The Sydney Roosters warmed up for the new NRL season in style by swatting Wigan aside in the World Club Challenge at the weekend.
A hat-trick from Brett Morris provided the inspiration for a famous victory, as the men from Bondi raced into a commanding lead and flourished in the face of second-half pressure.
It left fans daring to dream of a second consecutive Grand Final triumph in 2019 and the bookmakers have made them the clear favourites to pull it off. However, competition is fierce and they will need to be at their very best if they are to better the likes of Melbourne Storm and South Sydney Rabbitohs once again.
Last season they secured a first Grand Final victory in five years with a dominant 21-6 win over Melbourne. It was the first time these heavyweights had ever battled it out for an NRL premiership, despite being the two most successful teams since this era began in 1998.
They finished neck-and-neck in the ladder, with 16 wins, eight defeats and 34 points apiece, so it always promised to be an epic showdown. The Roosters vanquished South Sydney with relative ease in the preliminary finals and Melbourne swept aside Cronulla-Sutherland to set up an epic clash.
Melbourne went into the game as defending premiers and they received a huge boost when Billy Slater was cleared to play. That saw them installed as 2.5-point favourites and Sydney went to the ANZ Stadium as plucky underdogs.
Yet they delivered a fantastic performance, with Cooper Cronk helping to destroy his old club’s hopes of becoming the first team in 25 years to secure back-to-back titles.
His threat was blunted due to injury, but his leadership on the pitch was vital and Luke Keary stepped up with a sensational showing, helping his team open up an 18-0 lead that Melbourne never recovered from.
If you take a look at the NRL betting odds, you will see that the Roosters are the shortest priced pre-season favourites in the history of this ultra-competitive league. However, no team has successfully defended the premiership in the NRL Grand Final era.
The last team to win back-to-back titles was Brisbane, all the way back in 1993. Penrith Panthers captain James Maloney, a dual premiership winner during his glittering career, claims it is impossible to successfully defend the title.
“They’ll have a really good side and they’ll be tough to beat, but history says it’s tough to do,” he said. “As much as people say you’ve still got the hunger, it’s hard when you actually achieve what you try do all year and finally get it.” He contested that every team will be extremely motivated when they face Sydney, desperate to claim the scalp of the reigning champions. “Whether you’re running second or 16th, you’ll play your best game of footy against them,” he added.
History is certainly against this team, but it is hard to argue with the depth of quality at their disposal and they could finally break that trend.
Former Kangaroo Morris is a great addition to the side and he showed his worth with a man of the match display to put Wigan to the sword in the World Club Challenge.
He showed he has lost none of his finishing power as he produced two magnificent tries in the opening eight minutes to stun the near capacity crowd at the DW Stadium, before wrapping up a first-half hat-trick in style.
Former South Sydney second-rower Angus Crichton is another star recruit and his defection from Souths marks a real coup for the club, who saw off significant competition to capture his signature.
The arrival of England star Ryan Hall gives the team a further boost and freshens things up. “A natural finisher blessed with size, speed and strength, we believe that Ryan will be a terrific fit within our squad and we look forward to welcoming him to the club,” said recruitment manager Adam Hartigan.
Hall scored 231 tries in 327 appearances and won six Grand Finals with Leeds Rhinos since making his debut in 2007, so he brings a winning mentality to the team.
Keary is expected to go from strength to strength after winning the Clive Churchill Medal and being elevated to a Kangaroos debut. He was the dominant half again as the Roosters beat Wigan at the weekend, and it will be interesting to see if the Roosters start to rebuild their attack around him. But there are so many big guns at this club. Kangaroos fullback James Tedesco enjoyed a perfect first season in red, white and blue, winning an Origin series and a premiership, scoring 62 points per game from mid-July as he stepped up his game.
Jake Friend is one of the busiest defenders in the business, while the hard-hitting Victor Radley will continue to rock opponents and the likes of Cronk, Latrell Mitchell, Boyd Cordner, Siosiua Taukeiaho and Isaac Liu will be up for the battle as they for another premiership.
Melbourne will be back with a vengeance, it would be folly to rule Souths out and teams like North Queensland and Cronulla-Sutherland look dangerous, but right now the Roosters deserve their status as heavy favourites and they will take some stopping in 2019.