All gear, no idea: Roosters have best toys but do they know how to play with them?

On Monday morning, Roosters boss Nick Politis along with board and chairman’s club members walked into breakfast at the exclusive Calile Hotel in Brisbane like it was a wake.

They’d come to Brisbane en masse the day before for the historic first match against the Dolphins with both clubs paying appropriate homage to the late Arthur Beetson, who won premierships at each of them.

Instead of making a first-round statement, the Roosters left Suncorp Stadium with their feathers firmly between their legs following a 28-18 loss. Wayne Bennett was so excited afterwards he took selfies with fans on the fence. You don’t see that every day.

The paradox is too juicy to ignore: the Dolphins can’t land a marquee player no matter how many $1 million-a-season offers they throw around while the Roosters have so many marquee players they can barely fit them into their side, let alone under the salary cap.

The Dolphins were brilliant, sure; a triumph for Bennett’s distilled methodology of telling young men to run hard, tackle hard, and play for each other.

But it was an underwhelming performance from the Roosters, who looked like the rich kid with all the expensive toys but unsure how to use them. All gear, no idea.

Brandon Smith after the Roosters’ loss.Credit:Getty Images

Coach Trent Robinson’s pragmatic mood post-match did not reflect the pessimism of those in the breakfast room at the Carlile, and fair enough: it’s the first round, they were down on players, and they wrestled with injuries and concussions throughout the match.

They’ve also seen this movie before. Remember midway through 2018 when so many of us wrote off the signing of halfback Cooper Cronk, claiming the experiment had failed, only to watch them win back-to-back titles?

But still … The Roosters face some tough decisions with their squad, this year and next.

They have three world-class fullbacks in James Tedesco, Joseph Suaalii and Joseph Manu. Tedesco’s management already wants a one-year upgrade for 2025. He is their captain and best player, but the Roosters don’t like being bullied.

Wayne Bennett poses for a selfie.Credit:Getty

Manu is expected to slot into five-eighth when Luke Keary retires, although that’s a touchy topic. The headgear Keary wore against the Dolphins was a none-to-subtle sign of how delicate his concussion status has become.

Suaalii has triggered his option for 2024 but his manager, Isaac Moses, maintains the upper hand.

The Roosters (particularly Politis) hate managers (particularly Moses) dictating terms to them. But, in their haste to snatch Suaalii from South Sydney, they’ve boxed themselves into a corner with generous get-out clauses each year. You can almost set your clock to speculative stories about Wallabies coach Eddie Jones wanting him for the 2027 Rugby World Cup.

Internally, the Roosters believe Sam Walker is their halfback for life. He’s such a great talent, and an equally great kid who plays the game in the right spirit, that you hope it works out.

Externally, though, there are some coaches who still question whether his body is big enough for the NRL. The Dolphins’ forwards only enhanced the theory it is not on Sunday.

So much of the Roosters’ attack in the past three seasons has centred around Tedesco, mostly out of necessity, and when he gets trucking through the middle of the ruck he can be impossible to stop.

But sometimes he gets overwhelmed by the burden of it all, making uncharacteristic mistakes as he did on Sunday.

Victor Radley is everyone’s favourite player because he’s a throwback to the good old days, when footballers threw their entire frame at the opposition without fear of the consequences.

Unfortunately, this is 2023, not 1973, when the slightest stagger or delay in getting up will prompt the independent doctor to drag you from the field.

As for Radley’s new best mate Brandon Smith, he and Jake Turpin were outclassed and outplayed by Dolphins’ hooker Jeremy Marshall-King.

Prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is the alpha male of the forward pack, but how much more can his body take? He’s likely to play against the Warriors at Allianz on Saturday afternoon, although fellow prop Matt Lodge is out for six weeks with a fractured cheekbone.

Billy Smith and Sitili Tupouniua are yet to return from ACL injuries while Conor Watson – the No.14 they desperately needed on Sunday – is still recovering from his knee injury.

Meanwhile, football is the last thing on Angus Crichton’s mind and there are fears we won’t see him again this season. The club has asked for salary cap relief.

The Roosters are the gold standard of NRL clubs with all the new toys. Next year, they get the game’s best young winger in Dominic Young and its best young bench player in Spencer Leniu.

They have a net worth of $150 million with a property portfolio that safeguards the club’s future for generations to come. There’s an argument the NRL should buy the UK Super League. The Roosters are so well run they could buy the NRL.

As for those chairman’s club members we mentioned at the top of the show, they have the deepest pockets in the game.

Last year, the Roosters launched their junior academy with a special function at the Intercontinental in Double Bay. When a fundraising auction was held later in the night, some of them threw in as much as $100,000.

The academy idea was hatched after the club visited Barcelona FC before their 2020 World Club Challenge, weeks before COVID-19 shut down the world. That’s how this club sees itself: the Barcelona FC of the NRL.

It doesn’t have the deep reserves of emerging talent like Souths, Penrith, the Dragons or the Broncos – but its entire focus is on sustained success and survival.

Politis’ greatest legacy is that he has made the Roosters the gold standard. The only problem with setting such a high benchmark is constantly trying to live up to it.

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