Sydney Roosters: 2018 season preview

RealSport previews the Sydney Roosters, to see if the men from Bondi can consolidate on their top 4 finish from last season, with some marquee additions to their squad.

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Picture Credit: Arturo Pardavila

Overview

The Roosters had a very strong 2017 in which they surged up the ladder to finish 2nd at the end of the regular season, having experienced a disappointing 15th placed finish the previous season. Unfortunately, the tricolours would have nothing to show for their impressive season, having been bundled out of the finals by the North Queensland Cowboys. 

This meant they would look to strengthen their squad in any way possible. Therefore, despite not signing too many players for this season, they would have 2 key acquisitions in speedster James Tedesco from the Tigers, as well as the marquee signing of representative and decorated halfback Cooper Cronk from title rivals, the Melbourne Storm. 

Regardless of the questions that many would have regarding the Roosters’ salary cap, there is minimal doubt that, on paper, this team has exactly what it takes to mount a formidable challenge for the premiership. 

The question remains as to whether the Roosters can exorcise the finals demons of previous years and go all the way this year. Given the conspicuous changing of the guard at the vital halfback position, the Roosters are being led by a highly seasoned and decorated player, who has tasted an abundance of success at club, state and international level. This will make it even more interesting to see how they cope with all the expectation which will undoubtedly be bestowed upon them.

The new faces

Although the Roosters may have gained a comparably small number of players for this season, the significance of some of their purchases is astronomical. The most significant signing is that of former Melbourne Storm and Queensland halfback, Cooper Cronk. Cronk has multiple accomplishments to his name and is a proven performer on the biggest stage, which is undoubtedly an advantage for the chooks. 

The next most significant signing is that of former Wests Tigers fullback and current New South Wales custodian, James Tedesco. Teddy’s blistering speed and try scoring prowess is well known, and he has demonstrated this at club and state level.

Other gains by the tricolours include a few former Parramatta Eels players, including Reece Robinson, who is joining the club from rugby union. In addition, Lachlan Lam (son of the legendary Rooster Adrian Lam) has been promoted to the senior line-up from the lower grades.

Gains: Cooper Cronk (Melbourne Storm), Joshua Curran (Parramatta Eels), Lachlan Lam (N/A), Dean Matterson (Parramatta Eels), Reece Robinson (Rugby Union), James Tedesco (Wests Tigers)

The departed

The arrival of marquee signing, Cooper Cronk, has prompted the Bondi based club to offload the long-serving Mitchell Pearce to the Newcastle Knights. In fact, the Knights have been the beneficiaries of some highly rated former Roosters players for this season, such as Aidan Guerra, Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Connor Watson. 

The Roosters have definitely lost some talent up forward, with talented second rower Kane Evans departing for the Eels, and Liam Knight to make the trip to the national capital to ply his trade with the Raiders. In addition, the tricolours have lost the dynamic goalkicking fullback Michael Gordon to the Gold Coast Titans, as he fills the previously vacant custodian role there. 

For the controversial Paul Carter, his contract was terminated after a few too many indiscretions during his time at the club.

Losses: Paul Carter (released), Kane Evans (Parramatta Eels), Michael Gordon (Gold Coast Titans), Aidan Guerra (Newcastle Knights), Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Newcastle Knights), Liam Knight (Canberra Raiders), Mitchell Pearce (Newcastle Knights), Connor Watson (Newcastle Knights)

Predicted line-up

1 James Tedesco 10 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
2 Daniel Tupou 11 Boyd Cordner
3 Latrell Mitchell 12 Mitchell Aubusson
4 Blake Ferguson 13 Sio Siua Taukeiaho
5 Joseph Manu
6 Luke Keary 14 Ryan Matterson
7 Cooper Cronk 15 Isaac Liu
8 Dylan Napa 16 Zane Tetevano
9 Jake Friend 17 Victor Radley

Key players

Cooper Cronk

Cronk is the club’s number one marquee signing, having opted to relocate to Sydney to be with his fiancee (now wife). He is fresh of a World Cup victory with Australia, as well as a comprehensive premiership victory with the Storm. Despite being in his 30s, there is minimal doubt that Cronk is still more than able to perform at the highest level. Moreover, he is a proven big-game player, having been successful at club, state and international level. Another advantage is that he has called time on his representative career, meaning he will be available fulltime with the Chooks. 

However, it will be interesting to see how he performs with a completely different support cast around him, especially with long-time mates, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater no longer there to support him.

James Tedesco

Being a boyhood Roosters supporter, Tedesco arrives at the club as the club’s other major signing. Although he may not have the same accomplishments as the club’s main signing, there is little doubt of Teddy’s abilities to perform on the big stage, having been one of the most dangerous players for the Tigers and NSW. As such, we can almost guarantee that Teddy will be doing all that he can to contribute to his new club’s push for a premiership.

Boyd Cordner

Being the skipper for both the Roosters and NSW, Cordner was regarded as the best player for his club last season. He would consistently lead by example and carry the ball numerous times (many of which lesser players would shirk responsibility from). As such, he clearly demonstrated in 2017 as to why he was given the green light to succeed Paul Gallen as captain for the Blues. 

Although he is surrounded by a formidable forward pack, Cordner will need to take his game to a new level, given the Roosters have lost some talent in their forward line. Moreover, if the chooks are to make a greater tilt for the premiership, Cordner will really need to lead by example, in order to ensure his forwards make the necessary yardage, to enable Cronk and Keary to effectively dictate play.

Key fixtures

Round 1 vs Wests Tigers at ANZ Stadium

The 2018 season opens with a grudge match for James Tedesco against his former club. As it is an away game for the Roosters, the Tigers fans are sure to give Tedesco a hot reception, given there were large sections of the Tigers faithful who were furious at his decision to leave. Moreover, his former teammates are sure to give him heaps upon his return in opposition colours. Similarly, Teddy will be keen to remind his former club what they will be missing.

Round 3 vs Newcastle Knights at Allianz Stadium

The former Rooster contingent, led by former halfback Mitchell Pearce, will make the 2 hour trip down to Sydney in Knights colours, to tackle their former club, and potentially cause an early season boilover. There is little doubt that Pearce will be hurting at being forced out of his former beloved club, and will be looking to exact revenge, along with some of his teammates, who also played for the Roosters. 

Round 8 vs St George-Illawarra Dragons at Allianz Stadium

Here we have the traditional Anzac Day clash between the 2 sides. Matches in this fixture have been traditionally close, and it could very well be the case here again, given the presence of the Anzac spirit. Last season produced an absolute thriller, with the chooks scraping home 13-12, courtesy of a golden point field goal by Mitchell Pearce.

Round 12 vs South Sydney Rabbitohs at Allianz Stadium

Here, we have possibly rugby league’s biggest rivalry, containing two of the game’s foundation clubs. Regardless of where each team is positioned on the ladder, there is always an abundance of intensity and passion in this fixture, exuded by both the players and supporters of each team. As such, there is absolutely no reason why this match, along with the return leg later in the season, should be any different. 

Round 16 vs Melbourne Storm at Adelaide Oval

This match will feature Cooper Cronk face off against the club he served for 14 years, and also experienced an abundance of success with. Moreover, there will be a strange feeling about this match, given he will feature in the same match as his great mates, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater, except he will be wearing Roosters colours. Despite his legendary status at the Storm, many supporters are reportedly unhappy about his decision to sign for a major rival. As such, it will be interesting to see what sort of reception he will receive from the fans who once adored him. 

Moreover, his former teammates will be keen to subdue his influence. Similarly, he will be eager to demonstrate to his former club as to what they are missing out on.

Round 21 vs North Queensland Cowboys at Allianz Stadium

This is a key match, in the sense that the chooks will be eager to exact revenge on the team who completely upstaged them in last year’s preliminary final to eliminate them, extinguishing any hopes for the premiership. As such, the tricolours will be eager to atone for that embarrassment, as they attempt to turn the tables somewhat on the Cowboys. 

2018 prediction

The Roosters are definitely a force to be reckoned with, having made the finals in four out the five years in which Trent Robinson was at the helm. Moreover, they finished very high up the ladder during these years as finals participants, winning the premiership in 2013. 

Last year, they experienced a complete turnaround from a disappointing 15th placed finish in 2016, to surge up the ladder to finish second at the conclusion of the regular season. However, it counted for nothing in the end, as they were upstaged by the Cowboys (who were missing their two best players) in the preliminary final. 

As such, there is minimal doubt that the Roosters’ already formidable squad will have been further bolstered by the major signings of Cronk and Tedesco. On face value, the Roosters possess arguably the strongest team in the competition, but as the old saying goes, the game is not played on paper.

Therefore, if the Roosters play to their maximum strength and potential, there is every chance that they could be the premiers at seasons end. As such we predict that the chooks will advance to the grand final at the very least, meaning a top 2 finish is the least the men from Bondi should be expecting.

How do you think the Roosters will fare in 2018? Let us know in the comments and poll below.

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