Robinson’s custodian conundrum: Would Roosters be better off with Manu at fullback?


A star-studded line-up. A supercoach at the helm. Two dominant, world-class, ball-running fullbacks. Only one jersey that has the ‘1’ on the back.

The Chooks’ roster is the envy of the competition. Representatives across the park, bags of cash at their disposal, and a world-renowned administration that runs things so smoothly. So why is their attack misfiring?

Some experts suggest their roster has too many threats – too many stars, which stifles a promising attack. While this may partly be true, this is not a new issue at Bondi.

Let’s go back to 2013 when Trent Robinson first took the helm at the Tricolours. Again, as usual, the Chooks had a formidable attack. It was a young squad, with firepower across the park. Sonny-Bill Williams and James Maloney were brought in, and the glamour club were a fierce-looking outfit.

Much like the current Roosters squad, the 2013 championship team had a world-class, representative-level fullback and captain, Anthony Minichiello. At this point in his career, he was considered a statesman of the game. A one-time Golden Boot winner, Mini had done it all. Origin series, World Cups, premierships. Again, there was also a young, fleet-footed, generational talent who showed promise as a fullback – Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

How did Robbo handle this conundrum? Was Minichiello a brilliant fullback? Yes. Was he the fullback he once was? Probably not. Roger, however, was dazzling whenever he had the ball.

When he filled in for Mini, he was devastating. The ball needed to be in his hands, and although he was a great finisher on the wing, he made things happen from the back.

I’m not sure what conversations were had between Robbo, Mini and Roger. Only they will know. But at some point, a decision was made to bring RTS into the action and push Mini out to the wing.

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Mini still orchestrated the defence from the back, defused the bombs and captained the team, however on attacking plays and se piece, Roger swept around the back and Mini held his spot on the wing. Roger’s apprenticeship as a fullback had begun, and the Chooks’ attack excelled.

This Roosters side had success, going on to win the 2013 Grand Final. Roger became a superstar, a force to be reckoned with, and Mini rode off into the sunset after the 2014 season, going down as one of the greats of the modern game.

Fast forward to present day Roosters. Same coach, similar conundrum. James Tedesco holding down the fullback jersey, and Joseph Manu shining. So, is it glaringly obvious what needs to happen with the No.1 jersey?

(Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

James Tedesco is an out and out champion. He has owned the big moments, and is the incumbent Australian and New South Wales captain. His character, leadership and professionalism are unrivalled. But a true test of character and leadership might be a dose of humility.

Is James Tedesco a world-class fullback? Absolutely. But is he the best fullback in the team? Not anymore.

Whenever Joey Manu fills in at the back, he steps up a gear. He is probably the best centre in the world right now, and that’s not even his best position. James, and Robbo, must ask themselves, what is best for the team? Could this move unlock the Chooks’ full potential?

Another question arises: could James Tedesco play centre? With a 184 cm frame, weighing in at 95 kg, he has the size. Speed and agility are also in his favour. Teddy’s ability to beat defenders and find the stripe on sweeping backline plays suggest he could make the transition.

As a centre he would need to hold his line in attack and defend in the frontline. This will take time for him to adjust to, but with his footy IQ, champion mentality and professionalism, this won’t be an issue for the star.

He can still go infield searching for ball. He can still take metres through the middle, terrorising tired forwards, sniffing around the ruck. He can still lead the Roosters outfit as captain, and better yet, what better mentor can Joey have as an aspiring fullback than Tedesco, one of the greatest fullbacks the game has seen?

Joseph Manu runs the ball at Allegiant Stadium. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Joey at fullback is a revelation, and the only way to unleash his full potential is to get him the ball. As a centre he displays glimpses of brilliance, when the early ball allows him to work his magic. Then he gets through the tough stuff. Hard carries, bone-rattling defence. He can do it all, and when he plays fullback, it gives Joey and the Roosters more opportunity to shine.

Manu has already signed with Japanese rugby, to depart the Roosters at the end of the season. This move could have been the answer to keep both players in Bondi and spark the Roosters attack. But it is not too late. The Roosters need to try something to realise their full potential.

A mid-season switch is not ideal, but what have they got to lose?

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