Cronk is gone. But the Roosters’ new halves pairing are targeting 37-year first

Luke Keary believes the culture at Sydney Roosters under coach Trent Robinson can help them become the first team to win a hat-trick of NRL premierships.

No side in the modern era has won three successive titles with Jack Gibson’s 1981-83 Parramatta outfit the last to achieve the feat in the old New South Wales Rugby Football League competition.

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Following the retirement of halfback Cooper Cronk and with NSW centre Latrell Mitchell leaving the club to join South Sydney, the Roosters must find a way of creating history without two of their biggest attacking weapons.

But five-eighth Keary believes the team have proved in the past they can recover from the loss of big names with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Blake Ferguson, Michael Jennings and Mitchell Pearce all moving on to rival clubs in recent years.

“Losing players like Cooper and Latrell is always tough as they are such great players,” Keary told AAP.

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“But the success we have had as a team is largely because of the culture within the squad.

“Trust, discipline and working hard for one another is something we talk about and something we pride ourselves on and that’s been a big factor in our success.”

Keary will start the season alongside rookie halfback Kyle Flanagan who enjoyed an encouraging debut against St Helens in the World Club Championship earlier this month.

The 21-year-old played just nine NRL matches with Cronulla and has big shoes to fill replacing one of the most decorated players all of time.

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But Robinson has told Flanagan the club signed him for what he can do and not because they want him to emulate the former Queensland and Kangaroos superstar. “We’re not looking for a clone of Cooper Cronk,” Robinson said.

“We recruited him because we feel he has great characteristics to be a great half.

“Against Saints he had some nice kicks and had to defend well out on that edge.

“He then had two really nice touches for tries. It was a pretty good start for a guy who has played nine NRL games.”

In addition to losing Mitchell, who has been the team’s top try-scorer for three of the last four seasons, ready-made replacement Billy Smith ruptured his ACL during pre-season training.

The exciting youngster scored two tries in his first two appearances last season and his injury is likely to see NSW backrower Angus Crichton start round one at centre.

Luke Keary, Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco celebrate the grand final.Source:AAP

Attempts to sign Josh Morris from Cronulla were knocked back by the Sharks, and Crichton had a short-lived taste of playing an unfamiliar role against St Helens before being concussed in the first-half of the 24-12 win.

“I talked to the coaches about Angus filling that role even before Billy got injured,” Robinson said.

“But I am not locking it in long-term just yet. He is a high quality back-rower so I don’t want to say he is going to play there for the rest of the year.

Kyle Flanagan was impressive in the World Club Challenge.Source:Getty Images

“It’s a case of let’s see how he goes and whether he takes to it.

“I thought he carried strong, he locked down that edge defensively but didn’t get the free roaming opportunities that Joey (Manu) got on the other side.

“It’s something we are going to have to work on in training.”

New Zealand Test centre Manu is one of several young, exciting players at Robinson’s disposal and the coach said the energy they provide keeps his side fresh as they look to continue 2020 where they left off in 2019.

Luke Keary will take control of the team after Cooper Cronk’s retirement.Source:AAP

“To get the best out of ourselves is the challenge,” Robinson said.

“We’ve got some young guys who’ve played under 50 games who give you energy when they come in so there is a lot of development in them and in us and we can get better.

“As a coaching staff and as a playing group we want to play better footy, we want to be the future of footy now and we’re going to try and do that.”

SYDNEY ROOSTERS

Finishes over the past three seasons: 2019 – Premiers, 2018 – Premiers, 2017 – 2nd, Preliminary finalists.

Coach: Trent Robinson

Co-captains: Boyd Cordner, Jake Friend

Key gains: Kyle Flanagan (Cronulla)

Key losses: Cooper Cronk (retired), Zane Tetevano (Panthers), Latrell Mitchell (Rabbitohs) Best team: 1. James Tedesco, 2. Daniel Tupou, 3. Angus Crichton, 4. Joseph Manu, 5. Brett Morris, 6. Luke Keary, 7. Kyle Flanagan, 8. Jared Waerea-Hargraves, 9. Jake Friend, 10. Issac Liu, 11. Boyd Cordner, 12. Siosiua Taukeiaho, 13. Victor Radley, 14.Sam Verrills, 15. Mitchell Aubusson, 16. Nat Butcher, 17.Sitili Tupouniua.

Predicted finish: 1st

Originally published asCronk is gone. But the Roosters’ new halves pairing are targeting 37-year first

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