Anthony Watts

Not a great signing: Anthony Watts. Picture: Cameron Richardson
Source: The Daily Telegraph

HE was supposed to be the handy utility forward who could add another dimension to the Sydney Roosters pack that stormed into last year's grand final against the Dragons.

He could play a number of positions, kick goals, tackle, and had plenty of first-grade experience at the Cowboys and the Sharks as a utility player who could use the football.But, instead, Anthony Watts has not made it on to the field for the Sydney Roosters and remains under indefinite suspension over several off-field issues, including the alleged assault of his girlfriend.

Throw in knee reconstruction surgery and the fact he has been viewed as a poor influence on last year’s Dally M champion Todd Carney and it’s easy to see why Watts tops our NRL list of bum buys for 2011 – a group that even includes South Sydney’s superstar signing Greg Inglis.On $650,000 a season, it’s fair to say the Maroons centre has not provided value for money at the Rabbitohs, even allowing for his injuries.

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Roosters recruitment chief Peter O’Sullivan last night defended the signings of Watts and veteran hooker Mark Riddell, the latter who has struggled with the speed of the modern game and who also has been included in the top-10 list of worst buys in the NRL.

“We signed Watts because he was playing some great footy at the Cowboys last year,” O’Sullivan said.

“At his best he’s a good player but he got hurt, needed a knee reconstruction and had his problems off the field. It obviously hasn’t worked out the way we hoped it would.”

O’Sullivan said the Roosters signed Riddell at the last minute when Watts and Todd Carney got hurt during the pre-season.

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“We needed a back-up hooker for Jake Friend and another goalkicker because Todd got hurt,” he said.

“He’s been a good character to have around the club.”

The Parramatta Eels top the worst signings list with three players – Chris Hicks, who is playing on the wing for Wentworthville, centre Chris Walker and front-rower Carl Webb from the Cowboys.

All were signed by previous coach Daniel Anderson before he was sacked.

We’ve been kind and not included Reni Maitua because he’s just back in NSW Cup at Wentworthville from a two-year drugs ban and could make his presence felt in the run home to the finals.

The Eels also refuse to give up on Webb making an impact in the back half of the season.

“The bloke did so well to lose 15kg during the off-season, ” said Eels legend Ray Price. “That showed me that he was made of the right stuff but then he did the ankle.

“I’ve noticed him slowly but surely improving in the last few weeks.”

And no one has been more disappointing on the field than Canberra Raiders halfback Matt Orford who returned from the English Super League and has found the pace of the NRL far too hot.

While clubs such as the Roosters and the Eels have struggled to sign quality players, there have been some remarkable success stories with new signings at other clubs.Probably none better than Dragons back-rower Adam Cuthbertson, the player who has emerged from park football with the Como Crocodiles into a forward playmaker for the NRL premiership favourites St George Illawarra.

The Dragons’ high-performance director Jeremy Hickmans says it’s been just reward for a player who arrived in poor shape for pre-season training but worked seven days a week to improve his fitness to the level demanded by supercoach Wayne Bennett. “He was only overweight because he wasn’t eating properly,” Hickmans said.

“So we got him on the right diet and he lost eight to 10kg and halved his skin-fold, which is as much as any player I’ve ever seen.

“From the drills at training, you could see he had great skills with the ball in his hands so it was just a matter of getting him into the right physical shape.

“He’s there now and he’s going great.”

No one has been more impressive among the new signings than Cowboys back-rower Tariq Sims, the 21-year-old who joined the club from the Broncos where he was the Toyota Cup competition’s player of the year last season. Since debuting for the Cowboys in round two, his game has progressively improved, culminating in a match-winning effort against the Raiders when he played the full 80 minutes, scored two tries, ran 127m, made eight tackle busts and 27 tackles. “To be honest, I was hoping he might play half a dozen first-grade games this year,” said coach Neil Henry.

“But he’s come on stronger and quicker than we thought he would.

“It wasn’t easy signing quality players because we had a poor season last year, but he was impressed with our set-up and wanted to be mentored by Matty Scott.

“The kid’s very mature for his age and I know Ricky Stuart sees him as a future Origin player for the Blues.”

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