It’s no secret that the Sydney Roosters lost a lot of talent in the off-season; an uphill battle they were willing and confident of overcoming, even as recently as the new year.
Unfortunately for coach Trent Robinson and his side, the start of 2016 has been a calamity of misfortunes, leaving the 2013 premiers’ prospects for the upcoming season in tatters.
As if losing the sublime talents of James Maloney, Michael Jennings and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck wasn’t enough, Robinson has been left with a massive hole to fill following the fallout of the much publicised and infamous Mitchell Pearce Australia Day fiasco.
While Robinson may have a suitable contingency plan for the Pearce dilemma, the coach has been faced with news this week that he may be without enigmatic front rower Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and future club captain Boyd Cordner for up to ten rounds.
This is a huge loss, as both have played important roles in the club’s recent success. In total, the club could be missing up to seven representative-quality players who played in the team’s last outing in 2015.
Maloney, Jennings, Tuivasa-Sheck (all moved clubs), Pearce, Shaun Kenny-Dowall (pending disciplinary action), Waerea-Hargreaves and Cordner (both injured) could all be missing for the Roosters’ season opener against the Rabbitohs in a fortnight.
While the Roosters are blessed with depth and an abundance of young, up-and-coming stars, replacements for the missing talent aren’t clearly evident. Robinson has a number of options at his disposal, and it may take more than one to get the desired outcome for his side’s style of play and gameplan.
To fill the void left by Pearce in the halves, one option would be to play Jayden Nikorima, an off-season recruit from the Brisbane Broncos, at No.6 and young star Jackson Hastings at No.7. This would leave Robinson’s men with an extremely inexperienced halves pairing that could have a detrimental effect on not only the team and results but also on the young playmakers.
A huge weight of expectation would be piled on the shoulders of Nikorima and Hastings to lead the foundation club’s 2016 campaign. Hastings, having played only 19 NRL games to date, would become the side’s dominant half and leading playmaker.
Add the likelihood of Hastings also assuming the goal-kicking duties in the wake of Maloney’s exit from the club, and it could signal a make or break scenario for the 20-year-old’s career.
Staying in the backline, but moving a little wider, the departure of Tuivasa-Sheck leaves a huge hole in the Roosters’ attacking prowess. It appears as though Robinson’s first option is to shift centre Blake Ferguson to the custodian role.
This idea has received mixed responses from some of the NRL’s leading commentators. Some believe the best option would be to give young talent Latrell Mitchell first shot at the fullback role. Mitchell, touted to be a future star and given the huge wrap of being called ‘the next Greg Inglis’, had his first taste of the big time at the Aukland Nines, where he scored a try with practically his first touch of the footy.
Many, though, see this as being too risky with the already depleted side needing a more experienced hand at the back.
Moving to the forward pack, which has been thrown into disarray following news that Waerea-Hargreaves and Cordner could be sidelined. Waerea-Hargreaves missed the end of last season through injury and the man who largely filled his role, Suaia Matagi, has moved on the join the Penrith Panthers for the 2016 season.
This leaves Robinson to consider other options. Fortunately, he is blessed with the size and talent of two of the league’s most exciting front-row prospects in Kane Evans and Dylan Napa. Evans, who donned a city jersey in 2015, is the most likely candidate to step up into the role. But both he and Napa should expect to see increased game time this campaign.
The solution to Cordner’s absence could prove a little easier to conjure, with club stalwart and Mr Fix It, Mitch Aubusson, capable of not only filling the position but doing a more than adequate job.
This reshuffle will give an opportunity for a few young faces to either play increased minutes or get their first shot in the side. Like Evans and Napa, players such as Sio Siua Taukeiaho can expect to see their involvement from the bench increase.
The likes of Mitchell Frei, another off-season recruit from Brisbane, could find themselves included in the first team line-up more frequently that they had first envisioned.
The start of the 2016 season will test the Roosters’ squad depth and quality while potentially providing an insight into the potential future of the club.