If the Sydney Roosters finish in the top four, it will be as great an achievement for Trent Robinson as the three grand final triumphs he has delivered to the club since 2013.
Even if the Roosters fall short of a place in the top four, Robinson deserves to be named the NRL coach of the year for the way he has managed to keep his depleted team in premiership contention and rebuild the club's roster on the run.
Teenage forward Naufahu Whyte is set to become the eighth player to make his NRL debut for the Roosters this season after being named on the interchange for Friday night's clash with Brisbane.
He joins Sam Walker, Joseph Suaalii, Egan Butcher, Fletcher Baker, Ben Marschke, Tukupa-Ke Hau Tapuha and Ben Thomas in the Roosters' rookie class of '21.
Whyte will be the 32nd player used by Robinson in 2021 after an horrific run of injuries to some of the club's best and most experienced players, headed by star playmaker Luke Keary, Queensland Origin forward Lindsay Collins and veteran winger Brett Morris.
Long-serving skipper Boyd Cordner never even made it onto the field and co-captain Jake Friend played just 47 minutes of the opening match of the season.
Both have since retired, along with Morris, whose career also ended when he suffered a knee injury in round 8 against Newcastle.
Collins injured his knee in the same match, while Keary's season ended when he ruptured his ACL in round three and the pair are now cheering the team on from afar, along with Suaalii – the 18-year-old schoolboy sensation – and rookie centre Billy Smith (both foot).
Hooker Sam Verrills, who had been earmarked as Friend's long-term replacement, has managed just nine matches so far after being sidelined by a knee injury sustained last season, while centre Josh Morris (hamstring) and winger Matt Ikuvalu (ankle) are also on the casualty list until the finals.
Few teams would have coped with such adversity, but the Roosters have won 13 of their 20 matches to sit in equal fourth with Parramatta on 28 points and besides a 38-12 loss to Penrith and 46-0 thrashing by Melbourne in consecutive weeks they have been competitive in every game.
If, as expected, the Roosters beat the Broncos on Friday night and the Eels lose to sixth-placed Manly on Saturday night, Robinson's men will be outright fourth with matches against the Dragons, Rabbitohs and Raiders to finish the season.
With 19-year-old Walker steering the team around the field in the halfback role since round four, the Roosters have scored an average of 25.85 points per match (517 points) compared to 27.5 points per match last season.
Their defence hasn't significantly worsened either, with the Roosters conceding an average of 18.85 points per match (377 points) this year compared to 16.1 points per match in 2020.
It's been a remarkable transition in which Robinson has been brave enough to give a rake-thin pimply teenager the keys to one of the best cars in the NRL garage while it's continually breaking down and he is still on his L-plates.
Robinson has also had the faith to allow journeyman five-eighth Drew Hutchinson to help Walker navigate his entry into the NRL ranks, rather than overburden superstar fullback James Tedesco while he matures into the long-term captain of the Roosters, NSW and possibly Australia.
Besides Cordner and Friend, the Roosters have also lost the leadership of 306-game club stalwart Mitchell Aubusson and dual code superstar Sonny Bill Williams after the pair retired at the end of last season, propelling Tedesco onto a rapid ascendency to the captaincy.
Broncos v Roosters - Round 22
Joey Manu, Victor Radley and Angus Crichton have all taken on added responsibility, while experienced props Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Isaac Liu have defied injuries to show the way for the club's emerging forwards.
How Robinson has managed to instil such belief and discipline into the patched-up teams he sends into battle every week, with about 50 per cent of the club's salary cap sitting on the sideline, has been one of the wonders of the 2021 season.
In comparison, Manly didn't win a game in the opening month of the season without Tom Trbojevic, Penrith lost to Wests Tigers and Cronulla, as well as Melbourne, during the six weeks that Nathan Cleary was out and the loss of Mitchell Moses coincided with Parramatta losing to Canberra and the Roosters.
It's a feat worthy of the NRL coach of the year award and this season should give Robinson as much satisfaction as his premiership wins with the Roosters in 2013, 2018 and 2019.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.