The Sydney Roosters may need to become the oldest grand final-winning team for more than 50 years if they are to achieve a historic premiership three-peat.
With six survivors from the club’s 2013 grand final-winning team in their squad, the Roosters have arguably the most experienced roster in the Telstra Premiership – but one that is also ageing, as seven members of the club’s NRL squad have celebrated their 30th birthday and four are 33 or older.
Dual code superstar Sonny Bill Williams is 35, twins Brett and Josh Morris recently turned 34, utility Mitch Aubusson is 33, English winger Ryan Hall is 32, Kiwi enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is 31 and hooker Jake Friend is 30.
In addition, captain Boyd Cordner, prop Sio Siua Taukeiaho, winger Daniel Tupou and forward Isaac Liu are aged 28 or older.
All except Hall are key members of the Roosters team but Friend, Cordner, Aubusson, Tupou and the Morris twins have spent significant time on the sidelines due to injury, while Williams missed the Panthers clash after a training mishap.
While few are prepared to write off the Roosters, their record 60-8 loss to South Sydney in the last round of the regular season and the ease with which Penrith scored 28 unanswered points last weekend have raised concerns that their dynasty may be nearing a sudden end.
The Roosters finished strongly against the Panthers to lose 29-28 but players have admitted that they feared another heavy defeat as the minor premiers overcame a nervous start to pile on five tries in 33 minutes.
The late rally has given the Roosters confidence that they can become the first team in 112 years to triumph in the grand final after conceding 50 points in the same season, but questions remain about their defence and resolve to win a third consecutive title.
If the Roosters fall short it could be argued that they are a victim of their own success with a history-creating squad giving coach Trent Robinson little cause or opportunity to blood fresh talent or replenish the club’s roster for the future.
Until the past two matches, the Roosters had not conceded more than 28 points in a game since round 11 of last year’s competition when they lost 38-12 to Newcastle – one of just three occasions in 2019 an opposition team scored more than 20 points against them.
The premiers had also conceded more than 20 points in just three matches this season before capitulating to Souths.
What would also be concerning to Robinson is that the 24-20 loss to Canberra and 27-25 and 24-6 defeats by Melbourne were against the two teams the Roosters must overcome to make the grand final.
After conceding just one try in each of their three finals appearances last season, including the 14-8 grand final defeat of Canberra, and four tries in three play-off matches on their way to the 2018 premiership, the Roosters are now in uncharted waters.
To become the first team to win three successive premierships since Parramatta in 1983, the Roosters will need to beat the Raiders at the SCG on Friday night and Melbourne at Suncorp Stadium a week later for the right to take on either Penrith, Parramatta or South Sydney in the October 25 decider.
Get Caught Up: Finals Week 1
On each of the three previous occasions they have won a premiership under Robinson the Roosters have won their opening play-off fixture and enjoyed a week off before the grand final qualifier, but there will be no rest for the club’s ageing stars this year.
Before the NRL season resumed on May 28, the Roosters had one of the oldest rosters in the NRL with an average age of 26.4 years and that has increased with the addition of Josh Morris and Williams.
Every try from finals week 1
In contrast, minor premiers Penrith have the second-youngest roster after Brisbane, with an average age of 24.8 years and just three players – captain James Tamou, winger Josh Mansour and centre Dean Whare – who have turned 30.
The 2016 Cronulla Sharks had the oldest roster of any club to win a premiership in the modern era, with the 24 players used during the season by coach Shane Flanagan boasting an average age of 27.57.
However, the combined ages of the team that beat Melbourne 14-12 in the 2016 grand final to claim Cronulla’s first premiership was 447 – an average of 26.29 years for each of the 17 players.
By comparison, the Roosters team which lost 29-28 to Penrith in last weekend’s opening finals match had a combined age of 461 years – or an average age of 27.11 – and neither Friend or Williams played due to injury.
Assuming Friend and Williams replaced 20-year-old rookie dummy-half Freddy Lussick and 23-year-old forward Nat Butcher, the average age of the likely Roosters squad would be 28.41 years old.
Besides the 2016 Sharks, only the 2012 Melbourne Storm and 1996 Manly Sea Eagles have had premiership-winning rosters with an average age of 26 years or older since St George’s record 11th consecutive grand final triumph in 1966, according to the rugbyleagueproject.org website.
The average age of the Parramatta squad which achieved the last premiership three-peat in 1983 was 24.25 years old, while the 1993 Brisbane Broncos, whose record of back-to-back grand final triumphs the Roosters equalled last season, had an average age of 23.86 years.
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Aubusson, Cordner, Friend, Tupou, Warea-Hargreaves and Williams all played in the Roosters team which won the 2013 premiership under Robinson and this year’s squad contains 12 members of the 2018 grand final-winning team and 15 players who were involved in last year’s history making triumph.
It is the lowest turnover of players from recent premiership-winning teams, with Cameron Smith and Jesse Bromwich being the only survivors of the 2012 Storm side, while only seven members of the club’s 2016 grand final squad and nine from the 2017 victors remain.
Adam Reynolds, Alex Johnston and Tom Burgess are the only South Sydney survivors from the team which ended a 43-year premiership drought in 2014.
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While Aubusson has announced he is retiring and the future of Williams is unclear, the Roosters are poised to re-sign Friend and the Morris twins, as well as superstar fullback James Tedesco.
Hall, Lachlan Lam and Drew Hutchison are the only other Roosters players whose futures have not been confirmed beyond this season.
However, the Roosters have a host of players off contract next year and could have a different-looking team in 2022, with lock Victor Radley, centre Joey Manu and prop Lindsay Collins considered the future of the club, along with the likes of Kyle Flanagan, Sam Verrills and Billy Smith.
Besides Manu and Collins, all are 22 years of age or younger but the likes of Verrils (19), Lam (11), Lussick (five), Smith (two), prop Daniel Fifita (four) and winger Christian Tu'ipulotu (one) have little NRL experience.
Future Roosters: James Tedesco, Matt Ikuvalu, Joey Manu, Billy Smith, Christian Tu'ipulotu, Luke Keary, Kyle Flanagan, Lindsay Collins, Sam Verrills, Nat Butcher, Angus Crichton, Sitili Tupouniua, Victor Radley, Lachlan Lam, Freddy Lussick, Daniel Fifita, Poasa Faamausili
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.