20 years of Rooster rookies which year was the best?

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.


In the past 20 seasons the Sydney Roosters have launched the NRL careers of 124 rugby league players. Many have gone on to be among the finest rugby league players of their generation, while others have disappeared as quickly as a plate of sausage rolls at a Roosters trivia night.


In todays column we look back over these 20 years and try to identify the top four rookie years. Interestingly, 2013 looks like being the lightest year in decades for NRL debuts at the Roosters. I have no doubt the failure of the second-tier salary cap to keep pace with increases in the minimum wage has been a factor, together with the unfortunate timing of the shoulder injury to Samisoni Langi, which robbed him of a certain debut.


The most debutants (10) in the past 20 years was 2009, coincidentally the year we collected our first wooden spoon since 1966. Last year three of the NRLs most promising outside backs (Tautau Moga, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Daniel Tupou) debuted, and while its a little too early to rate the 2012 debutants among our top four, Ill be surprised if in the future we dont rate 2012 as one of our finest rookie years.


Players who went on to achieve major representative status after making their NRL debuts at the Roosters in the past 20 years are:


Australian Test representatives (8): Adam MacDougall, Bryan Fletcher, Shannon Hegarty, Anthony Minichiello, Michael Crocker, Anthony Tupou. Ben Hannant, David Shillington


New Zealand Test representatives (7): David Solomona, Andrew Lomu, Sam Perrett, Iosia Soliola, Setaimata Sa, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Frank-Paul Nuuausala


State Of Origin representatives (5): Adrian Lam, Chris Flannery, Jamie Soward, Mitchell Pearce, Boyd Cordner


Several others have played Tests for nations other than Australia and New Zealand, while some who have made their debut in the past few years are likely to gain major representative status in the near future,



So today I list all 124 debutants by year, and below I rate the best four years. See if you agree.


1994 (6): Kandy Tamer, Adrian Lam, Frank Napoli, Richie Allan, Adam Starr, Hamish Smith


1995 (9): Darren Junee, Adam MacDougall, Danny Lima, Brad Pike, Henry Suluvale, Michael Salafia, Peter Jorgensen, Nathan Blacklock, Darren Rameka


1996 (6): Scott Logan, Dean Johnsen, Michael Ostini, Shane Rigon, Shane Millard, Julian Troy


1997 (7): Simon Bonetti, Robert Miles, Damien Mostyn, Adam Hayden, Bryan Fletcher, Dallas Hood, Chad Halliday


1998 (4): Julian Bailey, Ryan Cross, Justin Brooker, Peter Cusack


1999 (4): Shannon Hegarty, Paul Khoury, David Solomona, Nelson Lomi


2000 (5): Andrew Lomu, Anthony Minichiello, Chris Flannery, Dean Widders, Albert Talipeau


2001 (9): Michael Crocker, Todd Byrne, Monah Elahmad, Michael Korkidas, Sam Obst, Jamie Russo, Trent Clayton, Nathan Tutt, Luke Milton


2002 (6): Mark Leafa, George Azzi, Kylie Leuluai, Justin Holbrook, Mark Minichiello, Wade Humphreys


2003 (9): Ian Henderson, Lelea Paea, Tevita Metuisela, Stuart Webb, Steve Skinnon, Henari Veratau, Todd Olivier, Lopini Paea, Ben Wellington


2004 (4): Anthony Tupou, Heath LEstrange, George Rose, Sam Perrett


2005 (9): Ben Hannant, Michael Lett, Mickey Paea, Nigel Plum, Adam Schubert, Shane Shackleton, David Shillington, Iosia Soliola, Jamie Soward


2006 (5): Shaun Foley, Josh Lewis, Lafi Manua, Steve Meredith, Setaimata Sa


2007 (6): Mitchell Aubusson, Willie Brown, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Mitchell Pearce, Danny Williams


2008 (3): Anthony Cherrington, Jake Friend, Ben Jones


2009 (10): Rohan Ahern, Khalid Deeb, Sandor Earl, Iwi Hauraki, Martin Kennedy, Ray Moujalli, Tom Symonds, Sonny Tuigamala, Sisi Waqa, Stanley Waqa


2010 (9): Jason Baitieri, Sam Brunton, Daniel Fepuleai, Jonathon Ford, Aiden Guerra, Joey Leilua, Kane Linnett, Mose Masoe, Brad Takarangi


2011 (7): Tinirau Arona, Boyd Codner, Mark Kheirallah, Steve Naughton, Ryhs Pritchard, Lama Tasi, Francis Vaitou


2012 (4): Adam Henry, Tautau Moga, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Daniel Tupou


2013 (2); Isaac Liu, Dylan Napa



4th place: 2004


Four debutants four fine careers, and the best strike rate we have had for rookies over the past 20 years. All four played in grand finals. Tupou played for the Roosters in 2004, LEstrange for Manly in 2008, Rose for Manly in 2011, while Perrett played in two grand finals (Roosters 2010 and Bulldogs 2012). LEstrange and Rose both collected premiership rings.


Tupou became a State Of Origin and Australian Test player, and after notching up over 100 first grade games for the Roosters, is just five games shy of the same mark for the Sharks. When he plays those five games he will join a very select group, becoming the 16th player to have played 100 first grade games at two clubs. For the record, those players are Roy Ferguson (Wests and St George), Ron Coote (Souths and Roosters), Steve Edge (St George and Parramatta), Geoff Gerard (Parramatta and Penrith), Paul Langmack (Canterbury and Wests), Les Davidson (Souths and Cronulla), Brad Fittler (Penrith and Roosters), John Cross (Illawarra and Penrith), Mark ONeill (Balmain and Wests Tigers), Darren Smith (Canterbury and Brisbane), Matt Sing (Roosters and North Queensland), Paul Mellor (Cronulla and Souths), Braith Anasta (Canterbury and Roosters), Anthony Laffranchi (Wests Tigers and Gold Coast) and Luke Bailey (St George/Illawarra and Gold Coast).


LEstrange made his NRL debut for the Roosters at just 18, and after premiership success at Manly he has enjoyed a fine career in the English Super League with Bradford, for whom he still plays. Rose, who left the Roosters in 2005 after being a member of the 2004 premiership-winning Roosters reserve grade team, is in his eighth season at Manly, where he has played over 100 NRL games. LEstrange was a member of the 2004 Roosters Under 20s premiership-winning side, where he was a teammate of Sam Perrett, who played just one NRL game in his debut season. Perrett went on to play 148 NRL games for the Roosters, where he scored 45 tries, before joining Canterbury. He has played 21 Tests for New Zealand, including the 2008 World Cup final, won, of course, by the Kiwis.


The class of 2004 is indeed a formidable one.



3rd place: 2000


The class of 2000 was a fine group of rookies. Class captain is certainly Anthony Minichiello, who has played in five grand finals for the Roosters, including winning a premiership in 2002. A Golden Boot winner in 2005, Minichiello is a dual Harry Sunderland medallist and winner of the 2005 Wally Lewis Medal. He has scored the most first grade tries for the Roosters, sits second for the most first grade games and is currently the Roosters captain. He played 19 Tests for Australia and 11 Origin matches for NSW.


Minichiello was also a member of the 1997 premiership-winning Roosters Under 18s side, the first Roosters side to win that competition. Two of his teammates on grand final day were other 2000 Rooster NRL debutants Andrew Lomu and Dean Widders, who was the captain of the team and its star player. Dean Widders played 159 NRL games but just 13 for the Roosters, and 60 Super League games for Castleford.


Andrew Lomu played over 50 first grade games for the Roosters, and 89 overall, and played one Test for New Zealand and three for Tonga. He was a member of the Roosters 2002 premiership-winning side and the 2003 grand final side.


Chris Flannery played in three grand finals (2002-2004) for the Roosters, and was a member of the 2002 premiership-winning side with Minichiello and Lomu. He played 126 first grade games for the Roosters, 138 first grade games for St Helens in the English Super League and 10 Origin games for Queensland.


Albert Talipeau played nine first grade games for the Roosters over three seasons before playing 13 games for Wakefield Trinity in 2004 in the English Super League. He returned to Australia in 2005 and had a lengthy career in the Queensland Cup.



2nd place: 2007


The 2006 Roosters Under 20s side, coached by Jim Dymock, was a particularly talented one, even though it failed to reach the preliminary final stage, despite finishing a clear second after the home and away rounds. Thirteen members of the squad have gone on to play NRL and several have had highly successful careers. Shaun Foley was the first to make his NRL debut (2006 at the Roosters) and Rhys Pritchard (2011 at the Roosters) was the final member to play first grade. Lewis Brown, Justin Horo, Rory Kostjasyn, Anthony Watts, Frank Winterstein and Grant Millington all made their first grade debuts after leaving the Roosters.


The stars of that team, however, were Mitchell Aubusson, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Mitchell Pearce and Danny Williams, and they all graduated from that Under 20s side to the Roosters NRL side in 2007. While Williams NRL career was a relatively short one at both the Roosters and the Bulldogs (although he did win an Under 20s premiership in 2004 with the Roosters), the remaining four players have gone on to play more than 500 NRL games between them, all with the one club. Next year they will play their eighth season together in the NRL, and their ninth overall for the Roosters. Kenny-Dowall and Nuuausala have played for their country while Pearce has been a regular member of the NSW Origin team for several years. Aubusson has a 100 per cent winning record as a Rooster NRL captain, having led the side to that dramatic last-minute win against Souths last season at ANZ Stadium. All four were members of the Roosters 2010 grand final side.


So even though the 2007 season was a particularly rocky one, the debut seasons of these four Roosters players was a definite highlight, and despite the limited careers of Willie Brown (just two games) and Danny Williams, this class of 2007 has gone on to be among the best rookie groups in Roosters history. With youth on their side, it is more than possible that in just a few short years we might reassess the class of 2007 and elevate it to first position, but currently it is a narrow second in my opinion.



1st place: 2005


2004 was a very special year for the Roosters. Our NRL team made its third successive grand final while our two lower grade teams both won their competitions and we were crowned club champions. It is no surprise, therefore, that we would produce from those two lower grade premierships a large number of future NRL stars, and in my opinion our best rookie class (2005).


The 2004 premiership-winning Under 20s side, coached by Shane Flanagan, won 27 of 27 and became the only team in any grade in history to score over 200 tries in a season and the first undefeated side in any grade since 1925. Its star player was Jamie Soward, who scored 351 points in the Under 20s that season and 385 points in all grades, which is still the record points haul for any player in any grade in one season. He has played well over 150 first grade games. A premiership winner with the Dragons in 2010, Soward has also played in three Origin matches for NSW.


Sam Perrett and Heath LEstrange from that Under 20s side played some first grade in 2004, but Soward and Michael Lett, who played 13 NRL matches for three clubs, had to wait until 2005 to make their NRL debuts. Although he played just the 13 NRL games, Lett had a long and very distinguished career in the NSW Cup with various clubs, where he has been a prolific try scorer.


The 2004 Roosters premiership-winning reserve grade team, coached by Ivan Cleary, produced four 2005 Rooster debutants, three of whom became rugby league internationals. Ben Hannant was the first to debut and has gone on to play over 150 first grade matches at three clubs, although just eight at the Roosters. He has played five Tests and 9 Origins. He was a member of the 2006 Brisbane premiership-winning side.


David Shillington, an Under 20s premiership winner with the Roosters in 2002, played 73 first grade games for the Roosters before joining Canberra in 2009 where he is approaching 100 first grade games for them. He has played seven Tests for Australia and eight Origins for Queensland. Neither Hannant nor Shillington have ever played in a losing Origin series.


Iosia Soliola was the third member of the 2004 reserve grade-winning side to debut in 2005 and play for his country. He went on to play 92 first grade games for the Roosters before heading to England where he joined St Helens for the 2010 season and has remained there since. He has played 11 Tests for New Zealand.


Mickey Paea was also a member of the 2004 Roosters reserve grade-winning side and the youngest of three brothers to play first grade for the Roosters. He played 22 NRL games for us and a total of 56 before joining Hull Kingston Rovers in the English Super League in 2012. He has played 10 Tests for Tonga.


Nigel Plum and Shane Shackleton were off-season recruits for the 2005 season. Shackleton played 65 NRL games for the Roosters and 93 overall, while Plum has played well over 100 NRL games and 25 for the Roosters. Only Adam Schubert, with five NRL games, and Michael Lett, with 13, have failed to become established first grade players at some stages of their career.


With well over 800 NRL games between them, and with Soward, Hannant, Shillington and Plum contracted to various clubs beyond this season, the class of 2005 is on its way to 1000 NRL games, and as such currently stands as the greatest Rooster rookie class of the past 20 years.



Conclusion


So there you have it my assessment of the rookie classes. I hope it was informative and thought-provoking. One thing that stands out for me is the importance of having successful lower grade sides to produce quality rookie classes.


Newtowns 2012 premiership-winning side has produced Daniel Tupou and Isaac Liu, but I feel that the Rooster NYC sides of 2012, 2013 and 2014 are going to produce a wealth of future first grade talent. Already Tautau Moga, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Dylan Napa have made their way into the NRL, while Samisoni Langi and Kane Evans have only missed through bad luck.


Having young stars come through the junior representative programs into the NYC and from there to the NRL (often via Newtown), and making a name for themselves, gives supporters like me enormous pleasure. With the highly professional recruitment and retention staff at the Roosters, we have good reason to believe that we will see plenty more break through in the years to come.


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.