Since ?he? arrived at Bondi in 1996, the Roosters have qualified for every finals series since, they?ve won their first grand final since 1975 and established a reputation as one of rugby league?s ?benchmarks?. But now at 33, he?s decided to hang up the boots and enjoy life after football. ?He? is of course the champion five eighth and captain Brad Fittler. ?Freddy? is the common denominator in most of the Sydney Roosters impressive seasons over the past decade. 2005 represents a new chapter in the Roosters history, ?The post Fittler era?.
The club is still more than the sum of its parts however and the Roosters are in very healthy shape in all three grades despite ?Freddy?s? retirement. The Roosters only missed out on a treble of grand final victories by 4 points last October. Crucially they again failed at the final hurdle of the first grade season, another bitter pill to swallow for Ricky Stuart?s talented team and their supporters. It will be a big challenge to try and bounce back from consecutive grand final defeats at the hands of Penrith in 2003 and the Bulldogs in 2004.
Activity in the player market was significant with a large number of quality departures and talented arrivals. ?Freddy? was followed by other representative players Justin Hodges, Shannon Hegarty and consistent first graders Peter Cusack, Chad Robinson and Todd Byrne on their way out of Bondi. But the Roosters still held enough ?clout? in the market to lure last season?s leading tryscorer Amos Roberts (Penrith), big centre Joel Monaghan from Canberra and star rookie half of 2003, Brett Firman from the Dragons. The Roosters of 2005 will still comprise of an all star pack with new captain Luke Ricketson looking to maintain their fast moving defensive style, greater speed and skill in the backline. The biggest question mark is over the halves combination. Will the two ?Brett F?s? combine well enough to the keep the Roosters at the top of the NRL? Or will coach Stuart need to try other options like the highly versatile Craig Wing, Chris Flannery or even Amos Roberts in the halves?
The Roosters also have exciting group of youngsters who could take part in their NRL campaign this season. Teenage pointscoring wizard Jamie Soward scored a record 385 points in Flegg and Premier League last season and could be ?Freddy?s? long term replacement at five eighth. Others to watch include talented young hooker Heath L?Estrange and star Junior Kiwi centre Iosia Soliolia.
SEASON 2005 CRYSTAL BALL
The Roosters are still one of the best teams on paper, but I am a critic who questions their ability to win the competition without ?Freddy? when they could only do it once in the past three years, despite making the grand final each time. I am not sure that Stuart will settle on the Finch and Firman combination long term because both players will want to organise and get plenty of ball. The talent is unquestioned but the ability to produce in big games has to be questioned on account of back to back grand final losses. The Bulldogs hold a psychological edge over them and the likes of Penrith and Brisbane have a good enough record against them in recent times not to fear them.
PREDICTION: Preliminary Finalists
ROOSTERS ? Likely Lineup ?
Michael Allen?s Player Ratings in brackets
10= Superstar 9= Very Good Player 8= Good Player 7= Above Average Player 6= Average Player 5= Unproven / Below Average Player
1- Anthony Minichiello (9) 2- Amos Roberts (9) 3- Ryan Cross (8) 4- Joel Monaghan (7) 5- Chris Walker (7) 6- Brett Finch (8) 7- Brett Firman (7) 8- Jason Cayless (8) 9- Craig Wing (9) 10- Adrian Morley (9) 11- Michael Crocker (9) 12- Craig Fitzgibbon (9) 13- Luke Ricketson (9)
Interchange: 14- Chris Flannery (8) 15- Stuart Webb (7) 16- Anthony Tupou (8) 17- Ned Catic (6)
Player Rating Average: 8.06 -Backs: 7.86, Forwards: 8.83, Interchange: 7.25
Gains: Richard Fa?aoso (Panthers, 2yrs), Joel Monaghan (Raiders, 3yrs), Amos Roberts (Panthers, 4yrs), Brett Firman (Dragons, 3yrs), Nigel Plum (Wests Magpies), Scott Hamilton (QLD Cup), Scott Porter (Sharks)
Losses: Brad Fittler (retired), Albert Hopoate (Has left rugby league to become a minister), Steve Crouch (Castleford mid season), Jermaine Ale (Raiders, 2 yrs), Todd Oliver (French Rugby Union), Shannon Hegarty (Souths, 3yrs), Justin Hodges (Broncos, 3yrs), Chad Robinson (Eels, 2yrs), Peter Cusack (Souths, 2yrs), Peter Taylor (Souths), Ian Henderson (Eels), Aaron Mercer (Wests Magpies), William Topou (Dragons), Ray Moujalli (Souths, 2yrs), Tevita Metuisela (Storm), Luke Dorn (Knights), Todd Byrne (Warriors, 3 yrs)
2005 NRL DRAW
1- Rabbitohs (Aussie Stadium) 2- Panthers (Penrith Stadium) 3- Broncos (Aussie Stadium) 4- Tigers (Aussie Stadium) 5- Raiders (Canberra Stadium) 6- Bulldogs (Telstra Stadium) 7- Dragons (Aussie Stadium) 8- Cowboys (Dairy Farmers Stadium) 9- Knights (Aussie Stadium) 10- Warriors (Ericsson Stadium) 11- BYE 12- Raiders (Aussie Stadium) 13- Sea Eagles (Aussie Stadium) 14- BYE 15- Sharks (Toyota Park) 16- Eels (Aussie Stadium) 17- Knights (Energy Australia Stadium) 18- Tigers (Telstra Stadium) 19- Warriors (Aussie Stadium) 20- Storm (Olympic Park) 21- Dragons (WIN Stadium) 22- Panthers (Aussie Stadium) 23- Sharks (Aussie Stadium) 24- Rabbitohs (Aussie Stadium) 25- Broncos (Suncorp Stadium) 26- Bulldogs (Aussie Stadium)