Anthony Minichiello has gone from strength to strength in 2011, winning back his NSW Origin spot on the back of several stand-out performances for the Roosters.
Home Record: 4 wins, 8 losses, 1 draw
Away Record: 2 wins, 10 losses
Longest Winning Streak: 4 (Rounds 23-26)
Longest Losing Streak: 5 (Round 5-10)
Players Used: 33 (equal most in the NRL)
Player of the Year: Jake Friend
Tries Scored: 74 (fifth fewest)
Tries Conceded: 86 (seventh most)
Not much went right for the Roosters in 2011. They began the season with high hopes and huge expectations after a tremendous turnaround in 2010, going from wooden spooners to grand finalists, and began brightly with a huge win over South Sydney in Round 1. But the danger signs were there early as 2010 Dally M Medallist Todd Carney was first caught drink driving then shortly after embarked on an ill-fated night out with fellow player Anthony Watts, which ended Watts’ season without him playing a single game.
Five straight losses followed Carney’s first two misdemeanours for the year (yep, sadly there were more to come) and although the Roosters maintained fairly solid home form thereafter, their inability to win away from home meant they were facing an uphill battle early on to stay in touch with the top half of the competition.
A golden run of four straight wins to round out the season was a case of too little, too late and will leave fans wondering where that side had been hiding all year.
Where They Excelled: This probably brings us to the crux of why the Roosters had such an unsuccessful season – there were really no areas they truly excelled. Coach Brian Smith will be happy with their dominant home record (after their Round 7 loss to the Dragons they were only beaten at home once more at home, by the Raiders in Round 17) but this was offset by their poor away results.
The renaissance form of fullback Anthony Minichiello and prop Jason Ryles provided a bright spot, and former wild child Jake Friend had possibly his best year for the tri-colours, but overall there was little to cheer about for Roosters fans.
Where They Struggled: Territory was one of the biggest issues for the Roosters. Despite having several accomplished kickers in the team, notably Mitchell Pearce and Braith Anasta, the Roosters were the worst side in the competition for gaining ground through kicks, averaging only around 500 metres per game.
Their running game was almost as poor, with only the Titans and Raiders running for fewer metres. No regular forwards averaged more than Nate Myles with 102 metres per game, and their inability to maintain good field position was a key reason to why they finished ahead of only the Eels and Titans in terms of point-scoring.
Discipline also hurt – they were the second-most penalised team for the year after Penrith, feeling the wrath of the referees 156 times.
Missing In Action: Aside from the players missing through disciplinary issues (Watts for the season, Carney for much of the season and Nate Myles for the last four games) there were also plenty of injury disruptions for the Roosters.
It started in the pre-season when Anthony Cherrington tore an anterior cruciate ligament in a trial game and missed the season. Mitch Aubusson didn’t return after dislocating a shoulder before Round 10, Daniel Conn was forced to retire after Round 9 due to a neck injury, Steve Naughton missed most of the season with a fractured collarbone and Origin hopeful Martin Kennedy played only eight games due to a foot injury. Outside backs Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Kane Linnett, Joseph Leilua and Sam Perrett all missed game time towards the end of the year due to a variety of ankle, knee and leg complaints.
Turning Point: It’s tough to blame a poor season on off-field issues but the dramas surrounding Carney and Watts were immediately followed by that five-game losing streak and the side never seemed to recover. Given Carney was such a key player to their success in 2010 the influence of those disruptions on the team must have been considerable. It’s also notable that the best run for the Roosters came in the last four rounds – after those disruptive influences had finally been given their marching orders.
Best Games: Although the Round 1 win over South Sydney was convincing the side let in more points than Brian Smith would have liked, and there were few truly dominant wins for most of the season.
This changed in their late run of four straight victories, which started with a highly impressive performance to take the points over the Dragons in Wollongong 20-8 in Round 23 (their first away win for the year) and was rounded out by their most comprehensive performance of the year – a 40-8 blitzing of minor premiers Melbourne in Round 26.
Admittedly the Storm were missing a galaxy of stars having opted to rest four players, with a further three suspended, and they lost another three to injury during the game. But you can only play what’s in front of you and the Roosters were ruthless and professional right from the kick-off. The fact that those four wins were achieved without Carney will also give fans hope for next season.
Worst Games: Although the side’s troubles away from home would have been frustrating, there is no doubt their worst performance of the year came at home. Their only home loss after Round 7 was inflicted by the Raiders in Round 17 and the 38-12 loss was made even less palatable by the fact that it not only came at home, where they had been strong, but came at the hands of a side near the bottom of the ladder.
Braith Anasta put the opening kick-off out on the full and the Raiders crossed 90 seconds later through Josh Papalii. Although the Roosters clawed it back to 18-10 at halftime, Canberra went on a four-tries-to-none blitz in the second half to run away with it. Admittedly the Roosters were without Origin players Anthony Minichiello and Mitchell Pearce but the way they were completely dominated in possession and field position made it a night to forget for Roosters fans.
Hold Your Head High: Hooker Jake Friend put his past troubles behind him to register possibly his most consistent season of top-grade football. Friend played all games bar one and finished the season as the third-top tackler in the NRL. His best form coincided with the team’s best form as he clocked up a number of tries and try assists in the final four rounds.
Jason Ryles may have grey in his hair now but the quality of his hit-ups and effectiveness of his defence never wavered. Minichiello was a model of consistency after some horror years with injury, was always safe under the high ball and was rewarded for his good form with a return to the New South Wales Origin set-up.
Coach Brian Smith says: “In the course of the whole pre-season and in-season, we had a number of things that we had to deal with. In what’s been a very disappointing season for us overall, the end bit was really good. The leadership at our club, and Braith in particular as our captain this year in really trying circumstances, has been fantastic. The boys have responded to him well; now we’ve got all those young guys… some of them between half a dozen and some of them have got nearly 20 first grade games up… they are ready to go into next season and challenge for a position. So that’s the bright side.”
Conclusion: Even by modern standards the Roosters had a poor run with injury, and some notable off-field dramas certainly didn’t help their cause. However, their late run of form just goes to show that they were always capable of better than they were showing, and the players will be bitterly disappointed with their lacklustre season after such a strong finish the year before.