Mid-season review: Sydney Roosters

Position after 13 rounds: 12th
Wins: 5
Losses: 7
Byes: 1
Competition points: 12
Differential: -78

It could all have been so different for the Roosters. Fans are entitled to think their side is travelling a bit better than 12th place at the halfway point – especially after the tricolours kicked off the season in such spectacular fashion, with a miraculous last-gasp win over old rivals South Sydney. The early signs suggested Roosters fans may enjoy some good fortune in 2012.

They came crashing back to earth with an 18-0 shut-out at home to Penrith the following week, and were demolished 44-4 in Round 4 against Melbourne. But back-to-back wins over the Warriors and Titans had them entrenched in the top eight and travelling well after six rounds.

However they have won just one of five since – a run commencing with a horrible 50-12 towelling at the hands of the Cowboys up in Darwin in Round 7. It was an off night for the entire team and led many to suggest halfback Mitchell Pearce should not be retained in the NSW Origin side. But to his credit Pearce responded magnificently to stamp himself one of the team’s best performers since, starring in the 24-6 win over Newcastle and almost dragging them to wins over the Dragons and Warriors.

Despite their poor differential the Roosters remain in a far better position than the four teams below them on the ladder – Newcastle, Penrith, Canberra and Parramatta – although the stats seem to suggest that they are currently sitting about where they should be. The Roosters are third worst in terms of points scored (16.2) and concede the third-most points (22.7), are making fewer metres than any side other (1258) and have made more errors (11.8) than anyone other than the Titans and Sharks.

The Roosters can’t really blame injuries or other disruptions for the current ladder position – coach Brian Smith and key players including fullback Anthony Minichiello, halfback Pearce, five-eighth Braith Anasta and hooker Jake Friend have all been at the club for several years.

The run home doesn’t do the Roosters any favours – although half their remaining 12 games are at home, seven matches are against current top-eight sides and the games against lower-ranked teams are mostly away, meaning there are no easy points on offer. They will probably need to win eight of 12 from here to make the finals; if they do get there, they will have done it the hard way.

Are Things Going To Plan? Certainly not – the Roosters are averaging fewer tries per game now (2.8) than they did last season (3.1). Their defence has also gone backwards, conceding 4.1 tries per game against 3.6 throughout 2011.

Things aren’t completely out of hand yet though – the Roosters are just a win behind the eighth-placed Cowboys – but a couple more wins in the first half of their season would have made things much more positive for the boys from Bondi.

Probably the most disappointing things from the fans’ point of view have been the lack of improvement, considering there is a fair bit of continuity in the playing and coaching roster.
Injury Front… Things could be worse. All up the Roosters have called on 24 players, fewer than the NRL average in 2012. 

Dynamic centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall has recently been struck down by a back complaint and will miss a few more weeks after having an interrupted start to the season due to a bruised kidney. An ankle problem delayed the debut of boom youngster Tautau Moga by a couple of months – although he is quickly finding his feet now. Frank-Paul Nuuausala had an extended absence following a broken jaw and Aiden Guerra missed several games with an ankle complaint. Anthony Cherrington was ruled out long term before the season even began following another ACL reconstruction. 

But the injuries have mostly been short term and have not afflicted key playmakers.

If Only… The Roosters would love to have the Cowboys match over again. The defeat badly dented their confidence – not to mention their differential – and they don’t really seem to have recovered. The Roosters missed 39 tackles and conceded 10 line-breaks as the Cowboys ran away to a 22-0 lead after 20 minutes. 

The following week brought a significantly tougher loss though – the Roosters were dominant and leading St George Illawarra by eight points with less than five minutes remaining on their traditional ANZAC Day clash. In a direct reversal of their Round 1 fortunes, Sydney gave up two tries inside the final five minutes to experience a heartbreaking loss – the kind that can leave emotional scars. If only the Roosters had regathered that short kick-off…

Who’s Flying… Evergreen fullback Anthony Minichiello is experiencing something of a renaissance, averaging 151 running metres from 19 runs with four tackle-breaks per game and six tries. Mitchell Pearce is looking to stamp himself on the team and has so far contributed nine try assists and 10 line-break assists.

Needs To Lift… The forwards – they simply aren’t going forward. In fact, the biggest contributor in the entire pack is prop Martin Kennedy, with just 88 metres per game! That number is okay for a bench prop – but not for a number one prop. By comparison, every other club has at least one regular member of their starting pack averaging more than 100 metres per game. 

Predicted Finish… As mentioned, there are very few easy competition points on offer for the Roosters from here on. They have plenty of games against top sides as well as tricky road trips to Canberra, Penrith and Leichhardt. Winning eight from 12 looks to be out of the club’s grasp on current form.

They should win enough games to stay away from wooden spoon territory but their displays provide us with no argument as to why they won’t finish the season the same way they finished 2011 – several wins shy of tasting finals footy.

Under-20s… Sydney’s NYC side is doing markedly better than their NRL counterparts, and are currently inside the top eight on seventh with six wins, five losses and one draw. With six draws in the competition so far this season, there’s a very real chance of them ending level on competition points with another team – in which case their current differential of +50 will stand them in good stead.

Fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has so far run for more metres than any other player in the competition, averaging 185 metres per game with seven tries and six line-breaks. Hard-working prop Dylan Napa is making 135 metres per game and averaging almost 26 tackles, with 41 tackle-breaks.