The missing ingredient Roosters need to kick into title contention – and the no-name player Robbo should take a punt on


There’s no denying that, on their day, the Roosters can be a red-hot side in 2024.

On paper, they’ve got a great roster and that translated to victories in round one and three when they cruised past the Broncos in Las Vegas and put 48 points on a struggling Rabbitohs outfit. Yet, Thursday night’s 22-16 loss to the Panthers raised a worrying alarm. One that should’ve sounded long ago.

The six-point differential was a false reflection on what was an embarrassing showing. Even without the game’s best player Nathan Cleary, Penrith parked their opponents in their own half for almost the entirety of the game. While possession read a 50/50 split and an even 78% completion rate, it didn’t take an expert to point out a glaring gap.

Sam Walker and Luke Keary have a big issue getting the ball up and down the other end of the field. Kicking in rugby league is what governs unpredictability and the power of a side’s back-end to their sets. Walker is a major threat in the opposition 20-metre, so is Keary. That’s why Trent Robinson has opted for two tall men to round out their edges.

Yet last Thursday, the services of Brian To’o and Greg Marzhew would’ve aided more help. Kangaroos aren’t much hop when they can’t jump. They also can’t get low enough to burst through a pack of Panthers low in the tackle count.

Sam Walker puts boot to ball (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Walker put boot to ball 14 times for a total of 443 metres. He forced one drop-out, kicked four grubbers, one bomb and went cross-field once for his outside backs. Seven of Walker’s kicks were in his own half, opting for clearance.

In comparison, Penrith’s back-up No.7 Brad Schneider kicked 11 times. Two forced drop-outs, two bombs, three grubbers and two cross-field cracks. Schneider therefore cleared the ball just twice, and managed to pick up 239 metres over the night.

The 21-year-old Walker holds the keys to the Roosters’ kicking role. Keary is undoubtedly a five-eighth at his best, weaving through a back-door play and taking on the line to link with his edge players.

Unfortunately for the Bondi boys, end-on-end punts that go 30 metres don’t get you out of trouble.

Dylan Edwards and his surrounding wingers were gifted simple receptions on their 30-metre line all night. Edwards made 126 kick-return metres compared to Tedesco’s 50. That tells the tale, close the book.

For the NRL coaches who watched Thursday night’s fixture, the blueprint to beat the Roosters was laid out plain and simple. Kick to the corners and crowd in defence.

Brandon Smith was gassed after just 52 minutes. He ran four times for 19 metres. In other words, you wouldn’t have known he was on the field. Even the fast feet of Connor Watson had little effect.

To be frank, the Roosters make way too many errors to somehow retain their position as competition heavyweights. Pair a bunch of errors with a tiring forward pack in their own half, and you get a side with zero attacking flair. That was the Roosters of round four.

The Roar League Podcast is on YouTube! Click here and subscribe to make sure you never miss an episode

So where is this going? Well to get your side out of the scenario detailed above, you need a proper kicking halfback.

Cleary, Brisbane captain Adam Reynolds, Matt Burton (a five-eighth but Canterbury’s main playmaker) and Parramatta’s Mitchell Moses are the best at providing some breathing space when the chips are down.

Roosters strike early in the 2nd half ????

???? Watch #NRLRoostersRabbitohs on ch.502 or stream on Kayo:

— Fox League (@FOXNRL) March 22, 2024

Admittedly the best we have seen in a while, Cleary has the power to worry the opposition in his own half. It is a major reason behind Penrith’s three-year stranglehold on the completion.

When the Roosters won back-to-back 2019 and ’20 premierships, Cooper Cronk was the man who could do similar. While not a juggernaut of power, he had the ability to find the corners and turn the fullback’s head. Further, he could hang up a bomb for long enough, so the calvary were on the kick-returners toes.

Nathan Cleary hoists a high bomb. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

The likes of Billy Walters, Harry Grant and Api Koroisau fly under the radar for their kicking prowess. It’s a strength Brandon Smith has no grab on yet.

So, the Roosters are thin on a boot. Sandon Smith is a possible answer. In the Chooks’ drubbing of the Bunnies in round three, he kicked on seven occasions for 190 metres. While not proven as a long-distance option, having a kicker on both sides of the ruck adds an invaluable level of unpredictability.

Keary kicked just twice against the Panthers – meaning each time the count reached five or six, every man and his dog turned their head to Walker.

Go back to 2013 and the combination of James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce at the Roosters. Both proved very capable kicking options. It seems every premiership side has one of these two strongholds. Either a chief, sole kicker, in the form of a Cleary who can cause carnage from any position. Or a perfect mixture of two to three figures, most notably the structure of Melbourne in 2020. Cameron Smith, Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes. Munster left, Hughes right, and Smith to push corners from the base of the ruck.

At the minute, the Roosters are bone dry in both departments. While they may get through the season just fine and finish in the top four, they can’t win a premiership based on Thursday night’s showing. Especially if they come up against a Panthers side with Cleary at full tilt.

Trent Robinson needs to find the man to fill the gap quick smart because they will need it for September.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.