Bruising Roosters back-rower Sio Siua Taukeiaho is on track with an ACL recovery ahead of what he's tipping to be a much improved year for the Tricolours with the roster in much better shape compared to the last pre-season.
The 2016 season never really got going for Trent Robinson's men; the squad was forced to play almost the first half of the season without its two most damaging forwards in Boyd Cordner (pec) and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (ACL) while key man Mitch Pearce missed the first eight rounds for disciplinary reasons.
The Roosters never recovered from the slow start and lost plenty of games by excruciatingly tight margins. As a final bitter blow, Taukeiaho (who enjoyed a fine season personally on-field and emerged as a leader among a strong forward pack) had his season ended by an ACL injury in Round 25 that will cause him to miss the start of the 2017 season.
Speaking to NRL.com at the recent Downer NRL Auckland Nines launch at Rugby League Central, an upbeat Taukeiaho said some new recruits had added spark to the new-look Roosters and was himself hoping to be back in full training shortly after Christmas.
"It's going really well; I started running this week on the Alter-G (anti-gravity treadmill) so the plans have all worked out well and I'm just really excited I get to step out onto the field next week and start doing straight running," Taukeiaho said.
"Probably February I'll start training with the team and start doing some contact and wrestling but I just want to take everything step by step and see how it goes.
"I'm not really targeting Round 1 – I think it's a bit too early. It all depends how confident I can be leading into every game so probably Round 5 or Round 6."
One of Robinson's biggest problems in 2016 was finding a regular starter for the No.1 and No.6 jerseys with rookie Latrell Mitchell interchanging with Blake Ferguson at the back – with mixed results – while the likes of Jayden Nikorima, Ryan Matterson, Connor Watson, Jackson Hastings and even Aidan Guerra were tried at five-eighth.
The addition of seasoned fullback Michael Gordon from Parramatta and premiership-winning Rabbitohs five-eighth Luke Keary could ease those concerns.
"We've got Gordon and Keary there now, they're two experienced good players, it's good to have them around and I'm sure Mitchell Pearce would like to have them around as well," Taukeiaho said.
"Just watching them train during pre-season they've gone extremely well.
"It's always good to have an experienced player like Michael Gordon there who can work with the backline as well and help them along and also another experienced player in Luke Keary, just someone that can work with Mitchell Pearce and us forwards," Taukeiaho added.
"There were a lot of games [in 2016] that we lost by just two points or a try but now we've got to put that behind us and get ready for next year, do the hard work during pre-season and prepare ourselves for next year.
"Having Boyd [Cordner to start the season], he's a great back-rower and he's always a go-to man that can get across the line too.
"Having Jared there to lead the forward pack around the field and Luke Keary that can work off Mitchell Pearce in the halves, there's no doubt we should be able to have a better year than this year."
This article first appeared on NRL.COM