Roosters motivated by year from hell
It was tough, it was hard, and as Jared Waerea-Hargreaves puts it, 2016 simply sucked.
After three years of success that saw them claim a hat-trick of minor premierships as well as the big one in 2013, the Roosters crumbled in 2016 to finish second last with just six victories and plenty of broken hearts.
However, champion sides don't stay down for long, and after a few tweaks to their roster, Trent Robinson's men sit in second spot on the ladder after 21 rounds in the aptly named Year of the Rooster.
It would be easy to wipe last year from the memory banks, but for some, they're using the tough times as motivation heading into the backend of 2017.
"It sucks. It was tough, it was hard, but that's motivation for us. I wake up each day now and I don't want to think about '16; I'm all about '17 at the present," Waerea-Hargreaves said ahead of Sunday's crunch game against his former side, Manly.
"Last year's motivation for us. For the guys that were here, the fire's still burning for us. It's pretty cool to look back now and see how much it's changed or swung in our direction, and there's a bit of belief there now. When you start believing in the system, it's a pretty cool thing to reflect on and see how far we've come in the last 12 months.
"In the back of your mind you know that this is why we play footy. This is why we work hard in early October and that's to get in the position that we're in. You don't want to let it slip so I think little sacrifices here and there go a long way to the end result."
New recruit Luke Keary knew the Roosters had the side to bounce back, but he admits the speed in which they've shot up the ladder has come as a surprise.
"I knew they had the squad – and obviously they'd come off a really, really tough year – so I think it's a credit to these boys mentally," the five-eighth said.
"When you see teams come off a tough year, they don't really bounce back like we have done here. Usually teams that come second last come back and finish around mid-table. They knew why they finished where they did last year and they knew what they had to do to get back where they were from the previous years."
While there have been patches of brilliance in 2017, Keary insists that the Roosters have rarely hit top gear this season. They were at their brilliant best last Saturday when they got through all 20 of their second-half sets to overpower the Cowboys, and they'll need to keep that up with games against the Sea Eagles, Storm and Sharks to come in the next month.
"I think we've played good footy all year," Keary said.
"We've known as a group that there have been games where we've gone to a level that we need to go at. We've done a lot of work over the last three or four weeks about where we need to get to if we're going to be serious at the end of the year.
"We knew this four week period was going to be really important for us – Cowboys, Manly, Melbourne and Cronulla – and we'll really see where we're at at the end of it."
A top-four spot beckons should the Roosters get through the next month in good shape, and while it has its advantages, Keary doesn't believe it's the be-all and end-all to winning the competition.
"I think it's important, but what's more important is going into the finals with a bit of momentum. If you've got self-belief going into the finals then it doesn't really matter where you finish," he said.
"Obviously if you've finished in the top four then you've gone in winning some footy games coming into the back. Obviously the advantage if you do win that first week is massive, and if you do lose it's probably a disadvantage because you've had to play a top four team and then you've had to play two or three more weeks in a row."