Sunday 21 January 2018 / 11:20 AM

NRL 2018 OUTLOOK: SYDNEY ROOSTERS

A successful regular season that earned them the second seed and what many viewed as the ideal path to the grand final ultimately ended in bitter disappointment as the Roosters fell short, losing to the eighth-placed Cowboys one game out from the grand final. Never one to rest on their laurels, a strong recruitment drive and highly-publicised off-season with a few handy pick-ups has the Tricolours primed for another deep run, but can the club improve on 2017 and get over the line?

2017 SNAPSHOT: 2nd (17-7); Points For – 500 (7th), Points Against – 428 (3rd)

BEST RECRUIT: It’s almost impossible to split Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco, the Roosters’ two headline signings for 2018. An already elite attack gets a further boost of star power, picking up two top-five players in key spine positions. ‘Teddy’s’ ball-running prowess will help start their sets with a bang and provide additional strike at the end of the backline, whilst Cronk will stabilise their dangerous attack and hopefully shore up some of the more inconsistent areas, including their lack of rhythm and crippling amount of lazy turnovers. In tandem, Cronk has plenty of experience working with and explosive, elusive fullback and should help bring the best out of Tedesco.

KEY MAN: With their huge signings changing the face of the team’s identity, co-captain Jake Friend will be tasked with bridging the gap between the old and new guards, providing a stable, consistent presence from the base of the ruck and tireless contributions in defence. His clean service is integral to their momentum-based, whirlwind attack, although he will have to run more to remain a threat in the central area and keep the attack direct.

UNDER THE PUMP: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Dylan Napa are almost certain to begin the season as the starting props, but an unconvincing end to the year (and a poor World Cup for JWH) might put their spots under pressure. Napa was unable to continue his strong start to the season and was too often a passenger whilst Waerea-Hargreaves’ inconsistencies got the better of him; neither is a defensive stalwart. The similarities in their games make them easy to split, meaning one could find their way to the bench, and with Isaac Liu and Sio Siua Taukeiaho capable of filling in, the pressure will be on.

SELECTION POSER: Blake Ferguson’s 2017 form was wildly inconsistent, and whilst remaining a dangerous ball-carrier, his poor hands and defensive inefficiencies saw him resigned to the wing (in favour of Mitch Aubusson, no less) and lose his Kangaroos jersey. Trent Robinson has already shown his short leash with Ferguson and with such high expectations for his team, the seven-Origin winger can’t afford to endure through spells of bad form. With Reece Robinson and Joseph Manu adding depth in the outside-back stocks (and Matterson and Aubusson able to fill in) Ferguson has get it right from Round 1.

YOUNG GUN: Making his debut at just 18, it feels like Latrell Mitchell has been around for a while and you almost forget that he won’t turn 21 until half way through next season. Already an impossible one-on-one cover, if Mitchell can improve defensively he’ll be deadly on the edge of this attack and quickly shoot up the player rankings. Primed for his breakthrough season and a NSW call-up.

BREAKOUT SEASON ALERT: Sio Siua Taukeiaho was exceptional for Tonga throughout the World Cup, forming an excellent forward trio with Andrew Fifita and Jason Taumalolo and making our team of the tournament. The mobile, fleet-footed forward struggled to crack the Roosters’ starting line-up in 2017, but his form-line suggests he should get a start in Round 1, or at least will force his way into the line-up during the season.

THE STAT: The Roosters, despite an imposing offensive lineup, lead the league in errors per game with 11.6, which heavily restricted their ability to capitalise on momentum and added to their inability to sustain performances for 80 minutes. It ended up being their downfall, and has to turn around if they hope to improve. Cronk’s presence should help improve in this area.

COACH’S JOB SECURITY DANGER RATING: Low – In five seasons at the helm Robinson’s coaching record, save for an injury-ravaged 2016, reads three minor premierships, a grand final win and a second-place finish last season. He’s safe.

THE DRAW: Glass Half Full – The Roosters hit the jackpot with the draw: a soft opening with the first four fixtures coming against bottom-six sides (and two games against each of them though the season) and only two finals teams in the first 10 weeks, a period in which they don’t leave Sydney. They avoid any tough away trips against the Storm or Cowboys and only travel out of Sydney to Canberra in the last seven weeks.

Glass Half Empty – There isn’t much not to like here. They do only have one home game in their last four, and the soft schedule might not prepare them well for finals footy, but we’re grasping at straws.

POSSIBLE LINE-UP TO START 2018:

1 James Tedesco
2 Reece Robinson
3 Blake Ferguson
4 Latrell Mitchell
5 Daniel Tupou
6 Luke Keary
7 Cooper Cronk
8 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
9 Jake Friend
10 Dylan Napa
11 Boyd Cordner
12 Mitchell Aubusson
13 Sio Siua Taukeiaho

14 Zane Tetevano
15 Eloni Vunakece
16 Isaac Liu
17 Ryan Matterson

WAY-TOO-EARLY FORECAST: Top-four, premiership contender

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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