Manchester: Here, in an ice-cold but jubilant dressing-room, Roosters coach Trent Robinson cannot be any prouder of his players.
Why wouldn’t he?
Jake Friend lifts the World Club Challenge trophy at Totally Wicked Stadium in St Helens.Credit:Getty
They are sitting in a semi-circle with the World Club Challenge trophy placed in the middle of the room, with winners’ medallions dangling around their necks, having beaten St Helens 20-12 — a year after they defeated Wigan in the same fixture.
There is no talk about an NRL premiership three-peat. No whispers about going back to back to back.
But this is where their campaign to become the first team since Jack Gibson’s Parramatta from 1981-83 to win three consecutive premierships certainly begins.
“Let’s put a full stop on 2019,” Robinson tells the room, which is also packed with players, board members, staff and sponsors. “Let’s honour it by the way that we play. But let's get 2020 started. That was a good start.”
Mitchell Aubusson takes the ball up for the Roosters.Credit:Getty
The Sydney Morning Herald was invited into the Roosters’ inner sanctum this week, from their camp in Barcelona through to the post-match celebrations in the dressing-room, and from close range it’s clear the overriding theme of Robinson’s all-conquering team is this …
It's about trust.
The coach doesn’t slap curfews on his players. They roamed the streets of Barcelona for days and there wasn’t a sniff of an off-field stuff up. Other clubs have used this match as pre-season piss-up. Not the Roosters.
The coach also delegates to a crack team of assistant coaches, headed by Craig Fitzgibbon, who is responsible for the Bondi Wall of Defence.
The coach also doesn't have to set standards. The players set them for themselves and they're dragging the rest of the club and the competition with them.
Daniel Tupou scores the Roosters’ opening try.Credit:Getty
The Roosters came to Totally Wicked Stadium in St Helens for this match against the defending Super League champions, who had lost just three matches last season, who were already a month into this year’s campaign, who were playing before a deafening home crowd of 16,000, and still won.
They won despite the off-season departures of one of the best halfbacks of all time in Cooper Cronk, the most lethal centre in the game in Latrell Mitchell, having lost backrower-cum-centre Angus Crichton to concussion in the first half, with captain Boyd Cordner being rested ahead of an arduous season, and still managed to tackle their way to victory.
The Roosters led 8-6 at half-time, and then extended early in the second half when centre Joseph Manu scored in the corner, but from then on St Helens dominated possession and field position.
Time and time again, they were camped on the Roosters’ line. Time and time again, they couldn’t crack it.
Frustrated and broken, St Helens fell into their own hole. Roosters prop Sio Siua Taukeiaho burst onto a short pass in his own half, steamed into the backfield and, of course, five-eighth Luke Keary was hunting up alongside him in support.
The resulting try pushed the Roosters out to an unassailable lead, ensuring they clinched their fifth WCC since the concept's inception in 1976.
“It wasn't given to us. We were on the back foot for the whole second half, but we held on with the skin of our teeth,” said Keary, who was named man of the match.
When Robinson was first appointed coach in 2013, he presented to the Roosters all-powerful board. “It’s more important to save a try than score one," he wrote on a whiteboard in the boardroom.
The Roosters have won three premierships, in 2013 and then 2018-19, with defence being the cornerstone.
“The second half just ended up being a dogfight,” Robinson said. “With our defence, it’s a very good system. We’re well organised and everyone knows their roles and you’ve got to have good principles.
“Then you’ve got to do it with heart. And you’ve got to love it and work hard for each other.
“At the start of the season when you haven’t played a game it’s got to hold up because your attack is rusty. To come and play with that much intensity in our first game and get through unscathed is just great.
“The boys kept turning up and we got better the longer the game went.”
After thanking his staff and chairman Nick Politis, Robinson then turned to his players.
“I love watching you play,” he said. “Honestly. We haven’t played a trial … Then you go out there and you blokes are good. You look strong. You look powerful. You didn’t look perfect, but they were a very good opposition. You can see why they’ve been dominant for the last couple of years. They’ve got some really good footy players but you said, ‘Let’s get it on’.
“It wasn’t perfect but I love watching you play. You’re physical specimens. I love the subtleties you’ve got with each other. I’m really proud of you. I’m really proud to coach you guys and watch you go out and play. We sit in the coach’s box in awe. You’ve got big hearts. That’s as big a rap that I can give you.”
Andrew Webster travelled to Europe for the World Club Challenge as a guest of the NRL.
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