Wounded Roosters defy physical toll in NRL

The Sydney Roosters are two games away from another NRL grand final despite a year marred by serious injury, retirements and lengthy suspensions.

Roosters coach TRENT ROBINSON.
Roosters coach TRENT ROBINSON. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

The Sydney Roosters shouldn't be here.

Trent Robinson's team are two games away from an NRL grand final - the fourth premiership decider of the coach's reign if they can make it - but they shouldn't be here.

While Friday's semi-final clash with Manly would normally be the minimum expectation for the Roosters, 2021 has been far from a normal campaign for Robinson's team.

The casualty ward for the Tricolours this year has been nothing short of horrific - no less than seven players are sidelined for the remainder of the campaign with injury.

That list includes premiership winners Luke Keary (knee) and Brett Morris (knee) as well as representative forward Lindsay Collins (knee) and young gun Joseph Suaalii (foot).

Those absences - a combination of bad luck and the attritional nature of the game - have been compounded by the medical retirements of experienced pair Jake Friend and Boyd Cordner.

Then there's the injuries Robinson could only shake his head in disbelief.

Sam Verrills, a detached retina of all things, requiring six weeks out.

Drew Hutchison's busted ribs and punctured lung that required multiple hospital trips and surgeries.

Joey Manu's brutal busted cheekbone in that fiery clash with South Sydney at Suncorp Stadium.

It's nigh-on miraculous the Roosters are still going this season, especially with key forwards Angus Crichton and Victor Radley spending lengthy stints on the sideline through suspension.

For most clubs the toll would have been too much, the season written off and planning prepared for better fortune in the years ahead.

The bad luck of others has however created opportunity and the rise of a new generation of Roosters talent.

Young half Sam Walker - a teenager who hadn't played first grade before April - has made 20 appearances and was the hero of last weekend's one-point elimination final win over Gold Coast.

The 19-year-old slotted a match-winning field goal with two minutes to play and then pulled off a try-saving tackle when the Titans threatened to steal the game.

No-one however better epitomises the resilience of the Roosters this year than Hutchison.

A knees-first slide from Parramatta's Dylan Brown into Hutchison's side in round nine caused immediate agony for the 26-year-old but that was just the start of his drama.

Over the next fortnight, Hutchison would have two separate trips to hospital due to the injury and subsequent complications, missing six weeks of the season.

However, since his return Hutchison has become a key part of the Roosters' back half of the year, cementing himself at five-eighth and filling the void of Keary in a way which has earned the respect of captain James Tedesco.

"He's just owned that spot," Tedesco said.

"At the start of the year he was really good and then he actually had that rib injury which was a pretty big setback for him.

"He was going through a lot of pain and in hospital a few times and a few surgeries - it was a big thing for him.

"For him to come back and the form he's been in the last few months has been awesome for us.

"We needed that leader to lead us in the halves and give us the direction and he's been that guy."

Tedesco has also been "that guy" for the Roosters.

Already a game-breaking matchwinner in his own right, Cordner's retirement has forced Tedesco to now be the club's talismanic leader as well as star player.

Crucially for the Tricolours, Tedesco has barely missed a minute this season - sitting out two matches due to State of Origin commitments and a further two games with minor complaints.

It's the one slice of luck the Roosters have had in their season - their most important player has largely been fit and firing throughout 2021.

His importance was emphasised in last Saturday's final against the Titans, with Tedesco scoring one try, setting three more and making five tackle busts.

It's a performance the superstar fullback is going to have to replicate against the Sea Eagles and their in-form No.1 Tom Trbojevic particularly with Verrills fighting to overturn a possible ban which could rule him out of the match and Sio Siua Taukeiaho under an injury cloud with a calf complaint.

Although it wouldn't be the Roosters in 2021 if they weren't going into Friday's game without some form of adversity now would it?