On paper, it shapes as a battle between two of the NRL’s wooden spoon candidates – yet it’s anything but for Sydney Roosters.
The last-placed Roosters host second-last-placed Newcastle at Allianz Stadium on Saturday, as both battling outfits search desperately for their second win in nine starts in 2016.
The honeymoon is most definitely over for Trent Robinson, the only coach in more than a century of top-flight Australian rugby league to land minor premierships in his first three seasons in charge.
Robinson went to ground on Friday, opting out of his usual pre-game media conference after being hit with a $40,000 breach notice for his Anzac Day attack on officials.
Ordinarily, Robinson would be running the risk of drawing another fine for not complying with NRL guidelines by facing the media within 48 hours before a match but the league has granted the beleaguered coach exemption because the club has seven days to respond to the breach notice.
Either way, Robinson’s defiant Roosters are rallying around the mentor, not only vowing to continue the club’s crusade against players lying down to milk penalties but also insisting the tricolours can still be a title force in a season seemingly already lost.
After being without arguably the side’s six most influential players from 2015 – defectors Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Michael Jennings and James Maloney, the suspended Mitchell Pearce and injured pair Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Boyd Cordner – the stars are returning in what the Roosters hope to be in the nick of time.
“Boyd came back last week and I thought he was terrific,” said prop Sam Moa.
“Jared’s chomping at the bit to get out there and play and Mitchell’s looking terrific.”
Moa said Waerea-Hargreaves, the spiritual leader of the Roosters forward pack, “only knows one speed”, but it’s the return of playmaker Pearce that’s giving teammates a huge source of hope and confidence.
“He’s looking as good as I’ve ever seen him. He’s in a really good place at the moment,” Moa said.
“He’s looking extremely sharp on the football field and we can’t wait to get him back. He’s our leader and we’ve certainly missed him.
“(But) within our playing group we feel our performances haven’t really justified our win-loss ratio.”
STATS THAT MATTER:
* The Roosters have won five of their past six games against the Knights – all by 16 points or more
* But the Roosters are in the midst of their worst start to a season since 1966 when they failed to win a game
* Only two teams in the NRL era (1998-2015) have made the finals after starting the season with just one win after eight matches – Brisbane in 1999 and St George Illawarra in 2002