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Sydney Roosters 2012 preview

Gains: Anthony Mitchell (Eels – mid-season), Jack Bosden (Dragons), Peni Tagive (Dragons), Daniel Tupou (Eels), Adam Henry (Warriors), Josh Ailaomai (Knights), Daniel Mortimer (Eels), Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Otahuhu, NZ).

Losses: Nate Myles (Titans), Mark Riddell (retired), Daniel Conn (retired), Kane Linnett (Cowboys), Phil Graham (Titans), Todd Carney (Sharks), Anthony Watts (Widnes), Jason Ryles (Storm).

It goes without saying that the Sydney Roosters proved not only to be among the most underwhelming sides of 2011 but also the most disappointing. Fresh from their stunning run to the grand final 12 months earlier, much was expected of Brian Smith’s men last season but rather than continue to thrill with their on-field abilities they instead lurched from one disaster to another.

The result is a significant change of personnel in 2012 – not least the departure of star five-eighth Todd Carney and Queensland State of Origin forward Nate Myles – as they look to recapture their form of two years ago.

Can they do it?

Certainly they’re not lacking for point-scoring ability. With Mitchell Pearce and Braith Anasta continuing with the playmaking duties and the likes of Sam Perrett, Anthony Minichiello and Shaun Kenny-Dowall out wide they boast more than enough strike power.

And intimidation up front should be no problem, either – Mose Masoe, Frank-Paul Nuuausala and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves will see to that.

Perhaps discipline is the key for the Roosters in 2012. Coach Smith made no bones about the fact that ill-discipline would not be tolerated when he arrived in 2010 and although the message was seemingly lost in translation last season, the club has waved goodbye to those pushing the boundaries – putting their faith instead in young talents Jack Bosden, Peni Tagive and former Eels playmaker Daniel Mortimer who are all new arrivals in 2012.

The hope will be that they can finally put the rollercoaster of the past few seasons behind them and finally enjoy some much-needed consistency. Significantly they will be buoyed by their finish to the 2011 season which saw them win four of their last five games, including a 20-12 defeat of St George Illawarra and a final-round 40-8 thumping of minor premiers Melbourne.

It’s the sort of form this club is certainly capable of… but the big question is whether they can produce it from day one.

How They’ll Play It: Coach Brian Smith is nothing if not a disciplinarian and he will be keen to eradicate the glitches that crept into the Roosters’ game in 2011. That means going back to basics. Territory and field position were a huge problem for the side last season as they struggled to make inroads into opposition defensive patterns. They averaged just 1299 metres per game with the ball in hand – third worst in the NRL – and their kicking game suffered as a result. In fact, their 496 kick metres per game were by far the fewest in the Telstra Premiership. Compounding the problem were the 313 errors the Roosters made – better than only wooden spooners the Gold Coast. The Roosters don’t typically base their game around dummy-half running so expect a lot of one-out runs as they look to lay a foundation for their talented backline to run amok.

Expect HUGE Things From: Mitchell Pearce. The departure of Todd Carney means a whole lot more responsibility falls on Pearce’s shoulders in 2012 but rather than burden him there is no reason he can’t make the most of the opportunity. There is much riding on Pearce these days: NSW coach Ricky Stuart has singled him out as the man to lead the Blues’ resurgence over the coming years and he will no doubt be keen to improve on his 2011 numbers for the Roosters – 19 try assists, 15 line-break assists and an average 302 kick metres per game.

Bonus Points: The Roosters are one of the few sides in the NRL that don’t focus their attack towards one particular area of the field, which makes them extremely difficult to defend against when in form. In fact, breaking down the five main areas from sideline to sideline they scored 14 tries wide left in 2011, 13 centre-left, 15 under the black dot, 17 centre-right and 15 towards the right wing. By comparison, Newcastle scored more than half of their tries on the right-hand side of the field last season (right and centre-right combined) with 41, compared to just 23 on the left and 16 up the middle.

Mitchell Aubusson’s return from injury is a huge boost. He was badly missed for the majority of last season and his line busts on the edge of the field, linking with Pearce, will be a feature in 2012.

They’re Going To Really Miss: Todd Carney. Sure, he let his team-mates down and the Roosters had little choice but to let him go, but there is no doubt the Roosters were a different team with Carney on the field and firing. The stats say it all. In 2010, Carney played 28 games, scored 16 tries, made 21 line-breaks, 133 tackle-breaks, 19 try assists and 18 line-break assists to help the Roosters to the grand final. Twelve months later he contributed just 16 games, six tries, eight line-breaks, 38 tackle-breaks, four try assists and five line-break assists as the Roosters missed the finals altogether.

It’s Time To Deliver: Daniel Mortimer. The NRL’s golden child just two short years ago following his stunning debut season for Parramatta in 2009, Mortimer’s career has nosedived since and he arrives at Bondi Junction needing to prove he is no one-hit wonder. Essentially shut out by Eels coach Stephen Kearney last year and actively shopped around, this could well be his last chance to impress. Nevertheless, he couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity with the presence of Mitchell Pearce and Braith Anasta potentially allowing Mortimer to relax and play his natural game.

How’s Their Depth: Strong in the forwards, questionable out wide. The loss of Carney, Phil Graham and Kane Linnett has certainly weakened the Roosters’ backline – albeit it still looks imposing at full strength, with much expected of rookie Tautau Moga – however they boast a fearsome pack with Mose Masoe, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Martin Kennedy, Mitchell Aubusson, Tom Symonds and Frank-Paul Nuuausala all fighting for places. Watch too for the return of highly rated back-rower Anthony Cherrington who has endured a terrible time with injury over the past few seasons.

Under-20s: After finishing in fifth spot last season (before bowing out with consecutive losses), Roosters Toyota Cup coach Jason Taylor is expecting big things from his troops in 2012.

“I feel like we’re a long way ahead of where we were this time last year,” he said. “We’ve got a few more players that are backing up this time. Last year we only had two or three players in their second year of Toyota Cup. Now we’ve got 12 months under our belt but of course how that transforms onto the field, we’ll soon find out.”

Many in Taylor’s squad have spent the pre-season training with the NRL side and Taylor admits he wouldn’t be surprised if a handful pushed on to experience first grade this year.

“That’s been good for them – being exposed to full-time training and the standard that the NRL guys train at,” he said. “Toyota Cup is all about producing guys that are going to move up to the NRL but at the same time we’re looking to perform well this year too because if you’re not winning you’re not going to get guys performing their best anyway. We want individuals to be confident and showing their best footy.”

The Roosters have high hopes for half Ryley Jacks who produced 20 try assists in 2011.

The Coach: Much will depend on how the Roosters fare in 2012 although it is unlikely coach Brian Smith is in imminent danger of dismissal. The club hierarchy was mightily impressed with how quickly he turned the club from wooden spooners into grand finalists in 2010 while much of their regrettable 2011 season was beyond his control. Smith is signed to the end of 2013.

Predicted Finish: They have the ability to finish higher, but the primary goal of the Sydney Roosters at this stage should be the top eight. Although there remain some depth questions out wide, there is no doubt they can beat anyone on their day. Whether or not they can make that a habit, we’re about to find out. Unfortunately we see them finishing closer to the bottom of the ladder than the top – 12th-15th.

Toyota NRL Dream Team view from NRL.com's Lone Scout
The value pick: Promising young back-rower Boyd Cordner is excellent value at $126,400.
The must have: Mitchell Aubusson's price tag has taken a tumble after an injury-hit 2011 and he's a quality Dream Team option when playing in the forward pack.

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