The Sydney Roosters came ever so close for the second time in three years to that elusive first NRLW premiership. They will be hoping that they have strengthened enough in the right areas to go one step further in the delayed 2021 season.
The 2020 Roosters started the season with a major point to prove, having followed their 2018 runner-up season with the wooden spoon the following year.
Jamie Feeney took the reins as head coach, and immediately led his ladies to a strong 18-4 win over St George Illawarra. They backed this up the week after by defeating New Zealand Warriors 22-12 in a bruising encounter, before being beaten by the Broncos in the grand final dress rehearsal by 24-16.
The Roosters were rocked by two Brisbane tries in the first eight minutes in the decider but, as was their trademark for the season, fought back strongly to go to half time only two points in arrears. Brisbane struck twice again early in the second half, and this time there was to be no comeback as Brisbane took their third straight grand final by 20 points to 10.
The Roosters made it to second place on the ladder in the most even of the three NRLW seasons to date on the back of their fearsome forward strength, with the likes of Simaima Taufa and Hannah Southwell providing the grunt work that allowed the likes of Corban Baxter (nee McGregor), Quincy Dodd and Yasmin Meakes to do their best work as running backs.
Whilst the grand final against the juggernaut that is the Brisbane Broncos proved to be a bridge too far, new coach John Strange will feel that significant ground was made in 2020, and will approach the 2021 season with much optimism.
Isabelle Kelly (St George Illawarra), Jessica Sergis (St George Illawarra), Chante Temara (Brisbane), Samantha Economos (New Zealand), Shawden Burton, Olivia Higgins, Olivia Kernick, Mya Hill-Moana, Atasi Lafai, Lauretta Leao-Seve, Taylor Mapusua, Tayla Predebon, Otesa Pule, simone Simone, Leianne Tufuga
Kennedy Cherrington (Parramatta), Quincy Dodd (St George Illawarra), Filomina Hanisi (Parramatta), Bobbi Law (Newcastle), Nita Maynard (Parramatta), Shanice Parker (pregnancy), Kaitlyn Phillips (Brisbane), Taleena Simon (retired), Simaima Taufa (Parramatta), Botille Vette-Walsh (Parramatta), Roxy Murdoch (Brisbane)
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The Roosters are placing a lot of faith in the cohesion that having a lot of their squad playing together for Central Coast Roosters in the Harvey Norman NSW premiership will bring. Isabelle Kelly returns home to Sydney Roosters after a season with St George Illawarra, and is excited to see where that synergy will take the team.
“On the Central Coast we’ve never really been able to have those pathways with the open team, so it’s really good to have those pathways that lead into the NRLW”, Kelly said.
“I think you’ll see this year with some of the girls we’ve got from the Central Coast, they’re great players and I think they’re really ready to take the next step”.
A number of the new recruits for 2021 have played together at the Central Coast, and so will have little problem integrating into the senior squad. New coach John Strange, also coached the Central Coast Roosters allowing himself time for his message to sink in amongst a large majority of the playing group.
Track watchers at pre-season training suggest that competition is fierce for places in the new, restructured forward pack. The crafty Olivia Higgins vies for the starting no. 9 jersey with youngster Shawden Burton.
Whilst the likes of Samantha Economos, Tayla Predebon, and Maori All-Star Mya Hill-Moana are leaving no stone unturned in their attempts to persuade Strange to pick them in the front row.
What to expect:
With a backline already brimming with representative talent, the Roosters looked like a potent attacking machine in 2021. The fact that this backline has been augmented by the recruits from St George Illawarra, Isabelle Kelly and 2019 Dally M NRLW player of the year Jessica Sergis means that they pose a threat to all opponents, even the feted Broncos.
Sergis will probably slot into this side in her Central Coast Roosters role in the centres alongside Yasmin Meakes, with smiling assassin Brydie Parker and ex-Broncos premiership player Taylor Mapusua on the wings. This will leave Kelly to play the hard-running game from fullback that she plays so well at Central Coast.
The attacking machine will be set in motion by the scrum-base pairing of courageous captain Corban Baxter and the creative and resilient Zahara Temara. Baxter is a tough and versatile leader who can play anywhere in the backline, while Temara’s scheming best is vital to the functioning of the Roosters’ most potent weapon.
It’s a big year for
In recent years Hannah Southwell has become one of the game’s best and most feared forwards. Few tackle harder than the Roosters lock forward, and she has become one of the first picked for both New South Wales and the Australian Jillaroos.
It’s not just the tackling statistics or the metres gained that make Southwell such a vital cog in the Roosters machine, she is the type of natural leader that sets the course for the side and commands her teammates to follow.
Southwell provides the toughness and strength in the middle of the park that allows the halves and the backline to shine. She will need to be at her best this season if the Roosters are to go one step further and lift their first premiership trophy.
Predicted round one lineup
While this Roosters side looks different from the one that came within one match of lifting the 2020 premiership, the quality and depth within its ranks suggests that there won’t be any drop in output in 2021.
The vital missing link may be the knowledge that they are capable of toppling the giant that is the Broncos. Wins over other finals sides during the regular season could provide that assurance for a team that is sick of being the bridesmaid, and would dearly love to make the lap of honour on April 10.
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