NRL News: JWH’s amazing stat leading into milestone match, Cowboys target old teammate by ‘getting into his head’


As he prepares for his 300th NRL game, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves will run out with the rare distinction and special pride of never having been dropped in his 15 years at the Sydney Roosters.

And that speaks volumes at a club as stacked as the Roosters. 

Much has been made of Waerea-Hargreaves’ impending milestone, given the uncompromising brand of football the Kiwi international has played en route to his triple century.

Of the 49 players who have previously reached 300 matches, only one stood out to Roosters coach Trent Robinson as having played the game with as much fervour.

“It’s probably only him and I think (former Cronulla captain) Paul Gallen, those guys that’ve played 300 games where they’re just brutal from start to finish,” Robinson said ahead of Friday’s grudge match with South Sydney.

But what is perhaps just as remarkable is that Waerea-Hargreaves will have played all but six of his 300 games at a club where overflowing depth has become a punchline.

Derided by rival fans and pundits for their “salary cap sombrero”, the Roosters have had six different forwards earn State of Origin selection and four others picked for New Zealand during Waerea-Hargreaves’ time at the club, not including hooker Jake Friend or JWH himself.

All 10 of those players spent varying levels of time in the middle of the park throughout their careers.

But despite the competition for spots, Waerea-Hargreaves has never once been “dropped” to reserve grade in 15 seasons at the Roosters.

“It’s been a pleasure to coach him for that long,” Robinson said.

“I was lucky enough to be here as an assistant coach when he arrived. To watch him grow throughout that time. it’s probably rare to see someone hold onto that fire for as long as he’s held onto it.”

Robinson was reminded of his side’s overflowing depth naming his team to face Souths at Allianz Stadium this week.

Former NSW representative Angus Crichton, overlooked for selection in the opening fortnight, replaces the highly-rated Siua Wong after impressing in reserve grade.

Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. (Photo by Alex Dodd – CameraSport via Getty Images)

Robinson put Crichton’s previous inability to crack the starting side down to pre-season form.

“He just got outplayed in the trial (against Manly),” Robinson said.

Meanwhile, Connor Watson makes his return from a knee injury that ruled him out of the entire 2023 season and will start on the bench as the Roosters’ utility. 

It’s taken Luke Keary suffering a concussion for Watson to make his comeback via the bench, with interchange utility Sandon Smith promoted to the starting side.

“I’ve got about 23 or 24 guys who are really high quality and probably could be playing every single week,” Robinson said.

“They’re always tough calls; you end up hiring and firing someone every single week. It’s uncomfortable but we have to do that.”

Cowboys set sights on Leilua

North Queensland players have detailed the physical and mental weapons they will use on former teammate Luciano Leilua to tire him out in the clash against St George Illawarra.

The explosive  27-year-old forward was given a release by the Cowboys to return to the Dragons on a three-year deal last month.

The undefeated Cowboys travel to  Kogarah on Saturday to play a Dragons side smarting from a dismal 38-0 loss to the Dolphins last week in what was Leilua’s first game for the club since 2019.

Leilua has been named to start in the second row against the Cowboys.

North Queensland winger Murray Taulagi will have his own way of dealing with Leilua.

???????? ‘I’m always carrying my culture, my country and my people with me’ ???? #RedV #StrongerTogether

Show your colours. Celebrate your culture. Learn about others. NRL Multicultural Round. Stronger Together.

— St George Illawarra Dragons (@NRL_Dragons) March 20, 2024

“I will probably try and get into his head pretty early. I am really looking forward to playing against him,” Taulagi said.

He said the Cowboys would try to wear Leilua out. “Make him make tackles,” Taulagi  said when asked how to shut Leilua down.

“He is excellent with the ball in his hand. He’s lethal. We are going to have to tire him out and keep him away from the ball.”

Hooker Reece Robson, a tackling machine, will have his own target on Leilua.

“Big ‘Luci’ … it is going to be fun playing against an old teammate. He is so hard to handle, as we have seen first-hand playing alongside him,” Robson said. “I guess we have to get numbers in and get him to the ground quickly so he can’t keep pumping those strong legs of his.”

Leilua was stood down by the Cowboys after pleading guilty to low-range drink-driving in February. He was subsequently suspended by the NRL for one match after joining the Dragons for not disclosing to his club or the governing body that he had been charged.

Leilua played in the 38-0 loss to the Dolphins last week and made little impact.

“Luci is a really good guy,” Cowboys prop Jordan McLean said. “Unfortunately circumstances that he found himself in here (led to him) moving on. 

“Off the field we are still good mates. On the field I am sure there will be a lot of talking between us.”

The Cowboys have already scored 64 points in two games and look slick, with Robson, fullback Scott Drinkwater and halves Tom Dearden and Chad Townsend combining nicely.

Townsend landed the extra-time field goal last week to secure a 21-20 win over Newcastle after the Cowboys trailed 12-0.

“Our spine players were nice and calm in the second half and I thought we built the half really nicely,” co-captain Dearden said.

“It was nice that Chad was able to ice it at the end

“As an attack we are always working on things, but the most comfortable thing to start the year is that we have had a lot of connection, and I think that is the reason we have been able to score a few points.” 

with AAP

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