Sydney Roosters season preview
Injuries, suspensions and mass departures have hit the three-time defending minor premiers hard, prompting many to suggest the Roosters' dynasty is about to come to an end.
The Tricolours fell one game short of a spot in the grand final in 2015 after running into the red-hot Broncos. Injuries to halfback Mitchell Pearce and Jared-Waerea Hargreaves player their part, but the Roosters will see last year's campaign as the one that got away.
While they've lost plenty of star power, the Roosters remain blessed with strike all over the park and will be pumped up for the season ahead.
Gains and losses
Gains: Joe Burgess (Wigan Warriors), Dale Copley (Brisbane Broncos), Mitchell Frei (Wynnum Manly Seagulls), Ian Henderson (Catalan Dragons), Ryan Matterson (Parramatta Eels), Jayden Nikorima (Broncos), Paki Afu (Mormon mission)
Losses: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (New Zealand Warriors), James Maloney (Cronulla Sharks), Michael Jennings (Parramatta Eels), Nene Macdonald (Gold Coast Titans), Nathan Stapleton (London Broncos), Scott Drinkwater (Melbourne Storm), Taane Milne (St George Illawarra Dragons), Suaia Matagi (Penrith Panthers), Matt McIlwrick (Cronulla Sharks)
Gone from their 2013 Grand Final winning squad are NSW Origin representatives Michael Jennings and James Maloney, as well as Kiwis superstar Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. While it's hard to replace 29 tries worth of talent from last year, the Roosters have recruited former Wigan winger Joe Burgess, as well as Dale Copley from the Broncos. Jayden Nikorima is the other big off-season recruit, and the youngster may have to step up as early as Round 1 pending the outcome of the Mitchell Pearce investigation.
What we know
The Roosters dominated the regular season last year. Aside from winning a third straight minor premiership, they also scored the most points (591) and conceded the fewest (300) throughout the 2015 regular season. Their 12-match winning streak to end the season was the club's longest such stretch since winning 16 in a row from 1912 to 1913. Despite losing a heap of talent in the outside backs, the Roosters have retained the imposing forward pack that saw them make the second most metres in the competition last year. That said, internationals Boyd Cordner (pec) and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (knee) will miss the start of the season with injury. The Roosters missed Waerea-Hargreaves at the backend of 2015, and will look to Kane Evans to cover his loss at the start of the year. The hulking front-rower has had a terrific pre-season, including being named Man of the Match in the side's big World Club Series win over St Helens.
The big question mark is how Jackson Hastings and Jayden Nikorima will go in the halves replacing the established pairing of Maloney and Pearce at the start of the season. Maloney's departure will leave a gaping hole on a left edge already missing Jennings and Cordner. The five-eighth had the third most try assists in the NRL last season (22) and was the competition's leading point scorer with 250.
Will Blake Ferguson be able to fill the massive void left by Roger Tuivasa-Sheck? If not, rookie sensation Latrell Mitchell could find himself in the NRL before his 20th birthday.
Latrell Mitchell has already been compared to Greg Inglis. The rookie sensation scored 15 tries for the club in last year's Holden Cup, and was equally impressive at the Auckland Nines, scoring the longest try in the tournament with a 90-metre dash against the Storm. Having fought off a number of rival NRL clubs, the Roosters will be hoping their decision to sign Jayden Nikorima pays dividends. The versatile Junior Maroon can play fullback or hooker, but it's in the halves where he'll most likely line-up. Untested at NRL level, the former Bronco will be hoping to emulate the form of his older brother Kodi, who played 20 games in 2015, including the grand final loss to the Cowboys. Joseph Manu looked lethal at the Nines, while Vincent Leuluai could earn a spot on the bench come Round 1.
The loss of James Maloney, coupled with the potential absence of Mitchell Pearce, will test the Roosters' depth in the halves. Their likely pairing for Round 1 is Jackson Hastings, who played 14 games last year, and Jayden Nikorima, who is yet to make his NRL debut. Tyler Cornish is yet to play first grade, but appears to be next cab off the rank for a club that once boasted the NSW halves. Brendan Elliot scored eight tries from as many matches last year, and along with Joseph Manu, and will keep new recruit Dale Copley on his toes. The back three of Blake Ferguson, Joe Burgess and Daniel Tupou looks set, with Latrell Mitchell and Omar Slaimankhel available if called upon. The loss of Boyd Cordner for the opening part of the season could see boom sensation Siosiua Taukeiaho earn a start. After coming full circle, Ian Henderson shapes as a handy deputy for hooker Jake Friend, although Nikorima could also fill the role if required.
Hastings ($149,000) is one of the most popular players in NRL Fantasy, while his likely halves partner Nikorima ($130,000) is another common pick as a dual position player. Both are likely to start in Round 1, so expect their prices to soar. Latrell Mitchell ($130,000) is another popular cheapie, and is worth holding on to even if he doesn't start against Souths. Jake Friend ($465,000) was the Roosters' best Fantasy performer last year, and could well play 80 minutes in 2016.
Former Catalans mentor Trent Robinson has been a revelation is Australia, guiding his side to the top of the ladder every year since joining the eastern suburbs heavyweights in 2013. His forward thinking approach has struck a chord with the playing group who will be keen to deliver their coach the second premiership that many people think they deserve. This season looms as his biggest test in the NRL thus far.
A fourth straight minor premiership looks out of reach for the Roosters, but stranger things have happened. Their forward pack is still as brutal as ever, while they possess plenty of quality finishers out wide. The loss of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will be tough to overcome, but the club managed to handle the post Anthony Minichiello era with relative ease. The fate of the Roosters will come down to whether their young halves can deliver without the experienced duo of Maloney and Pearce to guide them. They could be set for a mid-table finish.