2018 Review: Sydney Roosters

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Our final review of the sixteen NRL clubs for 2018 brings us to the premiers. Josh Hill dissects the Sydney Roosters' season as they claimed their 14th first grade title, some 110 years after they first played a game in the famous red, white and blue.

I still remember walking into Allianz Stadium that night. It was the first game my then three year old would go to, the Sydney Roosters were highly expected to defeat the North Queensland Cowboys who themselves were going through a miraculous finals series. The next eighty minutes felt like deja vu for many Roosters fans. The side could go far, but weren't able to go all the way. The dream died for the Roosters that night, setting up the catalyst for the season ahead.

At this point there wasn't much set to change for the Roosters, except for the prized signing of Wests Tigers fullback James Tedesco. Before you knew it, the news that Cooper Cronk would be changing teams became widespread. Somehow amongst it all, the Roosters who had an Origin halfback in Mitchell Pearce were mentioned as a possible destination. Even quicker, the deal was done and Cronk would become a Tricolour. The events that followed which took Mitchell Pearce to join other recently departed team-mated Aidan Guerra, Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Connor Watson to Newcastle set the Roosters on a brand new path. With their two million dollar men, the Roosters were expected to once again compete for the premiership.

The first time the two took the field was on a quiet Saturday night in Gosford, trailling against Manly. After just seven minutes the Roosters found themselves 18-0 down, with their usual gritty defence letting them down. From that moment, with Cronk surveying from the back and setting up the structures and James Tedesco pouncing on every opportunity, the Roosters managed to come back to secure a gritty 28-26 victory. Even though it was just a trial match, those moments proved to be vital in what would become the Roosters' 14th premiership winning season.

The beginning of the season saw the Roosters face the Tigers, Tedesco's former team. The Tigers caused a major upset with a 10-8 victory, the Roosters attack failing to click. This became a common theme in the first third of the season. The side combined impressive victories, such as a 38-8 annihilation of Newcaslte in their first match against a number of their former team-mates, alongside dreadful defeats, for example a gutless 30-6 home defeat to the Warriors and a heavy 24-8 ANZAC Day defeat to the Dragons.

Following a 4-4 start to the season, the Roosters took eleven of the next thirteen contests, only losing to Brisbane in Suncorp and Melbourne in Adelaide. The side started to click in attack, lead by the brilliance of the aforementioned James Tedesco and young centre Latrell Mitchell. Whilst the side never slipped out of the top eight from the second round onwards, it was only now that the Roosters began to look like the premiership threats they promised from the moment Cooper Cronk signed his deal. Two late losses threatened to derail everything late, before the final match of the season against the Wooden Spoon bound Parramatta Eels. Needing a twenty-seven point win to claim the Minor Premiership, the Roosters did that and more, demolishing the Eels 44-10 to claim a fourth Minor Premiership in six years.

What happened next will go down in history. With the finals race finishing in incredible fashion (all eight teams were separated by just one victory), the Roosters still managed to prove their worth as the best team in the competition. A 21-12 victory over the fast finishing Sharks was followed by a gritty 12-4 win over arch-rivals South Sydney. The latter was most impressive, considering Cooper Cronk playing the final 45 minutes with what turned out to be a highly publicised fractured shoulder blade. This carried on to the next week as he lead his side in a different way than ever before, helping the Roosters defeat the reigning premiers Melbourne 21-6.

Turning point

The start of the season, as mentioned earlier, was a major learning curve. With two big name signings in the spine, the Roosters attack looked worrisome in the first eight weeks of the season. This period saw them score more than fourteen points in just three of their first eight games. Round ten saw the Roosters travel to Mt. Smart Stadium to face the highly ranked Warriors, who had won seven of their first nine games. This included a 30-6 thrashing of the Roosters in Sydney. This time however, the Roosters remained in complete control of the game, taking this contest 32-0. 

Despite this, it took a few weeks for the Roosters to play a game of this quality, this was despite the side winning nine of their next ten games. The turning point going into the finals was the aforementioned thrashing of Parramatta to close off the regular season. Scoring just 20 points in the previous two weeks and going into the match with back-to-back losses, the Roosters found composure in the match to wipe the floor with the Eels and begin the path to the premiership.

Of course, the major turning point happened in that fateful preliminary final last year. The team that had lost three preliminary finals in four years was nowhere to be seen. The extra step was finally obtainable.

What worked

The defence was always there for the Roosters, at some points during the season it even resembled some of their amazing defence in their 2013 premiership winning season. The Roosters conceeded just two tries in their three finals matches. But it was when their attack clicked that made them a real danger. The Roosters scored the second most points, just behind arch rivals South Sydney. They also ranked high in the running metres categories, lead well by departing winger Blake Ferguson who lead the competition in both metres made total and metres made post contact. 

Of course, having that defence always did help, but the Roosters sides during the Trent Robinson era have always found that little bit of struggle to get the attack going. It's no secret that it struggled in the earlier rounds with Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco working their way into the spine. It's no surprise that when the two finally clicked with the rest of the team, the players around them (particularly centre pairing Latrell Mitchell and Joseph Manu) got what they needed to cement the Roosters as a genuine premiership threat.

What didn't

Hey, there is always room for improvement. Even in a premiership winning team. The Roosters lead the league with errors (298) and ineffective tackles (499), whilst finishing second in handling errors (111) and fifth in penalties conceded (221). To do what they eventually did, they had to overcome some self-made obstacles. The penalties were more often than not on purpose due to backing their defence, but the side constantly had to pay for making an error deep in their own half to go along with that.

Key players

For a side to win a premiership, it takes something special from everyone involved. Not just the playing seventeen, the entire squad. There were certainly a few highlights. James Tedesco came into the side after representing Italy in the World Cup with immense pressure. He had conceeded that it was always a dream to play for the Roosters since he was a fan as a child, and looked to make early impressions particularly against his former side. It took him awhile to get going but when he did, the confidence that everyone around him grew immensely. Not just as a Rooster but for state and country too. 

He wasn't the only Rooster to make leaps into the representative field, aforementioned centres Latrell Mitchell and Joseph Manu announced themselves as long term internationals. Mitchell had an incredible spell of form during his maiden Origin series, and backed it up with two impressive Tests. On the other hand, Manu was able to combine incredibly well with Blake Ferguson on the other side of the field. When the attention constantly focused on Mitchell later in the season, it allowed the right side plenty of space to make their moves. Some of the tries scored by the two in their combination were amongst the season's best.

Of course, none of this would be possible if it wasn't for the engine room. This was the highest hit of criticism from their early exit from the finals last year, especially when front rower Jared Waerea-Hargreaves foolishly called out the in-form Jason Taumalolo. This year Waerea-Hargreaves lead the forward pack with verocity not seen from him in years. Supporting him was Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Dylan Napa and Lindsay Collins, all of which had major contributions this season.

When speaking of key players, you also cannot help but mention the co-captains. Boyd Cordner set the pace with his leading by example attitude for club, state and country this season. His consistancy was always key during the season. The other, Jake Friend started his season in horrid fashion. After the first month of the competition, many diehard fans called for the axing of Friend in favour of young utility Victor Radley, but the sharp witted Friend from the past came back as he delivered some of his best football near the back end of the season when it mattered most.

Rookies

When you talk about genuine rookies, the Roosters blooded five players into the top grade this year with the majority just fronting up for a single game. Particularly during the Origin period, young forwards Sitili Tupouniua and Poasa Faamausili were both given one game each from the bench. The former debuted with halfback Sean O'Sullivan and centre Paul Momirovski against the Gold Coast Titans with all three players collecting tries. Momirovski grabbed a second game late in the season, no more than a preliminary final. He scored the final try in the match before the Roosters secured their Grand Final berth. The other debutant was Matt Ikuvalu, who also scored a try.

We've already touched on some of the Roosters key young players. 22-year old Joseph Manu and 21-year old Latrell Mitchell have forged a part for themselves, as has 20-year old utility Victor Radley. The local junior was dynamic in the middle of the field in both attack and defence. Just three games into his career and coming off a long term injury suffered late last year, Radley slotted easily back into the line-up to earn himself a reputation as a hard hitter, plenty of respect and of course, beers beers and more beers.

Feeder clubs round-up

The beginning of the season saw the announcement from the Wyong Roos that they would cease involvement with the Sydney Roosters. The partnership that had been in effect for five years ended due to Wyong prioritising the local community over their position in the competition. Despite this, the Roosters struck a deal near the end of the season to link up with the North Sydney Bears in 2019, with former Bears halfback (and current NRL assistant) Jason Taylor to coach the side.

On the field, Wyong struggled at the start of the NSWRL Intrust Super Premiership season, securing just two wins and a draw from their first ten games. Following a gutsy win over Newtown during Magic Round, they came back strong with just a single loss in their next nine games.

Come finals time, it took well over the traditional eighty minutes to defeat the Western Suburbs Magpies but that would be the last hurrah. The end of the five year partnership with the Wyong Roos will remain a successful one on both ends, even if they never managed the elusive premiership. 

Tragically, the man after whom Wyong's home ground was named, Morry Breen, died after a long battle with leukaemia late this year. He was one of the most influential people in regards to rugby league on the Central Coast, having been a major part of the creation of the Wyong Rugby League Club. He will be sadly missed.

The Roosters also competed in the inaugural NRL Women's Premiership this season. Despite winning just one of three matches, the Roosters had a strong enough differential thanks to a thrashing of St George Illawarra to qualify for the Grand Final. Unfortunately they could not replicate the efforts of the men's side, going down to a powerhouse Brisbane Broncos outfit. The inaugural side boasted plenty of superstars, all now becoming household names and role models in what was an incredible year for the women's game. Centre Isabelle Kelly capped off the year with the inaugural Women's Golden Boot award, whilst club captain Simaima Taufa claimed the Woman of the Match in the inaugural Women's State Of Origin match in June.

With the women's game set to grow, the traditions built in the Roosters side can be seen as nothing but positive. It's not a separate part of history anymore. The Roosters also fielded a side in the Tarsha Gale Cup, a nines tournament for under eighteen's. The side, known as the Sydney Roosters Indigenous Academy won just two of their eight games, qualifying for the finals in an 11-team competition but went down heavily to the Penrith Panthers in the first week.

The Roosters' Jersey Flegg Cup Under 20's side finished a credible fifth, with eleven wins and a draw from twenty games. From there, they defeated St George Illawarra 40-28 in the first week of the finals, but fell to the Minor Premiership winning Newcastle Knights 27-8 a week later.

As was the same last year, the Roosters fielded two sides in the Under 18's SG Ball Cup. Out of the sixteen competing teams the Central Coast Roosters won three of their nine games to finish 11th, but the Sydney Roosters won all nine games to claim the Minor Premiership. The finals didn't start kindly for the Roosters as they fell to the fourth placed Sharks 32-24 (Week 1) and the fifth placed Bulldogs 26-24 (Week 2) to crash out of the finals in straight sets.

The Tricolours also fielded two sides in the Under 16's Harold Matthews Cup. Neither side made the finals on this occasion however, with the Central Coast Roosters finishing 13th and Sydney Roosters finishing one place higher in 12th.

Looking ahead

The signs are there for the Roosters, but once again the headlines surrounding them will revolve around becoming the first team in 27 years to defend a premiership. The season will kick start in England, facing Wigan Warriors (as they did in 2014, albeit on home soil) to rightfully claim the World Club Challenge. From there, it will all begin once again in March against the bitter arch rivals South Sydney.

Blake Ferguson and Ryan Matterson are the two major departures from the squad. Ferguson, with his aforementioned statistics behind him, was vital to the Roosters making strong metres coming out of their own area. Following his departure to the Parramatta Eels, the Roosters signed veteran Canterbury winger Brett Morris and English international Ryan Hall. Despite both players being on the other side of thirty years old, the experience both will bring will hopefully be enough to continue to blossom the right side attack alongside Joseph Manu.

Morris did not have the happiest of times in his stint with the Bulldogs since moving there in 2015, but showed flashes of past form near the end of the season. He will follow his father's footsteps in ending his career in a Roosters jersey. Hall on the other hand, has many times throughout his career been linked to a move down under. Unfortunately his farewell season with Leeds was ruined by an ACL injury, something that he will carry into his new season with the Roosters. The healthier of the two, Morris looks set to grab the spot on the right wing to start the season.

Ryan Matterson made the back row his own this season after taking awhile to find his perfect position. The running game on the right hand side proved a constant threat throughout the season while his defence was more than solid. Unlike Ferguson, his replacement was named before he left the club. South Sydney's Angus Crichton will join the Roosters in the new season (no doubt adding a page to the so-called 'Book of Feuds' the cardinal and myrtle still hold intact). Crichton had another strong season with the Rabbitohs, adding three New South Wales caps to his impressive resume. Matterson however will remain a key loss as he is headed for a leadership position with the Wests Tigers.

Young guns Paul Momirovski and Sean O'Sullivan will also depart the club after debuting during the season. Momirovski will join Matterson at the Wests Tigers while O'Sullivan is headed to Brisbane.

The important thing to know is that besides the incoming Ryan Hall, the Roosters will begin the season healthy despite ending 2018 the complete opposite. The pressure will be on. The issues from 2014 were obvious, where the Roosters still had all of the talent in the world, but the structures weren't quite there as they were the season before. Let's hope the club has learnt it's lesson.

Potential 2019 line-up

1. James Tedesco
2. Daniel Tupou
3. Latrell Mitchell
4. Joseph Manu
5. Brett Morris
6. Luke Keary
7. Cooper Cronk
8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
9. Jake Friend (c)
10. Sio Siua Taukeiaho
11. Boyd Cordner (c)
12. Angus Crichton
13. Isaac Liu

14. Victor Radley
15. Dylan Napa
16. Mitchell Aubusson
17. Zane Tetevano

2018 Results

1
Wests Tigers 10
Sydney Roosters 8
L
2
Sydney Roosters 30
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 12
W
3
Sydney Roosters 38
Newcastle Knights 8
W
4
Sydney Roosters 6
Warriors 30
L
5
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 10
Sydney Roosters 28
W
6
Sydney Roosters 14
South Sydney Rabbitohs 26
L
7
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 0
Sydney Roosters 6
W
8
St George Illawarra Dragons 24
Sydney Roosters 8
L
9
Sydney Roosters 22
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 20
W
10
Warriors 0
Sydney Roosters 32
W
11
Brisbane Broncos 28
Sydney Roosters 22
L
12
Sydney Roosters 34
Gold Coast Titans 14
W
13
Sydney Roosters 16
Wests Tigers 14
W
14
Newcastle Knights 16
Sydney Roosters 18
W
15
Sydney Roosters 32
Penrith Panthers 6
W
16
Sydney Roosters 8
Melbourne Storm 9
L
17
Sydney Roosters 0
BYE
18
Gold Coast Titans 12
Sydney Roosters 20
W
19
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 24
Sydney Roosters 56
W
20
Sydney Roosters 36
St George Illawarra Dragons 18
W
21
Sydney Roosters 26
North Queensland Cowboys 20
W
22
South Sydney Rabbitohs 14
Sydney Roosters 18
W
23
Canberra Raiders 14
Sydney Roosters 12
L
24
Sydney Roosters 8
Brisbane Broncos 22
L
25
Parramatta Eels 10
Sydney Roosters 44
W
Finals Week 1
Sydney Roosters 21
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 12
W
Finals Week 3
Sydney Roosters 12
South Sydney Rabbitohs 4
W
Grand Final
Sydney Roosters 21
Melbourne Storm 6
W

By the Stats

34
Competition Points
16
Matches Won
0
Matches Drawn
8
Matches Lost
542
Points Scored
361
Points Conceded