If you missed part one, where we discussed the halves and the future; what happens when/if Pearce returns (including making the dumb argument that Pearce at lock is an option) and whether Ferguson is a fullback or Latrell is more ready than we think, click here. Or not. You’re here now so may as well read part two first…
“What will the backline look like, and can we afford another injury or suspension?”
With Shaun Kenny-Dowall cleared of all charges yesterday, he’s free to be named tonight for the clash against the Bunnies on Sunday arvo. It’s a welcome relief for him and his family, and rugby league probably seemed like a secondary consideration when facing a courtroom.
We now have a full-strength backline — and while it seems depleted thanks to the loss of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, we actually have fungible backs coming out the wazoo.
Watching a bulked up Joseph Manu wreak havoc in the Auckland 9s was a promising glimpse into the non-too-distant future, and Latrell is more than ready and can slot into centre with ease. Don’t look too far into Joe Burgess’ omission from the World Challenge Series – it was reported he had a slight knock and is likely to be in consideration for round 1. And if Ferguson is deemed better off in the centres to partner newly-acquired Dale Copley or SKD, then the backs are fine.
So now that SKD is available, the backline will likely read tonight:
Ferguson, fullback; SKD, Copley centres; Mitchell, Tupou wings.
However, James Hooper reportedly reported that Mitchell is set to start in the centres, which means either SKD or Copley will shift to the wing…or Mitchell will start in the four but shift to the wing as he did in the WCS…or he stays there and we have the odd situation of a natural fullback playing centre, and a natural centre/wing playing fullback. Sick.
I personally prefer:
Mitchell, fullback; Ferguson, Copley centres; SKD, Tupou wings.
If that’s not the round 1 backline, it will be once Latrell finds his feet – and expect that sooner than later. Maybe even mid-game, Round 1?
“Do we have any forwards left? Who’s the leader?”
Expect a big, BIG year from Aidan Guerra. Roosters fans thought he was disappointing following Origin last year. He may have been tired, or he may have been deferring to other forwards. But he certainly didn’t have the impact we’d seen from him to end 2013 and through the duration of 2014.
So why will this year be different? It’s a contract year; not in the sense that he’s off contract this year, but that he’s off contract at the end of 2017 and will be looking to secure a big deal from someone willing to sign him into the post-prime years of his career. Remember, he can sign a new deal with a new club with 12 months to run on his current one. He’s 28 years old, and while he started his first grade career a little later than most – ensuring he doesn’t have the wear and tear on his limbs that, say, Paul Gallen has – he’ll want a contract that takes him comfortably into his 30s.
And if we can take anything away from the WCS, which again shouldn’t be much, it’s that his work and seemingly seasoned combo on the right edge with Nikorima ensures he gets plenty of ball early this year, especially with JWH and Boyd Cordner out for a couple of months at a minimum.
For the rest? It looks like in the absence of JWH, Robbo is prepared to roll with a more athletic front row in Kane Evans and Dylan Napa, with Sio Siua Taukeiaho the designated battering ram to kick off the game from lock. With Moa transitioning to a bench role – which may extend his career and ensure we have impact through that middle third of the game – Robbo likely sees SST as a more athletic version, one who is also in a “contract” year (off at the end of 2017).
Aubo looks set to start until he’s not, with a combination of Vinnie Leuluai, Isaac Liu (both off contract this year) or new recruit Mitch Frei to round out the bench alongsie Moa, with Ian Henderson (or Niko when Pearce returns) acting as backup hooker.
Which brings us to Jake Friend.
The whispers are that Jake — now the lone captain — struggled with an Achilles complaint over the summer. According to “The Source”, they’ve put off surgery with some serious rehab, but rumours are he’s going into the season less than 100 per cent.
Ideally, he’d be able to play the 80 and take on a bigger playmaking responsibility with such a green halves combo. But if the injury is being monitored, expect a bit more of Ian Henderson than we ever envisioned. Or as Twitter’s resident eccentrist Yiannis Daras says: “on our signal, unleash Hendo!”
Yep. Inspiring stuff.
It’s clear we don’t have the depths in the forwards that we do in the backs until the big fella and Boyd return and any further injuries could really hurt our chances from the jump, hence the chasing of Joseph Tapine and Greg Bird in the pre-season.
“Robbo…He’s not another Sticky, is he?”
Ooft. That’s harsh. But there are questions suddenly popping up regarding whether Robbo is the coach he seemed to be in 2013 or whether he rode the wave with a ton of talent that all had something to prove to an unlikely premiership in his first year.
Sounds familiar? Ricky Stuart had all those questions asked of him in 2005 after leading the club to three straight Grand Finals, on the back of Freddy’s captaincy and a stacked squad. He was fired the next year.
But I think the comparisons need to really stop there. Three minor premierships is nothing to sneeze at and unlike Ricky, he doesn’t drive players into the ground. When he first signed on there were rumours of SBW coming aboard, and we already had James Maloney, but there wasn’t an inkling we’d get Jenko so late in the piece, or Luke O’Donnell for that matter. So he was brought on ideally to help develop players and transition it INTO a powerhouse — but late additions made it one and he immediately bore fruit with a new defensive structure and a premiership.
The players love him and he has the respect of the higher-ups, and he never passes the buck if the blame lies with him. Sure, the last two years have had disappointing finishes, but the fact no-one has won a back-to-back premiership since the Broncos in the 90s shows how hard it is.
Our defensive structure has been superb in the past three years, and while there’s a bunch of kids in there now who’ll have to learn it from scratch, with a fullback in Ferguson who is still learning the ropes of defensive line-calling, I’m not too worried about side of the ball.
I am somewhat worried about our attack though.
Too many times last year our fifth tackle options were poor, and we swung games relying on individual brilliance alone. The imagination in attack was not there last year despite the club finishing first in points, as strange as that sounds. And when push came to shove, we couldn’t take a punch. We lost the game against the Broncos in the GF qualifier the moment SKD threw that intercept off the wing – and that’s a play that was instituted by the coaching staff. Heads dropped and we never fought back.
But really, the season was lost in the first round of the playoffs when we couldn’t crack Melbourne’s defence with our competition-leading attack, forcing a tired squad to back up the next week rather than get the weekend off.
And in the St Helens game, we seemingly stuck to a very flat attacking line, which worked against those muppets, but in the NRL depth and working with space is still king. If we make or miss the playoffs this year, I don’t care: as long as something different is shown in terms of attacking imagination and structured plays besides chipping to the tall guys on the wing, playing flat and hoping an individual steps up and shreds the line.
Yet the expectations this year have surely been lowered, and so too the stress of sticking to a gameplan that worked in 2013. Hopefully this means he can afford to be a bit more creative with the artillery he has. Because he’s going to have to be.
“So… you’re saying there’s a chance?”
Nope. Even the most optimistic optimist would struggle to see the Roosters lifting the trophy this year. Sportsbet has us paying $13 to win the comp, or equal fifth in the betting odds with Souths and Melbourne… both of which are probably better than us on paper. That puts us in the 5-7 range. And that seems optimistic.
So let’s do the numbers. Realistically, the Cowboys, Broncos, Warriors and Sea Eagles are ahead on talent and health. Melbourne never cease to plug along to a monotonous 5-7 seed, while Souths should bounce back with their renewed three-headed Burgii. Are the Bulldogs better? Maybe, maybe not… but Des Hasler never misses the 8, so they’re in.
Are the Raiders better this year with Aidan Sezer? What about the Panthers with Mr Sally Fitzgibbon joining (probably not; they’ve gone full Griffin this year, but maybe)? And the Sharks who purchased our used BBQ and lost no-one of merit? Heck… even the Eels are better with Foran and Jenko.
Of all of these clubs, we’re the only one that definitely got worse during the offseason thanks to roster changes, injuries and suspensions — although our fall does come from the top of the table. But there are so many question marks. If everything breaks our way, we can make 6th; if it doesn’t, I can see an 11th-placed finish.
A premiership is likely out of the question. A playoff spot is a possibility. But this year is about fermenting future talent anyway. With so many players out to start the year, and having lost so many in the offseason, we’re firmly behind the 8-ball while pissing in the wind and shovelling snow in a blizzard.
Ultimately, this is a transition year for the club as we enter the first stages of the Latrell/Jacko/Niko era.
But there’s something strangely exciting about this, or is it just me? Sure, I love a good premiership, and 2013 is still so fresh in the memories with two minor premierships to follow that anything less than that is going to sting.
We knew the past two seasons that the Roosters would be good, and anything else besides a premiership was a disappointment. This year? Heck knows what we’ll get. It reminds me of when Freddy took over as coach in 2007, when we had no idea what to expect and we almost made the playoffs from last place with Braith Anasta on fire. It reminds me of 2010 when we wondered if Todd Carney could put it all together, or at the very least stop it all from coming apart. And it reminds me of 2013 when we had an unknown coach and a ton of talent but nothing but cautious optimism.
So maybe they’ll surprise. Maybe they’ll barely miss the eight and show enough promise that the burden of expectations return quicker than we anticipate. Maybe they pull a 2007 Roosters and barely miss the eight with a late charge. Maybe they turn on the jets and bring a brilliant style of football back to Allianz. Maybe they scrape into the eight and scare the shit out of a few teams.
It’s a ton of maybes with no answers. And that lack of knowledge, of certainty of outcomes, at the very least is freeing. It’s been a while since the burden of expectation hasn’t been around Bondi, and its time we embrace it and enjoy the unexpected twists and turns of the season.
Oh, and for what it’s worth, I think we just miss the eight, at 10th on percentages. But I just spent more than 3,000 words explaining how I/we don’t know nothin’.
The only thing I do know is that Sunday can’t come soon enough.