Nicholas Janzen, NRL.com
Cock-a-doodle-doo! The Chooks are champions – and what a year it has been for the boys from Bondi! The 2013 Premiers and Minor Premiers had a season to savour – and they achieved what many believed unthinkable, too, following last year’s 13th-placed finish.
It all began in September 2012 when the Tricolours acquired the signature of former Roosters and Knights assistant coach Trent Robinson, who was mentoring the Catalan Dragons at the time. Ever since that moment – with the confirmation of the acquisition of superstar second-rower Sonny Bill Williams as well as the signing of playmaker James Maloney and electrifying centre Michael Jennings – the transformation at Bondi Junction has proven remarkable.
The Roosters’ triumphant season started with a disconcerting and disappointing loss to the Rabbitohs; however they would be defeated in a total of just five games from that point onwards.
The resurgent Roosters started with a total of eight wins from their opening 10 matches, and continued on the stellar showing with nine from 11 through Round 24. Their ominous early and mid-season form included numerous impressive victories – both in the final scoreline and in their overall execution and style of play, too. Victories such as their 50-0 shellacking of the Eels, their 38-0 thumping of the Bulldogs, 40-0 hammering of the Sharks and 56-14 annihilation of the Tigers certainly put smiles on the fans’ faces – and those of the Roosters’ coaching staff, too.
Then, out of the blue, following their only back-to-back losses across the entire season (to the Sharks and the Titans in Rounds 24 and 25), things started to look a little shaky. The wheels on a seemingly billiard table-smooth ride to the trophy cabinet began to wobble ever so slightly. But, if the Roosters and their rookie coach were concerned they didn’t show it, quickly rediscovering their winning ways when it mattered most and finishing the year with four wins on the trot. From Round 26 onwards, when the whips begin cracking and the countdown to the biggest day on the rugby league calendar starts, the Chooks began to crow. They finished 2013 with a victory against the Rabbitohs in the battle for the JJ Giltinan Shield, before arm-wrestling their way to a Finals Week One victory against the Sea Eagles, steamrolling the Knights and – once again – overcoming Manly in the decider.
No team was more determined, effective, focused or consistent than the Roosters in 2013 – that’s why they finished atop the premiership table and ended the competition holding the Provan Summons Trophy, the first side since 2003 to legitimately claim both the Premiership and Minor Premiership in the same season. And it was why the Roosters finished the year on top of all the most important statistical categories, too.
Where They Excelled: The Roosters were standard-setters across a raft of categories in 2013. They finished the year with the highest points scored per game (averaging 26.3), as well as the least points conceded per game (averaging 13.2), too. That’s a fair start! Combine that with the most number of tackle-breaks (31.1 per game) and the least number of line-breaks conceded each match (2.8 per game) and it’s little wonder why the Roosters ran riot this season.
Their record six shutouts of oppositions proved they were the benchmark team of 2013.
Where They Struggled: How can anyone claim the Roosters struggled at anything in 2013? They were, as you’d expect from the Premiers and Minor Premiers, simply sublime across the entire season. We can, however, clutch at straws, put on the coach’s hat and say there are ‘areas for improvement’ in 2014, though. The Bondi boys, somewhat surprisingly, were well down the list across the entire competition for offloads (8.8 per match – 11th in the NRL), errors (10.5 per match – 12th in the NRL) and average metres (1374.8 per match – ninth in the NRL). They were also the most penalised team in the competition with 223 conceded in 27 games (average 8.26). But, when you finish champions, who really cares, right?
Missing In Action: A comparative charmed run prevented the Roosters from ending up in too many casualty wards in 2013. When a team makes the grand final – and takes out the game’s greatest prize – you need a bit of luck, and the Roosters rode it all the way to the trophy cabinet. Their most valuable players – Michael Jennings (26 games), James Maloney (25 games), Mitchell Pearce (26 games) and Sonny Bill Williams (24 games) – all played the majority of the season, helping their connections remain strong on the park throughout their campaign.
Prop Martin Kennedy, bound for the Broncos in 2014, played just 16 matches due to a knee injury. Boyd Cordner (20 matches) also missed game time because of a high ankle injury, but had surgery and got back on the park in a nick of time – after suffering his complaint in Round 22 he was able to return on grand final day.
Turning Point: The 4-0 Finals Week One victory against the Sea Eagles proved the Roosters could grind out the toughest of wins. In a season when most of their matches eventually ended in the large victories and lopsided scorelines, a win in the arguably the most vicious and tightly fought match of the year proved to Robinson’s men that they were made of premiership potential. From that point onwards, the title was theirs if they wanted it badly enough.
Best Games: Coach Robinson wouldn’t necessarily label it the most clinical, thorough or attractive of wins, but the 26-18 grand final triumph against Manly was all heart. Robinson was all about players “buying in” to the culture he and assistant coaches Jason Taylor, Paul Green and Craig Fitzgibbon had developed – and on league’s night of nights his squad proved it had totally bought whatever their coaches offered. Just when the Roosters looked down and out in the decider, they rallied. Trailing 18-8, the Tricolours came charging back through tries to Aidan Guerra, Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Michael Jennings – as well as some scintillating lead-up play from Sonny Bill Williams and James Maloney. And that attitude – of working hard, supporting team-mates and never, ever giving up – ultimately proved the difference.
Worst Games: Take any of the team’s six losses and put them in this category – not that the Roosters’ players or fans would really care. The Roosters lost to the Rabbitohs 28-10 in Round 1; to the Raiders 24-22 in Round 5; to the Storm 26-18 in Round 11; to the Warriors 23-12 in Round 14; to the Sharks 32-22 in Round 24; and to the Titans 30-22 in Round 25. Not such a bad season, ‘eh?
Hold Your Head High: The entire squad has reason to be incredibly proud of their efforts in 2013 – not just the headline acts. Sure, winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, second-rower Boyd Cordner and coach Trent Robinson were crowned best-in-category on Dally M night, and the likes of SBW, Jennings, Maloney and Pearce had arguably their best seasons to date, but it’s the efforts of their support cast that deserve credit, too.
Sam Moa, for instance, arrived at Bondi Junction with only one appearance in the NRL and the backing of assistant coach Craig Fitzgibbon – now he’s finished the season a genuine starting-quality front-rower and a prop who averages almost 100 metres per match. Hooker Jake Friend went to another level, too – the scheming dummy-half cemented himself as a rep player of the future with a creative performance that netted eight try assists, eight line-break assists and seven line-breaks across the season. Daniel Tupou is another who transformed from a three-game rookie to a superstar of the future – as you’d expect from a man who scored arguably one of the best tries in finals footy over the past decade, too!
Conclusion: Congratulations to the Roosters and their fans. This stellar season of football excellence, like a fine wine, is one to remember… and savour. The only question remains: can they back it up in 2014, possibly without Sonny Bill Williams, and begin constructing their own premiership dynasty?
Position: 1st (1st after Finals)
Home Record: 8 wins, 4 losses (= 3rd)
Away Record: 10 wins, 2 losses (1st)
Longest Winning Streak: 8 (Rounds 15-23)
Longest Losing Streak: 2 (Rounds 24-25)
Players Used: 25 (= fewest)
Tries Scored (after 26 rounds): 110 (most)
Tries Conceded (after 26 rounds): 55 (fewest)