The Roosters were one of the favourites to take out the title at the start of the 2023 season.
After a nightmare 2022 campaign filled with injuries, Trent Robinson’s side were optimistic and were boosted by the arrival of marquee hooker Brandon Smith.
His recruitment was viewed as the final piece of the puzzle to propel the Tricolours back in to the premiership race.
Watch every game of The 2023 NRL Telstra Finals Series before the Grand Final Live & Ad-Break Free During Play on Kayo Sports. Join now and start streaming instantly >
However, the rugby league gods had other plans and a first-round loss to NRL newcomers the Dolphins wasn’t in the script.
After Round 22 the Roosters found themselves in 14th place and on the brink of collapse before they achieved the unthinkable.
After a five-game winning streak, Robinson’s side forced their way in to the finals and clinched post-season football with a satisfying win over their cross-town rivals.
However, they bowed out to a last-minute Will Warbrick try against the Storm in the second week of finals football.
Now Tricolours powerbrokers face a $5 million salary cap headache to keep the nucleus of their team intact.
Read below for a brutal review of the Roosters’ 2023 campaign!
2023 record: 13 wins, 11 losses (-24 points differential)
What went right: Life in Bondi got off to a rocky start for Brandon Smith.
The hooker made the high-profile switch from the Storm in the off-season and arrived at the Roosters with high expectations and a $800,000 salary to boot.
It wasn’t long before he was in the spotlight again with poor early season form raising questions over his fit in Trent Robinson’s side.
To compound matters, Smith then broke his thumb and was sidelined for seven weeks before returning just as the Roosters’ season was teetering on the edge of collapse.
The 27-year-old then strung together his best run in a Roosters jersey, playing a critical role as they won five straight to sneak into the top eight.
He then delivered a mammoth performance in their finals victory over the Sharks to give Roosters fans reason to be optimistic in 2024.
Elsewhere, Siua Wong stamped his mark as one of the competition’s brightest young players.
The 20-year-old backrower was a first grader in-waiting according to Trent Robinson and blossomed to the point the club are reportedly willing to allow Angus Crichton to depart.
Phil Gould labelled Wong “the next big thing in rugby league” in August 2022 and he could well be living up to that prophecy next year with more regular starting minutes.
However, the Roosters now have a headache on their hands to retain him, with several rugby union nations and rival clubs snooping around.
Joseph Suaalii’s form to close out the season was also impressive after failing to capitalise on his transition in to the centres to start the season.
Get all the latest NRL news, highlights and analysis delivered straight to your inbox with Fox Sports Sportmail. Sign up now!!
Fresh off signing a bumper contract with Rugby Australia, Suaalii was expected to set the world alight but struggled.
However the 19-year-old got back to his hard-running, athletic self to close out the season and was another player who blossomed at the right time.
A huge positive that came at the end of the season was also the return of Sam Walker, who kicked a winning field goal to down the Sharks in their first final.
The 21-year-old could have easily kicked stones after he was dropped following Round 7, and his NRL return was also halted by a knee injury.
However, the halfback prodigy put his head down and slotted back in to first grade as if nothing had happened and was praised by league legend Braith Anasta.
“It’s all a part of the journey, he has learnt the tough way this year,” Anasta said on NRL360.
“The one thing about Sam Walker is he is the type of player who can come up with big moments, he made that look so easy when he came up with the field goal.
“It was like shelling peas… he tests the opposition every time he touches the ball. He’s made for these big games Sam. Since he has returned, his form has been great.
“That moment where he kicked the field goal, you can’t underestimate that. You’re a young half who has been dropped and pretty much told you aren’t cutting it with first grade.”
Overall, it was a solid season in the end for the Roosters who did the unthinkable to make the finals and reach the second week.
Robinson’s outfit could have almost kissed their finals hopes goodbye when they sat in 14th as late as Round 22.
It came down to the last week of the regular season, but the Tricolours’ finals dream was made all the more sweeter by beating their cross-town rivals to confirm a top eight spot.
Webster reveals nervous lead up for SJ | 02:11
What went wrong: Things got off to a tough start for the Roosters when one of their best players, Angus Crichton, was hospitalised in January for mental health reasons.
Crichton had just won the World Cup with the Kangaroos but didn’t play until Round 8 and the backrower never returned to his rep form in 2023.
Amid the Crichton situation, teenage star Joseph Suaalii defected to union and signed a $5 million deal with Rugby Australia starting in 2025.
Suaalii fell into a form slump as the centre struggled to deal with months of headlines about his move.
The Roosters simply couldn’t get their attack going and the blame fell on budding halfback Sam Walker who was dropped after losses to Storm and Sharks in Rounds 6 and 7.
Joey Manu moved into the halves but the attack soon stalled again and Robinson couldn’t bring Walker back because he’d been injured playing NSW Cup.
As if Robinson didn’t have enough headaches, the club sacked his assistant coach Jason Ryles after it was revealed he’d met with the Dragons about coaching their side next year.
Then star fullback and skipper James Tedesco fell into close to career-worst form amid a brutal State of Origin campaign.
There were big expectations on star recruit Brandon Smith but the hooker barely fired a shot in the opening 20 rounds.
Veteran half Luke Keary played alongside four different halves partners in Walker, Manu, Drew Hutchison and Sandon Smith.
The Roosters won just three games between Rounds 10 and 22 and bottomed out with a thrashing by the Broncos to sit 14th on the ladder with just five games left in the regular season.
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves then copped a seven-game ban for a series of brain snaps in the final round of the season and was rubbed out of finals.
O’Brien unsure how to feel after exit | 09:01
MORE NRL NEWS
‘BLOODY HARD JOB’: DCE hits back at Gould over ‘ridiculous’ NRL player leave
‘PICK BEST AND FIND A POSITION’: Plans for star trio in Kangaroos’ No.1 battle
‘REALLY HARD’: Gagai lifts lid on ‘tough moment’ with Slater amid Maroons axing UP THE WAHS: Warriors into prelim as Knights fairytale comes to shuddering halt
What they need: To keep their players.
The Roosters are facing a $5 million salary cap headache ahead of free agency this season, with stars key to their finals charge coming off-contract.
Joey Manu, Luke Keary, Angus Crichton, Nat Butcher, Siua Wong, Naufau Whyte and Terrell May are all free to negotiate with rivals after the season.
Meanwhile, Brandon Smith also reportedly has an option in his favour for the 2025 season, meaning he can discuss his future with other clubs come November 1.
Crichton is reportedly nearing an exit, having been offered a cross-code switch to join Rugby Australia and the club’s powerbrokers won’t stand in his way.
His exit could free up north of $700,000 off their salary cap, which could be needed to upgrade two rising stars in Wong and May.
May has emerged as one of Trent Robinson’s favourite budding stars and will forge a scary front row rotation next season which will include Jared Warea-Hargreaves, Lindsay Collins and the incoming Spencer Leniu.
The 24-year-old is due for an increased salary, alongside Wong who is courting interest from rugby union and rival NRL clubs as he edges closer to becoming a free agent.
With no shortage of suitors, Wong will likely command a hefty increase on his current pay packet even with only 10 NRL appearances to his name.
Elsewhere, incoming Dragons coach Shane Flanagan has made no secret of his desires to sign centre Joey Manu and play him at fullback.
However, he is expected to remain at the Tricolours and stay a one-club player.
That leaves Keary, Butcher and Whyte as the remaining players to keep and Robinson will likely want to retain the trio.
Keary’s form at the back-end of the 2023 season was impressive and he showed his partnership with Sam Walker can deliver.
Robinson and Politis will have a big job on their hands to retain their big-name players before rivals circle.
Coming: Dominic Young (Knights).
Going: Fletcher Baker (Broncos), Jaxson Paulo (Sea Eagles), Matt Lodge (Sea Eagles).