Roosters head to glamour strip for Titanic first-up clash
Defying the expectations of many pundits who predicted a last-placed finish in 2016, the Titans will be looking to build upon their success and show that last year was more than a flash in the pan. Starting the year with expectation not seen since the beginning of the decade, the Titans will be optimistic about their chances of improving with superstar Jarryd Hayne to feature in his first full season back in the NRL in three years.
Coach Neil Henry has named a squad with nine members of the side that featured in the elimination final loss to Brisbane, while new signings Dan Sarginson, Jarrod Wallace, Kevin Proctor and Joe Greenwood will play their first game for the club. Among the major selections, Kane Elgey will return to the NRL at five eighth, forcing Tyrone Roberts to shift to hooker as a replacement for the injured Nathan Peats.
After spending the past few seasons out of first grade with a series of injuries, long-serving utility William Zillman has been named on the wing, however speculation concerning Jarryd Hayne's fitness could see Zillman shift to the back as a ready-made replacement. Having met on 14 previous meetings, the Titans hold a slender 8-6 lead, while the leger on the Gold Coast stands at two wins apiece.
Having achieved three successive minor premierships between 2013-15, the Roosters suffered a reality check in the era of the salary cap, as the side struggled for much of the year before saving face in the closing rounds. In a silver lining to the clubs 15th placed finish in 2016, coach Trent Robinson was able to hand 11 players first grade debuts, including teenage wunderkinds Latrell Mitchell and Connor Watson.
Coming into the new year off the back of an unlikely win at the Auckland Nines, the Roosters will be hoping for a return to past glories, while benefitting from the lessons learnt 12 months ago. Fielding a side well-known to Roosters fans, experienced fullback Michael Gordon will make his club debut on Saturday night, providing stability from the back, as well as being the ideal man to fill the goal-kicking void left by James Maloney.
In a major milestone for the Roosters, 2017 marks a decade since the collective debuts of club legends Mitchell Aubusson, Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Mitchell Pearce in the NRL. With Aubusson and Kenny-Dowall debuting in Round 1, 2007 and Pearce doing likewise five days later, the trio have been mainstays of the Roosters over the past ten years and will be looking to pave the way for the stars of the future at Bondi. Saturday night also marks a personal milestone for prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, who will play his 150th game in first grade after debuting with Manly back in 2009.
Who to watch: Despite playing an integral role in the Titans resurgence at five-eighth last year, former Knight Tyrone Roberts is set to undertake a positional switch in 2017. With Kane Elgey set to partner Ashley Taylor following a successful return from injury, Roberts will shift to hooker and is set for a tough first up initiation. Facing off against the classy Jake Friend, the Indigenous All Stars representative will be forced to carry the bulk of dummy half duties early on, following a should injury sustained by Nathan Peats in a trial against the Warriors. While not a complete stranger to the role after doing likewise during his time in Newcastle, the Titans ability to finish on top of the Roosters may well hinge on Roberts' performance.
Joining from archrivals South Sydney over the off-season, Luke Keary will be looking to form an effective combination with Mitchell Pearce, as the Roosters look for stability in the halves. With six different players featuring in the playmaking roles last season, the experience of Keary will be of enormous value to Trent Robinson's side, while pressure from highly-rated youngster Connor Watson should keep the former Rabbitoh on his toes. Recently turning 25, Keary is set to enter his prime as a first grader and alongside the rehabilitated Pearce, the Roosters will be optimistic of a much-improved showing in 2017.
The favourite: With the Titans suffering a string of injuries in the pre-season, compounded by the Roosters performance in the Auckland Nines, the Tri-Colours have been installed as favourites.
1. Jarryd Hayne 2. Anthony Don 3. Dan Sarginson 4. Konrad Hurrell 5. William Zillman 6. Kane Elgey 7. Ashley Taylor 8. Jarrod Wallace 9. Tyrone Roberts 10. Ryan James 11. Kevin Proctor 12. Chris McQueen 13. Leivaha Pulu 14. Karl Lawton 15. Nathaniel Peteru 16. Agnatius Paasi 17. Joe Greenwood
1. Michael Gordon 2. Shaun Kenny-Dowall 3. Blake Ferguson 4. Latrell Mitchell 5. Daniel Tupou 6. Luke Keary 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 9. Jake Friend 10. Dylan Napa 11. Boyd Cordner 12. Mitchell Aubusson 13. Aidan Guerra 14. Isaac Liu 15. Kane Evans 16. Ryan Matterson 17. Connor Watson