Clubs restack from backs to their packs

PREMIERSHIP teams are bred not bought, or so the saying went the last time Sydney Roosters went on such a spree. But while the slogan that adorned T-shirts in response to the Roosters pinching players from the Bulldogs was cheeky and catchy, it's hardly relevant any more.

Even the team that came up with the catchphrase has realised that; the Bulldogs overhauled their roster to the point where, last year, they entered a grand final with a 23-year-old fullback in Ben Barba who was the longest-serving Bulldog. Sure there were local juniors, but there was also a smattering of stars procured from elsewhere. The business of sport, and the occasionally wacky science of the NRL salary cap, ensures change is inevitable.

Success is not, of course. But the fact that every club wants success quicker and quicker means a rebuilding phase is more likely completed over pizza in front of a white board than it is patiently over several years. Boards - and therefore coaches - cannot wait for local juniors to emerge.

Which is why, having been poked by the Bulldogs over their signing of Braith Anasta, Mark O'Meley, Nate Myles and Willie Mason, the Roosters have been forced to reinvent themselves again. They have brought in James Maloney, Michael Jennings, Luke O'Donnell and, of course, that other former Bulldog, Sonny Bill Williams.

''We're a performance-based competition, and the club hasn't done all that well over the last two seasons,'' the Roosters' football chief operating officer Brian Canavan said.

It tends to matter not where a team finishes on the competition ladder. The lower teams need to make changes to the roster in order to placate impatient officials and supporters, while the successful clubs are pillaged and need to be replenished. ''We went through it in the early 2000s, when we played in four out of five grand finals,'' Canavan said. ''You can't retain them. It hurts but you lose them.''

The Roosters, who have had two lean years, have made as big a statement as any team through the off-season. But others have been active.

Cronulla have signed Luke Lewis, Michael Gordon, Chris Heighington and Beau Ryan, while Penrith have signed enough players to fill a minibus.

The Roosters also took the honour of securing the first player for this season as well as the last player. The club signed Warrior Maloney in November 2011, and found a place for O'Donnell so late he only arrived back in the country last Sunday.

The Jennings deal, too, was completed in the new year. ''It was just a case of being in the right place at the right time,'' Canavan said.

All of the high-profile signings bar Williams will play against Wests Tigers in the Foundation Cup at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night. The Tigers team will include Anasta, who will no doubt look as peculiar in his new jumper as he did when he pulled on a Roosters top for the first time. While many wonder whether trials are necessary, there won't be many clubs taking the field this weekend who aren't playing someone for the first time. ''We're missing some combination time, with guys coming in late,'' Roosters coach Trent Robinson said.

The club which used to be referred to as the transit lounge, and which has routinely been criticised for poaching talent rather than breeding it, has once against been active in the transfer market. But the transit lounge these days is busier than it has ever been, and every club passes through it. These days, change is not only inevitable, but necessary.

The story Clubs restack from backs to their packs first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop