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For & Against: Are the Roosters still title contenders?

To say things haven't gone to plan for the Roosters in 2021 would be something of an understatement.

From Jake Friend's retirement to Boyd Cordner's ongoing concussion issues and the loss of star playmaker Luke Keary for the season, the 2018-19 premiers have had their resolve and their depth stretched to the limit.

Trent Robinson's men head into the traditional Anzac Day clash with the Dragons in fifth spot and looking to turn around a disappointing 20-4 loss to Melbourne which produced more injury dramas and more question marks about their premiership credentials.

Get Caught Up: Round 6 must-see moments

The Roosters are still title contenders

For – Martin Lenehan (NRL.com senior journalist)

Great teams will always find a way to clear the obstacles that are put in front of them, no matter how daunting they may be.

The Roosters have proven themselves to be a great team during the past decade and they will draw on all their renowned courage and culture to mount a serious challenge come finals time.

In the absence of Jake Friend and quite possibly Boyd Cordner, the leadership void will be filled by James Tedesco, Brett Morris and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.

In the absence of Luke Keary, the playmaking void will be filled by teen sensation Sam Walker, who has shown poise and composure beyond his years in his three NRL games to date.

It's a big ask for a kid but it's worth remembering that Keary was only 22 years of age and playing in his 22nd NRL game when he helped South Sydney to their drought-breaking premiership in 2014.

Walker weaves his magic to get Roosters home

Walker will be 19 and have about the same number of games under his belt as Keary did in 2014 when he steps into the pressure cooker of finals footy come September.

With an experienced pack of forwards led by JWH, Siosiua Taukeiaho, Lindsay Collins and Angus Crichton to watch over him, Walker will grow into the role of chief playmaker and be ready to flourish when the stakes are at their highest.

And while we're on the topic of young guns, there's a kid by the name of Joseph Suaalii who is on the verge of an NRL debut and looking a potential star in the making.

It's a very different looking Roosters team to the one that went back-to-back in 2018-19 and finished fourth in 2020 before going down in two tight finals contests to Penrith (29-28) and Canberra (22-18) but the nucleus of a great side remains and they've still got one of the NRL's best coaches at the helm.

This is a club that won't be making any excuses and certainly won't let their standards slip, no matter which 17 players pull on the famous red, white and blue jersey every week.

Match Highlights: Storm v Roosters

Against – Paul Zalunardo (NRL.com senior journalist)

Take the NSW and Australian captain, a three-time premiership-winning hooker and a triple-title-winning half out of an NRL team and what are you left with?

For probably 13 of the 16 NRL teams you’d be left with a side that is mired in the bottom four or five and trying a fathom a way to being a chance of finals football heading into the last month of the season.

For the Roosters (along with the Storm and probably the Panthers) you have a team that should still make the finals but probably won’t be a serious contender come September.

The absentees from the Roosters side assembled for 2021 are both numerous and important.

Jake Friend showed in the Origin series last year that he’s more than just a very good NRL player. He was a rep standard player prior to his decision to retire.

The ACL injury that ended Luke Keary’s season in the weeks before Friend’s decision was the first hammer blow.

Then we have Boyd Cordner – who hasn’t played yet in 2021 as he continues to rest following a series of head knocks in recent years. The Roosters know how much they miss him on the field, but their honourable approach to his health has left them without the man who held an edge together for so long.

There is still plenty of class on the field – James Tedesco, Joey Manu, Victor Radley and the Morris brothers spring to mind. Teen star Sam Walker looks like he could be anything.

Those players, and a forward pack still boasting the likes of Siosiua Taukeiaho and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, are capable of finishing ahead of half of the teams in the Telstra Premiership.

But as for contending for what would be a third premiership in four years, that may be a bridge too far.

Are the Roosters still title contenders?

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