From a distance it is easy to find a reason to dislike the Sydney Roosters.
Their seemingly constant presence at finals time leads many to assert all sorts of reasons to justify their enmity for the tri-colours: poaching players, favourable draws, loads of free-to-air games, the salary sombrero, etc.
I suspect the image many have of the Bondi club is them being akin to some sort of mafia like organisation that uses any means at their considerable disposal to get their way.
I must admit to having had such feelings myself at times.
However, up close the picture I got of the club was totally admirable.
Firstly, Nick Politis is exactly the sort of person you want to lead your boardroom. Uncle Nick took the reigns of the Roosters through a coup in the early 1990s, driven by a deep frustration over the foundation club’s continued poor results.
He has been at the helm ever since.
Politis is a businessman to the core and talking to him it was clear that he loves his work. What is also clear is that he is very good at it.
Originally from Brisbane, Politis’ first involvement with the Roosters was to get his businesses name emblazoned on the front of the famous jersey. It took the club a while to agree to the move but Politis was clearly a visionary, because soon after ‘City Ford’ appeared on the Roosters Jersey, ‘Penfolds’ was on the Dragons, and ‘Famous Grouse’ on the Eels.
These days, being without a shirt sponsor means your club is in dire straits.
As long as Politis has been at the helm of the club he has ensured excellent coaching and administrative staff have also been in place.
Along with Uncle Nick, it has been those highly qualified staff that have seen the club make the finals 17 times in the past 23 seasons. That has included five preliminary final finishes, four times as defeated grand finalists, and of course three premierships. That record over the period is only bettered by the Melbourne Storm.
Frankly, the main reason most people might not like Politis is that he is not at their club.
I can hear many of you already making allegations that the Roosters’ success has been based on unfair advantages.
But here is reality: a great deal of their success is down to great talent development, astute recruitment and really good coaching.
Before you all start screaming about the purchases of Brad Fittler, Cooper Cronk, Braith Anasta, James Tedesco, etc, etc as the reasons that the Roosters have had all of that success, bear this in mind: who were Ryan Cross, Bryan Fletcher, Anthony Minichello, Chris Flannery, Michael Crocker, Peter Cusack, Shannon Hegarty, Luke Ricketson, Anthony Tupou, Sia Soliola, Ben Hannant, David Shillington, Mitchell Pearce, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Mitchell Aubusson, Jake Friend, Aidan Guerra, Boyd Cordner, Joseph Leilua, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Daniel Tupou, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Joseph Manu, Latrell Mitchell or Victor Radley before they were Roosters?
No one, that’s who.
That is some awesome and consistent talent development right there.
Their coach Trent Robinson is well aware of the very limited local pool of talent that his club has to draw on and he is unashamed that they rely on excellent talent identification and recruitment to ensure they have the necessary cattle to compete.
“The area that we live means that we have to get the Victor Radleys, squeeze the juice out of the lemon there in the juniors through our four clubs. Then we have to recruit into our 18s and indoctrinate them in our style of playing and training.”
A coach who is only basing their success on buying star talent doesn’t speak with such passion about development the way Robinson does. He knows his club’s player development is crucial to the overall success.
Case in point is Sam Verrills. Lots predicted the Roosters to really struggle to be competitive with veteran hooker Jake Friend injured. I certainly did.
But they haven’t and one of the reasons is that Verrills has not just filled a jumper but been dangerous. Talking to Queenslander Billy Moore, he reckons that you can tell if a player is going to be special by the time they’ve played 20 games.
Now a veteran of seven NRL first grade games you can already tell Verrills is special, and Trent Robinson couldn’t be happier.
“I’m really proud of the way that he’s played the game since he’s come in. He came across a couple of years ago from Manly. We saw a really tough kid with beautiful skills and passing. He’s under 20’s still. He really typifies what we’ve been trying to develop at the Roosters.”
It seems Verrills has been indoctrinated by Robinson.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Trent Robinson impresses me greatly. He has an aura about him I’ve only seen with a few other coaches. He knows what he is doing, he is focused, his players have bought in.
While Robinson only managed four first grade NRL appearances as a player (between 2000 and 2002 – three for the Wests Tigers and one for the Eels), as a coach he has excelled.
He went quickly from being a player with Toulouse Olympique to being their coach. Then came stints as assistant coach at the Newcastle Knights and under Brian Smith at the Roosters.
His first head coaching gig was with the Catalans Dragons in the Super League before Nick Politis brought him back as head coach of the Roosters in 2013.
That year Robinson became only the second rookie NRL coach to claim a minor premiership. He also was the youngest ever coach to claim the Coach of the Year award. When the Roosters claimed the 2013 title he was only the sixth rookie coach to win a Premiership.
And Robinson wasn’t brought in as a credentialed and experienced super coach. The Roosters took a well informed punt on a rookie. And they were proved right.
In his six seasons with the Roosters the side has only missed the finals in 2016. Other than that his worst finish after has been as a preliminary finalist.
It is highly unlikely they’ll finish any worse than that this year.
In fact they are a very strong chance to be the first side to go back to back since the 1992-93 Broncos.
As they showed against the Raiders, their pack – even without Taukeiaho, Cordner and Friend – can tough it out with anyone.
Their halves combination of Cooper Cronk and Luke Keary isn’t just deadly in attack, individually they are tough as nails in defence.
The back line is just stellar, featuring the most deadly centre pairing in the NRL in Joseph Manu and Latrell Mitchell.
And James Tedesco is the best player in the NRL right now. He just is.
His X-Factor is sure to set his side apart from the other contenders in the run home.
I feel only misfortune through injury or suspension can stop them now.
But now having had a deeper look into it – and while I’d prefer for my boys Canberra to triumph this year – I’m ok with that.
And if you’re not it’s probably just because you’re jealous.