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Roosters 2021 season preview: Title threats again after abrupt exit

Despite the Roosters finishing in the top four last year, much of the 2020 season was un-Roosters like – but expect Trent Robinson's men to be focused for the start of 2021.

Last season started with a stutter, with two opening losses to Penrith (who had missed the finals the previous year and were not expected to be a big factor in 2020) and Manly.

But the COVID break worked in favour of the back-to-back premiers, who returned firing on all cylinders – until a baffling loss of form saw them bundled out of the finals in straight sets.

From rounds three to 19, the Tricolours won 14 games and lost just three and looked for all the world like making it a three-peat in 2020.

That was despite the loss of lock Victor Radley and reserve hooker Sam Verrills to season-ending ACL injuries, plus medium-term absences for skipper Boyd Cordner and Daniel Tupou.

The return of Roosters' 2013 grand final star Sonny Bill Williams was a big story but not a big factor; despite the dual international producing some impressive moments he was not able to arrest the club's late-season form slide as they eventually bowed out of the finals in straight sets.

The big change in 2021 is the decision to move on young halfback Kyle Flanagan, with a host of young playmakers vying for the chance to partner Luke Keary this year.

The Roosters' 2020 season in review

The 2021 outlook

What's new

It will be strange seeing a Roosters team sheet without Mitch Aubusson's name on it while Sonny Bill and Flanagan joined Ryan Hall and Poasa Faamausili on the departures list.

There's not much on the signing sheet; former Warriors playmaker Adam Keighran will be one of those pushing for the No.7 jersey while highly-rated youngster Joseph Suaalii may actually be spoken about for on-field rather than contractual reasons at some stage this year.

Boyd Cordner should be available for the second half of the season but is set to be rested for the first 12 rounds as the club takes a cautious approach to past concussions. Radley and Verrills will be available from the start of the season or close to it in a welcome boost for the new season. 

The draw

The Roosters get double games against all the best teams from 2020 including the Storm, Panthers, Rabbitohs, Eels and Raiders, but that shouldn't worry them.

The travel load isn't bad with no consecutive road trips.

They do have two five-day turnarounds, both in the run to the finals amid a cluster of tougher opponents but at least they'll be battle-hardened for the business end of the year.

The stat that gives you hope

Even with a few injuries in key spots and changes at halfback, the Roosters remained the most lethal attacking team inside opposition 20-metre zones of the top contenders.

Through 2020 the Tricolours breached opposition lines 57 times from 485 attacking the play the balls – meaning 11.8% of all play-the-balls inside 20 led to Roosters tries. Only the Sharks with 12.6% (66 tries from 524 attacking play-the-balls) did better.

However those 485 PTBs inside 20 meant the Roosters created the fifth-fewest such chances of any side through the regular season so if they can spend a bit more time in rival red zones this year expect the points to flow.

James Tedesco's 2020 season highlights

What you need to know NRL Fantasy-wise

James Tedesco ($850k) is the best fullback available and a must-have player at some point, while Angus Crichton's ($833k) dual-position flexibility and Siosiua Taukeiaho's ($674k) goal-kicking make them intriguing options.

Kyle Flanagan's exit means his replacement at halfback – likely Lachlan Lam ($446k) – should be excellent value.

Contract matters

There are a few big names off contract this year. The Morris twins are likely to retire but Jake Friend, Daniel Tupou, Angus Crichton, Issac Liu and Billy Smith will attract varying levels of interest on the open market.

Friend is an interesting case, coming off a debut Origin series but is also later in his career with the likes of Sam Verrills and Freddy Lussick waiting in the wings. Expect most of the rest to extend.

The contenders to partner Luke Keary in the halves

The burning question

Can the club find a playmaker to lead them back to the promised land? Sam Walker appears most likely to be the club's next long-term halves option but is still just 18. Lachlan Lam had some injury-interrupted chances last year at both half and hooker and is likely to get first crack to play alongside Luke Keary.

Drew Hutchison has been in the system a while and could do a job this year while Keighran was brought in this year to boost the playmaking stocks. Whether any is ready to be a permanent first-grader this year is the question.

Robinson told Fox Sports that Keary would shift from five-eighth to halfback with Lam set to start the season alongside him.

Breakout player to watch

Sam Walker

Regardless of who Robinson decides to start the season in the halves, expect Walker to get a taste at some point – probably sooner rather than later. The son of former Broncos playmaker Ben Walker and an under-18s Origin half at just 16, Sam's talents have been obvious to those in the game for a while and as the old saying goes – if you're good enough, you're old enough.

The quote

"As a club we start pre-season with a goal like every other team to be there at the end. It's been no different this year and while it (another premiership) hasn't been spoken of a whole lot it's pretty well known that's the goal at the end of the year." -Roosters captain Jake Friend

The good, the bad, the likely

The good: The Roosters may not quite be premiership favourites but after two grand final wins in the previous three years and four straight top-four finishes their premiership window is still very much open.

The bad: Rugby league's a funny old game and misfortune can strike at any time – as it did when the Roosters inexplicably tumbled to 15th in 2016 in the middle of a run of eight years in which they made the top four and/or final four every other year. But it would take something pretty remarkable for the Bondi Boys to miss the top eight this season.

The likely: They'll be thereabouts once again. Probably top four and almost certainly top six.

Roosters in 2021

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