“Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules?” I was reminded of these words from Walter Sobchak all too frequently this NRL season.
Every opposing fan will tell you that the Roosters buy competitions and that there is a grand conspiracy which allows them to cheat the salary cap, but there’s only one real reason Sydney have been and continue to be successful, and his name is Trent Robinson.
In fairness, Robinson has a world-class roster at his disposal, but it takes a lot more than big names on a sheet of paper to win you a grand final. Take a look at the Panthers and Broncos this year – both teams are regarded as premiership contenders due to their young and powerful rosters yet they sit 13th and 15th respectively on the ladder.
While it seems like a vaguely basic answer, the reason Trent Robinson’s Roosters are a force to be reckoned with is that the man is a very forward thinker. It is not uncommon to see teams burst out of the blocks to start a new season, polarising their own fans thinking that it is finally their year. However, as we see all too often, teams burn out by the business end of the season.
Rewind back to the start of the 2018 season when the red-hot Dragons were breathing fire and dominating teams in the early stages of the season. Five Dragons were eventually picked to represent their states, and that’s when the season turned on its head.
Paul McGregor had all five of his State of Origin representatives back up into club footy as the red and whites went on to lose five of their next six games with players seemingly having nothing left to give.
In comparison, Robinson’s Roosters came up against a near full-strength Gold Coast away from home in what was a crucial part of the top-four race. Cooper Cronk was a late withdrawal due to the impending arrival of his new baby, and Robinson gave his four representatives a week off. The Roosters prevailed with all three debutants scoring, and there began a new philosophy.
Fast forward to 2019 and the rampaging Roosters are sitting pretty atop the NRL ladder, seemingly unstoppable. Has it been all easy sailing for the Roosters so far this year? Absolutely not. The red, white and blue have had their fair share of injuries, including to names like Cooper Cronk, Luke Keary, Brett Morris, Ryan Hall, Joseph Manu, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Jake Friend, Isaac Liu and Matt Ikuvalu.
I may be wrong in saying it, but it seems Robinson leans towards giving his players a week off for injuries that are realistically manageable. The squad is more flexible than a rubber band and Robinson expects nothing less than every player being able to step up to a challenge that wasn’t expected. Whether it be Latrell Mitchell to five-eighth or Victor Radley to hooker, the Roosters will not accept injury or Origin as an excuse for not becoming the first team to go back to back since Brisbane.
A loss doesn’t represent missing out on two competition points; it’s an opportunity to learn and develop for the business end of the season. Long-term thinking. Mr Robinson, you’re a genius