The Sydney Roosters head into each NRL season with high expectations having won three premierships in the last decade.
The 2023 squad certainly has enough stars of the game for them to be in contention come September, but does their style of play consistently stack up against the best teams in the competition?
Despite ending the regular season with nine straight wins, Trent Robinson’s men exited the 2022 NRL Finals Series with a first week elimination final loss to their cross-town rivals South Sydney and the team will surely be hoping for more this year.
Can the big guns step up when it counts?
A number Roosters stars shone at the Rugby League World Cup in the UK at the end of last year.
With Joey Manu winning the player of the tournament at the back for the Kiwis, James Tedesco captaining the Australian team to its 12th World Cup triumph and Joseph Sua’ali’i shining in his debut for runners-up Samoa, it could be reasonably argued that they have the three best international fullbacks on their books.
Getting the best out of these three players will be key to the team’s success.
With a number of international and state of origin calibre players in the team there is no doubt that on a sunny afternoon the tri-colours can score 30+ points against most teams.
On the other hand, in tight battles the Roosters have often been affected by their own ill-discipline.
Conceding a high number of penalties isn’t as much of an issue as losing key players to suspension for extended periods of time as has happened in recent seasons.
How does the addition of Brandon Smith change the make-up of the Roosters?
Adding a genuine superstar like Brandon Smith to the starting 13 may be what the team needs to get back to Grand Finals and premierships but his relationships with others within the group is going to be interesting.
By all reports, Smith and Victor Radley are getting on like a house on fire, will this be a strong middle combination or will they continue, now in tandem, with some of the uncontrolled aggression we’ve seen in the past from both of them?
Other players that have long wrap sheets with the judiciary are in a position where the 2018/19 premiers have limited depth.
With a lack of quality front rowers, JWH and Matt Lodge will need to be on the field more often than not.
The strength of the Roosters is the number of game changing players they have.
With more backrowers than a high school bus, superstar fullbacks and talented halves, there are match winners across the field.
The likely spine of Smith, Walker, Keary and Tedesco would be the envy of a lot of other teams.
The most important player in that quartet is actually the new arrival.
After letting Sam Verrills move to the Titans, they are without an established hooker as backup to Smith; Connor Watson’s knee injury means that Drew Hutchison is likely to fill the 14 role from round one.
Jake Turpin has also joined the squad, but after 60 games over 5 years with the Broncos he is still to entrench himself as an NRL quality hooker.
Is this the year that Keary and Walker truly click as a halves pairing?
After struggling early on as a halves pairing in their first season together, Luke Keary and Sam Walker seemed to click when they switched sides of the field and the Roosters reversed a four game losing streak through the State of Origin period to record nine consecutive wins.
The question remains as to whether they are too similar to play together?
Not necessarily in style of play but physical presence and ability to change the momentum in a game through a strong play or giving the middles a breather by gaining field position.
Having Joey Manu at five-eighth may be the best option, and not only if one of the halves is injured.
The New Zealand fullback is 26 years old and entering his prime. Tedesco is such an effort player and has earned the number 1 jersey through his strong performances over a number of years but Manu has emerged as one of the world’s best and should be given the ball more often.
It may be that Walker and Keary can rotate through the halfback position and the 14, or that players can rotate across positions throughout different periods of the game.
In recent times, the Sydney Roosters have lost the important matches and all of the grand finalists in the last two seasons have had a dominant organising half, a running half and a dependable fullback.
Will Robinson and his assistants try to mould the players they have to that style of play that often stands up in a tight game, or provide a game plan where individuals can move through positions to get more involved, such as Tedesco playing hooker for 5 minutes to give Brandon Smith a rest on an edge and young gun Sua’ali’i spending that time at fullback.
Whilst there may be a lack of depth in the front row and centres, the back row is certainly an area of strength when the squad is at full strength.
Angus Crichton, Nat & Egan Butcher, Victor Radley and Brandon Smith will all play roles early on whilst Naufahu Whyte is a highly rated talent.
When Connor Watson and Sitili Tupouniua return from injury there will be strong competition for both starting and bench positions.
Why the Roosters can lift the Provan Summons Trophy in 2023
The game changers. Not many teams possess the number of genuine game changers that the Roosters have.
If the team provides support to the players who are dominant that day and put them in a position to utilise their skills they can win it all.
If the new signing Brandon Smith brings a positive energy to the group, the forward pack with its front row leaders and mobile second rowers can set a platform for the skilful outside backs.
Doing this week in week out may be the challenge for the Roosters in 2023.
Why the Roosters can’t win the premiership this year
Ill-discipline at the wrong moments in games. If the usual suspects can’t control their aggression the Chooks will struggle to win the big moments.
With limited depth in the front row Lindsay Collins, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Matt Lodge will have to play big minutes throughout the season.
Their game plan is different to the successful teams of the last couple of years and neither of the halves can terrorise opposition back threes like Cleary and Burton can with towering bombs when not in an attacking position.
Player to watch
A superstar of the future who will be subject to advances from within the NRL and rugby union due to the structure of his contract, Sua’ali’i was solid and at times spectacular on the wing last year, then showed tremendous strength and fitness for a player of his age at the Rugby League World Cup.
Most Important Player
With the skills to change the course of a game, Manu is one Rooster who consistently performs at a high level and has the ability to create chances for others through his strong running game. Goes to another level when the intensity of the game increases.
Biggest Signing for 2023
Undoubtedly that would be Brandon Smith. There’s always something to talk about whether it be good or bad. Should he fit into what appears to be a more reserved group of players than the squad at the Storm, the Kiwi number nine can provide impetus in attack, commitment in defence and relive pressure from the halves.
NRL News Predicted Team (at full strength)
- James Tedesco (C)
- Daniel Tupou
- Joseph Sua’ali’i
- Joey Manu
- Jaxson Paulo
- Luke Keary
- Sam Walker
- Lindsay Collins
- Brandon Smith
- Matt Lodge
- Nat Butcher
- Angus Crichton
- Victor Radley
- Drew Hutchison
- Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
- Egan Butcher
- Terrell May