Fittler says Roosters ahead of schedule
Former Sydney Roosters premiership-winning captain Brad Fittler says the team is "practising things now that will win it games later" – but with a bonus.
"They've won two out of their first three games, and if you can that do while you're still getting things in order, then that's a great result," said Fittler, who led the Roosters to their last title in 2002.
The Roosters will try to make to make it three from four when they lock horns with Parramatta at Allianz Stadium on Monday night.
Fittler said it was only natural that it would take a bit of time for new playmaker James Maloney to get used to playing with his Roosters teammates, and for them to get used to him. But, in the meantime, the Roosters, also under a new coach in Trent Robinson, had done the right thing by putting the emphasis on getting their defence right. Tellingly, they finished the 2012 season conceding more than five line-breaks every match but through their first three games in 2013 are leaking just two breaks to oppositions, the third-best return in the NRL.
"It's such a new dynamic in the team, but they appear pretty relaxed about it, which is good," Fittler told NRL.com. "As long as your defence is in order, it gives you the chance to win games while you're still building your attack.
"I'm sure they haven't put as much emphasis on their attack as their defence at this stage. If you want to win games, particularly in this early part of the season when every team is trying to work itself out, it's the defence that counts.
"The Roosters came off second best against Souths – but they're a pretty good team, the Rabbitohs. No-one else has been able to beat them so far. And then the Roosters beat the Warriors and the Broncos.
"They let a couple of late tries in against the Warriors, but then they shut the Broncos out altogether. They're making it difficult for the opposition to get something going against them, and that frustrates teams."
Five-eighth Maloney, who joined the Roosters from the Warriors at the end of last season, began to get his running game going in the 8-0 home win over Brisbane last weekend.
Maloney ran the ball nine times, which was one more than his total for the first two games, and made two line-breaks in his 84 metres gained. He was forced to do a lot of work in defence, making 23 tackles, but that didn't dull his attacking spark.
"Maloney is going good," Fittler said. "I remember when I came to the Roosters myself, from Penrith, it took a bit of time for everything to come together. It's the same for him, but he's looking better with each game and his teammates are understanding him better as well."
Fittler also likes the look of the biggest buy, in both profile and size, that the Roosters made – Sonny Bill Williams.
Statistics over the first three rounds suggest that Williams, playing in the second row, has concentrated on getting the basics of his game together now that he is back in league. He played 51 minutes off the interchange bench against the Rabbitohs, making seven runs for 65 metres. Against the Warriors, he played 80 minutes for 12 runs and 100 metres, and against the Broncos he stepped it again, playing 80 minutes for 15 runs and 115 metres. Williams also made a whopping 38 tackles against Brisbane.
People are waiting for Williams to cut loose with some devastating attacking raids, and that might not be far off, but in the meantime he is cleverly working up to that level of impact rather than trying to do too much too soon and coming up with errors as a result.
"I think he's done great so far," Fittler said. "I just think Sonny Bill is in control of the situation. He'll do whatever's necessary for the Roosters to get the win, and if that means stretching out a bit more against Parramatta then I'm sure he'll do that."
Parramatta are, of course, coached by Ricky Stuart, who was coach of the Roosters when they won the 2002 premiership.
Fittler naturally wishes his old coach luck this season, but reckons the Eels will be finishing on the wrong side of the ledger tonight.
"I'm confident the Roosters are better than them at this stage of the season," Fittler said.