There’s a reason the Roosters were premiership favourites before a ball had been kicked in 2023.
The Tricolours have the most stacked roster in the NRL thanks to the glamour club’s unique ability to sign players for unders because of what they offer outside of football.
There’s their all powerful board who act as mentors to the players looking to make smart business decisions with their disposable income.
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There’s the state-of-the-art headquarters just five minutes from the eastern suburb’s world-famous beaches and all the sights and sounds that surround them.
There’s the allure of playing for a three-time premiership winning coach in a side full of representative stars who pride themselves on competing for the title every season.
But a series of unexpected curveballs threatened to derail the Roosters’ 2023 season.
The Chooks are playing their sixth straight week of knockout footy when they head to Cronulla to face the Sharks in an elimination final on Saturday night.
Here foxsports.com.au breaks down how close the Roosters came to imploding in 2023 – and how they were able to save their season.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Roosters star backrower Angus Crichton won a World Cup with Australia last November, but by January he’d been hospitalised for mental health reasons and missed the first two months of the NRL season.
Next teen star Joseph Suaalii defected to union on a whopping $5 million deal over three years with Rugby Australia starting in 2025.
The unprecedented contract triggered a shocking form slump from Suaalii as he struggled to deal with months of headlines.
Then budding halfback Sam Walker was blamed for the Roosters’ spluttering attack and after losses to Storm and Sharks in Rounds 6 and 7, he was dropped.
Joey Manu moved into the halves which sparked wins over the Dragons and Warriors, but the attack soon stalled again and coach Trent Robinson couldn’t bring Walker back because he’d been injured playing NSW Cup.
The Roosters then sensationally sacked assistant coach Jason Ryles after it was revealed he’d met with the Dragons about becoming their head coach next year.
If things weren’t bad enough, superstar captain James Tedesco fell into close to career-worst form amid a brutal State of Origin campaign.
There were huge expectations on star recruit Brandon Smith but the hooker barely fired a shot in the opening 20 rounds.
Veteran half Luke Keary defied the critics who were calling for his medical retirement, due to concussion, by playing every game this season. However, he had to do it with four 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.
To play finals, they needed to win every game and also have results fall their way.
“We’re sort of notorious for starting pretty slow and easing into the year… but then we got to Origin time and we (still) weren’t winning games. We definitely weren’t at our best as a team,” Tedesco said on The Fox League Podcast.
“There were a lot of big expectations for the year with the team we had on paper, people saying we should be top four, top two, winning the premiership.
“The more weeks went on, when we weren’t winning games, the more pressure built on us.
“We probably wore that expectation and pressure as a team a lot and we weren’t playing well. We were tightening up asking ourselves ‘why aren’t we getting results?’.
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“Instead of going out and playing footy and using our instincts, we got a bit narrow minded and just wanted to make the win instead of going out and creating it.”
Tedesco believes his side was guilty of trying too hard to live up to the pre-season hype and that it was making them play “uptight” footy.
“We had a lot of stuff off the field as well going on with different players and coaches, we had a new halfback five or six times, we had different things going on,” Tedesco said.
“But we were unsure of what we were doing (wrong) because we were all working hard, so it wasn’t like you looked around the team and thought ‘well he’s not putting in’.
“Everyone was working hard but it was like ‘why isn’t it clicking?’.
“Everyone is so professional these days and that’s what we were guilty of because everyone on their days off were getting ice baths and saunas and massages because everyone was so committed to working hard and getting the job done.
“But it was like ‘boys lets just relax and enjoy our footy’ because it was creeping into our foot.
“We were getting uptight and if something wasn’t perfect we were thinking it was the end of the world and end of the game.”
HOW THEY TURNED IT AROUND
The Roosters shocking run of form prompted “honest conversations” with the pre-season fancies staring down the very real possibility of missing finals.
The Chooks lost six of eight games during the Origin period and Tedesco said it was embracing the challenge of making finals from a near impossible position which ultimately set them free.
“We looked forward after Origin and said ‘look we need to win every game, let’s not shy away from it, let’s go out and play some footy and back ourselves’,” he said.
“Because it felt like confidence was definitely getting low there and I think just having those honest conversations with the team and being clear on how we want to play for the next couple of months and we just went out and did it.
“It’s hard to describe but all those expectations and pressures, we went back to the simple things, supporting each other in attack and defence and completing sets and that’s when our footy fell into place.
“The more we tried the more we tightened up so we had to loosen the reins and give ourselves a bit of permission to play some footy and since then we’ve started scoring some great tries.”
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The Roosters won five games in a row to clinch their finals spot and Robinson compared their stunning comeback to a golfer loosening their grip so they can swing with more freedom.
“It’s all about how you view the game,” Robinson said.
“Lose a game and we’ve been out. We’ve been loosening the grip while the pressure of having to win has been there, so there’s no difference this week.
“Win and you continue, lose and you’re out. We’ve had five weeks of that.
“Obviously the stakes are a bit higher going into finals because of the reward going into each week, but we’ve had the same mindset.
“We know our game, we know how we want to hit the ball, but having that grip that allows us to swing freely is going to continue.
“We’re not trying to add anything now, but every year is different. Every year that I’ve been in the finals is different and if you try and bottle it and say ‘we’ll go back to how this works’ you’ll hold on to the past too much.
“This is different, it’s a brand new experience. Our belief in how we have developed our game is really clear and our mindset towards the belief and freedom and hunger, is really simple and clear.”
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Tedesco was hammered by sections of the media for going to Byron Bay during the Roosters’ bye week in Round 19.
But the Kangaroos captain said he blocked out the external noise and that his side never lost their self belief.
“There’s always going to be external talk but we’re confident inside our four walls in what we needed to do and what we were clear on,” Tedesco said.
“Just me with the leadership group and then the whole playing group, just talking about it and emphasising that what we’re doing was mostly right, we just needed to make a few changes in how we were playing but the confidence we had in the players was still high.
“It was making sure the whole group was on the right path and had clarity in what we were doing and not worrying too much about the externals.
“I’m just glad we could turn it around, especially when people didn’t give us much of a hope, we still kept that belief that we could make a run at the end of the year and we’ve done that.”
THE ROAD TO FOURTH TITLE IN 10 YEARS
The Roosters will need to produce three road wins to make the grand final.
If they overcome the Sharks they’ll then head to Melbourne or Brisbane to play for a spot in the preliminary finals where they’ll likely meet Penrith.
It shapes as one of the toughest journeys possible to the decider as Robinson’s men chase a fourth premiership since 2013.
“We’ve worked our way into a position – a lot of teams are trying to hold onto their game, we’re trying to develop,” Robinson said.
“We’ve continued to work on our game, our belief in how we’re trying to play in both attack and defence.
“We’re pretty clear now on our style and now it’s just about nailing it.
“We’re not resting on anything that we’ve done. Each week we’ve felt like we needed to improve and there’s no difference, we don’t need to change course.
“We need to keep bearing down on what we’re doing, nail it and keep getting that collective approach and combination work.
“I expect us to defend well. We’ve been building that. While we’ve been playing a bit freer and scoring more points, we’ve also been defending well.
“I expect that to be in the right position for us, and then when we create opportunities, to take them.”
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