Utility man key for Roosters title tilt
Losing your first choice and back-up hookers on finals eve is less than ideal, but it's a scenario facing both sides who finished in the top two; for the defending premiers, a regular Mr. Fixit looks to be the key to saving their season.
Manly have some dramas with Matt Ballin and Jamie Buhrer out while for the Roosters, Jake Friend and Heath L'Estrange are currently missing.
Roosters utility Mitchell Aubusson hasn't played more than five games in a row in one position in 2014, and hadn't played one at hooker until the final game of the regular season.
But with likely future Maroons hooker and possible Kangaroos bolter Jake Friend absent due to haemothorax, and back-up Heath L'Estrange battling a knee injury – and neither a sure thing to be back in the next fortnight or necessarily this year – Roosters coach Trent Robinson took a punt on the man they call 'Aubo'.
Aubusson performed admirably in a convincing, minor premiership-securing 22-18 win over the Rabbitohs on Thursday night. Despite only playing around two-thirds of the game, job-sharing the hooking role with debutant Jackson Hastings, Aubusson easily topped the tackle count for the match with 44, and zero misses.
He also made 55 metres from just five well-timed scoots and provided good service out of dummy half in what was a hugely encouraging sign for the premiers' chances of staying in the 2014 title race until one of their specialist rakes returns to the field.
After the game his coach said he did "a great job at nine", especially given the wet conditions.
"It's pretty easy to play wet but when you're playing around the ruck as a nine in the wet – it was really good footy from him," Robinson said.
Man-of-the-match Mitchell Pearce was also full of praise for the Roosters utility man.
"Aubo's outstanding, he can play anywhere – I think he's played in six or seven different positions this year," Pearce said.
"One of the most underrated players in the competition, he's played over 170 first grade games – he's unlucky not to get thrown up for rep teams I think. He's just a special player, he can do the job anywhere and never lets you down. Not only was he doing his job he actually had an impact."
Aubusson himself said while it was a challenge to throw himself into a new position, his role as a utility keeps the game exciting.
"It was a big challenge for myself, not playing massive minutes at hooker previously," Aubusson told NRL.com after the game.
"I knew we had a pretty good team that would help me out a lot, I just made sure I went out there and played as hard as I could and I felt I did that."
Asked about his coach's suggestion that he played well given the conditions Aubusson laughed: "I dunno about whether it's easier or harder [to play hooker in the wet], I don't really have much to compare it to! It was a very very fast opening 30 minutes. I enjoy the harder, grinding games, I enjoyed that one, and I'll continue to work at it until Friendy [Jake Friend] is ready to go."
Aubusson said he was happy to continue getting moved around to different positions.
"It makes things exciting – I could play anywhere in this team, that's my job in this team and for me to stay in this team I have to be able to play a lot of different positions and I'm more than happy to do that."
Aubusson joked that he probably hasn't played the same position more than two or three games in a row this year. In actuality he's not far off – he got five games in a row in the centres from rounds 14 to 20 with a few other members of the backline out injured.
Aubusson, like his coach, wasn't getting carried away with minor premiership talk (a prize that was not yet guaranteed at fulltime in the Souths game, with Manly at that stage still a chance of claiming it), but he was happy the side was coming into form at the business end of the year.
"We're hungry, you know, we're really hungry," he said.
"We've had a few wake-up calls throughout the year; it's up to us to make sure those things don't happen again. We'll keep on playing hard and be ready for whatever team we have to face."