For Roosters fans, accustomed to finishing at the top, the wrong end of the table is a sad and unfamiliar place.
When your team is struggling you start looking for answers. Naming injuries, poor performances, the coach’s performance and Mitchell Pearce is easy enough.
But on occasion, you start to wonder. What if James Maloney was still at the club? Would the season have turned out different?
Given the revolving door in the halves, where Pearce, Connor Watson, Jackson Hastings, Jayden Nikorima and even Aiden Guerra have had a run, you’d think Maloney would have had a stabilising influence – particularly as his footy this year has been top shelf and he was deservedly rewarded with a NSW jersey.
But why stop with Maloney? What about all those other former Roosters still running around the NRL? Would any of them have been an improvement?
A quick look through those high-quality reference texts, Wikipedia and the Daily Telegraph, has given a list of former Bondi boys now in different colours. But would they have made a difference?
The back three
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Warriors), Sam Perrett (Bulldogs), Nene Macdonald (Titans), Tautau Moga (Cowboys) and Michael Oldfield (Rabbitohs) are about. Well, RTS probably isn’t back to running post his knee reconstruction, but if fit surely you’d have him, with existing custodians Latrell Mitchell or Blake Ferguson shifting elsewhere.
Perrett is retiring, and Moga has never been the same since three – yes, three – knee reconstructions, but a fully fit Macdonald could push an occasionally uninterested-looking Daniel Tupou for a place.
Oldfield, like this season’s departures Joe Burgess and Brendan Elliot, wouldn’t force a way in.
When Michael Jennings (Eels) departed, the Roosters lost a premiership-winning livewire and Origin-quality centre. But former players Joseph Leilua (Raiders) and Brad Takairangi (Eels) have also had tremendous seasons.
Kane Linnett (Cowboys) has also won a premiership, although his ball-handling is famously not good, but who wouldn’t want Leilua? He’d make a difference in any team the way he’s playing.
Would Jennings or Takairangi be an upgrade on Dale Copley and Shaun Kenny-Dowell? SKD has been a powerhouse this year, but Copley has missed a lot with injury.
Halves and hooker
Obviously Maloney (Sharks) would slot in for this year. But next year? Watson looks a real find and is a long-term prospect.
The only other former halves contender, Daniel Mortimer (Titans), seems to be permanently branded ‘bench utility’, ditto hooking option Matt McIlwrick (Sharks), who was a brief stay at the Roosters to cover for Jake Friend’s injury early last year.
No hope of salvation there, I’m afraid.
The experienced David Shillington (Titans), Ben Hannant (Cowboys) and Nate Myles (Sea Eagles) through to impressive rookie Suaia Matagi (Panthers) are all still playing.
Throw in old stagers Mickey Paea (Knights) and Mose Masoe (Dragons) and there are a few big bodies about. But Masoe is injured, Paea is on the pine in a hopeless Newcastle team, and the trio of Myles, Shillington and Hannant are on their last legs.
Of all of them, only Matagi looks a prospect, and realistically only started to find his groove this year. Hard to see any of these unsettling the current prop rotation of Jared Warea-Hargeaves, Dylan Napa, Sam Moa and Kane Evans, despite the fact that JWH has had a long injury layoff, Napa hits hard in defence but lacks punch in attack, and both Moa and Evans haven’t replicated their barnstorming form of the last year or two.
Only Iosia Soliola (Raiders) is an option, but you’d have him in a flash. Imagine the former centre on one side, Boyd Cordner on the other, and Sio Siua Taukeiaho at lock? This would push Mitch Aubusson back to the bench and Aiden Guerra, who has dropped in form dramatically this year, potentially out of the side altogether.
So in an ideal world, where inconveniences like salary caps and injuries don’t exist, all these former players would be back, resulting in a line-up that looked like this:
1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck; 2. Shaun Kenny-Dowell; 3. Blake Ferguson; 4. Joey Leilua; 5. Latrell Mitchell; 6. James Maloney; 7. Mitchell Pearce; 8. Jared Warea-Hargeaves; 9. Jake Friend; 10. Dylan Napa; 11. Boyd Cordner; 12. Iosia Soliola; 13. Sio Siua Taukeiaho; 14. Mitch Aubusson; 15. Kane Evans; 16. Sam Moa; 17. Connor Watson
That’s an unchanged core, with a few additions in key positions. Has that been the major difference this year?
Adding RTS, Leilua, Maloney and Soliola back into the team makes for an extremely strong side. Look at that line-up and tell me otherwise!