Peter Sterling: Roosters are now serious contenders

After 18 rounds last season the Sydney Roosters were sitting on their lonesome in last position with a paltry 12 competition points. <br><br>They had won just four matches and tasted defeat on 12 occasions. Things actually got worse in the run home with only one further victory from their last eight games.<br><br>Being the only side that conceded over 600 points saw them take the dreaded wooden spoon on percentages from Cronulla.<br><br>Fast forward to the same time this year and the tri-colours have climbed into the top four, having already won nine times and are well positioned to play finals footy.<br><br>After a dreadful 2009, there was really only one way to go but their improvement has been particularly impressive.<br><br>What isn’t a surprise is that they have done so under the direction of new coach Brian Smith. History shows us that at each of the six clubs Brian has been involved with, there was an immediate increase in their success rate after he took over.<br><br>The Roosters moved into their lofty position after a good old fashioned local derby win against South Sydney last Friday, and apart from the two competition points, the thing that pleased their coach most was that it was a gutsy, narrow, finals-type victory.<br><br>He pointed out that for the first half of the season they either won big or lost big and that kind of football is never good enough when you are playing the better sides at the end of the year. <br><br>Backing up his assessment are the statistics of the Roosters up until their most recent Round 15 bye. At that stage, they had won seven matches and lost six. Their average winning total was 20 points whilst they were beaten on average by 24. A clear illustration of their inconsistency.<br><br>Since then they have gone down to the Warriors by two - courtesy of a last second Kevin Locke try - beaten the Raiders by 10 in the national capital and nudged out the Rabbits by four.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;<br><br>There is still a lot of work to do before securing a finals berth, but their recent form is encouraging as is their new positional configuration.<br><br>After some experimentation, I believe that the Roosters' players are now exactly where they should be.<br><br>Todd Carney is a playmaker who did well at fullback but is much more at home in the halves, especially with a No.6 on his back.<br><br>Like Mitchell Pearce, he is a natural first or second receiver but while he is a clever passer of the ball, he is more dangerous when he runs to pass. On most occasions that is across field looking to get outside wider defenders, before straightening into a gap or creating an overlap.<br><br>This was ideally demonstrated against Melbourne in Round 14 where Todd put on tries for both Anthony Minichiello and Sam Perrett by heading right, curving around defenders before delivering a timely pass.&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;<br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=850&amp;fixtureid=50020101405&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=try&amp;period=2&amp;time=656" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to see the Minichiello try unfold.</a><br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=850&amp;fixtureid=50020101405&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=linebreak&amp;period=2&amp;time=2365" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to watch Carney create a try for Perrett.</a><br><br>Mitchell, on the other hand, prefers to play straight at the line and again in my opinion is alongside Johnathan Thurston as the best in the competition at doing so. He is a classic, traditional ball-playing No.7.<br><br>Whilst most halves operate well before the defence, he concentrates on going far enough to commit a defender to open up a hole for a support runner. His effort to put Shaun Kenny-Dowall over against the Titans in Round 12 and a week later Phil Graham against Cronulla were both beautiful to watch.<br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=848&amp;fixtureid=50020101207&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=try&amp;period=2&amp;time=546" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to watch Pearce create a try for Kenny-Dowall.</a><br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=849&amp;fixtureid=50020101304&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=try&amp;period=1&amp;time=2059" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to see Pearce set up a classic try for Phil Graham.</a><br><br>He also took that into Origin football and was responsible for setting up Brett White for the Blues only try in Game II.<br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/repgames/origingameanalyser/tabid/10936/default.aspx?fixtureid=50120100201&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=try&amp;period=2&amp;time=2467" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to see this classy inside ball.</a><br><br>Despite the different styles of Carney and Pearce, their combination in a short period of time looks made to order. <br><br>In fact, it was the uniting of their skills which set up the winning try for Mitch Aubusson last week.<br><br>With time almost up, the Roosters attacked left with Pearce straightening the play to stop the Rabbitohs' defence racing up too quickly, Carney then drifted against the sliding line to pit Aubusson against the smaller Chris Sandow who was unable to stop the back-rower from scoring the match-winner.<br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/telstrapremiership/gameanalyservideo/tabid/10910/default.aspx?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=854&amp;fixtureid=50020101802&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=try&amp;period=2&amp;time=2212" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to watch this match-winning play unfold.</a><br><br>The beauty of these two young men is that while they are team players, they also possess great instinct as to when there is something on for themselves. This season they have already scored 16 tries between them with the majority coming from knowing when to have a go, especially from close range.<br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/telstrapremiership/gameanalyservideo/tabid/10910/default.aspx?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=849&amp;fixtureid=50020101304&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=try&amp;period=2&amp;time=2242" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to see Carney pick apart the Sharks in Round 13.</a><br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/telstrapremiership/gameanalyservideo/tabid/10910/default.aspx?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=852&amp;fixtureid=50020101606&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=try&amp;period=1&amp;time=1275" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to see Pearce slice through the Warriors in Round 16.</a><br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/telstrapremiership/gameanalyservideo/tabid/10910/default.aspx?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=854&amp;fixtureid=50020101802&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=try&amp;period=1&amp;time=1455" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to see Carney weave his way between Rabbitohs defenders in Round 18.</a><br><br>This new pairing has seen skipper Braith Anasta pushed to the back of the scrum and it will prove to be a weight lifted from his shoulders.<br><br>He has never shied away from responsibility but also never looked completely comfortable with leading the team, being a playmaker as well as one of the main kickers. <br><br>At lock he can relax into his game and concentrate on his real strength of running the ball. Braith has always looked like a backrower playing five-eighth and while he has only ever played 12 games in the No.13, it shapes as his future home.<br><br>He can now pick and choose when to get involved in the aspects of play which for a long time were expected of him. This will result in greater precision because he can be completely selective and, as a result, it will be much more natural. <br><br>Recent involvements against Melbourne showed a less rushed player and the type of efforts that will be more predominant. The first was a deft little chip onto the chest of Phil Graham for a try and was followed by a simple delayed pass to put Frank Paul Nuuausala into a hole to also cross.<br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/telstrapremiership/gameanalyservideo/tabid/10910/default.aspx?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=850&amp;fixtureid=50020101405&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=try&amp;period=2&amp;time=915" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to see the Graham try unfold.</a><br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/telstrapremiership/gameanalyservideo/tabid/10910/default.aspx?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=850&amp;fixtureid=50020101405&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=try&amp;period=2&amp;time=2123" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to watch Anasta's involvement in the Round 14 try to Nuuausala.</a><br><br>With Shaun Kenny Dowall revelling in his centre move, the final piece of the puzzle is Anthony Minichiello back to full-back. <br><br>“The Count” may have started his first-grade career on the wing but he made his name at the back and is obviously delighted to be closer to the action. His support play up the middle third of the field against Souths was first class and nearly resulted in the try of the year.<br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/telstrapremiership/gameanalyservideo/tabid/10910/default.aspx?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=854&amp;fixtureid=50020101802&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=handlingerror&amp;period=1&amp;time=839" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to see the try that almost was.</a>