination on the right edge with Aidan Guerra looked seasoned and crisp. His passing is already on point and he has a knack for throwing it at the right time. But mostly his instinct is going to get him through while Pearce is out. Not many players have the sheer instinct to know that a spilled ball was in play and to call for it before a team mate even gathered it, but in one swift movement he was away:

zoa5g

But here’s the thing: we shouldn’t take anything away from that game, really, besides the fact that we had our likely round 1 team in full playing a glorified trial. St Helens is horrendous this year. That’s not to take away from Nikorima’s performance because it was exceptional and he played what was in front of him better than anyone I can remember on “debut” outside of possibly Luke Brooks in 2013. He’s going to get heavily targeted in defence, but the talent is clearly there. However, expectations need to be tempered… for now.

The talent is also in Jackson Hastings. I’m all aboard the Jacko-wagon and firmly believe that – even when Pearce is available and even when Maloney was there towards the end of last year – that Hastings was and is the best halfback at the club. He has poise, a superb kicking game and knows when the game needs a certain aspect of his talent: running, kicking, direction, a cut-out, a field goal, a chip kick… whatever. Sure, I’m basing a lot of this on this one game against the Titans in the NYC (scroll to the 5:26 mark, note the 34-10 deficit and get ready to be dazzled by a one-man comeback for the ages):

… but even in limited action at halfback last year with a ball-dominant Maloney inside him, it was clear that the kid has “it”, and the absence of Pearce in the early rounds (at least) will give the kid a chance to stamp his authority and pick his spots, rather than Pearce over-calling him.

As long as we’re patient – not a typical staple of Roosters fans in the past – then we’ll get to watch this kid and his new halves partner grow. He’s already ahead of where many thought he’d be. It could be rough, but in the rough we should see the speckles of a bright future.

“So… what happens if these kids dominate and Pearce returns?”

Well, he’ll likely slot directly back into the halves at the expense of Niko, who may slide back to the bench and act as backup back and hooker. But, and I’m citing an off-hand comment from my father here…

“What about Pearce: the lock?”

It sounds silly on premise, but hear me/us out. He kinda has the size, and his defensive shortcomings will be minimised with a crowd of forwards around him. His biggest strength is his running game, which this would force him to do more often.

He’s also a pretty handy hit-and-spin-and-offload exponent. To wit, before 26 Rounds shut down mid-2014, it was compiling stats regularly and developed an admittedly rudimentary metric called “Value Added Run Rate” (VARR). It showed the percentage of a player’s runs ending in an “extra impact play” i.e. in the form of an offload, line break or tackle bust (The formula is: [(Line breaks+tackle busts+offloads)-(errors)]/Total Runs).

Here’s where Pearce ranked then:

varr1

After 12 games in 2014, he was averaging 8.65 metres a run, 1.5 tackle busts and 0.67 offloads — fourth at the club behind Sonny Bill Williams, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and SKD (not bad for a half) — from just 4.25 runs a game.

With Boyd slated to be back, optimistically, by round 8, we may be short in the backrow until then, and especially if additional injuries strike (more on our forward “depth” tomorrow). And if Jacko and Niko strike up an unbreakable partnership… isn’t it worth an experiment to turn a big half into a new-age, agile lock who would probably immediately become our most astute offload exponent? Much like his father?

Stop laughing.

Seriously.

You’re right, dumb idea. Let’s move on.

“Is Ferguson the best option at fullback?”

It may just be me, but watching Blake Ferguson play fullback against St Helens was like watching a newborn lamb trying to walk for the first time. The positional play for the most part was off-point and the running game from the back seemed, at best, indecisive. He over-ran a few inside balls and didn’t seem overly comfortable in the number one.

The thinking behind his move is that he can become another Greg Inglis; a barraging tackle-buster who can pick his spots, chew metres where possible and occasionally play-make. But Inglis grew up playing fullback, with that move to the centres at Melbourne more by necessity than design with Billy Slater in the road. It’s far more likely he’ll resemble a poor-man’s version of Josh Dugan who, ironically, is slated to move to the centres this year. His passing game just isn’t there and he works better in closed quarters than with room to move when it seems he has just too much time to consider options.

Will he get more comfortable? Of course. Is it ideal? Well, if we didn’t lose RTS it’s a moot point.

But the debut of Latrell Mitchell may also deem the move a moot point; a short-lived experiment at best. Because Latrell looked every bit ready to debut this year and, unlike Fergo, has been playing fullback his whole life.

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Source: Twitter

He can play-make, he busts tackles, he has a sense of when to get involved and a nose for the ball. He can find the try-line and put others over it.

So the question really is; if Latrell is ready for first grade, and many believe he is, would you rather throw him immediately at fullback – a position he has played his whole life – or Fergo who has been learning the position for an offseason?

I picked Latrell and didn’t hesitate.

Part two is coming tomorrow, where we discuss the possibility that another key playmaker is struggling with an injury; the make-up of the forwards and who is in line for a big year out of our pack;  who we have coming through in the backs and what the backline should look like during tomorrow afternoon’s team announcement; whether Robbo is headed down the Sticky path; and finally a prediction on where we’ll finish up.

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4 responses to “Roosters Season Preview, Part 1: “There is no spoon?” The Keanu guide to the 2016 Roosters

  1. Great column mate.I’m looking forward to seeing how the young talent goes. Hopefully Joseph Manu gets a run at some stage as well.

    Like

    • Cheers Gav, same here re Manu: I hope it’s soon but our back depth is fine now with SKD free to play, he may have to wait another year but I’m very high on the kid, as many of us are.

      Like

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