Will Evans’ series of 2017 NRL club previews appeared in the summer special of Rugby League Review magazine.
Few clubs could finish second-last with just six wins – particularly after topping the table in the previous three seasons – and look towards the next campaign with such optimism.
The Roosters were forced to make more adjustments than just about any side, following the departure of big guns James Maloney, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Michael Jennings, and then Mitchell Pearce’s eight-match ban at the start of the year.
Forward leaders Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Boyd Cordner were also out injured for half the season, and the Roosters’ experience void told.
Although they won just three of their first 18 games, they lost a staggering eight games by four points or less; it could have been so different for the three-time defending minor premiers heading into the home stretch with a key player or two to close out some of those cliff-hangers.
The positives were significant. Latrell Mitchell, Connor Watson, Ryan Matterson and Joseph Manu are all blue-chip rookie talents and grabbed their opportunities in wonderful style. The club also made a big splash on the recruitment front with Luke Keary, Michael Gordon, Paul Carter, Liam Knight and Zane Tetevano arriving for 2017.
Sam Moa is their only top-line player to depart, with Manly-bound Jackson Hastings falling out of favour long ago.
A kinder run with injuries notwithstanding, the Roosters undoubtedly boast one of the competition’s most talented and balanced line-ups, with some handy depth and versatility to boot. Our top 17 contains no less than 11 Test and Origin players, plus a few more who are destined to join those ranks in the next couple of seasons.
The Roosters are specials to return to the top eight, and loom as a smoky for the title.
BEST RECRUIT: With James Maloney departing and Mitchell Pearce missing most of the season, the Roosters’ halves situation was a mess in 2016. But Luke Keary’s arrival to partner Pearce should rectify the club’s playmaking situation. A clever ball-player with an outstanding running game, Keary is as close a replacement for Maloney as the Tricolours could hope to find.
— Sydney Roosters (@sydneyroosters) November 8, 2016
STRENGTH: A batch of brilliant youngsters who excelled as rookies under tough circumstances, who should have a better core of experience around them next season if the Roosters’ luck with injuries and suspension evens out.
WEAKNESS: The Roosters’ defence was widely regarded as the NRL’s most fearsome during the club’s run of three straight minor premierships, but that reputation was lost last season as they leaked 24 points per game. Sam Moa’s departure – along with the Broncos’ chase of Dylan Napa – threatens the Roosters’ forward strength.
KEY MAN: Boyd Cordner missed half of 2016 through injury, but his form when on the paddock for the Roosters, NSW and Australia was exemplary. A potential Blues captain next year, Cordner has graduated into the role of the Roosters’ spiritual leader. There are few more valuable forwards in the game.
PLAYER TO WATCH: It’s uncertain what role the super-versatile Connor Watson will play with Keary arriving at the club, but he was one of 2016’s best discoveries and could be a sensation in a roving utility capacity.
— ZeroTackle.com (@zerotackle) December 18, 2016
YOUNG GUN: Shaded for Rookie of the Year honours by Ashley Taylor, Latrell Mitchell is a superstar in the making. He scored 14 tries in 24 games for a team that came second-last, and should thrive again next year on the end of a stacked backline. Mitchell doesn’t turn 20 until June.
UNDER PRESSURE: Pearce acknowledged that he let the club down this year, and one of the NRL’s most heavily scrutinised players will have an unforgiving spotlight follow him around throughout 2017 if he struggles on the field or messes up off it.
NEEDS TO IMPROVE: Aidan Guerra came close to losing his Queensland Origin spot, while he spent a short stint in reserve grade late in the season. It’s difficult to pinpoint what’s gone wrong for the 2014 Kangaroo – one of the game’s best backrowers in recent years – but he must rectify it ahead of next season.
THE COACH: As the coach of a side that plummeted from first three years in a row to 15th, Trent Robinson remained remarkably calm throughout 2016. It seems Robinson knew there would be some transitional pain for the new-look Roosters – albeit probably not to that extent – and there are still few coaches held in higher regard.
— NRL Feeds (@nrlfeeds) September 1, 2016
THE DRAW: The Roosters’ draw is ranked the 12th-hardest in the competition, avoiding two clashes against the Panthers, Cowboys and Raiders. They do have a fairly hectic travel schedule as far as Sydney clubs go, however, venturing to Queensland twice on top of trips to Adelaide and Auckland. A tricky start to the season sees the Tricolours face the Titans (A), Bulldogs (H), Panthers (A), Rabbitohs (A), Sea Eagles (H) and Broncos (A) in the opening six rounds.
LAST FIVE COACHES:
Trent Robinson (2013-current)
Brian Smith (2010-12)
Brad Fittler (2007-09)
Chris Anderson (2007)
Ricky Stuart (2002-06)
BEST LINE-UP IN 2017
1 Michael Gordon
2 Latrell Mitchell
3 Blake Ferguson
4 Shaun Kenny-Dowall
5 Daniel Tupou
6 Luke Keary
7 Mitchell Pearce
8 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
9 Jake Friend
10 Dylan Napa
11 Boyd Cordner
12 Mitch Aubusson
13 Sio Siua Taukeiaho
14 Connor Watson
15 Aidan Guerra
16 Isaac Liu
17 Ryan Matterson
— Sydney Roosters (@sydneyroosters) January 9, 2017