Ben Everill, , NRL.com
Gains: Sonny Bill Williams (rugby union), James Maloney (Warriors), Michael Jennings (Panthers), Luke O’Donnell (Huddersfield), Michael Oldfield (Sea Eagles), Nafe Seluini (Panthers), Samisoni Langi (Bulldogs), Sam Moa (Hull FC).
Losses: Braith Anasta (Wests Tigers), Mose Masoe (Panthers), Brad Takairangi (Titans), Justin Carney (Castleford), Curtis Rona (Cowboys), Peni Tagive (retired), Mose Masoe (Panthers), Anthony Cherrington (Panthers), BJ Leilua (Knights).
No-one could accuse the ‘reinvention’ Roosters of inactivity over the off-season: there’s a new coach on board, as well as some exciting roster additions, all designed to recapture the blistering form of 2010 when the tri-colours came within 80 minutes of premiership glory.
With the dismal results of 2011 (11th) and last season (13th) still ringing in their ears, the focus has been on change. Certainly it’s been more hectic than a florist on Valentines Day around Bondi Junction, as they’ve added representative stars Michael Jennings and Luke O’Donnell late in the piece to go with the also late but very expected arrival of superstar Sonny Bill Williams.
Finally they get to hand James Maloney the No.6 jersey after signing him what seems eons ago. Former captain Braith Anasta is off to the Wests Tigers – although experience remains in the shape of veteran Anthony Minichiello who has been handed the leadership duties. In other changes, they released BJ Leilua to the Knights; Brad Takairaigi’s offloading skills have been snapped up by the Titans; and Anthony Cherrington and Mose Masoe’s big hits have gone to the Panthers.
Crucially though they have invested in a new mentor, with Trent Robinson – an assistant under ex-mentor Brian Smith in 2010 – returning after a stint with the Catalan Dragons in the UK Super League. Will he be able to bring the quick results expected by the fans?
The blue sky story is that if Williams can take the field in the majority of games and Mitchell Pearce can forge a good partnership with Maloney, the Roosters should improve dramatically.
The storm cloud factor? It will take a year without major injury for them to be title contenders...
How They’ll Play It
To their new strengths. Now Pearce has another true playmaker alongside him in James Maloney, the Roosters should recapture the attacking prowess they displayed in 2010 when Todd Carney ran riot outside the NSW No.7. Also, with Jennings and Shaun Kenny-Dowall in the centres, the Roosters have potent strike weapons on both sides of the field for either half to target. Last season they ranked 10th in the league with 19.2 points scored a game and they were last in the NRL in line-breaks at 3.9 but you can expect those numbers to rise in 2013 – especially given Jennings and Maloney each made 12 line-breaks last year.
Although Williams and O’Donnell will bring some intimidation to the pack the big boys at the Roosters need to find a way to gain more metres. The Roosters ranked last in metres gained in 2012.
But perhaps the greatest concern for the club is defence. Only the hapless Eels allowed more points through per game last year. Robinson, who was in charge of the Roosters’ defence in 2010, needs to bring steel and discipline to the hard yakka.
Expect HUGE Things From
Mitchell Pearce. The recently re-signed star gets a ‘partner in crime’ in the halves again – plus he is another year older and wiser. More importantly, the time has come for him to become a leader, and perhaps a candidate to lead the team in 2014.
The pluses are many: Pearce will get more time and space to create; he won’t be the sole kicker; and he has high-quality centres and some skill factor in his pack. If the big boys bank some solid go-forward, Pearce won’t have any excuses.
Season 2012 yielded 22 try assists and 20 line-break assists for Pearce – reasonable numbers, but numbers he can exceed in 2013.
Sonny Bill is a total wild card but most likely the Kiwi giant will bring to the Roosters some great second-phase play, damaging runs on the edges and steely intimidation in defence. It’s a shame he won’t be able to reprise his famous shoulder charge – although he hasn’t been allowed to use it in rugby union for years, so he’s used to it! In his last full season with the Bulldogs Williams scored 14 tries in 21 games with 11 line-breaks and 13 line-break assists. He also averaged three offloads a match, 123.7 metres gained and 22.2 tackles. Can he do the same after years in union and boxing? We’re about to find out.
Jennings is another potentially sensational buy. If he can knuckle down, stay focused, and train hard, he’ll bring great flair.
Another to keep an eye on? Boyd Cordner. The 20-year-old back-rower has the right people suggesting he’s going to have a long and impressive career.
The Question Marks
Sonny Bill might be a bonus point, but he’s also a query. The NRL is a much tougher week-in, week-out contest than Super 15s and Williams has become accustomed to fewer touches in matches. Will he be able to handle the defensive workload? Will his body hold up to the rigors of the NRL? And will the fact he only signed for one year and the subsequent circus his prospective future creates be a distraction?
The team’s defence remains the biggest question mark. The tri-colours bordered on abysmal defensively last season – and Maloney and Jennings are not the strongest defenders in their positions. Williams too could be a defensive liability – especially in early weeks should his fitness not be 100 per cent.
And the coach… any untried coach has to prove himself.
Who Needs To Lift?
The Roosters forwards. Consider this: not one of them averaged more than 100 metres a match in 2012! Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (95.4 metres) and Martin Kennedy (87.5 metres) were the best of a poor bunch.
Their discipline with the Steeden in hand needs a massive overhaul, too. The Roosters made more errors than any team last year, averaging 11.2 a game.
How’s Their Depth?
It doesn’t look overly strong. If one of the playmakers goes down, the back-up is Daniel Mortimer – but not since his early days at Parramatta has he looked like a regular first grader. Last year Mortimer played just eight games for a return of two tries and one try assist.
The pack is light-on in the front row department and Jake Friend needs to stay healthy at hooker.
Dream Team Bankers
Michael Jennings averaged 45 points per game at the Panthers last year, one of the best centres in the competition. Is he worth it again? Our assessment is ‘yes’, given Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney will be feeding him.
Pearce ($375,100) and Maloney ($365,800) look like giving Dream Team coaches 45+ points each week, as will hooker Jake Friend ($363,900).
Trent Robinson was an assistant with the 2010 Roosters grand final side so he knows the workings of the club inside out. He also managed to take wooden spoon-holders Catalans to the finals in his first year in the UK Super League and backed it up with another finals appearance last season. However, no new coach is safe until he proves himself, so Robinson will need to hit the ground running.
The pressure will be on the new Roosters coach to guide the side into the finals immediately; questions are sure to be asked should the Roosters miss the top eight for the third year in a row – especially given their recruitment.
For the record, we think Robinson will provide plenty of headlines for all the right reasons in 2013.
Similarly it’s been an off-season of change for the young Roosters, who finished in seventh place after 26 rounds last year and only exited the competition when narrowly defeated by eventual premiers Wests Tigers in the grand final qualifier. Former Maroons halfback Paul Green steps in to mentor the side, with Jason Taylor assuming an assistants role with first grade.
With many of last year’s squad having moved on, another top-eight finish will be a tough task. Nonetheless, big things are expected from a raft of players, including the front row pairing of Queensland Under-20s Origin representative Brandon Tago and Mitchell Mamary, who joins the club after winning the Bulldogs’ SG Ball Player of the Year award last season.
Others to keep an eye on include tireless lock Jack Noble; outside back and 2012 Australian Schoolboys representative Jack Goodsell; and Australian Schoolboys five-eighth Samisoni Langi.
Given equal luck with injuries the Roosters should be one of the improvers this season. We don’t see a top-four berth but the lower half of the eight is certainly attainable. From there they just might get on a roll and give the whole thing a shake.