Culture vulture! Why Roosters are so successful
Every summer the Roosters gather for an important meeting in their clubrooms. It goes on for hours.
Here, coach Trent Robinson steers a conversation to get the footballers to formulate what will be the team's "standards" and "trademarks".
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"The trademarks are our trademarks, we can't divulge those," says former Rooster turned ambassador Anthony Minichiello.
"But it comes from the players themselves and so they feel like they have a say in the direction of the culture and what we want to play for."
"Robbo is there massaging it in the direction he wants to go, but then he lets the senior players, and players, drive the standards they want to live and play by.
"It evolves every year …"
No team has gone back to back since Wayne Bennett's Broncos in 1992-1993.
But the Roosters have evolved into a powerful force under "Robbo": they've won two premierships and are again looking strong going into their preliminary final against the Storm.
And the reason? It's the culture that Robinson has designed, say those close to him.
"The players and the staff believe in him; that's the key ingredient," says assistant coach Craig Fitzgibbon. "If he's the architect, then we are the builders."
When Robinson first took over as senior coach in 2012, the history lessons started.
Minichiello, who was still playing back then, remembers how Robinson was the first coach who thoroughly delved into Easts' past to form the bones of the club culture. Old photographs from Bondi Beach were dug up to show new recruits and players the poverty of the place in the early 1900s.
"It became one of the richest suburbs in Australia through hard work," Minichiello says.
"Robbo paints that picture with the players. He says to the players: 'This is what our area is built on and this what our team is going to be built on. Hard work. We are going to outwork everyone else'.
"Immediately, players who haven't grown up here are going to be connected to the area and feel connected when they pull on the red, white and blue jersey.
"We only have three junior clubs, we don't have many juniors. We have to buy players young and develop them. How do you get them immersed into what we are all about? That's one way he gets them in."
The other way is through "shared" life experiences - not on the footy field - be it travelling to the battlefields in France, family barbecues or rocking up as a playing group to street artist Banksy's exhibition like they did last Tuesday.
"It's not all about winning," says a Roosters insider.
"It's not about the sole result of winning. It's more getting players to say, 'I love these guys, I want to share these experiences with them'."
There's no win-at-all-costs vibe here. Under Robinson, the Roosters are a tight-knit and closed bunch. Closed and private to protect what they have built - the secrets of success aren't to be shared.
Building a solid team culture isn't easy. Just ask any professional senior coach - they can put all the emotive words on the clubroom walls and have all the truth meetings they like - but it's another thing to get every player to "buy in" to a team's belief system.
Swans and AFL premiership-winning coach John Longmire and Robinson forged a friendship after meeting in the local cafe at the old Sydney Football Stadium. They've travelled overseas together to expand their coaching skills and Longmire invited Robinson to address his side last January.
Last summer Robinson, rather than focusing on what happens on the field, spoke about "getting the best out of people".
Longmire said it is a credit to Robinson's talents that he's managed to get the Roosters into another preliminary final.
"There are so many things you need to go right to get into one grand final, let alone win one, and then to put yourself in a solid position the next year to be close to another one," Longmire says.
"It's a very difficult thing to do.
"It's a massive challenge. To get back into the position they are now is a credit to the whole organisation."
As for creating and maintaining a belief in a club - that, too, is difficult.
"You've got to work at it every single day," Longmire says.
"That's your whole organisation, not just the coach. It can take a long time to build. You need to be working on your environment every day."
Roosters chairman Nick Politis simply says they're "lucky" to have coach like Robinson at the helm.
"He's very intelligent," Politis said.
"He's great with the staff, he's very honest with the players and they respect him for it. They can know that they can confide and talk to him like a friend."
He sees a future outside coaching for Robinson.
"I think he's got a great future in sport, aside from football - in administration as well as coaching," Politis says.
"One day if he ever wants to give coaching away, I am sure he'd make a great administrator, in any code, any sport."
Robinson is the kind of person who never holidays in the same place. Those close to him say he is constantly moving, thinking, doing things differently - and, in turn, evolving.
"He has a thirst to learn, he thinks outside the square," says Minichiello.
Assistant coach Fitzgibbon says if Robinson gets an idea in his head, he's like a freight train, and will be "relentless" in the pursuit of making it happen.
Fitzgibbon said while determination is a strong attribute of the Roosters coach, so is "simplicity" when it comes to his communicating to players.
"He is incredibly intelligent, but he's also got an incredibly high footy IQ," Fitzgibbons says.
"He is able to sift through so much information but deliver the key parts of that.
"He's got really good footy knowledge, the guy has such a great depth of knowledge, and the players are able to trust his opinion on things. That's huge.
"He has the remarkable ability to keep it very simple and clear."
There are people that will say, 'Oh he has the best players' and that's why they win. Those within the Roosters are acutely aware of this rhetoric - and they "don't care".
"You can go and buy some decent players but that doesn't guarantee you a wining culture, winning premiership," Minichiello says.
"It's so hard to build a winning culture but you can lose it easily. So to maintain it, since he's been coaching, is amazing."