Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 14: Sydney Roosters

Blistering attacking play and steely resolve are the traits we associate with the Sydney Roosters and after a setback in 2014, they will be looking to hop back onto the saddle and show the NRL they mean business. The question will be, though, can enough of their players step up and can coach Trent Robinson instill some new found tricks into the side’s attacking play.

The biggest talking point about the Roosters heading into 2015 would be no surprise – and that is Blake Ferguson. The former troubled superstar has made his triumphant return with decent trial form and is set to be rewarded for that and for his hard work with a starting berth at the club in Rd 1. Despite that and despite his comeback to get back into the NRL, the question does have to be asked – was it too soon for him to come back? Was he truly in the right state to make a return and if so, can he adjust and adapt to the changing nature of the NRL or will he take time to become accustomed to it once more? Regardless of whether you think he was ready or not, Ferguson has always been blessed with a natural ability to play the game and with a coach like Trent Robinson, he will be primed and ready to make an impact where required.

The signing of Ferguson does raise some interesting questions about the Roosters back-line, though. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck at the back is a shoe-in but the bigger question is, do you play Ferguson at centre or on the wing? Equally adept to both, that is the decision that Robinson has to make with both Ferguson and Shaun Kenny-Dowall vying for a spot, either spot. Both can play centre and wing, both have their preferred positions and the fans will no doubt have views of their own as to who should start where. The general consensus would appear to have Ferguson starting at centre and Kenny-Dowall on the wing but such is the NRL world that it could change in the blink of an eye. They say when a player starts out or returns, centre is a harder spot to play and adapt to – so would picking Ferguson on the wing ease his transition back into the NRL?

With so much riding on success, as usual, the Roosters chances will hinge on how James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce can perform. Last year it was Pearce who excelled and the year before, it was Maloney. In 2015, the Roosters fans will want to see them both play well and create attacking opportunities with remarkable accuracy and precision. Of course, not every half has their day or the game of their life every week. This will mean that through a collective team effort, both Pearce and Maloney will be able to shine in their own respective manner and prove themselves to be an elite halves combination. Individually, both have the talent to succeed in the NRL and the past has proven that but as a duo, where one has been consistent, the other has not been. The challenge is to unify the team, lead from the front and help the club with the attacking nous to put the points on the board and to get the crucial wins each week.

Another big talking point – at least at the end of last season that has carried over into this year somewhat – is the loss of Sonny Bill Williams. Widely regarded as one of the best back-rowers the game has ever seen in the modern era, it often came down to sheer x-factor with Sonny Bill. He had the ability to change a game on his own, to deliver an offload so remarkable and so uncanny, that you would not think it were possible to do so. He had a knack for producing such offloads that led to points or breaks and that, coupled with his dynamism, unpredictability and ability to cover multiple positions, means that in general terms, he will be a loss for the club.
With that said, it would appear that the responsibility of taking over SBW’s position rests on the shoulders of Aidan Guerra. Proving that he has what it takes to play rugby league, the responsibility is one that Guerra is ready for and with recent Queensland and Australian representative games to his belt, that will add to his already impressive resume. He, much like SBW, is a player that runs hard and can pull off a decent offload. So as much as the club may lose in SBW no longer being there, they have found the ready-made replacement in Aidan Guerra.

Best buy: The easiest option is to say Blake Ferguson but we’re not going down that path. Whilst his return is a boost for the club, the addition of Matt McIlwrick is, in our eyes, a lot more helpful. Particularly with Jake Friend ruled out for some weeks due to a previous off-season surgery, things were looking rather bleak at the hooker position for the Roosters. That is, until they signed Matt McIlwrick, Formerly of the Canberra Raiders, McIlwrick was admittedly in and out of the side during his years there, but that is not because he is a bad player by any means. Despite his small stature, he plays beyond his size and this is demonstrated by the versatility he has shown in the past to play both hooker and lock on a regular basis. He is a nippy player, a smart player and was after an opportunity to show what he could do on a more regular basis. He now has the opportunity and will look to make the most of it.

Most Promising Talent: Perhaps a player that fans outside of the Roosters have not heard a lot of yet, is Willis Meehan. That will all change once he gets his opportunity in first-grade, though. A talented, hulking utility, Meehan was rewarded with a couple of games last year for his good form across the Holden Cup and the NSW Cup, where he showed that he is more than capable of playing alongside and against the men. A promising young player who has an equally promising boxing career, Meehan is one to watch in the future and there have been comparisons made to Sonny Bill Williams already, such is the dynamic style and approach he brings to footy. Whilst he may not start the season, it would seem but a mere formality before he plays first-grade again and stays in the side for the long-term.

2015 Gains: Blake Ferguson (2015), Martin Kennedy (Brisbane Broncos), Willie Manu (St Helens RLFC), Matt McIlwrick (Canberra Raiders), Abraham Papalii (New Zealand Warriors), Lagi Setu (Canberra Raiders), Nathan Stapleton (Mid Season: Cronulla Sharks)

Our predicted line-up:

1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
2. Daniel Tupou
3. Michael Jennings
4. Shaun Kenny-Dowall
5. Blake Ferguson
6. James Maloney
7. Mitch Pearce (C)
8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
9. Jake Friend (Matt McIlwrick whilst Friend is injured) (C)
10. Sam Moa
11. Boyd Cordner
12. Aidan Guerra
13. Dylan Napa

14. Kane Evans
15. Martin Kennedy
16. Mitch Aubusson
17. Issac Liu

Coach: Trent Robinson.

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