Roosters push for premiership favoritism, Tigers impress momentarily at Leichardt
Picking a premiership winning side at this time of the season is fraught with uncertainties.
There’s injuries to consider, the unpredictable Origin period which often throws up the odd contrary result, and suspensions for misbehaving players.
But the Sydney Roosters are mounting a strong case.
Against South Sydney on Thursday night they looked a team determined to return to where they were when they won minor premiership after minor premiership, barely able to lose on a bad day.
It was a golden period for the club, headlined by strong leadership and a burning desire to remain the powerhouses of the competition.
So when the Roosters finished season 2016 in 15th position with just six wins, after enduring a year spent trying to escape the media spotlight, it was to be expected that skeptics would begin to whisper behind their hands.
Standing in the eye of the storm was coach Trent Robinson, who truly is a man among men.
When others began to question the Roosters methods and condemn their attitude, he got on with business; quietly confident that the winning culture would return.
Now he is grinning an infectious grin like a child around a Christmas tree. Patience has payed off.
The Roosters are 4-0 and the only team, alongside perennial finalists Melbourne Storm, to remain unbeaten through four rounds of football.
The Titanic might well have sunk last year but the rescue crew has done well to execute a recovery mission.
The forward pack is big, bustling and giving the halves pairing plenty of space to run and weave their magic. The outside backs are young, but ever-dependable. And in Michael Gordon they might just have one of the most influential purchases of 2017.
He’s as reliable and hard working as an old V8 engine and brings two valuable qualities that the Roosters lacked in 2016 – consistency and a win at all costs mentality.
When the game is being played at a frenetic pace, or any speed that the Roosters are failing to cope with, Gordon is there to settle things down like a lollipop man on a main road.
Against the Panthers last week he produced a clutch play that sealed victory in the dying minutes. There are significant question marks over the pass that led to the eventual try, but these are the kind of moments that make signing experienced players in the twilight of their careers worthwhile.
He was considered a spent force in the eyes of many clubs last year and has produced four sterling performances since to prove them all wrong.
Of course, we’ve only had four rounds and many teams are still trying to find their bearings, so the Roosters could well be shot out of the sky at any time.
But they’ve defeated four teams that are far from easy beats, including the Panthers who many have tipped as premiership contenders.
The question now is who can stop them?
The Cowboys, who have played challenging opposition so far this season, look tired and are lacking muscle; struggling to close out games.
The Broncos are performing but failing to win convincingly. A reality that has seen Wayne Bennett fend off on-field questions by diverting the topic of conversation to off-field dilemmas.
Even last year’s premiers are trying to figure out what style of football they want to play – grinding or in your face. They’ve won two from two which is an accurate reflection of their head space in the absence of Ennis and Barba.
Melbourne are the obvious choice, but they too have hit a road bump or two in the last few weeks.
Very rarely could you associate doubt with the Melbourne Storm, but the Origin period, without their big three, could prove taxing if their injured stars remain sidelined.
Errors are beginning to creep into their game and opposition sides are taking note.
Tigers push turbulent week aside to start like a house on fire against Storm
What a difference a week can make in Rugby League.
The Tigers were ducking under haymakers from the fans and press in the lead up to the game, but managed to fly out of the blocks against the Storm in a spirited performance that would have inspired Laurie Nichols to perform his trademark shadowboxing routine.
It was important that the Tigers, particularly the big four, turned up for the battle on Sunday to justify Taylor’s sacking.
If they’d played like they did last week against Canberra, uninterested and defending like seagulls around a hot chip, the question would have been asked: “Why did the coach get the axe when the players are quite clearly the problem”.
Giving up a fourteen point lead and failing to score thereafter rings alarm bells, but against consummate professionals like Smith, Cronk and Slater it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking a two try buffer is enough.
The Tigers are still a long way off where they should be and until things change at the top, big losses are inevitable.
But the Tigers showed that there’s life in them yet and when the big four take accountability, there are marked differences in their performance.
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