Roosters embracing challenge ahead

The Roosters will get their first taste of what it's like to go from being the hunter to the hunted in their World Club Championship against Wigan. And they are looking forward to it.

The Tricolours will play their first game of significance since beating Manly in the grand final more than four months ago, with the mantle of world's best rugby league team up for grabs. While other NRL clubs haven't made the encounter a priority, the Roosters have named their strongest possible squad for the first WCC on Australian soil in 20 years.

The outcome won't have any bearing on their chances of becoming the first team to go back to back since the great Broncos sides of 1992-3. But it will be their first experience as premiers, which will inevitably make them a target for all of their opponents.

"It is talked about, we all know it's going to be a challenging year for us," said centre Michael Jennings. "Every team is going to try to knock us off being the premiership winners last year. We have discussed that, each game is going to be tough, we're going to be the team to beat. We're really focused this week and everyone is excited."

Injured three-quarter Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and retired forward Luke O'Donnell are the only changes to the side which defeated the Sea Eagles on October 6. Shaun Kenny-Dowall, who played in the decider with a broken jaw, shifts to the wing while Mitchell Aubusson comes into the centres. While some teams have distanced themselves from talk of going back to back, the Roosters have embraced the chance to make history.

"It's definitely a good challenge," said Roosters prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. "A lot of people talk about pressure and whether we can back it up. It's going to take a lot of dedication and hard work. That's why no one has done it since [the Broncos]. They talk about being the hunted and we're being looking forward to it."

Sixteen Roosters players were involved in the World Cup, with a single trial against Newcastle in Wyong the only subsequent hit-out for most. While the premiers are in danger of being underdone, their stars are looking forward to testing themselves against the Super League champions. "I've got all the cobwebs out," said Jennings. "I can't wait, it's been a while, watching the footy at the World Cup and Nines, it's getting me pumped up for this week. We are taking this really serious, we're prepared for a big clash. Robbo [coach Trent Robinson] is nailing us about it being an important game for us."

It is likely to be the last year for Sonny Bill Williams in the NRL, who will again switch to rugby at the end of the season. "He's been great for the club, he's going to take each game as if it's his last," Jennings said. "He's not going to leave on a bad note. He made the move nice and early so he can focus on footy the whole time. All the boys know it's the last year with him and we're going to cherish every moment we have."

This story Roosters embracing challenge ahead first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.