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'They don't rate us': How injury toll eased pressure for revitalised Roosters

From the hunted to the hunters.

The Sydney Roosters will never be able to claim the underdogs tag no matter how decimated their squad is but after three years of other teams trying to knock them off each week, the Bondi club's players are relishing no longer having such a big target on their backs.

The Roosters last year fell short of an historic three-peat after a 22-18 semi-final loss to Canberra and the fact no other team had won back-to-back premierships since Brisbane in 1992-93 indicates how hard it is for a group of players to climb the mountain again after achieving grand final glory.

However, an horrific injury toll that forced Boyd Cordner, Jake Friend and Brett Morris into retirement and ruled out Luke Keary, Lindsay Collins, Joey Manu and others for the season may have also rejuvenated the Roosters.

Three-time premiership-winning coach Trent Robinson even joked to reporters that: "People have been really nice to us this year with the way we have been playing".

"But they don't rate us," he added.

Youngsters inspiring the veterans

Robinson has deservedly been praised for ensuring the Roosters remain in premiership contention, despite being forced to blood nine debutants, including four – Sam Walker, Ben Marschke, Egan Butcher and Fletcher Baker – who will play in Friday night's semi-final against Manly.

Another six players – Drew Hutchison, Lachlan Lam, Josh Morris, Adam Keighran, Matt Ikuvalu and Sitili Toupouniua – are seeking their first premiership win and the injection of so many new faces has helped to revitalise the team, and the likes of James Tedesco and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.

"Last year coming off two grand finals wins and the World Club Challenges, there probably was a bit of fatigue there and it might not have been physically but mentally, from just being on for those two years and being hunted as the premiers, takes its toll a bit," Tedesco said.

"There are a lot of young guys who haven't played finals footy before and guys who have had a bit of a lay off so I feel like there is a lot of energy and the boys are keener to rip in and play finals footy."

Tedesco has taken over the captaincy from Cordner and Friend – a role he had never assumed before last October's State of Origin series – while Waerea-Hargreaves has become the Roosters' forward leader.

"I think we are really relishing in the moment," Waerea-Hargreaves said. "I'm 32 but hanging out with the 18- and 19-year-olds, and I think I am this young kid again.

"They are willing to learn and talk about being a sponge to knowledge; it has definitely been a big part of our year this year, just to develop certain players on the run and to have guys stepping up.

"There has been a lot of adversity this year, but it has been really enjoyable. You play footy to be in finals and to be there at the end of the year. We started training last November and you have really got to make the most of your time, enjoy each day but not lose focus on why we are here."

Brett Morris said the senior players were feeding off the energy provided by the rookies and first-time finals campaigners like 26-year-old Hutchison, his former Dragons teammate who joined the Roosters in 2019 after a stint in Super League and recently signed a two-year contract extension.

Sea Eagles v Roosters - Semi-Final

"Teddy and Jared have both been amazing with their leadership," Morris told NRL.com. "When the young kids see that, I think they feed off each other's energy and it lifts both the senior guys and those younger ones too.

"We've lost a lot of leaders but the guys that are still out there are doing a tremendous job, they're showing these guys what it is to be a Rooster.

"We can have all these injuries and all these guys come in and perform. They're stepping into some pretty big shoes, but they're not scared of that challenge."

While Walker and schoolboy sensation Joseph Suallii have dominated headlines, the rise of Ben Marshcke from fifth-string dummy half at the start of the season to starting hooker following the suspension of Sam Verrills typifies how severely the Roosters' depth has been tested.

Robinson said the fact that the Roosters are two wins away from another grand final after Walker kicked a 78th-minute field goal to secure a 25-24 defeat of the Titans last weekend was an example of the resolve shown by his squad throughout the season.

"It has been very different each week but no matter what the scenario I like the fact that guys have decided to ultimately go after their role or their part in the team to attack the games we have and also to execute at the end of games," Robinson said.

"We have been very good in the last 20 minutes of games as well to finish off some teams and we need to be very good in that area over the next few weeks."

Can they match the contenders?

The Roosters have not beaten a top-four team since their opening round defeat of Manly, who were missing Tom Trbojevic, but Robinson refuses to accept that they can't win the premiership and he has convinced his players to have the same ambition.

Even if they don't, many believe that the performance of the Roosters may be Robinson's greatest achievement as coach but he won't reflect on the season until it is finished.

"I love the regular season, I love how long it is because it takes a long time and it takes a lot of work and it is exciting and you are playing with all of the tools that you have got to get into the right position, but this is money time," he said.

"This is what you play for; you want the risk and reward of finals."

Robinson gives update on Manu after shock return to training

Robinson refuses to play the underdog card and a key to the Roosters' success this season has been his insistence that they focus on who is playing each week – not who is stuck on the sidelines.

He also avoids mind games and using the media to motivate his players.

"We don't dance like that," Robinson said. "I have been there before, but it is just get the best out of yourself, get the best out of your team and perform to your best each and every week. That's how we roll.

"We don't stick articles up on the wall to motivate us. If you need that you are into short-term stuff.

"It's like the underdog tag – at the Roosters? Is anyone going to buy that, inside or outside our walls?

"That doesn't play a part in getting the best out of your team. If an opposition is mentally weak enough to fall into that then they will lose anyway.

"We don't tell the guys what to talk about or what not to talk about but if you don't talk about it, it doesn't become an issue.

"It is not something we discuss, we joke around about how Joey Manu is hanging around us not doing much. We don't sit around saying 'it would be nice to have Joey'. He is the water carrier for us now.

"We move on really quickly and we also expect guys to perform – whether they have been there for 100 games, or it's their first game."