The effort from players returning from injury and the hotly contested battle for the halfback spot are among the main highlights of the Roosters return to pre-season training.
Victor Radley, Sam Verrills and Billy Smith are all on the comeback trial after suffering serious knee injuries that limited their 2020 season.
Radley and Verrills both tore their ACL in the same game against the Dragons at Bankwest Stadium, while Smith tore his ACL last pre-season and missed the whole 2020 season.
Roosters Captain Jake Friend has only recently returned to training after having a break before Christmas, but has been impressed with what he has seen so far from the young trio.
“It is awesome to have them actually back in training,” Friend said.
“I’m sure it is really tough for them but it is tough for us as well to watch them train on their own (last year), so you try to get in their ear and cheer them along.
“I’m sure they are stoked to be back and we’re stoked to have them back in the squad. Training with the boys, I think they are going to keep progressing into more footy.
Sammy and Rads are looking really good, and Bill has been on fire pre-Christmas and post-Christmas.Jake Friend Roosters Skipper
Nat Butcher echoed Friend’s comments about Radley, Verrills and Smith.
“it was a tough year for them last year, but they are all on track to come back early this year,” Butcher said.
“They are looking great at training, running really well, feeling strong and lifting great in the gym.
“I’m pumped to have them back and playing alongside soon.”
Pre-season Insight 2021
Butcher has been training with the squad since before Christmas and has been impressed with those battling for the halfback position.
There are plenty of options with Sam Walker now eligible to play in the NRL since turning 18 last year, Lachlan Lam and Drew Hutchison played in the halves for the Roosters in 2020, and new recruit Adam Keighran played in the halves during his two seasons at the New Zealand Warriors.
“The squad is looking really good. It is great to have a lot of the younger boys come up,” Butcher said.
“Joseph Suaalii, Adam Keighran has come from the Warriors, and Sam Walker has really stepped up.
“The battle for the half back role has been pretty good. Lammy (Lachlan Lam), Drew (Hutchison) and Sammy (Walker) – they’ve all been shining at training.”
Walker has also caught Friend’s eye in the battle for the halfback role.
The 18-year-old signed for the Roosters in 2019, and Walker is pushing hard to make his NRL debut after being named in the squad of 21 for the Club’s round 15 game against the Tigers in 2020.
“I’ve been impressed with Sam Walker. He has put some good weight on and is looking good, so it will be interesting to see how he goes this year,” Friend said.
“Sitili Tupouniua has come in and is looking pretty solid. If he can build on what he did last year, he is going to be a real key for us on that back row spot.”
Tupouniua had a great 2020 season. He started in the backrow in the Roosters’ World Club Challenge win and played 20 out of a possible 22 NRL games.