Life-long Sydney Roosters fan Alan Katzmann has joined the Roosters.com.au team for the 2013 season and will contribute regular opinion pieces on subjects of interest to our supporters, and league followers in general.


A 12-year Member and Eastern Suburbs local, Alan is one of the tricolours most passionate followers and a proud member of the recently established Jack Gibson Club.


TRAVEL TO THE SFS THIS SATURDAY VIA HENSON PARK


The Sydney Roosters senior feeder club, the Newtown Jets, will play its first home game of the season on Saturday at 3pm at historic Henson Park against South Sydneys feeder club, the North Sydney Bears. It will be the third match of a triple feature, with the Roosters Harold Matthews Cup side (Under 16s) and SG Ball Cup side (Under 18s) playing earlier against St George. With the Jets/Bears match expected to finish at around 4.40pm, you can still make it to the SFS in time for the 5.15pm start of the Roosters/Broncos NYC clash.


For those of you yet to experience an afternoon of NSW Cup footy at Henson Park, it is an opportunity to experience how many of us remember our weekend afternoons in the 1960s and 1970s when our senior competition featured teams only from the Sydney metropolitan area and many players had regular employment and played rugby league principally for the love of the game. Whilst the game has moved on, and is a far better spectacle in the fully professional era, the second tier competitions in NSW and Queensland play a vital role in preparing players for the NRL. NRL-contracted players over the age of 20, who dont make the first grade team on a given weekend, get to play against quality professional and semi-professional players in match conditions that ensure when their opportunity arises in the NRL that they as ready as possible to make a positive contribution to their NRL side. At Newtown they get to play for a club with a tremendous history, friendly and co-operative management and an environment in which Rooster players are welcomed like returning soldiers from battle. They form teams desperate to win but just as desperate to make sure they are giving players the best preparation possible to compete successfully in the NRL. Remember, NRL teams will regularly use upwards of 30 players per season so many of those players will be playing vital roles for feeder clubs in both the NSW Cup and the Queensland Cup.


This is the eighth season of the Roosters/Jets partnership and last year Newtown claimed its first NSW Cup premiership since the partnership commenced. In the 2012 premiership winning side were Rooster players Alofa Alofa, Daniel Tupou, Peni Tagive, Justin Carney, Daniel Mortimer, Mose Masoe, Nafe Seluini, Josh Ailaomai, Jack Bosden, Anthony Cherrington and Isaac Liu.


On Saturday Rooster players will again dominate the Jets lineup with Henare Wells, Usaia OSullivan, Michael Oldfield, Tinirau Arona, Josh Ailaomai, Nafe Seluini, Kane Evans, and Isaac Liu all getting through last weeks Jets/Vulcans match injury free. They should be joined by Lama Tasi, Ryley Jacks (Newtown debut) and Jack Bosden who are scheduled to return from injury after missing all the trials and the first two weeks of the premiership. The flying Fijian Paul Rokolati, who missed last weeks match, should round out an ultra strong Rooster contingent on Saturday. That is 14 current Roosters who could well be in Newtowns team this week. A number of these players have played, or will play in the future, for the Roosters NRL team and these NSW Cup matches give you the opportunity to watch many of them display their talents and press for first grade selection. Six players lining for the Jets were members of the 2012 Roosters NYC team who fell one match short of the Grand Final when losing to eventual premier Wests Tigers. Already Arthur Beetson medallist Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has found his way from that team into our NRL top team and he wont be the last 2012 graduate to do so. A stint at Newtown after graduation is a pathway many of our young players will go through before establishing themselves in the NRL.


With so many players training fulltime with the Roosters senior squad in this Newtown team, this is anything but park football, as some ill-informed journalists and commentators would have you believe. This is a strong and skilful team playing in a competition that is an integral link for all of the non-Queensland NRL clubs. Many players will go on to become NRL stars and whilst both the NSW and Queensland Cups require some refining, particularly administratively, it continually confounds me that the competitions greatest critics are generally those who are never, or rarely even seen watching games played at that level.


Of our Roosters senior squad only Michael Jennings, James Maloney, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Sam Moa, Luke ODonnell and Sonny Bill Williams have not at some stage worn the famous Newtown jumper, although most of them have played against Newtown from other clubs earlier in their careers.


Henson Park was the venue for the closing ceremony of the 1938 Empire Games (now known as the Commonwealth Games) when over 40,000 sports fans crammed into the inner city venue to pay tribute to the participants of the games. The biggest star of those games was Australias own Decima Norman, who won five track and field gold medals. The great Australian cyclist Dunc Gray won the gold medal for the 1000 yard sprint at Henson Park (the cycling track was removed from Henson Park in the 1970s). From 1936 it has been the principal home ground of the Newtown Jets (who were a foundation club like the Roosters and played in the top tier competition from 1908 to 1983), and for many years it has also been the home ground for the Roosters junior representative teams. A number of our teams have trained there over the years as well, including first grade.


In 1987 it became the temporary home ground for the Roosters, whilst construction of the SFS took place, and in an season where we finished one game shy of the Grand Final it hosted some epic clashes, none greater than our 26-16 Round 22 victory against eventual premiers Manly, which ended their 13 match unbeaten run. Coached by Hall Of Famer Arthur Beetson and captained by club great Hugh McGahan, the Roosters won six of its eight Henson Park games that year including its first six (three home games were played at the SCG in 1987 whilst our home games against Penrith and Parramatta were played at Parramatta Stadium). Our final Henson Park game of that season against eventual grand finalists Canberra ending in a 22-18 loss in which the Roosters led until deep into the second half despite resting all but three of our regular team, as second place in the minor premiership was assured irrespective of the result.


Whilst there will be considerably less than our 1987 crowds on Saturday, the fans will be no less passionate and the footy will be no less competitive. Newtown appear to again have a side capable of challenging for premiership glory, and this cause can only be helped by Roosters supporters turning up in increasing numbers at both Henson Park and other suburban grounds which Newtown will play at this season. On most, if not all weekends, Newtowns team will feature a majority of Rooster-contracted players, so Newtown is a family member not to be ignored, but rather one to spend quality time with enjoying your favourite past time. I look forward to seeing you out on Saturday at Henson where I guarantee you an afternoon of great nostalgia and quality rugby league, and just the right appetiser for our NYC and NRL clashes later that evening with the Broncos.


NB: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Roosters.com.au, the Sydney Roosters and its board of Directors or staff.