A Shallow Dive into the 2022 Sydney Roosters

Your men’s Sydney Roosters finished the 2022 NRL season in sixth place. The Roosters had a 15-9 record with a points difference of +201 but were knocked out of the finals in the first week by arch rivals, South Sydney. Sydney had the third best attack in the league, scoring just one point fewer than the Panthers, and the third best offence in the last decade of Roosters history, behind only 2013 and 2020. Defensively, conceding 18.1 points per game was the third worst Roosters performance of the last decade (behind 2021 and 2016) but still good enough for fifth best in the NRLM. Their Pythagorean expectation was 16.1 wins, close enough to their actual record.

Your women’s Sydney Roosters finished the 2022 season in first place with a perfect 5-0 record (only their second winning record in five seasons) and +98 points difference, good for an average winning margin of nearly 20 points. With the best attack and defence in the league, the Roosters promptly shit the bed against the Eels in week one, and were strangled out of contention and out of the competition.

The Victory Lap

From the men’s pre-season deep dive:

There wasn’t a lot to like about the Roosters’ injury toll through 2021. They used 34 players, which is the kind of turnover we see from cellar dwellers like the Broncos (36), Bulldogs (35), Warriors and Cowboys (both 34), while the contenders use 30 or fewer. The fact that the Roosters finished fifth and even won a post-season game is testament to the structures in place at Bondi and Trent Robinson’s coaching.

Unfortunately for the rest of the competition, Easts will still have these same structures and same coaching going into 2022. On top of that, they get some of their stars back…

The Roosters lose no one of consequence, other than Cordner, Friend and the Morrii but we’ve already seen what they can do without them and it was the same as ever and highly embarrassing for three-quarters of the NRL.

The numbers for the Roosters are not crash hot. They noticeably outplayed their Pythagorean expectation and have only the fifth best squad on paper. However and famously, footy is not played on paper, which is why I am more than willing to overlook the statistics, that some nerd made up, to anoit the Roosters with my personal 2022 premiership favouritism.

Obviously, the Roosters did not win the premiership. My question is how did this team, nominally playing at full strength for most of the season, play the same as, if not marginally worse, than the squad bandaged together in 2021?

Then from the second women’s pre-season deep dive:

We can safely say the regular season underperformance was not necessarily reflective of the Roosters’ innate quality. The side played with a clunkiness that eventually worked itself out, as shown in their improving results and production over the course of the season, overturning two of their three regular season losses in the finals.

It’s hard not to cave to recency bias but if the Roosters avoid a slow start in 2022, there’s no reason they can’t go back-to-back. Whereas the Broncos and Dragons started hard and kept that pace going, the Roosters found another gear just as they needed it. The talent is there and John Strange, returning this season, might not be Jamie Feeney but he can do the job

That might all be correct but, like their male counterparts, the women did not go on to win the premiership.

What happened

The men’s Roosters had something of a season of two parts. The opening phase to round 16 saw them sitting tenth, 7-9 with just +21 points difference. The second phase – the last eight games – the Roosters won out and move up to sixth and 15-9 with a points difference of +201. That run included wins over the Storm, Cowboys and Souths.

There’s a pretty good case to attribute this to simply switching the halves.

The production gap is the difference between the Roosters’ production and their opposition. While the losses will drag that average down, something they didn’t experience in the second phase, when the Roosters out-produced their opposition in the first phase, they only did so by an average of 115 Taylors per game. An increase of 90 Taylors per game between the phases is significant and seems to largely have come from Keary being more comfortable playing 6 than 7, unlocking a backline that went from scoring 21 points per game to 37.

Normally, the suggestion that halves switch when things aren’t going well is the preserve of moronic commentators looking to fill airtime but it’s hard to deny the coincidence. Maybe Trent Robinson learns something from this, although it surely has more to do with the idiosyncrasies of Luke Keary than any wider lesson about rugby league. Robinson still managed a +2 coach factor on the year.

I don’t know how much there is to take away from their finals defeat. As usual, the result from the last round of the season inverted in the first week of finals but this was such a strange, chaotic match, it seems difficult to generalise anything that happened to apply beyond the bounds of those specific 80 minutes. It seemed like Souths managed to hold the ball during the periods of the game where they were short of men and, worse for the Roosters, scored points. The Roosters’ defence, again the third worst in a decade and well below their usual standard, couldn’t cope and spent more time trying to put hits on than actually prevent tries from being scored. Had the Roosters held the ball through those ten to fifteen minutes, the result could have been different but they didn’t and so it wasn’t.

The women’s team, as expected, were very good. They won every game and all bar one, against the Knights (the win and the minor premiership snatched with five minutes to go), were comfortable victories. At the extremes of this sport, there’s very little to analyse statistically. Racene McGregor steered the team around superbly and was awarded a Dally M for her troubles. Olivia Kernick, who always seemed to be there when points went onto the board, and Keilee Joseph were the second row of the team of the year and Sergis and Kelly were the centre pairing with Bremner at fullback. A galaxy of stars as it were.

Then in the finals, as seems to happen in the women’s game now that the Broncos’ dominance has been broken, the favoured team turned up expecting to win and then didn’t. The final scoreline, 24-10, is marginally more kind to the Roosters than the reality, snatching a garbage time six pointer. The Roosters played poorly, allowed too many errors, resulting in 43% of the ball and were out-gained by nearly 200 metres. The Eels wanted it more and so they got it. The Roosters should have played in the grand final, so there’s some soul searching to be done in the off-season to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

There’s always next year

When was the last time anyone was really worried about the Roosters? They’ll figure it out.