Will this be the game of the season?
A few brief observations on the two main contenders leading into round 6…
The Roosters juggernaut rolls on, and over the top of hapless opponents. This team has won two premierships in a row, supplied numerous players to representative teams, played in two World Club Challenges, and seen the retirement of a halfback who was arguably the smartest player in the competition. For most such teams, even ones this good, it would not be surprising to see them come back into the season weary and slow out of the blocks. Maybe even losing their first couple of games. What if you then gave such a team another off-season, a chance to refresh and refocus? For all but Roosters fans, this is looking ominous. The scary truth came from the world’s best player this week. He says he is feeling mentally refreshed! No doubt most of his teammates are feeling the same way. Any complacency, lack of drive, and diminished ambition from winning two premierships has been erased by almost complete time away from the grind and pressure. More so than many of these players have experienced since entering the NRL.
There will not be too many Rugby League fans unwilling to vote James Tedesco the best going around. Not only does he have a complete game, he produces it week-in, week-out. Like the previous best fullback, his errors are so rare that when they happen you sit up in your chair and wonder momentarily if your TV is malfunctioning. What sets Teddy apart from the rest, and possibly even above Billy Slater, is his knack of always being in the frame when there’s a half-chance to make a break. He reads it like a set of traffic lights. And his ability to be at or close to top speed on receiving the ball is second only to The Kid. The poor defensive reads from the Bulldogs on the weekend made his job a lot easier, yet there’s no denying he can get the better over any opponent.
Tedesco has formed a great combination with Brett Morris, who himself is playing his best football, ever. Not only does he have the world’s No 1 player to feed and receive from. He is helped by having a role which is different from what he has played at other clubs. At the Dragons, it was simple. Hit it up early in the tackle count, be ready to finish off down the sideline, and run, very fast. At the Roosters, he is also running angles, floating around like a second fullback, and offloading with a skill that could have him excluded from the winger’s club. Has he finally found the coach who allows him to fully express himself?
If B Moss wasn’t standing out so much each week, we’d be raving about how good J Mozz is going. Both Mozz’s excel within a solid backline run by two very smart halves. They in turn, are given leeway by one of the game’s best packs. Captain Cordner plays with the fortitude of a James Graham, and the reliability of a James Tedesco. Victor Radley started his career as one of the best backrowers and keeps getting better. And is it my imagination, or has Jared Waerea-Hargreaves finally cut the dirt out of his game and settled into just playing football? This team is sitting in sixth, but with a massive points differential for so early in the season. If there are weaknesses in the Roosters, opposition teams are going to have a mighty job finding them.
So, what can Parramatta show us this weekend in “the game of the season”? They are sitting proudly in first place, with an unbeaten run having statisticians comparing them to the team of 1983. But are they really near that league? Defensively they are leading the comp, narrowly over their opponents. It is their attack that remains unconvincing. They have scored some nice long-range tries, but seem to lack direction when attacking close to the opposition try line. They really struggle to convert their sets into points from this position. Defensively they will need to stand up this weekend, otherwise the score could be a disappointing blow-out.
I hope I am wrong, but for Parra the comparisons with the Eels of the early ’80s may be more apt for the Roosters. Comparing to the last time a team was dominant enough to make it three titles in a row.