The Sydney Roosters, injury cursed as they were in 2021, somehow managed to finish in the top eight and make the second week of the finals.
It screams of a team who just find a way to get it done, no matter the circumstances put in front of them.
If you could credit coach Trent Robinson with one single defining factor from his coaching career thus far though, it’s that. From winning a grand final with Cooper Cronk only having one arm, to what the club achieved in 2021.
It’s that Roosters culture which just seems to find a way, no matter the circumstances.
But the simple point still remains that the Roosters are a team who would like to go all the way in 2022, and with the current roster, it’s a little unclear how that will come to be.
They have lost a stack of experience through a number of retiring players in Brett Morris, Josh Morris, Boyd Cordner and Jake Friend, while a handful of other departures have left them a little bit vulnerable in certain key positions.
That probably sounds a little harsh, but that’s the way the Roosters are judged because of the lofty expectations they and their fans place upon themselves each and every year.
This is a club who accept nothing short of success.
And so with that being said, and the desire to climb back to the top of the ladder, if we threw away the salary cap, and decided contracts didn’t matter, which player would the Roosters steal to go all the way in 2022?
Who would your club steal?
» Brisbane Broncos
» Canberra Raiders
» Canterbury Bulldogs
» Cronulla Sharks
» Gold Coast Titans
» Manly Sea Eagles
» Melbourne Storm
» Newcastle Knights
» New Zealand Warriors
» North Queensland Cowboys
» Parramatta Eels
» Penrith Panthers
» South Sydney Rabbitohs
» St George Illawarra Dragons
» Wests Tigers
Current squad for 2022
Renouf Atoni, Fletcher Baker, Egan Butcher, Nat Butcher, Lindsay Collins, Angus Crichton, Moala Graham-Taufa, Drew Hutchison, Luke Keary, Adam Keighran, Lachlan Lam, Freddy Lussick, Joseph Manu, Ben Marschke, Paul Momirovski, Kevin Naiqama, Victor Radley, Billy Smith, Joseph Suaalii, Daniel Suluka-Fifita, Sioisua Taukeiaho, James Tedesco, Ben Thomas, Daniel Tupou, Sitili Tupouniua, Sam Verrills, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Sam Walker, Connor Watson, Naufahu Whyte
Gaps in the Roosters’ best 17 for 2022
It’s hard to pick a genuine area of weakness in this Roosters’ squad in terms of the raw talent which is available in each position across the park.
Even with the retirements last year, Trent Robinson has a very strong and well built squad at his disposal.
All that while Sam Walker will play in the halves, Sam Verrills at hooker, Lindsay Collins is likely to start in the front row, and the bench will feature two out of the Butcher brothers, or Egan and Fletcher Baker, with the depth options behind that including Naufahu Whyte and Daniel Suluka-Fifita.
Again, that isn’t a knock on those players, but it’s the fact of life - experience can win premierships, and it’s going to be impossible for the tri-colours to replace as much as they have lost.
In some ways, it showed in the finals last year, but then, with the enormous injury toll, it’s hard to put their big loss to the Manly Sea Eagles on semi-final weekend down to that single factor alone.
That said, experience is important, and the Roosters could do with some of it in either the outside backs, at hooker, or more than likely, in the front row.
The loss of Isaac Liu has been criminally underrated for the tri-colours. His departure is the Titans’ gain, and while he doesn’t get the same wraps as Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, he most certainly deserved them with an ability to play at prop, lock or in the second-row, making him the ideal team player in a barnstorming forward pack.
Replacing him is going to be less than straightforward, and while Lindsay Collins comes back in, a player who can play right across the forward pack and do it with consistency, while producing strong output over big minutes, is critical.
The second-row has become less of an issue thanks to the emergence of Sitili Tupouniua and Angus Crichton, and the bench utility problem has been taken care of with Connor Watson’s arrival, but there is still the niggling feeling they need a middle forward.
Brandon Smith is all but certain to arrive in 2023, but the club are clearly not sold on Sam Verrills, which makes the prospect of stealing a hooker intriguing, while an outside back to complement Tedesco and Tupou - particularly one who runs the ball back at the same tenacity - could help take the team to the next level.
The candidates to steal
Option 1: Alex Twal (Wests Tigers)
While he may not be as experienced as some other options floating around the competition, the need to replace Liu with a heavy-hitter and someone who can play a similar number of minutes is paramount for the Roosters.
Twal has excelled in the struggling Tigers' system, and regularly held their middle third down during the 2021 season.
While Liu was excellent for the Roosters, the argument could indeed be made that Twal would be an upgrade, with the potential for him to take his game to the next level in a successful system under an extremely successful coach an enticing prospect.
Twal has become known for his running game in that he makes as many metres as most of the other top forwards in the competition all the while churning out big minutes.
All Run Metres
A lot of that though was down to Todd Payten, and injuries. Taumalolo had numerous hand injuries, but when he did play, was shuffled between lock, the front row, and second-row.
It doesn't matter whether the man with the biggest motor in the game plays at prop or lock, but he is a middle third forward - that much is for certain.
The fact Payten even attempted to play him on the edge was somewhat baffling.
Option 3: Jordan Rapana (Canberra Raiders)
If the Raiders were going to look for some experience in the outside backs, they could do far worse than the Raiders winger, who is one of the strongest ball runners in the game when it comes to outside backs.
If post contact metres were given as a percentage of total run metres, then Rapana was the best outside back in the competition during 2022.
He is efficient, knows how to break the line and has the strength to challenge all defensive lines.
Playing in a back three alongside Daniel Tupou and James Tedesco would give the Roosters plenty of extra strike, while his ability to play at centre or fullback makes him a versatile option in the event the tri-colours suffered from the same injury chaos which struck the club in 2021.
All Run Metres
Option 4: Brandon Smith (Melbourne Storm)
Brandon Smith might be set to arrive at the club in 2023 - although the fact it hasn't been officially announced is getting stranger by the day - but how the Roosters would love him a year early.
If they have decided Verrills isn't the man for the future of the club, then putting those plans into action a year early would be positive and nothing less.
There isn't much more to it than that, but what Smith brings to a team is undeniable.
As much as Smith and Rapana are enticing options, you just feel it has to be a forward for the Roosters if they could steal any player in the competition.
Twal is an excellent option, and the way he could improve under Robinson is a scary thought, but it has to be Taumalolo.
There is a reason the Cowboys once signed him to a ten-year deal.
The final article in this series, up next, will cover the Wests Tigers.