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No excuses: How Roosters defied injuries to remain a force

Before the pandemic sent our elite sporting teams scurrying around the country looking for safe haven, you could have taken a walk in Sydney's Moore Park precinct on any winter morning and seen the Sydney Roosters training alongside their co-tenants the Sydney Swans.

Two proud organisations with a history of success. Two clubs coached by elite mentors who know what it takes to win premierships. Two teams with massive fan bases who expect to play finals every year and are rarely disappointed.

When John Longmire led the Swans to the AFL's promised land in 2012 in just his second year as coach, much was made of a 'no dickeads' policy they had used as a barometer when recruiting players.

Fanciful or fact, no one quite knows, but it's a mantra the Swans have carried with them for a decade under Longmire's astute leadership as their ability to cope with all manner of adversity has ensured a string of top-eight finishes and two more grand final appearances in 2014 and 2016.

The Roosters also know a thing or two professionalism and a winning mentality, thanks in no small part to the man who has been calling the shots since 2013, Trent Robinson.

Why this year's adversity could bring Roosters silverware in 2022

After delivering the foundation club its 13th premiership in his debut season in 2013, Robbo took the Tricolours to the preliminary final in 2014, 2015 and 2017 and then back-to-back titles in 2018-19 to match the achievement of the mighty 1974-75 side coached by Jack Gibson and captained by Arthur Beetson.

Just as Big Jack had the seventh Immortal Beetson driving the standards, so too Robinson had the perfect on-field leaders in Boyd Cordner and Jake Friend, two men who epitomised the 'do as do, not as I say' approach to captaincy.

As the Roosters embarked on a quest for a historic three-peat in 2020, Friend was 29 years of age and had 244 games to his credit, while Cordner had racked up 168 games and looked to have plenty of good years ahead of him at 27.

But rugby league can be a cruel game at times, and both men have since been forced to hang up the boots due to the ongoing effects of concussion, Friend retiring in April and Cordner in June. 

For Friend, the links to Beetson ran much deeper than the fact they had both led the Tricolours to premierships. 

"I'm proud to be able to say that I was recruited to the Roosters by Arthur Beetson and I'll always be grateful for the day I met him. I wouldn't be here without him," Friend said in his farewell speech.

"I was 15 when I joined the Roosters and I have loved every minute of the journey. I wouldn't be the man I am today without the Roosters and rugby league.

"I've played with some pretty special people here at the Roosters over the years, many I'm proud to call my closest friends, and I'd like to thank them. To my current teammates, it's been an honour to play alongside you and to be your captain."

Emotional Friend reflects on his career

Not only have the Roosters lost their spiritual leaders but also 445 games of NRL experience at a time when elder statesmen have never been more valuable to clubs given the unprecedented challenges presented by COVID-19.

Just three weeks after Friend hung up the boots, the Roosters were dealt two more crushing blows on one night when veteran winger Brett Morris and Maroons Origin prop Lindsay Collins suffered serious knee injuries against the Knights.

Still playing superb football at 34, Morris was within sight of 300 career games and 200 career tries but the ACL injury would spell the end of a glittering career. For Collins, it was season over, but he'll be back next year to rip in for Robinson.

Also gone for the year are premiership-winning playmaker Luke Keary, who was cut down in round three by an ACL injury, as well as young gun Joseph Suaalii and luckless centre Billy Smith.

In the face of such adversity you could have forgiven Robinson's men for fading out of finals contention in a blur of self-pity but that's not the way they roll at the Roosters.

Since Morris officially announced his retirement on June 7, they have won five out of seven to sit equal fourth with the Eels, who they belted in Mackay last week to remind everyone that they remain a serious contender in 2021.

Their Moore Park neighbours swear by the 'no dickheads' approach while over at Roosters HQ it's all about a 'no excuses' policy. It has been drilled into every player who pulls on the famous jersey, whether they be rookies like Sam Walker and Egan Butcher or seasoned pros like Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and James Tedesco.

From the unheralded Drew Hutchison, who has come back strong from a punctured lung and busted ribs suffered in round nine, to the unflinching Victor Radley and Angus Crichton, all espouse the 'next man up' mentality that has been the cornerstone of their success.

In eerily similar circumstances to the Morris-Collins horror show, the Roosters lost Radley and Sam Verrills to ACL injuries on the same night in 2020 but still won nine of their remaining 13 games and finished fourth before losing narrowly to Penrith and the Raiders in the finals.

Match Highlights: Roosters v Eels

Facing the media the day after Radley and Verrills were hurt, club stalwart summed up perfectly the philosophy that has taken the Roosters to the top and kept them there.

"Really disappointed for those guys, but it's a 'next man up' mentality and those guys will be ready whoever comes in," said Aubusson, a member of all three of the Roosters' premiership sides under Robinson.

"We will get round the guys that are hurt and be ready to go next year – but the show must go on. It's nothing that we're not used to – the way this squad prepares is something I have never seen before.

"We will be ready to go no matter what."

No short cuts. No compromise. No excuses.

 

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