Footy in halves

By BRENT READ

SYDNEY (AAP): They've lost a legend, suffered consecutive grand final defeats and start the NRL season with a new halves combination.

But if you're expecting a downturn in the Sydney Roosters' fortunes, think again.

That's the sobering message from captain Luke Ricketson, the man charged with the club captaincy following the retirement of all-time great Brad Fittler.

"We have obviously had a bit of personnel change," Ricketson said.

"But it's been another typical off-season. It's exciting. We're blooding all these young kids.

"We played a trial against Parramatta and we played a forward pack that consisted of reserve graders and under 20s. They played so well. We have so much depth."

Mind you, quality forwards aren't exactly in short supply at Bondi Junction.

At their best they boast an all-international pack led by current Australian stars Craig Fitzgibbon and Craig Wing, Great Britain enforcer Adrian Morley and Kiwi prop Jason Cayless.

Throw in Ricketson and Michael Crocker, not to mention Chris Flannery and exciting youngster Anthony Tupou, and it's a mix the equal of any in the premiership.

The question mark, however, is over the backline.

Change has been the byword in the off-season.

Fittler, the man whose heroic deeds turned the club from an underachiever to a perennial premiership force, is gone.

Centre Justin Hodges has returned to Brisbane and Shannon Hegarty has joined South Sydney.

In their place the club has recruited halfback Brett Firman (St George Illawarra), centre Joel Monaghan (Canberra) and flying utility Amos Roberts (Penrith).

Ricketson is impressed with all the key recruits.

"Obviously (former Penrith forward) Richard Fao'oso is another one," Ricketson said.

"He's really impressive. He's going to add that bit of size and mongrel to the pack.

"Amos Roberts, he's just a talent. He's so athletic and he's going to give us a lot. Joel is a big, strong kid."

Then there's the Brett Finch-Firman combination.

Finch, who made his State of Origin debut last year at halfback, will play five-eighth in place of Fittler.

The 23-year-old won't lack for confidence.

And coach Ricky Stuart has emphasised Finch is not the new Fittler.

"But again I stress he's not replacing Brad Fittler," Stuart said.

"Brett Finch will be going to play five-eighth in Brett Finch's style."

So what can we expect?

Finch doesn't have Fittler's aura or defensive dominance but he has a solid kicking game, the ability to punch holes in the opposition and a creative passing game.

Stuart also has the versatility in his team to change things if need be.

Wing can settle in at halfback without any problem.



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