Roosters v Rabbitohs: Five key points
The Rabbitohs came out firing as the Roosters repeatedly shot themselves in the foot with ill discipline to hand their opponents every chance to pile on the pressure – which they gleefully accepted. Here are five talking points from the Bunnies' huge 42-10 win over old rivals the Roosters on Sunday.
Roosters' ill-discipline down to senior players
The Roosters have had a fairly disrupted pre-season, it's safe to say, with the departures of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Warriors), James Maloney (Sharks) and Michael Jennings (Eels) combined with long-term injuries to Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (knee) and Boyd Cordner (pectoral) and standing down of halfback Mitch Pearce.
But it was the remaining senior men who were largely responsible for poorly-timed penalties and missed tackles that led to the side slumping to a 22-0 deficit at almost a point per minute.
"We played with the best team that we had today and we weren't good enough," coach Trent Robinson said.
"It wasn't down to those young guys to pull us into a winning position today. It was a defensive role that we needed to play and it was around some of our senior guys that we didn't get it done early."
Among the offenders, Kane Evans and Mitch Aubusson allowed the first try – a soft one from dummy-half – experienced centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall gave away one of the late-set penalties that put the side under pressure while Sam Moa and Aubusson were culpable when a flat-footed Greg Inglis hit the afterburners to stroll through the line.
Sam Burgess comes back a more mature leader
Prodigal son Sam Burgess played his first serious game of rugby league since his one-year sojourn into the 15-man code and it was like he was never away as he charged his way to a match-high 188 metres from 17 powerful charges filling in at prop, with 23 tackles and two offloads.
If there has been any change in the man in his time away it is that he has grown into even more of a leader, according to his coach Michael Maguire.
"There's not a whole heap of change in Sam. What I have seen – I guess you mature throughout your career and Sammy's leadership is probably one that I would definitely say has grown since he's been gone," Maguire said.
"Sam has experienced a lot of things in the last 12 months but that adds to the character of the person and we know that Sam's got a great character."
Added skipper Greg Inglis: "There's always been a lot of talk about Sam coming back. I just think he bought into our system well like he left it and having seen him around the club, he shows great quality in leadership with the young boys especially. I just watched him all week getting around to young Zane [Musgrove] and obviously Zane reacts to Sam so that just shows the quality of person he is."
Interchange not to blame for sapped Roosters
One of the trends that seems to be emerging with the reduction in interchanges from 10 to eight is that sides are less easily able to bounce back from an energy-sapping opening to games if possession goes against them, as coaches look to preserve those precious changes in case of injuries.
But the Roosters refused to blame that as any factor in their capitulation, noting that the damage was 22-0 by the time most teams normally make their first change, having made 100 tackles to their opponents' 40 to start the contest.
"I don't think interchange-wise it would matter really. If you do that sort of defence early it's going to hurt no matter how many interchanges you have so that's on us," said Roosters captain Jake Friend.
"We've got to get in the arm wrestle there and kick ourselves into better positions and defend better. It's hard to say whether it would have changed at all."
Robinson said the early scoreline had "nothing to do with interchanges" given it happened in the first 20 minutes.
"The first 20 minutes people don't make interchanges," he said.
"We're probably lucky they got a bit scrappy as well in that second half and that's probably what we've seen more so over the games."
Rabbitohs rookies step up
The Rabbitohs may not have had quite as many inexperienced players in key positions as their opponents but they had plenty, and the fact those players pretty much all stood up wasn't lost on the captain and coach.
The star undoubtedly was debutant half Cody Walker but young centre Hymel Hunt, debutant bench prop Zane Musgrove and new club recruit and bench hooker Damien Cook all played fine hands. It's even more significant given the possible injuries to stars Adam Reynolds and John Sutton.
"Fortunately for us we've got some depth which we've worked really hard at at the club too. I thought there were players in the game today like Hymel Hunt, Zane Musgrove, Cody Walker and Damien Cook – first timers, they've worked throughout the pre season to get the opportunity they did today and I thought they took it."
Roosters backline – and goal kicking – taking shape
As ugly as the final score was for Robinson's men, there were a few signs that their new-look backline will settle in nicely as the season progresses.
Bearing in mind representative winger Daniel Tupou was a late scratching, the two rookie flankers – Brit Joe Burgess and teenager Latrell Mitchell – acquitted themselves admirably while new fullback Blake Ferguson did little to suggest he wouldn't be able to handle the switch to No.1 permanently.
Burgess bagged a second-half double, showing good pace and awareness to put himself in the position to do so. Mitchell saw very little ball – largely a result of the way the match panned out – while as a surprise substitute for Hastings at the goal-kicking tee he snipered one sideline conversion before shanking his second chance (although it's possible he was distracted by the unfamiliar sight of seeing his own face magnified to the size of a city block next to the goalposts on Allianz Stadium's massive screens).
Ferguson had some good touches and a few minor positional issues, as well as one brave try-saver when he planted himself in the road of a runaway Greg Inglis. Ex-Bronco Dale Copley had a hand in Burgess's second try and was otherwise solid while the one point of continuity, centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall, was one of his side's best all afternoon.