It has been some time since I have posted on BondiSurge. In fact, it has been over a year. As many of you will appreciate, the problem with any unpaid pastime is that passion often gives way to the pressures of one's working reality. I won't burden you with the details of my "real life" job, suffice to say finding the time to record those precious moments of sweet Rooster based reflection, both the joyous and the agonising, are becoming harder and harder - I actually started writing this in June...
Despite my absence from the blogasphere I have not completely abandoned my duties as a Roosters fan, keeping up appearances with the occasional truth nugget on Twitter. But sometimes 140 characters is simply not enough to describe how I really feel about Ben Cummins. Sometimes a sentence is not enough when a story needs to be told. So, as my bottled up Rooster issues have built to the point of combustion, I once again find myself at the keyboard in shear defiance of the mounting pile of work that stares at me menacingly as I type.
Before I begin, a word of warning - my ramblings are not groundbreaking. They are simply things I need to get them off my chest. This is my therapy session. This keyboard is my couch and you are my Sigmund Freud. Of course I welcome your thoughts, your comments, your opinions, your analysis about how my Rooster related rants are really a reflection of a childhood abandonment issue, but in reality I am using this as a forum to say the things I need to say for my own well being - so please bear that in mind when I ignore anyone who thinks differently to me.
After what has become a debacle of a season many have begun to question whether Robbo will, or at the very least should, be around next year. Let's be honest - the Roosters are a club that demands success and have never been afraid to clean house when failure has reared its ugly head. Notwithstanding this, Robbo is, and rightly so, not going anywhere.
A coach who has done wonders for the culture of this team as well as lead us to three Minor Premierships and a Grand Final win does not get the sack after one bad season. 2016 was always going to be difficult with two of our key players leaving, injury issues - in particular to Cordner and JWH, the Pearce suspension and all the new blood. In light of the chooks long term plan and our recent success, Robbo must be given the benefit of the doubt.
However, notwithstanding the challenges he has faced this season, I do have some issues with Robbo's 2016 approach - all of which centre around his management of our underperforming stars. It's fair to say, at least in my humble opinion, that guys like Guerra, Friend, Fergusson and Tupou, all established vets in our team have had disappointing seasons - yet none have faced any sort of risk to their first team position. You could argue that we didn't have any NRL ready players to replace them however, with the season all but lost at the halfway point, this was the time for Robbo to sack up and bench some of these guys.
How Guerra and Tupou in particular were able to retain first team positions despite an at times obvious lack of effort or passion is beyond me. Why not add into the mix guys like Moa, Evans and Liu who all seemed to regress under the pressure yet were never made to sweat in terms of game time. Fergusson, despite his poor showing on attack an non appearance on defence, is another who never seemed to sweat the bench.
When the season started to look grim I feel like Robbo took a "hope for the best" approach with these guys rather than recognise the situation for what it was - namely that some of our best had already thrown in the towel. Robbo could and should have used the goodwill he had built following our recent success to take control of the team, bench underperforming players no matter there last name and promote guys who would show some passion - even in defeat. By doing this Robbo would have shown that the right to wear the RWB is earned, winning is earned, Premierships are earned, that simply showing up is not acceptable. By not doing so I can't help but feel he has doing nothing but reaffirm that the players are running the show in Bondi.
The problem that I see facing Robbo next year will be how he would handle similar poor performances by our stars. I can't see Rooster brass being happy with a repeat performance meaning the blowtorch will be applied from Round 1. But whether a coach, who will be conscious of his job being on the line, is willing to opt for new blood over the promise of better performances from established stars remains to be seen. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result. If Robbo takes a "hope for the best" approach again with similar success then 2017 might be his last.
It's not all doom gloom and despondency though. For me, provided we don't suffer a similar pre-season injury crisis then making the 8 should be a breeze - our team is better than this season and we all know it. The absences of Pearce, Cordner and JWH for majority of the season should not be understated. We have an abundance of talent and our youngins will be better for the experience of 2016.
Pre-season recruiting and retention
As this this season went further and further down the toilet there was a lot of discussion about how this is a direct result of the Roosters poor pre-season recruiting and retention. I for one was, and remain, happy with how the Roosters went about their business - cue audible gasps.
As you will be aware, the Roosters made several team changes for 2016. But let's be honest - the major talking point was the departure of Maloney and Jennings. You could argue losing RTS was a big deal but given that was done and dusted before the end of the 2015 season and the back up we had in Latrell Mitchell, it seems a tad inconsequential now.
Anyway, back to Maloney and Jennings. It seems the question on everyone's lips, especially in light of this seasons results and the performances of the subsequent replacements, is why on earth did we let these two go? In order to understand this question you must appreciate what the Roosters were looking to build in the long term. With the chooks coming off a Grand Final win and three Minor Premierships, the brass were no longer thinking short term wins, they were building for a 10 year dynasty and the cap space occupied by Maloney and Jennings was simply too great to facilitate this. We had (and still have) an amazing crop of youngsters coming through the ranks, we had locked in our key front rowers, we had some big name targets in mind and we had out halves pairing of the next 10 years with Pearce and Hastings.
Hindsight is of course a beautiful thing. But even though I see Jimmy tearing it up with the Sharks (a team who are looking odds on for a Grand Final appearance) he can't have more than a couple of top flight years left in the tank meaning a commitment to him was a short term approach that could have cost us some of our best up and coming talent - in particular Jackson Hastings (which at the time was not acceptable). The same goes for Jennings - too much money for not enough long term return. Copely may not have been the long term answer in the centres but he provided what appeared to be a solid replacement at an affordable rate.
For me it has been really frustrating reading all the abuse from the fans blaming this seasons poor performances on letting Maloney and Jennings go - it simply isn't true. Sure, our issues in the halves and at centre have been glaringly obvious this year, but in my opinion retaining either or both Jennings and Maloney would have made no difference in making this years finals - that dream died with the Mitchell Pearce suspension, our pre-season injuries and our attitude following the lack of immediate success. They may have been good for a couple of extra wins but that's it - I seem to remember that both Jennings and Maloney had ok 2015 seasons - that's "ok" 2015 seasons.
The decision to move on from Maloney and Jennings was a calculated decision for the long term success of the team which I approved of and remain supportive of. This however brings me to...
While I am accepting of the pre-season moves, I am filthy at the 2017 recruitment strategy that has unfolded before my eyes. No matter what anybody says to me, signing Keary and Gordon is not only a slap in the face of the dynasty basis on which I justified our 2016 pre-season decisions, but it reeks of desperation from a club not used to hearing the word no.
Don't get me wrong, Keary is OK and all, but is he really a better option than developing Watson or Nikorima? (I have deliberately left Hastings out of this given recent events which I have addressed below). As for Gordon, the guy is 32 going on 50 and plays fullback - surely we are not going to see a repeat of the Mini/Sheck rotation with Gordon and Mitchell or worse yet a complete switch of position. It seems to me that the only true benefit of Gordon will be that he can kick a goal - maybe some off-season kicking practice would have been a better option. One additional positive with Gordon is that if he is on the wing (or, despite my dislike of this approach, rotating from the wing and fullback) Robbo will finally have a reason to drop Tupou - that would be nice.
On the whole it seems that far too much stock was placed in our ability to sign any free agent we wanted for whatever price we offered - the days of the Uncle Nick offer you can't refuse are over. The SBW rumors were always just that as he was never coming back to the NRL. For a long time I thought the Roosters overtures were simply a "just in case" approach but now I feel like it was a critical part of the planning. This is a man who has publically stated that the NRL is too hard on the body - why would he come back for less money and a harder game. Then there is Hayne. All season long we were linked to his return to the NRL - I enjoyed the rumours and all but clearly someone in the know thought we had a real shot at signing him without the need to provide a mega-deal. Cooper Cronk is another name who was potentially in the mix - again rumour and speculation lead to nothing. We also chased Mitchell Moses apparently - a young buck being offered the keys to Bondi - and still lost out - to the TIGERS.
It is one thing to say that there is no real benefit in freeing up cap space if we don't make any marque signings with it but it is another to make rushed signings when plan A doesn't pan out. Furthermore, if all the playmaker rumours weren't enough of a confidence crusher for Jackson Hastings, who was already being hammered by the fans and media (and apparently the players also), the signing Keary was really the death blow. Obviously I will support the boys in next years campaign but as of right now our 2017 signings leave a lot to be desired.
To be truly blunt - I blame Mitchell Pearce for the state of our season, I remain furious at him for once again putting himself above the team and the culture that Robbo has worked so hard to install and it will be years before I am ready to fully forgive him (AGAIN!!!) no matter how well he plays.
In addition to the bitter taste Pearce has left in my mouth I am also sick to death of how many people continue to make excuses for him. Getting angry at the person who filmed the incident, getting angry at the NRL's punishment (excluding the fine which I agree was stupidly excessive), comparing it to other player offences and crying foul, saying it was just tom foolery, all of these approaches are enabling mechanisms that once again allow him to pass the buck and the fans to put their heads in the sand. I'm sure he had a real tough time in the luxury rehabilitation clinic/resort in Thailand.
Let's just be honest - Mitchell Pearce got tanked, again, got himself in trouble, again, for harassing a woman (which was the major issue with this whole saga in my opinion) AGAIN, and then said how sorry he was, again. Same s*** different day.
Of course there are some points of contention - primarily around the fine. Pearce deserved a fine no doubt, but the one he received reeked of the NRL's standard Rooster bashing approach. We have already seen the likes of Corey Norman, who actually broke the law, issued with a fine almost $100k less than Pearce. Add to the mix the NSW premier who publically spoke out against SKD before he even went to trial for something he was found NOT GUILTY of yet keep his mouth shut when similar instances with other players arose it is fair to say that we seem to often be on the arse send of inconsistency. The major problem with this is that as Rooster fans we band together over these "injustices" and quickly push aside the major issue which led to the problem - in this case it was, and remains, Pearce.
Notwithstanding my position on the fine, I want to make one thing VERY CLEAR - not only do I think Pearce deserved his suspension and the loss of the captaincy but, at the time of the incident and for a large large part of this season, I felt that he should have been sacked. In fact, if we had been more successful in our pursuit of a new half mid season then I suspect Pearce may have been on his way out - the length of time it took him to return from that "calf injury" was highly suspicious to me.
It is likely that most people reading this right now will be saying "woah back son", "settle down, take a chill pill", "it wasn't even that serious" etc etc. Rubbish. I am sick of the same antics, the same issues and the same fake apologies. His selfishness cost the chooks and in particular Jackson Hastings, severely this season. Another thing that seems quickly forgotten is that both Copley and Nikirima, two of our young new recurits were with him when it all went down - great example there from the captian - was it all to show off for the boys?
Now, with that being said and all of my pent up rage out of the way, I have, at least over recent weeks, cooled on the issue somewhat. Having watched Pearce over the backend of our campaign I can say that the silver lining in all of this for me is that I have never truly appreciated how much of a difference he makes until the Roosters capitulation in his absence. With Pearce once again on the corporate trail to forgiveness - public statements of sobriety and a preference for long walks as opposed to benders and the brass and coach trumpeting his importance to the clubs future - it seems clear he is not going anywhere - which I am now ok with. Nevertheless, Pearce has years of making up to do for me - the question will linger as to whether he means what he says this time.
Jackson was my boy. I was all in. Chips, house you name it. This was the guy that would serve as the lynch pin for the next 10 years of glorious RWB domination. Out with Maloney and in with Hastings. Easy decision for me. Dynasty time. This kid had the talent and, with Pearce supporting him, the potential to grow into one of the most dominant halves in the comp. That was my opinion. "Was" being the operative word.
After all the hype, promise and hope the truth is that I don't expect to see Hastings at the Roosters in 2017 - or, depending on his contract situation of which I have not done any research, not in first grade. NOTE: having taken several weeks to fully write this rant I now understand that Hastings is expected to be released next year and sign with the Dragons making my opinion fairly redundant - but onward we will go.
2017 has been nothing short of a miserable failure for Hastings with almost everything you could imagine, barring catastrophic injury, going wrong. We have the inability to kick a goal (I mean how ridiculous is this!!!), the inability to direct the team, a lack of go forward and in the end a lack of respect from both the players and the coach. One thing is for sure, the last couple of years where Robbo has slowly introduced Hastings seem entirely justified now given what appears to be a lack of readiness for first grade.
While Hastings needs to take account for his own performances, I think a massive portion of this seasons failure should be heaped on Pearce who, by getting himself suspended, left Hastings with all the heavy lifting. I wasn't expecting a Premiership in 2016, I expected it would take a couple of years for Pearce and Hastings to gel into champions - I was looking forward to the Miami Heat style press conference where Hastings told the world we would be winning not 1, not 2, not 3 Premierships... this is nothing but a pipe dream now.
As indicated with the "lack of respect" comment above, I have heard rumours that Hastings was having issues with senior players which is not a winning position for a young up and comer. In truth, if he was giving them a serve for playing so poorly then good on him. The problem is he has just not been good enough on the park to call anyone out. In summary, Hastings has played his last game in the RWB and I am left homeless and destitute.
A captain should be someone the other players look too for leadership and inspiration. They need to be a person that is respected and sets the tone for the team in both winning performances and losses. Two names that don't fit this criteria at the moment are Mitchell Pearce and Jake Friend.
Although Pearce had his captaincy stripped as part of his punishment for the pre-season suspension there have been rumors that he will be donning the black armband in the very near future. Not only do I think this would be a mistake I don't he should never captain the team again. Pearce will always, for as long as he is at the club, be a leader on the field. He has just shown he can't be the face of the club off it.
As for Jake Friend, I think the captaincy has really impacted his game and I swear he is becoming more and more introverted as the days go by. I personally don't think Friend has the type of personality that is able to handle the sort of responsibility/pressure that comes with being a captain in terms of managing both the team and his own form at the same time. It wasn't that long ago that Friend was in the same conversation as Cameron Smith as the best hooker in the game - that seems a long time ago now.
I heard a rumour that Boyd Cordner is set for the captaincy in 2017 - my question is why wasn't it given to him this year. If Cords needs a deputy then sign up JWH - our engine room is our heart - give them the arm bands. Another option for deputy is Aubo - this guy does everything right on the field and everything right off it. He is the ultimate club man. Sounds like prime captaincy material to me.
Not a strictly Roosters related rant but what spray would be complete without a reference to the bunker. Not much to say here except to ask what the hell has happened? This was such a good idea and yet it seems every week there is some sort of apology being made for a Bunker error - particularly when our games are involved. I still believe this is the way forward but I just can't understand how there is still such a large error rate looming over the Bunker decisions. Barring any major error in the finals series then, despite all the teething problems, I am expecting the Bunker to be back in 2017 - but at this stage an error free game seems like a big ask - especially when we are playing.
Defence - the much vaunted Bondi Wall is no more. If there is one thing I want to see change in 2017 more than anything it is our defense which has been nothing short of embarrassing.
Passion - I don't know if I have ever seen a Roosters team so bereft of both enthusiasm and passion. When the wins didn't come easy it often seemed like the boys just threw in the towel. Some of our later season games gave a glimmer of promise but too little too late for me.
Daniel Tupou - has been consistently average since 2013. The only reason I can come up with to justify why he remains first choice is that he is Robbo's illgitimate child - everything from his attitude to error rate infuriates me. When he is on he is great but there are too many games in between these performances. I think we both could use a fresh start.
Blake Fergusson - is the Carmelo Anthony of the NRL - all attack and no defence. Fergo had an end of season revival of sorts playing fullback however I am thankful that Robbo has already put an end to speculation that he will stay there while Mitchell goes to wing. Fergo is a centre as long as he is at the chooks and needs to up his defense if he hopes to stay long term.
Aidan Guerra - showed his true colours this season. When the going got tough he threw his toys. To say I am disappointed is an understatement. Bring in some young blood. Move him on.
Jake Friend - needs to play less in both minutes and his time with the ball. Trying to do too much and just ends up hogging the pill.