The Sydney Roosters have proven there is light at the end of a dark off-season, blowing away St Helens to open the World Club Series and remind NRL rivals they’re still genuine premiership contenders.
Following summer of high-profile departures, lengthy injuries and Mitchell Pearce’s Australia Day incident, there was a belief the Roosters’ golden period under coach Trent Robinson was coming to an end.
They were dispelled in the first half of a superb performance in which many of the question marks surrounding the team were turned into exclamation marks en route to a 38-12 victory in front of 14,008 fans at Langtree Park on Friday.
Robinson declined to provide an update on Pearce, who is currently in a rehabilitation facility in Thailand to treat his problem with alcohol, but was clearly pleased with his side’s first major hitout of the year.
“Some questions I had before the game, just about different players in different positions, new players, I thought it was a very good start,” Robinson said.
“There’s been a lot written in the last month. But we’ve always been positive about what’s coming.
“In two weeks, we’re playing (South Sydney) and that second half we’ve got a lot to improve on there.”
In the absence of key forwards Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (knee) and Boyd Cordner (pec), young props Kane Evans and Dylan Napa stepped up to show the Roosters pack will not be stood over by anyone this season.
Evans opened the scoring in the 16th minute, muscling over from close to the line despite the presence of three defenders shortly after a fine 25m burst from Latrell Mitchell off a dropout.
Mitchell, on debut at 18, looked at home on the right edge while making several incisive runs.
Young halves Jayden Nikorima and Jackson Hastings also enjoyed a devastating first night together as they controlled the play mixing poise with flair.
“I was excited before the game to see how they went and I think both of them performed really well,” captain Jake Friend said.
“Jackson led us around and kicked really well in the first half, not as good in the second, but we sort of lost our way a bit there.
“Jayden had some awesome touches I thought. (He has) a bit of that unknown factor … he can come up with anything.”
Nikorima had a hand in five of the Roosters seven tries, while Hastings kicked five conversions from seven attempts.
Hastings also laid on the final pass in a superb team try for Blake Ferguson, who excelled in his first game at fullback, while Nikorima was involved in an equally spectacular four-pointer soon after.
The 19-year-old burst onto a short ball from Sam Moa, who had gathered a St Helens bomb deep in the Roosters half, and sprinted 40m downfield before offloading to new recruit Dale Copley to score and extend the lead to 22-0 at the break.
Roosters junior Dominique Peyroux scored a second-half double for the home side – the second while Napa sat in the sin-bin for a high shot – but it couldn’t halt the NRL side’s attack when they crossed through a long-range try to Shaun Kenny-Dowall following a scything bust from Nikorima.
The pair were involved again two minutes later, with Kenny-Dowall bursting through the defence from a Nikorima pass to set up Aidan Guerra’s second try.
Daniel Tupou closed out the rout with an 85m intercept.