Season Preview: Sydney Roosters

IT can’t get any worse, right? Surely not… <br><br>The Roosters had arguably the worst season in the club’s 101-year existence in 2009 – no mean feat considering in 1966 they didn’t win a single game! But a wooden spoon, coupled with a billion (okay, that’s an over-exaggeration, but it felt like it) off-field dramas put last year right up there in the horrific category. <br><br>However, with a new catch cry in ‘new attitude, new beginning’, a new coach and some new faces in the line-up the Tri-Colours have certainly set up a template for improvement. Brian Smith arrives with a reputation of turning struggling clubs around and this alone should give fans some optimism.<br><b><br>Their Keys To Success…</b> For the Roosters to be successful it’s a matter of trust. They must trust in the processes put forward by coach Smith and execute the way he wants. <br><br>Smith is an expert at getting the most out of his players’ skill sets and matching a game plan to accommodate. The Knights became exciting to watch during the past few seasons, unafraid to promote the football – if the same game plan is attached to the Roosters, fans could have plenty of heart palpitations out Bondi way, but also plenty to cheer. <br><br>Look for forwards Jason Ryles and Nate Myles to have massive years, as Smith unleashes the hidden skills in their repertoires. <br><br>Look for halves Braith Anasta and Mitchell Pearce to excel (if they can follow instruction without complaint) and look for Todd Carney to find a place at fullback, providing he starts strong and maintains confidence. <br><br>At the end of the day the Roosters will improve if they are prepared to be disciplined and can get along with coach Smith’s professional but almost school teacher style – a far cry from ex-coach Brad Fittler’s laid-back ways.<br><b><br>Expect Plenty From…</b> Tom Symonds. As a local Roosters junior Symonds has the opportunity to emulate Luke Ricketson by becoming a stalwart in the back row. <br><br>In just eight NRL games last season Symonds showed he was made of the right stuff. He is versatile, able to play in the forwards or at five-eighth and centre, and has deceptive strength and speed. He tallied five line-breaks, two try assists and scored three tries in his limited first grade opportunities, while also adding almost 10 metres a carry and 20 tackles a match. This kid is one to watch.<br><b><br>They’re Really Going To Miss… </b>Craig Fitzgibbon. ‘Fitzy’ would have revelled under coach Smith; he would have been the father figure the youngsters could have looked to for guidance. Yes, he was there when it fell apart last season – but no-one can question his professionalism and commitment to the cause. <br><br>The veteran always played at 100 per cent and never gave up on a game despite the scoreboard. His leadership and attitude will be sorely missed.<br><br><b>Time To Stand Up…</b>&nbsp; Todd Carney. A year in the wilderness in North Queensland will surely have been enough to show the Goulburn junior it is time to knuckle down and produce not only good football on the field but a better lifestyle off it. <br><br>Carney’s biggest opponent this year will be himself, and his quest to tread the straight and narrow. This is surely his last chance to prove he can be an adult and make a living out of the sublime, innate football skills he possesses. <br><br><b>Coach Watch…</b> Brian Smith arrives with a four-year contract so you would expect he’d be very safe at least for this season – although if the side stays anchored at the bottom of the ladder and enters the scandal pages as often as last year, he might end up searching the classifieds. <br><br>But in reality that is highly doubtful, as he’ll need at least two years to get the place firing his way.<br><br><b>They’re All The Better For…</b> The arrival of Jason Ryles and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. The side was lacking any sort of fear factor in the forward pack and with Ryles and JWH they get both an old and new head with plenty of aggression. <br><br>Ex-Dragon Ryles has always been a hot head but his maturing years have allowed him to find ways to channel his steam, while Waerea-Hargreaves signalled his intentions in the Four Nations last year by showing little respect for the Australian forward pack. <br><br>The former Manly forward loves nothing more than putting on mammoth hits and will be out to add some intimidation to the Roosters’ engine room. <br><br>Ryles also brings skill and size, something the side was missing. He can rumble forward and gain metres but he can also pass post- and pre-line, which will add variety and unpredictability to the Roosters’ game plan. <br><br><b>Predicted Finish…</b> Around 10th to 12th. The Roosters won’t finish last again in 2010 but the finals might be just out of reach. Expect improvement but football in September is unlikely.<br><br>With a lot of luck they could sneak into the first week of the playoffs.<br><br><b>Toyota Cup…</b> The Roosters have some exciting players eligible for the under-20s in 2010, including Prime Minister’s XIII representative Ben Jones – however, fresh from a dazzling Indigenous All Stars display, he’s likely to spend most of his time in the top grade. <br><br>Others in the NRL squad still available for Toyota Cup are outside back Ryan Williamson, South African recruit JP Du Plessis, back-rower Boyd Cordner and fullback Cheyse Blair. Cordner is only 17 but could find his way into the NRL team with a bit of luck, while Blair is barely 18. Others to watch are Cook Islands Pacific Nations Cup reps Anthony Gelling and Sam Brunton plus skilful half Jacob Miller. <br>