2024 Preview: Sydney Roosters

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Adam Huxtable looks at where the Roosters trajectory sits headed in to 2024.

Roosters Look to Capitalise on Premiership Window After Consecutive False Dawns

Stop me if you've heard this before, but after ending last season with a string of wins to finish as one of the hottest teams in the comp and sneak into the top eight as "the team that no one wants to play," the Roosters ultimately came up short in the finals. But, if they can start this season with the same momentum they finished last with, there's no reason they can't be among the competitions elite.

2023 was a strange year for the Roosters by any metric. They finished the regular season with the third worst attack in the comp, averaging just 19.6 points per game, a number only higher than perennial strugglers the Bulldogs and Tigers, and if you watched any of their games over the first 18 or so rounds that wouldn't come as any surprise. However, they won 6 of their last 7 to secure their 7th straight finals appearance, and even won a final against Cronulla before their season was ended in heartbreaking fashion in Melbourne.

The off season has been a strong one for the tricolours, recruiting arguably the best winger and best bench prop of 2023 in Dom Young and Spencer Leniu respectively to bolster a squad that was already highly talented. While adding elite players is never a bad thing, the recruitment strategy of spending on lower value positions says that the Roosters believe the core roster they currently have is capable of winning a comp and winning it now, setting 2024 up as a "premiership or bust" type of season.

One of the more under the radar stories for the 2024 Roosters is how they are going to fit 6 highly capable backline players into 5 spots. Tedesco is a lock to start at fullback when available, same with Joey Manu at centre, but Trent Robinson has a genuine headache when deciding which of Daniel Tupou, Billy Smith, Joseph Sua'ali'i and Dom Young miss out on being a part of the full-strength backline. Granted, injuries have often reared their ugly head for the Roosters and early signs indicate they'll continue doing so, with Young ruled out for Round 1 already, so there's a chance the decision won't need to be made for some time. 

The majority of league fans would look at the names above and say without hesitation that Billy Smith is the odd man out, however his form at centre to end last year was miles clear of anything Sua'ali'i offered there in the early rounds, with his best football only coming when he was switched back to the wing later on. In my opinion, Smith is the clear choice for the other starting centre spot, with Tupou and Young claiming the wing positions. It makes the most sense for the reasons outlined above as well as the fact that he has just been re-signed long term, while Sua'ali'i is off to Rugby Union after this season. All reports do indicate that Smith will only be called upon if one of the other five are unavailable though, so the Roosters will likely be banking on Sua'ali'i's centre play being much improved.

Why they'll win it

It doesn't take too much mental gymnastics to see a world where the Roosters improve enough to return to the top 4 for the first time since 2020. They were a basket case on the field for three quarters of last season, yet still scraped enough wins together to finish in the top-8 and were a minute away from playing in a preliminary final against Penrith. Their initial attacking ineptitude was responsible for a few of their early season losses as well, particularly the 2-point losses to the Dragons, Raiders and Sea Eagles. However, over their hot streak to end the season, the Roosters were scoring 27.7 points per game. For reference, the Panthers were number 1 in this category over the entire season with 26.8 points per game.

I'm not saying the Roosters are going to have the game's best attack, but I am saying that, in theory, if they can just consistently be an average or slightly above average team with ball in hand, that should equate to significant improvement from last season, and with the addition of Dom Young and Spencer Leniu there's no excuses for this not being the case. They showed in last year's finals series that their defence is capable of slowing down top eight calibre sides, conceding just 12 and 18 points in weeks 1 and 2 respectively. History suggests that the Roosters have a decent strike rate of converting great regular seasons into premierships, winning the title 43% of the time they finish in the top four since 2013. 

Why they won't

After winning back-to-back premierships in 2018 and '19, the Roosters results against the competitions better teams have been mediocre to say the least. Since 2020, they are 22-30 (42%-win rate) against teams that finished in the top 8 and 8-20 (28%-win rate) against teams that finished in the top four. Remember that run of winning 6 of their last 7 to end last season? Guess how many of those wins came against top eight teams? If you said zero, you'd be correct, and the aforementioned attacking improvement over that stretch dropped right back down to 13 points per game once the finals rolled around and they had to play some good teams again.

All this isn't to say that the Roosters will crash and burn; even in down years they usually end up making the eight, and the fact remains that small improvements could get them into the top four. However, the Storm and Warriors were two teams that made the top four last season, and their finals games showed us just how wide the gap is between the Panthers/Broncos and the field. The simple fact of the matter is that there are way too many question marks hanging over the Roosters roster, in particular the spine, to say with any confidence that they're going to be able to win a big finals match against one of the proven elites.

Player movement

2024 GainsSpencer Leniu (Penrith)
Dominic Young (Newcastle)
Lewis Murphy (Wakefield)
Contracted for 2024Angus Crichton, Billy Smith, Brandon Smith, Connor Watson, Daniel Tupou, Dominic Young, Egan Butcher, James Tedesco, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Joseph Manu, Joseph Suaali'i*, Junior Pauga, Lindsay Collins, Luke Keary, Nat Butcher, Naufahu Whyte, Robert Toia,, Sam Walker, Sandon Smith, Sitili Tupouniua, Siua Wong, Spencer Leniu, Terrell May, Tyler Moriarty, Victor Radley, Zach Dockar-Clay
2024 LossesFletcher Baker (Brisbane)
Jaxson Paulo (Manly)
Paul Momirovski (Leeds)
Drew Hutchison, Jake Turpin (Canterbury)
Corey Allan (St George Illawarra)
Ben Thomas (North Sydney NSW Cup)
Nathan Brown (released)
DevelopmentAlex Young, Blake Steep, Ethan Roberts, Lewis Murphy, Xavier Va'a
2025 MovementGains: Mark Nawaqanitawase (rugby union) Losses: Joseph Suaali'i (rugby union)

Key players

In 2024, the Roosters are going to go as far as their spine takes them. James Tedesco, Luke Keary, Sam Walker and Brandon Smith are all coming off the worst seasons of their respective careers, and this has led to justified scepticism as to whether they are capable of leading a team to a premiership. 

Tedesco's year was one that many first-grade fullbacks would be proud of, but when you're the incumbent New South Wales and Australian captain you get held to higher standards, and by those he was not good enough, overplaying his hand on numerous occasions which led to an on field attacking product that was neither threatening nor fun to watch. If the Roosters are to meet expectations, Tedesco is going to have to do a better job of picking his moments and put more trust in his playmakers to execute their roles, because having all the attack run through him has proved a losing strategy in recent years.

At this point of his career, you know what you're getting with Luke Keary. He has a good short side running game but doesn't have the boot on him to kick the team out of bad field position or put consistent pressure on opposing fullbacks and wingers. Too many of his red-zone touches last year were ineffective, however he can still throw a good short pass to put a back-rower through a hole, and having two giants on the wing isn't going to harm his cross-field kicking game close to the line. Keary isn't the difference maker he once was, but he can still play a role and chime in with the odd eyes up play.

For me, this season shapes as one of the defining moments in Sam Walker's career. He'll have one of the best forward packs in the game getting the side on the front foot and the most dangerous backline in Rugby League that can and will cause havoc for opposition defences when given early ball. Walker is still only 21 years of age, but after three years of playing first grade his lack of progression has been a tad concerning; he still consistently makes a lot of the same mistakes he did as a rookie playing his first NRL, and too often will make coach killing mistakes in pivotal situations. There's no question that Walker has the tools to one day be an elite halfback; you only need to look at the two field goals he kicked in consecutive weeks during the last 10 minutes of do or die finals matches to know that you won't have to worry about any moment being too big for him. It's the fundamentals that he needs to continue working on; he doesn't need to set up a try with every touch close to the line nor does every pass need to be a highlight reel cutout.

Brandon Smith is someone who improved considerably towards the end of last season and who should continue to excel with a more clearly defined role. He was among the best players on the field in the Roosters' final three games against the Rabbitohs, Sharks and Storm respectively, and it was encouraging to see him getting through 60+ minutes more often than not. His service has always been a weakness, and that will likely continue, but his running game and defensive energy go a long way to making up for that. When Smith has an off game, it can cost the Roosters big time, and it'll be on Trent Robinson to identify when those are happening and utilise the interchange bench in a more flexible way. The return of Connor Watson will also help ease the burden shouldered by Smith.


A big part of the Roosters late season turnaround last year was Trent Robinson's eventual willingness to play some of the younger forwards the club has coming through, giving them vital experience while also revitalising a side that at times just didn't look like they wanted to be out on the paddock. Siua Wong was given a chance off the bench and took the opportunity with both hands, securing a starting second row spot for the run home during which he didn't just hold his own but made a real difference to the forward battle, bagging the game tying try in the elimination final against the Sharks. Terrell May has probably graduated beyond paragraphs like this but the improvement he showed can't be understated; he flat out bullied a much more experienced Souths front row in the Round 27 pseudo-finals matchup. In terms of unheralded rookies, Robert Toia is a young outside back with big wraps on him who, if he gets the chance, will want to do everything he can to ensure he gets first crack at replacing Manu or Sua'ali'i.

Best 17

1. James Tedesco (c)
2. Daniel Tupou
3. Billy Smith
4. Joseph Manu
5. Dominic Young

6. Luke Keary
7. Sam Walker

8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
9. Brandon Smith
10. Lindsay Collins
11. Egan Butcher
12. Nat Butcher
13. Victor Radley

Interchange: 14. Connor Watson 15. Siua Wong 16. Spencer Leniu 17. Terrell May

2024 fixture list

All Sydney times (AET)

PRE 1Sat 3:45pmFeb 17thH   ManlyIndustree
PRE 2Fri 6:00pmFeb 23rdASouthsBelmore
R1Sun 8:30pmMar 3rdH   BrisbaneAllegiant
R2Sun 4:05pmMar 17thAManly4 Pines
R3Fri 8:05pmMar 22ndH   SouthsAllianz
R4Thu 8:00pmMar 28thH   PenrithAllianz
R5Fri 6:00pmApr 5thACanterburyAccor
R6Thu 7:50pmApr 11thANewcastleMcD. Jones
R7Thu 7:50pmApr 18thH   MelbourneAllianz
R8Thu 4:00pmApr 25thASt Geo IllaAllianz
R9Fri 8:00pmMay 3rdABrisbaneSuncorp
R10Sun 2:00pmMay 12thH   WarriorsAllianz
R11Sat 5:30pmMay 18thACronullaSuncorp
R12Sat 3:00pmMay 25thACanberraGIO
R13Sun 4:05pmJun 2ndH   North QLDAllianz
R14Jun 7-10BYE
R15Sat 7:35pmJun 15thAParramattaCommBank
R16Sat 5:30pmJun 22ndH   CanterburyIndustree
R17Sun 6:15pmJun 30thH   Wests TigersAllianz
R18Sun 2:00pmJul 7thH   St Geo IllaAllianz
R19Jul 11-14BYE
R20Sat 7:35pmJul 20thAMelbourneAAMI
R21Sat 7:35pmJul 27thH   ManlyAllianz
R22Fri 6:00pmAug 2ndADolphinsHBF
R23Aug 8-11BYE
R24Fri 8:00pmAug 16thH   ParramattaAllianz
R25Sun 2:00pmAug 25thAGold CoastCbus Super
R26Sun 4:05pmSep 1stH   CanberraAllianz
R27Fri 8:00pmSep 6thASouthsAccor