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Joey Manu leaves a huge hole in the Roosters backline - and it comes at the worst possible time for Trent Robinson

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16th April, 2024
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You wouldn’t have to look back too far to remember a time when the Roosters had too many good backs to fit into the one side.

Their 1-5 was exceptional, with James Tedeseco, the current Kangaroos captain; Joey Manu, a former Golden Boot; Dom Young, the current NRL top tryscorer; Daniel Tupou, the club’s all-time top tryscorer and Joseph Aukuso-Suaalii, as good an athletic talent as there is among outside backs in the NRL.

Such was the strength still didn’t have space for Billy Smith, who would be a walk-up starter every club for almost every other NRL club except Easts, Penrith, Brisbane and, maybe, the Warriors.

Yet from a position of extreme strength, the Chooks find themselves scrambling to make up the numbers for next year.

Suaalii going was well known, as he inked a deal with rugby union almost a year ago, and the club have brought in a straight swap from the other code, with Mark Nawaqanitawase arriving from the Waratahs.

Now, Manu is set to go to the dark side too, at least temporarily taking up an opportunity to enjoy another culture – their words, not mine – by earning a shedload of yen in the confusingly named Japan Rugby League One. Does SEO work differently in Japanese?

Smith is the obvious option to take up Manu’s role in the centres, but both he and Nawaqanitawase are far from dead certs to succeed.

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Marky Mark might have been good for the Wallabies, but was recently dropped from Super Rugby, which probably means he’s about ready to play Ron Massey Cup in rugby league.

Smith is definitely good enough, but has managed one season’s worth of NRL appearances split over four years due to persistent injuries, and is currently sidelined for an indefinite period with an ankle issue.

If your options are a guy who hasn’t played the sport since he was at school and another who consistently can’t get onto the field, it’s a problem.

That’s not the only issue, either.

Tupou is yet to be extended at the club and, at the age of 32 (going on 33), it’s unlikely that he will be.

It might be that needs must and they ask him to go around again, but another club might well step in and offer more cash or years, and Tupou would be well within his rights to look out for number one.

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That leaves Tedesco, already the oldest fullback in the NRL, and Dom Young, who has has been somewhat inconsistent in his early Roosters career but has all the talent, size and speed to be whatever he wants to be.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 17: Dominic Young of the Roosters is tackled during the round two NRL match between Manly Sea Eagles and Sydney Roosters at 4 Pines Park, on March 17, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Dominic Young is tackled. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The depth beyond the front line is vanishingly thin.

There’s Michael Jennings, who, whatever you think regarding whether he should be playing at all, is far from a long-term option given he turns 36 next week.

Junior Pauga, too, is in this boat: though he’s only played 16 games in the top grade, he’s 28 years old and a fill-in at best. Where Smith would start at most clubs, Pauga wouldn’t at plenty and is realistically a back-up at best for Easts.

In the junior ranks, there aren’t many names that fly out. Lewis Murphy was in the extended bench for the first grade last week but has yet to debut, with just three NSW Cup games so far as he makes his way back from an ACL injury.

He was a standout at Wakefield, though they were consistently one of the worst sides in Super League and were eventually relegated last year when Murphy missed most of the year.

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Those of us who watch Super League rate him, but far, far better wingers from that comp – namely Ryan Hall – have come to Australia and done very little, so it would be a huge risk to chuck him in.

Alex Young, Dom’s brother and another Pommy import, was recently relegated to third grade.

The NSW Cup side is currently 1-5 and has constantly rotated wingers between Pauga, Murphy, Young, as well as Ethan Clark-Wood, Harrison McKeon and Turoa Williams, all of whom are a fair way yet from NRL debuts.

If the Chooks went to market, they might struggle to find value, though they would have cash to burn.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 03: Daniel Tupou of the Roosters is tackled during the round 23 NRL match between the Sydney Roosters and Manly Sea Eagles at Sydney Cricket Ground on August 03, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Daniel Tupou is tackled by Matt Lodge. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Angus Crichton are also off, as well as Tupou and the two Joeys, so there is certainly cap to spend, and the club have already replaced the forward departures with the arrival of Spencer Leniu and extensions for Terrell May and Siua Wong.

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The current list of available outside backs is a little thin.

Zac Lomax would have been fun, but has already inked a deal with the Eels starting next year, so that is a non-started.

As far as wingers go, Sunia Turuva is the most obvious elite candidate, but is heavily linked with the Dragons, who would surely pay overs to land the reigning Rookie of the Year.

The Roosters could offer a better chance of a Premiership, but Tito already has one and might think it is better to cash in while his stock is at its highest.

In the centres, Isaiah Tass is off and would be a decent option in the centre, not least because South Sydney’s cap is out of kilter and he might be available at a reasonable price for a guy with proven NRL chops.

The chance to add another page to the book of feuds would also likely add some spice to any signing there, too.

Corey Oates might be interested in one last hurrah – though if they were going to do that, you’d think they’d just extend Tupou – and there’s a player somewhere in Paul Alamoti, if anyone could get him on the field in the NRL long enough to find it.

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(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Nick Cotric was once good enough for the Kangaroos and NSW as a winger and is still only 25, so you’d think that someone would be able to pick him out of NSW Cup at the Raiders and get a tune of him, too.

There’s also a wildcard in Tommy Makinson, another former Golden Boot, who is off at St Helens and unable to sign elsewhere until May 1 – the Super League version of November 1 – where he might join the Catalans. Robinson will be well aware of his work and might be interested, if he is quick.

It’s rare for the Roosters to find themselves in any situation that catches them by surprise, but this might be one of them.

They could have anticipated Manu leaving, but perhaps not the market in which they find themselves.

Lucky for them, however, that the outside backs area is one of the easier to work in, one of the easier to debut players and one of the cheaper to replace.

Much like the Dragons with Lomax, there’s a chance that they can rebalance their cash more efficiently across the squad by losing one of the more expensive options in a less-than-vital position.

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Then again, Joey Manu is about as irreplaceable as centres get. Over to you, Trent.

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