If defence wins premierships, the Sydney Roosters have reason to be buoyant this NRL season.
But the Roosters head into Sunday’s clash with the Gold Coast with a host of stars under a cloud with Cooper Cronk, Latrell Mitchell and James Tedesco all in doubt.
With Boyd Cordner rested after playing through a calf injury during State of Origin III, Dylan Napa out with a knee complaint and Victor Radley out through suspension, the Roosters already have their headaches.
Cronk is in doubt for the CBus Super Stadium clash because his wife Tara Rushton is due to give birth in the next week, with back-up half Sean O’Sullivan travelling with the side to Queensland.
Coach Trent Robinson is also weighing up whether to rest Mitchell and Tedesco after taking part in Origin III just four days earlier.
The game shapes as a test of the Roosters’ mettle without many of their attacking weapons, however there is little questioning their defensive resolve this year.
Heading into round 18, the Roosters are ranked first for almost every defensive category.
They sit first for points conceded (14.2 per games), tries conceded (2.1), linebreaks conceded (3.1) and are equal first for fewest missed tackles (21.9).
“We like to commentate on 50 per cent of the game and we forget about defence,” Robinson said.
“But our defence has been very strong. We’ve been strong in getting to be (the competition’s No.1 defensive side) and we want to fight to get better in that.
“There’s been some back field work that’s been good and there’s some combination work that we want to improve.
“We’ve had good improvement in our attitudes over the last couple of months, we’ve had good improvement in the areas statistically that we want to – but we know we’ve got more.”
The Titans’ Origin stars, Jai Arrow and Jarrod Wallace, are both expected to back up on Sunday.
Sunday’s match will be Blake Ferguson’s first since announcing he has signed with Parramatta for 2019.
Robinson left the door open to going to market to recruit a replacement but laid down the challenge to Matthew Ikavalu to demand to fill the backline vacancy.
“We’ve got some young guys coming through that are going to fill that role and they have over the last month,” Robinson said.
“But there’s opportunity there to recruit into that position. It’s a good thing for Blake to secure his future.”
STATS THAT MATTER
* After their loss to Melbourne in Adelaide before the bye, the Roosters will be trying to avoid consecutive defeats for the first time this season.
* Jake Friend will move into equal fifth place for most matches for the Roosters, equalling Kevin Hastings and Craig Fitzgibbon on 228 games.
* Ash Taylor leads NRL for try assists this season with 20.
Source: Fox Sports Stats