Written by Keith Whitelock
The Sydney Roosters have been one of the most successful clubs in the National Rugby League era, making the grand final eight times since the inception of the NRL in 1998, and winning the premiership on four occasions.
These two decades of success proceeded after a long battle that saw the club fail to win a premiership since 1975.
So who are the players who turned things around in the NRL era? Everything Rugby League names a team of 17 players who stand out in one of the clubs most successful periods from its 113-year-old history.
1. James Tedesco (2018-present) 81 appearances
Recruited from the Wests Tigers, this signing of James Tedesco was a Nick Politis special. Teddy, as he is affectionately known has gone on to captain series-winning NSW State of Origin teams. Still only 28, Tedesco has been signed long term to the club, who are known for not letting players they want to keep go. Little known fact about James Tedesco is that he is a qualified PE Teacher after completing his degree with the Australian Catholic University (ACU).
2. Anthony Minichiello (2000-14) 302 appearances
A true fan favorite. “Mini”, as he is known to most Roosters fans was initially seen as a secondary priority by the club who were more keen on signing brother Mark Minichiello. Many fans see Anthony Minichiello as the greatest ever Roosters fullback however he had a mortgage on the number five jersey for many years before switching positions. Mini went on to play a whopping 302 games in the tri-colours. This versatility has somewhat cost him the fullback position in our greatest Roosters team of the NRL era.
3. Shaun Kenny-Dowall (2007-17) 226 appearances
SKD was a club mainstay for many years at the Roosters. Prone to being hot and cold, there’s no denying what a role he played in the Roosters team from 2007-2017. It is said that an initial snubbing by the New Zealand Warriors fired SKD up so much that he moved to Sydney with nothing but his backpack and forced his way into the Roosters squad, who would eventually go on to win the premiership in 2013 with Kenny-Dowell a key component in the backline.
4. Latrell Mitchell (2016-19) 96 appearances
High risk of eventually being labelled the Jonathan Thurston of the Roosters, AKA the one that got away, few people in the know would deem the contract situation that caused Mitchell’s defection to fierce rivals South Sydney as tenable. A strong, hugely talented centre at the Roosters, Latrell Mitchell played a crucial role in the 2019 grand final win. Fun fact, Latrell was actually born Latrell Goolagong.
5. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (2012-15) 84 appearances
RTS as he is known to fans creates mixed opinions amongst Roosters fans. The first player to ever run more than 5,000 metres in a season was mentored at fullback by club legend Anthony Michiello, only to defect to the Warriors in a big money deal. All things said and done, there’s no denying what a prolific talent RTS is. In a somewhat ironic twist, the super recruiter who spotted him, Peter O’sullivan is now also at the Warriors.
6. Brad Fittler (1996–04) 217 appearances
High up in the conversation for the great ever Rooster along with Easts legend Dave Brown, Fittler took the club to its first premiership in 27 years in 2002. Panthers fans still lose sleep over Fittler’s defection from Penrith. Too mercurial to stay as a ball playing lock, Fittler played a staring role at five-eight in the second half of his career, a role that many are left wondering why Fittler isn’t mentioned more often in future immortal discussions.
7. Cooper Cronk (2018–19) 50 appearances
There’s no denying that Cooper Cronk is a Melbourne Storm legend more so than a Sydney Roosters one, however the reality is that Cooper Cronk steered the Roosters to back to back premierships in 2018 and 2019. Most famously, Cronk played the 2018 grand final with a broken scapula, achieving victory over his former club the Melbourne Storm, a role many belive was the difference between the two teams.
8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (2010-present) 246 appearances
Club enforcer for over 10 years now, Waerea-Hargraves has played almost 250 games for his beloved Roosters. Manly people forget that JWH actually debuted for the Manly-Waringah Sea Eagles, playing a total of six games for the club. Will be big boots to fill when he almost certainly retires in the next couple of years.
9. Jake Friend (2008-21) 268 appearances
Testimony to the strength of the club’s culture, Friend was a controversial figure early on in his career but a stint at a Surry Hills sandwich shop put him back on the straight and narrow. Friend is now well known for his unquestioning service to the club. Somewhat a Stuart McGill type figure at rep level, he spent almost his entire career stuck behind Cameron Smith however this benefited the Roosters as he was known to dominate other teams around the representative period each year.
10. Adrian Morley (2001-05) 114 appearances
One of the biggest fan favourites of any player in the NRL era, Morley was known for his ultra-aggressive approach to each game and the total time spent on the sidelines through suspension. It wouldn’t be surprising if the NRL judiciary had to lay off a few staff when Morley moved back to England to join the Warrington Wolves. Morley is the first British player to win both NRL and Super League premierships. Morley still holds the record for the fastest ever send-off in international rugby league, 12 seconds into a game against Australia.
11. Boyd Cordner (2011–21) 183 appearances
Cordner’s career has recently come to a premature end, somewhat a sign that the Roosters lead the way with player welfare around concussion. Cordner’s 183 games for the club spanned a period of 10 years. With his leadership traits being spotted at a young age, it was only a matter of time before Cordner was named captain, at both club and representative level.
12. Craig Fitzgibbon (2000–09) 229 appearances
One of the best goal-kicking forwards the game has ever seen, Fitzgibbon actually debuted for the Illawarra Steelers back in 1998 before playing in the 1999 Grand Final with the St George Illawarra Dragons. Fitzgibbon moved to the Roosters in 2000, just in time to appear in a string of Grand Final appearances in the years 2000, 2002, 2003 & 2004. All up Fitzgibbon played in five Grand Finals in a period of six years however he only managed to take the trophy home once, in 2002 against the New Zealand Warriors.
13. Luke Ricketson (1991–05) 301 appearances
Initially known as one of the pin-up boys of the NRL, it wasn’t long before Luke Ricketson gained the respect of his peers through his tough, no compromising style of play. Ricketson played a whopping 301 games for the tri-colours. Along with his six caps for Australia, Ricketson partook in a strange eligibility situation for Ireland at the 2000 Rugby League World Cup. He is quoted as having told people he doesn’t qualify under the heritage rules however this was ignored back in the wild west days of international eligibility and Ricketson now has four caps for Ireland to his name.
14. Craig Wing (2000–07) 185 appearances
What was initially an opportune signing after arch-rivals South Sydney were kicked out of the competition, turned out to be perhaps the best utility player the Roosters have had in the NRL era. Wing played for the club through their string of grand final appearances in the early 2000’s. Many fans were left dumbfounded when Wing was moved from his preferred position of halfback to make way for young Raiders halfback Brett Finch. This feeling was only compounded when coach Ricky Stuart reportedly said to Finch “you just lost me a Grand Final”. After returning to Souths for a couple of seasons, “Wingy” later defected to Japanese Rugby, etching up 11 caps for Japan. Fun fact about Wing is that he had an appearance on cult aussie TV show Heartbreak High when as the part of Diago in episode six.
15. Mitchell Aubusson (2007–20) 306 appearances
One for the purists. Mitch Aubusson was a no-fuss, no nonsense workman of a player who went about his business with no complaints. A true club man who could play pretty much anywhere on the paddock when called upon, Aubusson went on to play 306 games for the Roosters and is the highest capped player in the club’s history.
16. Sonny-Bill Williams (2013–14, 2020) 50 appearances
One of the biggest names ever to play rugby league, Williams was a divisive figure who generated headlines around the world when returning to league to play for the Roosters, supposedly after a handshake deal with Nick Politis years before. SBW had two stints with the club, winning the premiership in 2013. Love him or loathe him, SBW left an indelible mark on the Roosters in the NRL era.
17. Victor Radley (2017-present) 69 appearances
One of the rarest products of them all, a true Sydney Roosters junior. Victor Derick Radley was raised in Bronte and played junior footy for the Clovelly Crocodiles. A current fan favourite for his aggressive playing style, the jury is still out on whether he can adapt his game to the increased scrutiny around contact with the head and a concussion crackdown. Radley is actually eligible to play for England through his father Nigel.
Coach: Trent Robinson (2013-present) 225 games coached
Only really rivaled by Ricky Stuart for the Roosters best coach in the NRL age, Trent Robinson left his role as an assistant coach at the Newcastle Knights to join Brian Smith’s coaching team at the Roosters. Robinson then headed to France to coach Super League side Catalan Dragons. With a French partner and a firm grasp on the French language, leaving France wasn’t an easy decision for Robinson to make however he eventually landed the job he always wanted, Head Coach of the Sydney Roosters. Robinson has coached the club to 3 of the 4 their premierships in the NRL era.
Honourable mentions: Mitchell Pearce, Bryan Fletcher, Chris Flannery, Shannon Hegarty, Joseph Manu and Todd Carney.