Sydney Roosters 2018 season review
Winner winner chicken dinner, as people say quite a lot on Melbourne Cup day but also when the Chooks win a grand final.
This year, Trent Robinson marked himself down as one of the finest coaches in the land. He looked at what had gone right and wrong over a 2014-2017 period in which the team finished in the top two three times in four years without making a grand final, and worked out how to fix it.
And fix it he did – the Tricolours timed their season to absolute perfection, feeling their way in over the first third (a period where there were plenty of doubts over whether the glittering roster would actually be able to gel), hitting their stride over the middle third and laying the foundation for a lofty ladder finish before lighting up over the final third, climbing to another minor premiership, searing through the finals series and producing their best 40 minutes of the season on the biggest day of the year.
The only reason there isn't a single standout in this category is because so many players stood up. New recruits James Tedesco and Cooper Cronk justified the lengths the club went to to sign them, Luke Keary and Blake Ferguson each had their best years to date, Jake Friend shook off some early-season inconsistency with a hugely impressive back end of the year, Joey Manu emerged as a world class centre and Latrell Mitchell graduated from promising to devastating. We'll give the nod to Tedesco though; the former Wests Tiger played his first finals series in a seven-year career and proved every step of the way he belongs on the biggest stage, starring for the Blues along the way. His 158 tackle busts was the most of any player and boosted by 15 try assists (seventh, and second at the club after Keary's 21), nine tries and 192 metres per game (second, bettered only in the competition by Ferguson's 199 per game).
The Roosters won't be looking back with too many regrets given the premiership rings that now adorn their fingers. If anything, the turning point came around the representative round break with the club sitting on a fairly unimpressive 4-4 record at that point. Tedesco and Cronk were playing like two blokes who'd never met each other before, the attack was stuttering, and fans were booing Jake Friend and demanding young gun Victor Radley take over as hooker. What if Trent Robinson had listened to them instead of doing what he actually did and stripping the attack back to its basics and starting over? The results were stunning. A rejuvenated Friend lit up the back end of the season, Radley evolved into a superstar lock or bench weapon, Cronk and Tedesco clicked, and the rest is history.
"I'm not going to go into the details of the injury because at the moment, with all due respect, it's on a need-to-know basis and at the moment you don't need to know." – one of the game's most enigmatic players, Cooper Cronk, at his cheeky best (or worst, depending on your point of view), keeping the rugby league world guessing on what turned out to be a fractured scapula in the lead up to the grand final.
September 30, ANZ Stadium, 21-6 over the Storm. Without question. The fired-up Roosters were simply unstoppable in the opening 40. After a week of ducks and drakes, Cronk took the field and marshalled the team from behind the play, hardly touching the ball or making a tackle. Rather than compromising the Roosters' game plan it put the Storm off theirs as they produced errors and frustrated themselves out of the game with their inability to get anywhere near the crafty No.7. The forwards were devastating, the backs sublime and Keary played arguably the best game of his career. Such was their dominance, Tedesco ran for 214 metres and set up two tries and barely rated a mention.
Their early-season stutters were most obvious when a Shaun Johnson-less Warriors easily lapped the Roosters at Allianz in a 30-6 round four win, which is when questions were really being asked about whether their pricey new roster would actually come together. They obviously recovered from that but arguably the most concerning loss of the year came – again at home – in round 24 against Brisbane. At a time they should have been tuning up for the finals and putting themselves in with a chance of another minor premiership, they looked sluggish and slow as Brisbane ran amok on the eve of the finals to cast serious doubt over the Roosters' premiership credentials.
The huge early-set boost gained by Blake Ferguson's kick returns will be severely missed when he is lining up for the Eels in 2019. They do have two top-class wingers inbound in the shape of Test flyers Brett Morris (Bulldogs) and Ryan Hall (Leeds), though the latter will miss the early part of the season due to an ACL injury. Five years ago those two were the best two wingers on the planet and while that's probably not still the case each has plenty yet to offer if they stay fit. The departures of Sean O'Sullivan (Brisbane), Ryan Matterson and Paul Momirovski (Wests Tigers) and Mitch Cornish (released) will impact the club's halves depth. Bunnies and Blues back-rower Angus Crichton is the other big signing for 2019.
Pretty rosy. Probably the only thing really likely to slow down the Roosters next year barring injury is the dreaded premiership hangover. Still, they will start early favourites and right now look as good a chance as anyone for the 2019 title.