The question over the Roosters' premiership credentials

The question over the Roosters' premiership credentials

The return Frank-Paul Nuuausala and the possible signing of Kurt Baptiste from Super League on the eve of the Telstra Premiership highlight concerns that the depth in the Sydney Roosters squad could undermine the club's stunning off-season recruitment drive.

While questions about the Roosters salary cap is one of the most common topics raised with NRL officials and media commentators by fans of rival clubs, the reality is that the roster at the Bondi-based club has one of the fewest number of players with first-grade experience in the competition.

After recruiting Australian halfback Cooper Cronk and NSW fullback James Tedesco, the Roosters are many people's premiership favourites, but the club's losses significantly outnumber their gains and they will be relying heavily on rookies to cover injuries.

Gone from the Roosters squad at the start of last season are Mitchell Pearce (238 matches), Aiden Guerra (154), Michael Gordon (225), Shaun Kenny-Dowall (230), Kane Evans (74), Connor Watson (38), Liam Knight (1) and Paul Carter (40).

Between them, those eight players had appeared in 1,000 NRL matches.

Besides Cronk and Tedesco, the Roosters only other new face at pre-season training was Reece Robinson, who had been playing rugby union for NSW Waratahs since leaving the Parramatta Eels in 2015.

Most people can nominate the 17 players Roosters coach Trent Robinson is likely to choose for Saturday's match against Wests Tigers at ANZ Stadium if everyone is available. The remainder of the 29-man squad is significantly harder to identify.

Whereas fellow premiership heavyweights North Queensland Cowboys (28), Parramatta Eels (27) and Melbourne Storm (26) are among the clubs boasting the highest number of players with first-grade experience in the 29-man squads submitted to the NRL last Thursday, the Roosters had the equal lowest before signing Nuuausala from Wigan.

With Leigh announcing they had released Baptiste after just one Super League game with the understanding he will join the Roosters, their squad will now have 24 players with NRL experience but four of them still qualify rookies – Nat Butcher (3 matches), Victor Radley (3), Chris Smith (3) and Lindsay Collins (2).

The Roosters used 26 players last season and 31 in 2016 – figures that most clubs range between from year to year.

As a result, the NRL has increased the roster size for each club from 25 players to 30 players under the $9.4 million salary cap, with a minimum wage of $100,000 for players 1-26 and $70,000 for players 27-30.

However, the second-tier salary cap has been abolished and clubs are unable to draw from outside their 30-man squad unless given dispensation by the NRL salary cap auditor. That is only likely to be granted if clubs have no available players capable of playing a specific position.

Clubs had to nominate 29-players to the NRL by March 1 and must have 30 players by June 30, although Manly Warringah Sea Eagles (Nate Myles) and Wests Tigers (Curtis Sironen) are understood to have included former players as they are still paying them.

Despite the presence of so many rookies, the Roosters squad still boasts the fifth highest number of NRL appearances behind the Cowboys (2,708), Cronulla Sharks (2,660), Eels (2,410) and Storm (2,320).

Newcastle Knights hafbackj Mitchell Pearce.
Newcastle Knights hafbackj Mitchell Pearce. ©Paul Barkley/NRL Photos

Of the 2304 NRL appearances by players in the Roosters squad, Cronk is responsible for 323 of them, while five other players – Mitchell Aubusson (239), Jake Friend (211), Nuuausala (184), Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (175) and Blake Ferguson (165) – have each played more than 150 games.

However, using NRL.com's predicted Round 1 line-ups as a guide, the other premiership big guns boast greater depth, with the likes of Cronulla's Trent Hodkinson (156 NRL games), Joseph Paulo (146), Edrick Lee (72) and Aaron Gray (42) not expected to be in the Sharks 17 man squad to meet the Cowboys.

The Eels will have players with the experience of Beau Scott (237), Josh Hoffman (171 NRL games), Tony Williams (165), Suaia Matagi (92), Siosaia Vave (96) and Cameron King (32) to draw on from outside the predicted side for Sunday's match against Penrith Panthers.

In contrast, the Panthers have the least experienced rosters in the Telstra Premiership, with 22 players having played a combined 1635 NRL matches.

St George Illawarra also have 22 players with NRL experience in their 29-man roster, while the Sharks, Brisbane Broncos and Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs each have 23, and Canberra Raiders have 24.

The only NRL rookie in the New Zealand Warriors squad is former Wigan centre Anthony Gelling, who has played 115 Super League matches.

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.