The Sydney Roosters’ signing of Joseph Suaalii is, for many, problematic.
Perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into first-round form.
However, Trent Robinson will have his share of worries after the Panthers upset the defending premiers 20-14 on Saturday night.
If you’d only watched the first 20 minutes of this match, you would have thought that it was going to be a comfortable Roosters win.
They were clinical, with Kyle Flanagan, Luke Keary and James Tedesco working off a pack that was dominating. Mitch Aubusson crossed first after a contested bomb before Jake Friend fooled everyone other than Siosiua Taukeiaho when he rolled one into the in goal. The Roosters looked in complete control.
Against the run of play though, Jarome Luai’s kick for Brent Naden was pure class and the Panthers were back within six. Although the rest of the first half remained scoreless, you could sense the momentum had changed.
The teams traded penalty goals in the first part of the second half but the Panthers were gaining the ascendancy through Api Koroisau’s darts from dummy half and Nathan Cleary’s kicking game, which by this stage was outpointing both Flanagan and Keary.
The Panthers tied things up after some brillant work from Josh Mansour led to a Stephen Crichton try. Seven minutes later, a diving Cleary pass put Viliame Kikau into space and you don’t stop him five metres out in a one on one tackle attempt. A late field goal was missed but the Panthers had pulled off a remarkable comeback win.
It’s early days but Panthers fans should be optimistic about this season. Nathan Cleary stepped out of the shadows of James Maloney and delivered a great performance, his 40/20 one of the turning points of the match.
Their pack has been strengthened by the signing of Zane Tetevano and, if Kikau remains fit, they will beat most of their opponents. The backline are mainly young, but Brian To’o was a handful all night while Caleb Aekins was safe at the back.
Trent Robinson won’t be concerned about the loss itself, moreso the manner of the loss after being 12 points up and in complete control.
When the Panthers upped their game, the Roosters couldn’t respond. The few chances they had in the Panther’s quarter in the second half amounted to nothing, with the methodical Roosters nowhere to be seen. Tedesco tried hard but was well contained, with Cooper Cronk’s organising skills sorely missed.
You can’t blame young Kyle Flanagan for this, as you don’t just replace Cooper Cronk. Luke Keary is going to have to take more responsibility, however.
Robinson is a great coach, Boyd Cordner will return and the Roosters’ halves will get better. However, perhaps we didn’t realise how important Cooper Cronk was until he wasn’t there. The back-to-back premiers are of course not to be written off but, if they can pull off three in a row, it will be Robinson’s greatest coaching achievement.