Sydney Roosters: 2018 NRL season preview
The Sydney Roosters usually look very good on paper, they now look even better with the addition of Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco.
Cronk and Tedesco are coming off spectacular seasons with their former clubs.
The stars are potentially aligning for the Roosters as they have one of the lightest draws to start the season in terms of travel and turnarounds.
Plenty of eyes and attention on the Roosters in 2018 will no doubt create pressure on a side that is expected to be a powerhouse given their star recruits. Should they fail to feature deep into September, their season will constitute as a failure given the weight of expectation placed on them.
Most things are business as usual at Bondi… aside from two very big-name recruits in Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco.
Coming from the Storm and effectively replacing Mitchell Pearce, long-serving Maroons and Kangaroos halfback Cronk will be expected to add that steely finishing ability in the clutch moments – something that has been somewhat lacking at the pointy end of some otherwise successful seasons since their 2013 grand final win.
Tedesco can be an attacking force of nature and, replacing the steady Michael Gordon at fullback, can be expected to add a whole new dimension to the Tricolours' attack.
It couldn't have been any friendlier if Trent Robinson had drafted it himself. The Roosters face the lightest travel burden of all 16 clubs with four trips to the airport all season. They don't have a single five-day turnaround and of the nine teams they play twice, a whopping seven missed the finals in 2017.
It means the Roosters dodge repeat games against title threats Melbourne, North Queensland and Cronulla.
There is no real tough stretch but the worst it gets is back-to-back away games at Auckland and Brisbane in rounds 10 and 11 leading into the Origin period before facing Wests Tigers in round 13 in a match where the Roosters' large cohort of Origin players will be absent.
The stats that give you hope
172 – total tackle breaks from James Tedesco in 2017. It was the most in the NRL, near double the best Roosters player (Latrell Mitchell's 88) and will be a welcome addition to a squad that finished eighth for total team tackle busts in 2017.
The Roosters did well in most statistical areas last year but creating and exploiting passages of broken play was one area that had room for improvement.
36 – total line break assists (20) and try assists (16) by inbound playmaker Cooper Cronk in 2017, two behind NRL leader Cody Walker (38) while the man he is replacing, Pearce, was equal second with 37.
Happily for Roosters fans, Cronk's new halves partner Luke Keary managed 37 as well.
It shows the Roosters should expect to lose nothing in attack while they will gain plenty in terms of attacking short kicks - Cronk's eight regular-season kick-breaks was a figure second only to Ash Taylor's 11 while Pearce had just two for the year.
What you need to know NRL Fantasy-wise
James Tedesco ($761,000) is the best winger/fullback in NRL Fantasy and could potentially improve on last year's performances after moving to a stronger club, where he's likely to get more try-scoring chances.
Jake Friend ($735,000) will tackle all day, the versatile Mitchell Aubusson ($573,000) is always a popular option at centre and Sio Siua Taukeiaho ($535,000) will be good value if he gets the starting lock position and kicking duties.
Cooper Cronk ($588,000) hasn't been a huge NRL Fantasy scorer in the past, but his kick metres should increase now that he's no longer playing alongside Fantasy superstar Cameron Smith.
Robinson is widely considered one of the most astute coaches going around. Having guided his troops to four top-two finishes in his five seasons at Bondi – including three minor premierships and one grand final win in his first year in 2013 – his record speaks for itself.
He is under contract until the end of 2019 but given the roster he has at his disposal the bar has been set stratospherically high. The team's repeated failures to cash in on top-two finishes since 2013 certainly hasn't gone unnoticed and anything less than a grand final appearance will be considered a failure.
The premiership window is very much open for the Roosters but to a large degree they are putting all their eggs in one basket for the next two seasons and need to cash in.
The Roosters have a host of big names and up-and-comers off contract at the end of the season including representative back Blake Ferguson, Kiwi Test forward Isaac Liu and rising stars Joseph Manu and Nat Butcher.
Their roster is a little top-heavy which is affecting their depth and with boom back-rower Angus Crichton set to join fellow big-money recruits Cronk and Tedesco at Bondi next season, hanging onto everyone will be a challenge. The recent re-signing of Boyd Cordner was a great boost.
A few off-field issues have helped keep Ferguson's asking price down and he may sign another short-term deal at the club that resurrected him from the scrap-heap.
The burning question
Will it pay off?
Which could be rephrased as, ''if the Roosters do what most of us expect and finish in the top four, can they make it count?''
The club has swung the axe in a big way on the recruitment front. Pearce, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Aidan Guerra, Connor Watson, Kane Evans and Gordon have departed, in some cases to help fund the recent high-end recruitment drive.
Pearce and Kenny-Dowall had each been at the club for a decade, Watson is a budding star and Gordon was their only established goal-kicker.
The club will need the changes to click quickly and they also face the risk that they are one or two long-term injuries away from things going pear-shaped fairly quickly. The potential upside, of course, is incredible, and if it goes right it could do so spectacularly.
Powerful young centre Latrell Mitchell boasts near limitless potential. He clearly enjoyed a switch from fullback to the three-quarter line and is known to be a favourite of incoming Blues coach Brad Fittler.
If he continues his improvement he will find himself in the Origin discussions come May. Manu can put himself in the frame for a senior Test debut for New Zealand with a big season in red, white and blue.
The player you should follow on social media
He may not be a regular in the top grade but afroed Fijian Eloni Vunakece (@ibizaspiderman) is always happy to show off his big personality and ridiculous rig to his 28,000 Insta followers.
"We definitely feel like we missed an opportunity last year. I'm still really proud of where the club came from the year before (finishing 15th in 2016) and the work we put in throughout the year to get the success we did. We fell short which is obviously disappointing but now everybody starts again and you've got to rebuild the house and go out there every day to earn the right to get in that position and I'm sure we'll grab it with both hands if we get there again." Mitch Aubusson
''The Roosters biggest strength is something I fully admire watching the game. It's their execution and discipline. They are happy to give away penalties inside their own 20 knowing they can stick within their defensive structures. That's a real art of the game.
''Sydney Roosters finish second.''
Backs: Bernard Lewis, Blake Ferguson, Mitchell Frei, Cooper Cronk, Daniel Tupou, James Tedesco, Joseph Manu, Lachlan Lam, Latrell Mitchell, Luke Keary, Mitchell Cornish, Paul Momirovski, Reece Robinson, Ryan Matterson & Sean O'Sullivan.
Forwards: Boyd Cordner, Brock Gray, Chris Smith, Dylan Napa, Eloni Vunakece, Isaac Liu, Jake Friend, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Josh Curran, Lindsay Collins, Mitchell Aubusson, Nat Butcher, Poasa Faamausili, Reuben Porter, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Sitili Tupouniua, Victor Radley & Zane Tetevano.
Note: These club squads are subject to change. Each club is required to submit 29 of their official 30-man playing squad to the NRL by March 1. The final spot in these rosters can remain free up until June 30.