Roosters' culture to live on without Mini, SBW
They may have failed in their bid for back-to-back titles and waved farewell to their skipper and star attraction, but senior Roosters players believe the culture that's been created at the Bondi club will ensure they remain premiership contenders for years to come.
Installed by many pundits and punters as warm favourites to claim consecutive championships for the first time since Brisbane in 1997-98, the Roosters fell at the penultimate hurdle, succumbing to eventual premiers and arch-rivals South Sydney in the grand final qualifier.
Untimely injuries and suspensions aside, the Chooks know they've missed a golden opportunity to forge a red, white and blue dynasty with a repeat of their 2013 triumph, only showing glimpses of the blistering form they are capable of eventually proving their downfall during this year's finals series.
The task of climbing back to the top of the NRL tree next year is made tougher by the departures of retiring club icon and captain Anthony Minichiello, and about the only man in the club who can be compared to him in terms of professionalism: dual code phenomenon Sonny Bill Williams.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is a readymade replacement to wear Minichiello's treasured No.1 jumper, while young firebrand Dylan Napa looks to have the inside running ahead of Frank-Paul Nuuausala at filling Williams' sizeable boots in the forward pack. But the contribution from the departing pair to Trent Robinson's side went far beyond their presence on the pitch, with insiders crediting Minichiello and Williams as crucial pillars in the culture change at Bondi since Robinson took charge two years ago.
With Minichiello's departure second-rower Mitch Aubusson, halfback Mitch Pearce, centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Nuuausala now rank as the longest-serving Roosters in the playing squad, with all four having made their debuts in 2007 under Chris Anderson. Aubusson admits the star duo's exit is a huge blow, but says they leave the club in the best shape it's been in his eight seasons of first grade.
"I'd say [the culture] is the best it's ever been here, and those two guys in particular were a massive part in driving that," Aubusson tells NRL.com.
"Now they've passed the baton on and it's on us senior guys to pick it up, with the vice-captains and those blokes – we have to run with what they've taught us.
"You can't replace them to be honest. We've got some great juniors coming through, but Mini and Sonny are two legends, so it's going to be hard to replace them. This club's been strong over the past two years and we've got guys who will give it a red hot crack... but we won't be able to replace guys like that.
"We're losing two big parts of our team and our culture, so it's up to a couple of us to step into that gap left and drive this club to where it belongs."
The revolution Robinson has instigated in the wake of Brian Smith's topsy-turvy reign between 2010 and 2012 is plain to see.
Aside from Pearce's arrest at a Kings Cross nightspot in May, one that ultimately cost him and offsider James Maloney their spots in the NSW Origin team, the Roosters have largely avoided off-field incidents on their way to consecutive minor premierships. The playing group also voluntarily imposed booze bans for large chunks of both seasons in a bid to perform at their best.
It's a far cry from scenes in recent years at Roosters HQ, when a grand final defeat to the Dragons in 2010 was followed by 11th- and 13th-placed finishes in the next two seasons.
The back half of Smith's tenure was also plagued with disciplinary issues, with the likes of Dally M winner Todd Carney, Origin forward Nate Myles, Joey Leilua and Anthony Cherrington shown the door after repeated disciplinary issues, while Pearce and hooker Jake Friend have also had been in trouble off the field in the past.
Prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is one of seven players remaining from the squad that made the 2010 decider on the back of five straight wins, and acknowledges that while they failed to deliver on their lofty aspirations of another NRL title this year, the Roosters have learnt from the mistakes they've made in previous years when it comes to on-field performance.
"Backing up a good year, that comes with experience," Waerea-Hargreaves says.
"We've got a lot of players here at the club that played in 2010/2011, and we don't want to go back there. It's just about getting together and really driving that consistency each week.
"It starts at the top and filters all the way through down to the bottom. I think it's a credit to our club, not just the playing group but the staff as well that we've backed up."