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No Cronk but anonymous Aubusson keeps Roosters on even keel

Trent Robinson plans to keep Parramatta guessing with Cooper Cronk's replacement on Friday night, but it's the anonymous influence of veteran Mitch Aubusson that gives the premiers confidence no matter who slots into the Roosters scrumbase.

Cronk's ongoing hamstring issue will see Luke Keary shift to halfback against the Eels, with Robinson coy on whether rookie Lachlan Lam would start or Latrell Mitchell move into five-eighth.

Mitchell played his first NRL game in the halves last week as the Tricolours torched Manly in the opening 40 minutes, before 21-year-old Lam impressed after half-time in his top-flight debut.

Robinson vowed not to confirm his final 17 until an hour before kick-off as required, joking that it would take the suspense out of the announcement to do otherwise.

Keary has shone previously when stepping into Cronk's absence, claiming last year's Clive Churchill medal despite a pre-grand final night terror, while Mitchell too has excelled when moving from fullback as a junior to the front line.

Robinson pointed to Aubusson's 265-game career – played over no less than six different positions – and status as a red, white and blue ornament, as the archetype for handling late team changes.

"You want players that are flexible," Robinson said.

Roosters utility Mitch Aubusson.
Roosters utility Mitch Aubusson. ©NRL Photos

"We've got a great guide in Mitchell Aubusson about being able to change positions.

"But if everyone has a part of that mentality, you often hear excuses about 'well he was out' or 'he had to move positions, that's why we didn't get a result'; that's completely the wrong way to look at it.

"You want to have guys that are flexible in their mind as well as physically to change positions and move around. That creates a great team and a great club."

An extra week's recovery is expected to see Cronk return in next Thursday's blockbuster against Brisbane.

Regardless, Robinson has full faith in Keary as both his long and short-term playmaker, with Cronk yet to decide whether he retires at season's end or goes around again in 2020.

"He's our long-term half or five-eighth, that's the beauty of Luke," Robinson said.

"There's people that are definitely halves and definitely five-eighths. I think even Luke's said he doesn't mind which one he is. That's allowed us patience and that's allowed us time as a club as well.

"He's at an age now where he's got lots of experience, he's developed well, he's definitely that mix between a six and a seven, the way that he plays the game.

Eels v Roosters - Round 3

"He's had a couple of opportunities where he's had to take control and you want to see that confidence in a player. You want to see someone say 'I know my role and I can change roles and I'm going to do that'."

Lam has also been groomed by the club as an heir to Cronk's No.7 jumper and impressed Robinson with "some big defensive plays" especially in his debut against the Sea Eagles.

As he did last week, Lam is expected to be brought into Robinson's game-day side from the extended reserves list named on Tuesday.

Skipper Jake Friend has been confirmed to return from a shoulder complaint against the Eels.


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