New halves ready to rule the roost
Roosters skipper Jake Friend is excited at the prospect of working with new halves pairing Jackson Hastings and Jayden Nikorima when the club gets its 2016 NRL campaign underway against archrivals South Sydney in Round 1.
The loss of 2013 premiership-winning halves James Maloney (Cronulla Sharks) and Mitchell Pearce (stood down) threatened to derail the side's 2016 ambitions, but last year's preliminary finalists look well served by the fresh-faced duo.
Hastings (20) and Nikorima (19) will make up the youngest halves pairing in the NRL, but according to Friend, both men are ready to handle the rigours of first-grade.
The Roosters didn't skip a beat in a comfortable 38-12 win over St Helens in the World Club Series last week, with Hastings controlling the game, and his explosive partner-in-crime tearing the Saints to shreds with blistering speed.
Hastings nailed five goals with the boot, while Nikorima made the most of his first start for the Tricolours, having a hand in five of their seven tries.
Friend was pleased with the way his younger teammates handled themselves in the pre-season encounter, especially considering it was their first competitive game together at the Roosters.
"It was good to get over there and see a different culture and train in different conditions. I think we prepared well and we played well on Friday against St Helens," Friend told NRL.com.
"Both Jayden and Jackson played really well and we're going to need them to play well until Mitch gets back and get us into a good position for the backend of the year.
"I think for a first hit-out it was a good one. As a group, we have to work on a few things going forward heading into the season. But I'm very happy with how they've started."
The Roosters have been grooming Hastings since the backend of the 2014 season, with the young half playing an even bigger role in 2015.
The Junior Kangaroo played 17 matches for the Tricolours last season, initially as a utility player off the bench, before filling in for the injured Pearce at halfback at the business end of the season.
Hastings' measured introduction into the NRL has him perfectly placed to lead the eastern suburbs heavyweights around the park in 2016.
"He's been good. I think the experience last year has really helped him. Him and Jayden are good mates from Schoolboys together so I think that's helped them to come along as a pairing," Friend said.
Nikorima, meanwhile, was one of the hottest players on the open-market last season, with the Roosters snaring his prized signature ahead of a host of rival clubs.
The former Brisbane No.9 has the ability to play in the halves, at dummy-half or even at fullback, and his versatility could be crucial in an era set to be dominated by agile players around the ruck.
Friend is eager to see what his uncapped five-eighth will do in the NRL, especially after his dominant display in the United Kingdom.
"He's very skilful and he's worked hard in the pre season. We've seen what he can do at training, but haven't really had the opportunity to see what he can do in a game. It's exciting to think what he could be."