Altona Roosters are starting to turn the corner in NRL Victoria, even though they have still won only one game for the season.
An influx of experienced players and others promoted from reserves to first grade have sparked the side over the past two matches.
The Roosters produced their most impressive performance of the season at Loft Reserve on Saturday, coming within a whisker of a major upset before going down 34-24 to premiership favourite Werribee Bears.
Roosters coach Brandon Taonoa bemoaned costly late errors that gifted victory to the Bears.
“We had Werribee on the ropes and then a couple of bad mistakes cost us,” he told Star Weekly. “They’re the top of the ladder, but we certainly rattled their cage.”
The Roosters have embarked on a rebuild of their playing roster over the past two seasons.
The seemingly endless run of losses – eight in a row and counting – forced Taonoa to look for some assistance for his young side.
The return of Justin Bernard from a hamstring injury was significant and he dominated in his first game back. “His aggression, his running and his defence lifted the boys,” Taonoa said.
Max Strickland, a proven player at the level after featuring in the Roosters’ 2012 premiership, bolstered the forward pack alongside Bernard.
“They’re both big, solid boys,” Taonoa said. “Our forward pack was a bit skinny and those two put some size into it.”
The Roosters have unearthed some exciting prospects this campaign.
Last weekend it was the turn of Luteru Leota and Josh Tauai to show what they can do at the top level.
Leota was superb in a defensive sense, while Tauai grabbed two tries.
The competition will have a bye this week for reasons unknown to Taonoa and his counterpart, Bears coach Phil Pese.
With four byes, both are unhappy with the season’s stop-start nature.
“This is the third and there’s another coming; it’s dumb,” Taonoa said. “Once you get a roll on, you want to keep going.
“The game is definitely growing, but there have to be more consistent games.”