History repeats for Sharks and Roosters
If this week's Sharks v Roosters clash feels a little bit like history repeating to you, that's because... it is. Well, kind of, anyway.
Back in 2007, Chris Anderson jumped before he pushed and resigned from the Roosters’ head coaching post in the wake of a 56-0 shellacking at the hands of Manly. The loss came on the back of heavy defeats to the Eels and Bulldogs in previous weeks and left the tricolours languishing in 15th place on the NRL ladder.
Having lost the faith of the fans, the silence of the players spoke loudest against the two-time premiership winner continuing in the week following the disastrous loss to the Sea Eagles, when not a single one other than skipper Craig Fitzgibbon stood up when invited to offer solutions to the side's woes.
Anderson had already suffered two heart attacks while coaching the Kangaroos in England six years earlier, and judging by his ashen face in the Brookvale press box and the pressure that was being piled on at Bondi, the job wasn’t doing his health any favours.
Assistant coach and club legend Brad Fittler was initially installed as caretaker coach for the remainder of the year, and performed the mother-of-all resurrections in guiding the Roosters to a 23-12 defeat of the Sharks, just five days after taking up the Chooks’ clipboard.
Then just 22, current Roosters veteran Heath L’Estrange was Fittler's starting hooker in the upset win that kicked off a run that ended just one competition point short of an unlikely finals berth, and is back where his NRL career began a decade ago after winning a grand final with Manly and six years with Bradford in the English Super League.
L'Estrange remembers well the fresh air that blew through the Roosters with Fittler's appointment, the very same the Sharks will be hoping is replicated this weekend as assistant James Shepherd steps into the void left by Peter Sharp's resignation after a year that will arguably go down as the toughest the club has ever faced.
"’Opes’ (Anderson) had a different coaching style, and when ‘Freddie’ came in it was a bit more relaxed and he just gave us a few things to work on," says L’Estrange.
"I was talking about it with ‘Fitzy’ during the week; it was an easy game plan... it was nice and easy and we did it well. We won five of our last eight games and had a draw in there too and only just missed the finals.
"If the boys are tight and they've got something to play for, for each other, anything can happen."
"When I was in England we went through a lot of strife too...and sometimes these things bring players together.
"I'm sure [the Sharks] had a good group meeting mid-week and told everyone 'this is make or bust for us' and I'm sure they'll come out and want to prove a point."
L'Estrange, who also had a front-row seat as Bradford struggled to pay its staff and players and were forced into administration in 2012, is adamant the playing field is the best place for the Sharks to deal with the off-field dramas that have enveloped the club this year, which came to a head this week with the sacking of disgraced star Todd Carney and Sharp's resignation.
"You just forget about it [on the field], you're doing what you've been doing the last 20 years; it's ingrained in you," he said.
"When you start getting into the thick of it... I don't know how they did it last week, they came from 22-0 down to beat the Broncos, but usually if they get a try or two early that's when they get their tails up and it's all over."
The 29-year-old will again suit up for the Roosters this week having had his first run in the NRL since 2008 against Manly in Round 16, and is determined to repay the faith shown by coach Trent Robinson in a bid to win an extension on his current one-year deal, which expires at the end of the season.
"I'm just grateful that Robbo gave me this opportunity," says L'Estrange.
“He took a punt on me coming back from the Super League... and I definitely have to prove myself these next nine games if I get that, and I've just got to work my arse off. No second chances, this is my second chance and I've got to do what I can with it."