Young Roosters enforcers earn praise
The Roosters head into Friday night’s Grand Final rematch with Manly missing only two faces from that dizzy-heights night of celebration last October - but between them the absent duo of Sonny Bill Williams and Luke O’Donnell tally close to 300 NRL games, 23 Test caps and 5 Origin matches in experience.
While much has been made of the fact Brett Stewart, Jorge Taufua, Tom Symonds and potentially Kieran Foran will all be watching from behind the Manly bench, the Roosters will also be without two of their key enforcers from 2013, as Williams serves a final week of suspension and O’Donnell pulled up stumps on his 14-year career over the off-season.
Whereas Williams’ absence reduces the Roosters' firepower and ability to generate second-phase play on the right edge, O’Donnell’s contribution to the Chooks’ success last year cannot be understated, with the veteran providing plenty of aggression and experience in his regular cameos from the bench.
But as is often the case with a successful club, forward leader Jared Waerea-Hargreaves said the Roosters had found a couple of fairly handy replacements for the back row pair.
“I think Kane Evans and Dylan Napa are doing a great job coming off the bench for us, ” said Waerea-Hargreaves in response to questions on the impact of O’Donnell’s departure.
“That middle patch of the game, they’re doing a great job for us there and they’re going to be better each week the more game time they get.”
Waxing lyrical about the size and mobility of recent debutant Evans, whose chest is big enough to screen a drive-in movie on, Waerea-Hargreaves revealed the 22-year-old has an enthusiasm for the game to fill all 192 centimetres and 110 kilograms of his ample being.
“I said to Kane when he came off against Parra on his debut ‘How’d you enjoy it? Did you like it?’ And he goes ‘No I loved it.’
“It was good to see someone who’s been waiting for so long to get an opportunity and come off the field as good as he did. It was awesome to see.”
And what of Mitch Aubusson, the bloke glued to Mitchell Pearce’s right hip who ensured SBW’s suspension has not blunted the premiers' attack in the slightest?
“Aubo doesn’t like the contact, that’s why he’s so good at hitting the gaps,” laughs Waerea-Hargreaves.
“No, Mitchell has been superb for us with Sonny’s absence.
“What can I say, he’s not big at all but he’s a great defender and he’s a great hole runner.”
Relaxed and full of wisecracks during media commitments, the big Kiwi forward said his sunny disposition reflected the mood in the Roosters' camp, with Round 3’s last-gasp win over the Broncos simply adding to the confidence in the squad.
“The boys are confident and feeling good in camp and around the place the boys are ripping into each other, which is good, ” said Waerea-Hargreaves.
“It’s always positive coming into training, especially when you see some boys rocking up two to three hours early just to be around each other. I try and get in 10 minutes just before training just so I don’t see the boys.
“I see them too much!”