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Pearce out, Cronk in. Plenty of hype surrounds the 2018 iteration of the Sydney Roosters as they look to earn their second title this decade. Sam Bourke previews the Tricolours' NRL season ahead.
The Roosters head into the 2018 season with the most hype of any side in the competition following their much improved 2017 season where they finished second behind the eventual premiers Melbourne, combined with an aggressive recruitment drive which has netted them Australian halfback Cooper Cronk and NSW fullback James Tedesco.
After finishing a very disappointing 15th place in 2016, the only way was up for the Tricolours in 2017 and they not only surpassed expectations but were certainly in the discussion as premiership contenders for the entire 2017 season. Only losing seven of their regular season matches, the Roosters seemingly cruised through the regular season, with the new look halves combination of Luke Keary and Mitchell Pearce immediately connecting, with the pair playing crucial roles in winning a series of 12 out of 18 matches by six points or less. This included an infamous field goal on the bell at Adelaide Oval by Pearce over the eventual premiers the Storm in Round 16. With a squad that looked to have a perfect blend of youth and experience, the Roosters looked finals ready.
In the first week of the NRL Finals Series, the Roosters faced the third place Broncos at home but a series of catastrophic errors set them back, which included two kick offs out of the full from Latrell Mitchell and a howler from Kangaroos winger Blake Ferguson attempting to stop a late Benji Marshall 40/20 gifting the Broncos the lead with less than 10 minutes remaining. Fortunately it was Latrell who made the big play on the big stage, when the 20 year old centre burst through several would-be Broncos defenders to seal a dramatic win and send the Roosters through to the penultimate week. The Roosters however, had their premiership aspirations extinguished in the Grand Final Qualifier by the giant killing Cowboys who stunned the Roosters 29-16 following another Michael Morgan masterclass.
Expectations are high out at Bondi heading into 2018, the Roosters enter the season as competition favourites but with their aggressive recruitment drive comes with it the added pressure of immediate success to take out their first premiership since 2013.
As the opening paragraph would suggest it is simple mathematics...the Roosters finished second in 2017, add multiple Premiership and Origin winning halfback Cooper Cronk and the most exciting ball running fullback in the competition in James Tedesco and the Roosters now come first...it's a no-brainer. By way of background, the Tricolours already boast the attacking prowess of Latrell Mitchell and Blake Ferguson in the backs and NSW captain Boyd Cordner and Kiwi prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves leading the forwards, while all fitting under the famed ‘Roosters salary sombrero' and the premiership is a lock.
While expectations are high, the question surrounding the Roosters is whether they will show up when it counts. Towards the backend of 2017 the Roosters seemed like a team waiting for the finals to start and when they finally came around they were terribly disappointing and essentially failed to fire a shot in September. While critics were quick to point the finger at everyone's favourite scapegoat Mitchell Pearce, it is fair to say that their forward pack in particular were dominated at the business end, predominantly by the Cowboys pack lead by the rampaging Jason Taumalolo in their shocking Preliminary Final exit. If they are to win the competition, then their pack must lift or all the money spent in the backs will amount to little if they don't have a strong platform for Luke Keary and Cronk to work off.
Cooper Cronk is the high profile signing of 2018 and given the Australian and Queensland halfback has replaced favourite son Mitchell Pearce, Roosters fans will be expecting plenty. Cronk starts his first NRL season without Smith and Slater by his side and will need to gel with his new spine of James Tedesco, Luke Keary and Jake Friend with immediate effect if they are to lift the Provan-Summons trophy in his first year for the Tricolours.
If Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Dylan Napa are again being mentioned as one of the most feared front row combinations in the NRL, then the Roosters will be finishing in the Top 4 this year. Club great and incoming NSW coach Brad Fittler was one of a host of pundits who was scathing of their performances following their meek exit from last year's finals. Waerea-Hargreaves in particular came under fire, having called out pre-match for Cowboys enforcer Taumalolo and his forwards to bring it, which spectacularly backfired with the Cowboys behemoth doing just that running for an enormous 256m from 21 hit ups compared to JWH's meagre figures of 68m from 7 hit ups. This will no doubt have been a long off-season for the front row pair who will be chomping at the bit to return serve in 2018.
Nat Butcher had a disappointing 2017 season which was marred by injury, where the South Sydney junior only made 2 appearances. After dominating the Under 20's for the Chooks in previous seasons and with a strong pre-season behind him, the workaholic backrower looks set to finally grasp his chance looking odds on to be named in the first grade squad for Round 1.
Vying with Butcher for a spot on the bench is versatile forward Victor Radley. The Clovelly Crocodiles junior made a strong debut for the club in Round 20 against the Knights late in the season, when skipper Jake Friend broke his hand. Radley played 3 consecutive matches, making a fist of his brief opportunity in the top grade which sees the former Junior Kangaroos star looking set for more games in 2018.
Gains | James Tedesco (Wests Tigers), Cooper Cronk (Storm), Reece Robinson (NSW rugby)
Losses | Kane Evans (Eels), Mitchell Pearce, Connor Watson & Aidan Guerra (Knights), Michael Gordon (Titans), Liam Knight (Raiders), Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Knights), Dale Copley (Titans), Paul Carter (released)