2018 NRL Season Preview


Brisbane Broncos

2017 Finish: 3rd – Eliminated Week 3 of Finals by the Storm (W: 16 L: 8 Diff: +164)

Gains: Jack Bird (Sharks), Andre Savelio (Warrington Wolves), Patrick Mogo (Cowboys)

Losses: Ben Hunt (Dragons), Benji Marshall (Wests Tigers), Tautau Moga (Knights), Jai Arrow (Titans), Herman Ese’ese (Knights), Francis Molo (released) , Adam Blair (Warriors)

Coach: Wayne Bennett

The Broncos, aided by the usual favours of the draw, managed to progress to within a game of the Grand Final, only to find out the distinct lack of class compared with the eventual Premiers. They were the second best attacking team in the competition (597 points) and were a genuine threat with Anthony Milford and Ben Hunt combining well. Even with the impending departure of Hunt, the Broncos were lead strongly in this area despite the concerns around the quality in their halves. Now, the challenge will be forming a new combination with youngster Kodi Nikorima; they appeared at their worse when hooker, Andrew McCullough, was taken out of the season with a serious knee injury. It appears that as good as their playing roster is, McCullough is the glue that holds this team together. The Broncos have lost a lot of talent heading into this season, hoping that youngsters coming through their system can make the jump into the NRL.

Strength: Forward pack – They have one of the best packs in the competition and are always difficult to stop. They are stacked with experience and appear to know what is needed at the right time. Keeping these players firing will be important to their hopes; then again, they demonstrated that there are a host of players willing to step up and make their name in first grade. The most important factor in this area is keeping Andrew McCullough on the field and steering this team around.

Weakness: Depth – Once you get past the stars, the Broncos are relying heavily on players improving on their best. This was evident last year when they didn’t manage the initial intensity set in matches, when the bench players came into the match. Considering they have only added 3 players to their squad, this problem could be one that is set to continue.

Key to their success: Having players, other than their stars, delivering quality performances.

Verdict: The Broncos have plenty of favours in the NRL and it generally means that they are going to perform well over the season, usually finishing in Finals contention. This may all be about to end though, with the loss of Hunt an underestimated factor. He offered a considerable amount of poise and measure in the halves, often covering the lack of execution from Milford; this fragile area of their game is more exposed than ever and will cause concern. Their forwards alone will win matches and allow the halves and outside backs to benefit from momentum created in the middle of the field. However, it is the close matches that mean the most, that will be the difference in their season. The cause for concern is genuine and this may lead to them battling to make the Top 8 and it may come down to the last few games.

Prediction: Just making it into the Top 8.


Canberra Raiders

2017 Finish: 10th (W: 11 L: 13 Diff: +61)

Gains: Charlie Gubb (Warriors), Liam Knight (Roosters), Sam Williams (Wakefield Trinity), Michael Oldfield (Panthers), Brad Abbey (Bulldogs), Sitiveni Moceidreke (Rabbitohs) Craig Garvey (Bulldogs), Siliva Havili (Dragons)

Losses: Jordan Turner (Huddersfield Giants), Dave Taylor (Toronto Wolfpack), Scott Sorensen (Sharks), Lachlan Croker (Sea Eagles), Clay Priest (Bulldogs), Adam Clydsdale (released), Erin Clark (released)

Coach: Ricky Stuart

Things were looking positive heading into the 2017 season, at the top of most selections for Finals (and beyond) given their performance in 2016. That is where their hopes ended though, never living up to the promise of an exciting season. Winning just 2 out of 9 games in the middle of the season halted whatever momentum that had built early on. The Raiders failed to do the little things right and a season average completion rate of 75% and 11 errors per game, was only the start of their issues. Hopes of an improvement heading into 2018 took a major hit when hooker Josh Hodgson suffered an ACL injury during the World Cup. They have what it takes to win an exciting game from time to time but consistency was always an issue; if this is not addressed early on, then the Raiders could find miss the Finals completely for the second consecutive season.

Strength: Attack and Power – The Raiders had the 3rd best attack in the league, averaging 23.3 points per game and the pressure they created was relentless. When they got rolling, teams found it extremely difficult to halt their momentum. This was generated by their forwards and finished off by their exciting outside backs. Of course, once teams figured out how to stop their points, they were left with little else. Nevertheless, plenty of teams were left wondering how to find a solution.

Weakness: No 9 – The loss of Josh Hodgson is massive and will have an impact on the rest of the squad. In previous years when they have experienced success, he has been a major influence on this team. This is for a variety of reasons but most notably, his ability to take pressure of the halves and get his team moving forward. They have touted a mid-season return but by that stage, it may all be too late.

Key to their success: Establishing their spine.

Verdict: The Raiders are set to struggle at the beginning of 2018; they are without one of their best players who controls the speed of play better than most. While they will have a solution to this problem, it is uncertain whether or not this will be a positive one for their campaign. Assuming they can learn to win without Hodgson, then they are a chance at making the Top 8. However, it isn’t as clear cut as that and they will need a strong contribution from other players to assist their cause. It would also be beneficial to their cause if they create consistency within their team, rather than the unpredictable nature that plagued them during 2017. Given that coach Ricky Stuart has been with the team for a number of years now, discipline isn’t going to be a new concept and perhaps the same voice that was unable to changes their ways prior is not going to have the desired effect.

Prediction: Miss the Top 8 by a long way.


Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs

2017 Finish: 11th (W: 10 L: 14 Diff: -95)

Gains: Kieran Foran (Warriors), Aaron Woods (Wests Tigers), Fa’amanu Brown (Sharks), Ofahiki Ogden (Warriors), Jeremy Marshall-King (Wests Tigers), Clay Priest (Raiders), Mason Cerruto (Panthers)

Losses: James Graham (Dragons), Josh Reynolds (Wests Tigers), Sam Kasiano (Storm), Tyrone Phillips (released), Craig Garvey (Raiders), Richie Kennar (Rabbitohs), Brad Abbey (Raiders), Tyrone Phillips (Panthers)

Coach: Dean Pay

The Bulldogs had yet another poor season in 2017, missing the Finals for the first time since 2011; the below average performance culminated in the sacking of Des Hasler. A former club legend, Dean Pay, has been named to replace him and he certainly has his work cut out for him. The Bulldogs were the worst attacking team in the competition last year, averaging just 15-points per game; this was despite having several strong attacking players and capable forwards. There was no greater sign of the broken system than the resurgence of hooker Michael Lichaa once he was given freedom to play his “natural” game. Perhaps with a new set of ideas at the club, the playing squad will rise with renewed motivation. While the game plan came under scrutiny, the meagre form of the players didn’t go unnoticed.

Strength: Renewed Attack – With the worse attacking record in the competition, the Bulldogs had become stale and boring in attack. Hasler was blamed for this and many believe that their flair will return without his structure limiting individual’s judgements. This will be very hard for opposition teams to defend against early on and it may just be an edge they use to their advantage.

Weakness: Unanswered questions – The Bulldogs were a club that was generally built around stability and this has left them recently. Decisions surrounding the board, player recruitment and coach have left them with many uncertainties heading into this season. This can go one of two ways and if the Bulldogs let it affect them; you will see a decline in a number of areas, most notably, their on-field performance.

Key to their success: Reinventing their attack and finding points.

Verdict: There have been plenty of positive changes at the Bulldogs; in equal measure, they are relying on some of their “big name” recruits consistently performing to a high level. There is no doubt that they have the talent but with a rookie coach, there are too many uncertainties surrounding this team to made a specific prediction. Combine these factors with the off-field issues around the board and if the Bulldogs find themselves on a losing streak, many within this club will begin to point the finger of blame.

Prediction: Miss the Top 8 but will be in with a chance for a long time.


Cronulla Sharks

2017 Finish: 5th – Eliminated Week 1 of Finals by the Cowboys (W: 15 L: 9 Diff: +69)

Gains: Josh Dugan (Dragons), Aaron Gray (Rabbitohs), Ava Seumanufagai (Wests Tigers), Scott Sorensen (Raiders), Braden Uele (Cowboys), Matt Moylan (Panthers)

Losses: Jack Bird (Broncos), Gerard Beale (Warriors), Fa’amanu Brown (Bulldogs), Daniel Mortimer (Leigh Centurions), Manaia Cherrington (Warriors), Jordan Drew (released), Jeremy Latimore (Dragons), Chris Heighington (Knights), James Maloney (Panthers)

Coach: Shane Flanagan

The Sharks were rightly bathing in the success of winning the clubs inaugural premiership in 2016 and it showed towards the end of the season. As much as they attempted to silence talk that the motivation had gone since they had achieved the seemingly impossible, there were moments throughout the season where the 2016 Sharks would’ve performed far better than the 2017 side. They had one of the highest mistake rates of any team in the competition; despite this, they were able to make the Finals where they were upset by the Cowboys. The result in that match summed up their season and now that success has been achieved, they need to reshape the look of their squad and plan for new success. That task began with their recruitment and it will be a vastly different team with Matt Moylan in the squad. This adds another dimension to their team, similar to that of Ben Barba in 2016; whether or not it will have the desired affect is unknown and with several players in the team nearing the end of their careers, the time is now for other players to stand and resume responsibility.

Strength: Quality Players – Leading up to their Premiership, the Sharks built a strong squad that was able to break their drought; many of those players still remain at the club and some of the younger stars that were involved in 2016 are growing into better players. With plenty of experience to call upon, the Sharks have a squad that will know how to win tight matches. This makes them a dangerous team in big matches.

Weakness: Mistakes – the Sharks committed a lot of mistakes last year when in possession on the ball and this reduced their ability to build pressure. On the other side of the ball, they gave away too many penalties at crucial times. These are two areas that they will want to address heading into 2018; if they can control these areas moving forward, they are going to have more scoring opportunities in positive field position.

Key to their success: Limiting their mistakes.

Verdict: The Sharks are a quality team that appears to have managed to cover the post-Premiership hangover with a few changes within their playing ranks. More importantly, they have kept a core group of youngsters together with immense experience around them. 2018 appears as though it will be a positive one for the Sharks and they are, somewhat, a forgotten favourite for the Premiership. An overlooked factor could also be the fitness of their senior players; in the past, they have managed this with some difficulty and given they are running on old legs, the chance of them carrying injuries at the same time as one another is increased. Nevertheless, teams are always having to battle the concern of injuries with minimal control and overlooking that factor, the Sharks appear as though they will be a genuine threat for the competition.

Prediction: Top 4 and giving the competition a real shake.


Gold Coast Titans

2017 Finish: 15th (W: 7 L: 17 Diff: -190)

Gains: Jai Arrow (Broncos), Brendan Elliot (Knights), Keegan Hipgrave (Broncos), Mitch Rein (Panthers), Leilani Latu (Panthers), Bryce Cartwright (Panthers)

Losses: Chris McQueen (Wests Tigers), Leivaha Pulu (Warriors), Tyrone Roberts (Warrington Wolves), Tyler Cornish (released), Nathaniel Peteru (Leeds Rhinos), Paterika Vaivai (Leigh Centurions), Daniel Vidot (retired), Brenton Lawrence (retired), Jarryd Hayne (Eels)

Coach: Garth Brennan

After a year of improvement that saw them make the Finals, the Titans came back to reality with several off-field issues, mainly surrounding the coach/player relationship between Neil Henry and Jarryd Hayne, taking plenty of focus away from their performance. In the end, the Titans finished 15th, with just 7 wins to their name. Henry was eventually sacked and now they head in a new direction under the guidance of Penrith prodigy, Garth Brennan; he will have his work cut out for him attempting to turn this team around but he comes with good credentials following a stint at Penrith. The early focus should be on defence; the Titans average the 2nd most amount of points conceded at an average of 26.6 points per game and only managed 18.7 in attack. Now that Hayne has left, there can be a renewed focus on developing a hard work ethic which demands success; they have the makings of a strong squad of players are certainly possess plenty of playing talent to make them a dangerous team in 2017.

Strength: Spine – The Titans always had the makings of a strong team in this area and with another year behind them, some of their young playmakers will be full of confidence. When they were good in 2017, they were one of the best attacking teams in the competition and with one notable absence (who nearly always demanded the ball), their playmakers can go back to playing their best and commanding the ball when they want it. Much like other successful teams, they have a strong hooker that can control the speed of the ruck to get his team on the front foot.

Weakness: Keeping everyone healthy – In recent years, the Titans have struggled to maintain consistency within their playing ranks. This has been a major downfall as players cannot get comfortable with several different players calling the shots. This extends to their pack and given all that they experienced last year, they are due for some luck in this area.

Key to their success: Having their spine playing with confidence and consistency.

Verdict: The Titans are hoping that new coach Brennan will have an immediate impact on the chances of his team. In reality, they still have a few steps to make yet before they will be considered as a genuine chance. Nevertheless, they will attempt to make the road trip to their home ground a difficult one and have all the makings of a team that will cause others plenty of headaches. The challenge for them is maintaining consistency over each week and recent history suggests that their problems will not automatically disappear. Expect an improved performance but it will take a few year yet before the fortunes of this club are turned around.

Prediction: Miss the Top 8.


Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles

2017 Finish: 6th – Eliminated Week 1 of Finals by the Panthers (W: 14 L: 10 Diff: +40)

Gains: Toafofoa Sipley (Warriors), Jack Gosiewski (Rabbitohs), Lachlan Croker (Raiders)

Losses: Brenton Lawrence (retired), Steve Matai (retired), Brett Stewart (retired), Blake Green (Warriors), Pita Godinet (Wests Tigers)

Coach: Trent Barrett

After a very slow start that left many questioning whether or not Trent Barrett was the right man to lead this club, the Sea Eagles eventually gelled together and made that thought a distant memory. This lead to a 5-game winning streak in the middle of the season that had many tipping them to make the Finals; this prediction eventuated and the Sea Eagles did not look out of place at this point. Despite suffering key injuries towards the end of the season, they were gallant in defeat and have kept hopes high of returning to their glory days this season. Credit has to go to coach Barrett, he quickly realised that time on the road was good for his team (winning 7/12) and built his progress around this. They are a team that has plenty of improvement left in them; they conceded the 6th most points per game (21.3 points per game) and often found themselves chasing a deficit early on in the first half. They are a team that built confidence within the younger players in their team last year and will look to those players (Trbojevic brothers in particular) to take the leap forward after representative honours.

Strength: Attacking threats – there are numerous options for the Sea Eagles in attack and this makes them a dangerous team from anywhere on the field. Tommy Turbo, DCE, Walker and even Jake Trbojevic, the list could go on. Nevertheless, it is up to Barrett to find the structure that allows each of these players to flourish when needed. The last thing they need is players attempting to take over when there is a better man for the situation.

Weakness: Depth in some areas – the Sea Eagles have a strong set of players that can compete with the best each week but if these players are injured, it is unknown whether or not they can be competitive enough. Jake Trbojevic is already suffering an injury and without a recognised playmaker to assist DCE in the halves just yet, defensive teams will be aware of who/what they need to target to overcome their opponents.

Key to their success: A strong start and maintaining a fortress at Brookvale.

Verdict: The Sea Eagles are a difficult team to figure out; they appear to have plenty of proven talent to perform well in matches, yet are one player short (a quality 5/8) of really making a claim for the Finals. This is a major cause for concern ahead of this season and makes it difficult to place them on the ladder. Assuming they find the right player to fill the void left by Blake Green, then they are in with a real chance of finishing high on the ladder. At this stage of the season though, there is too much uncertainty around this to assume that they can cover their loss and it doesn’t bode well for their 2018 campaign.

Prediction: Falling short of the Top 8.


Melbourne Storm

2017 Finish: 1st – PREMIERS (W: 20 L: 4 Diff: +297)

Gains: Sam Kasiano (Bulldogs), Ryan Hoffman (Warriors), Patrick Kaufusi (Cowboys), Sandor Earl (unattached), Ryan Papenhuyzen (Wests Tigers), Billy Walters (Brisbane Easts), Cooper Johns (Sea Eagles), Kayleb Milne (NZ rugby)

Losses: Cooper Cronk (Roosters), Tohu Harris (Warriors), Jordan McLean (Cowboys), Robbie Rochow (Wests Tigers), Jesse Arthars (Rabbitohs), Slade Griffin (Knights), Mark Nicholls (Rabbitohs)

Coach: Craig Bellamy

Everything came together in the right way in 2017 for the Storm as they dominated the competition from the start of the season, right until the end with their Grand Final win over the Cowboys. Making amends for their 2016 loss to the Sharks, the Strom continually reminded the competition of what is required of them if they are to compete each week with their opponents. Everything went right for them as they managed to escape any serious injuries to key players and even unearthed some new talent as players covered for their stars during the Origin period. Now, the Storm enter into unchartered territory with Cooper Cronk departing the club and Brody Croft the new halfback. His job will be made easier by the quality players around him but the expectations for the Storm will be high once again as the ethos within this club drives success and is the envy of just about every other club in the competition.

Strength: Quality & Consistency – The Storm are a club that thrives on players buying into their culture; they have the ability to turn ordinary players into great players and this is an asset that most other clubs dream of. It ensures that they are not only successful, but continually desire for success and accountability for performance.

Weakness: A new frontier – The loss of Cronk, McLean and Harris is yet to be felt by this club and the uncertainty of this makes for interesting viewing. They appear to have a ready-made replacement for Cronk but he is yet to experience a long NRL season and Harris and McLean’s contribution to this team can be underestimated. Providing they can cover these losses, they will be in a good position; for now, it appears as though it could be their downfall.

Key to their success: Unearthing the next crop of superstars.

Verdict: It is no secret that the Storm will hold a strong desire to go back-to-back; history is against them though, as no team has been able to achieve this since the NRL began back in 1998. Nevertheless, the culture within this club will ensure that they are aspiring to break this trend and they are bound to finish at the right end of the competition. They have one of the best players in the NRL leading the way and have players that are desperate to prove that they too belong in this team. It would be a massive shock to see them finish any lower than 6th, with their quality attitude alone winning them more matches than most.

Prediction: Top 4 and as always, setting the benchmark.


Newcastle Knights

2017 Finish: 16th – Wooden Spoon (W:5 L: 19 Diff: -220)

Gains: Kalyn Ponga (Cowboys), Connor Watson (Roosters), Aidan Guerra (Roosters), Tautau Moga (Broncos), Herman Ese’ese (Broncos), Slade Griffin (Storm), Jacob Lillyman (Warriors), Chris Heighington (Sharks), Mitchell Pearce (Roosters)

Losses: Dane Gagai (Rabbitohs), Rory Kostjasyn (retired), Sam Mataora (retired), Mickey Paea (Hull FC), Anthony Tupou (retired), Joe Wardle (Castleford Tigers), Josh Starling (retired), Jack Stockwell (released), Pauli Pauli (released), Jaelen Feeney (released), Peter Mata’utia (Leigh Centurions), David Bhana (released), Tyler Randell (Wakefield Trinity), Chanel Mata’utia (released)

Coach: Nathan Brown

The Knights captured another wooden spoon last season, yet it was done amid a renewed hope in their talent and potential this season. Rather than lose matches convincingly each week, the Knights fought hard in many of their matches and won more games compared to 2016. There has been a massive turnover of players at this club with the hope that the losing culture will change. Whether or not this will have the desired affect is unknown but it does give the Knights a strong chance of improving. New recruits to the club such as Pearce, Lillyman, Griffin and Ponga bring plenty of hope that they will lift themselves off the bottom of the ladder and given the fight that was displayed at various times in 2017, the Knights are a team that is heading in a better direction than most; the only issue is that the climb is far higher for them than the majority of the competition.

Strength: Minimal expectation – It has been a tough few years for the Knights and this has many believing that despite the changes, they are still going to struggle. Nathan Brown has the advantage to galvanise his team and play with the thought that they are players that not too many other teams wanted. This can often bring out the best in teams and with a point to prove and no expectations, the Knights are a very dangerous team for anyone to face.

Weakness: Quality – As impressive as the recruiting and changes have been, the Knights are still not at the standard that is needed for them to become a genuine success. They are several quality players short of competing with the leading teams in the competition and it will only take a few injuries to cause major disruptions to this team.

Key to their success: Restoring a home ground advantage.

Verdict: The Knights will not feature in the Finals, yet they will be far improved on last season. Several of their players will be playing with a point to prove and the attitude within this club is slowly turning around. As mentioned above, the Knights are still missing a few players that will make them a force in this competition and the current squad of players will struggle to maintain a consistent intensity over the 26 rounds of the competition. Nevertheless, they will cause plenty of headaches for their opponents in 2018.

Prediction: Missing the Top 8 but playing very well.


New Zealand Warriors

2017 Finish: 13th (W: 7 L: 17 Diff: -131)

Gains: Tohu Harris (Storm), Gerard Beale (Sharks), Leivaha Pulu (Titans), Manaia Cherrington (Sharks), Adam Blair (Broncos), Peta Hiku (Warrington Wolves), Matiu Love-Henry (Norths Devils), Blake Green (Sea Eagles)

Losses: Kieran Foran (Bulldogs), Manu Vatuvei (Salford Red Devils), Ben Matulino (Wests Tigers), Bureta Faraimo (Hull FC), Charlie Gubb (Raiders), Toafofoa Sipley (Sea Eagles), Ryan Hoffman (Storm), Jacob Lillyman (Knights), Bodene Thompson (Leigh Centurions)

Coach: Stephen Kerney

Another season, another Warriors campaign that promised so much and failed to deliver. Hopes were high after the impressive recruiting but it appeared as though their underperforming attitude still remained. Winning just 4 of their opening 11 matches meant it was always going to be difficult for the Warriors to resurrect their season and injuries only further hampered their cause. Their final standing suggests it was close but in reality, they were 3-points away from the Titans in 8th and never really threatened with as they lost their last 4 matches. This meant that Andrew McFadden was finally sacked and Stephen Kerney hired to turn this club into the force they are capable of. His record isn’t a great one though, failing with the Eels but erhaps the culture shift towards New Zealand will suit him and the players in his team; after all, he has enjoyed plenty of positives with the Kiwis at an international level. Hopefully he can redirect this team where they need to go but a lot of work has to be done between now and then.

Strength: Unpredictability – It appears as though not even the Warriors players know how they will perform leading up to matches. When they are brilliant, they are hard to stop and very difficult for teams to plan against them when they are firing.

Weakness: Consistency – It has (and could always will be) the Warriors Achilles heel. It is very rare that they can put multiple wins together but if they can overcome this and travel well, there is no limit to what they can achieve.

Key to their success: Surprise, surprise…consistency!!!

Verdict: The Warriors are one of the most frustrating teams in the competition and attempting to pick their chances is extremely difficult. Fact is, their coach is not proven to be successful and they have a playing squad that continually underachieves. There are plenty of good coaches that are available this season and no doubt, Kearny is working on borrowed time. Assuming the Warriors start poorly and he is sacked, a new coach will jolt this playing squad into action but in the end, it will all be too late. 2018 looks set to be another year of frustration for all that consider just how talented the Warriors are.

Prediction: Bottom half of the ladder (and a new coach!).


North Queensland Cowboys

2017 Finish: 8th – Lost Grand Final to the Storm (W: 13 L: 11 Diff: +24)

Gains: Carlin Anderson (Townsville Blackhawks), Jordan McLean (Storm)

Losses: Kalyn Ponga (Knights), Ray Thompson (retired), Patrick Kaufusi (Storm), Braden Uele (Sharks), Patrick Mogo (Broncos)

Coach: Paul Green

The Cowboys surprised everyone, except for themselves, in their run towards the Grand Final. The circumstances surrounding them making the Finals was amazing to say the least (just ask fans of the Dragons) and they made sure that they were not a team that was there to make up the numbers. What was more amazing was that they were doing this without two of the best players that have ever strapped on a boot for the club. Hopes are now high of the Cowboys having another successful season in 2018 with their big-name players fit and spending more time at club level following a departure from representative duties. The future appears bright for the Cowboys and the belief that resides within this team is one of their biggest assets. The culture of success, hard work and dedicating might be about to pay off yet again.

Strength: Not being a “one-man” team – The Cowboys streak towards the end of the season not only made a statement on how talented they are, but that they have moved past Thurston being the centrepiece of this team; arrive Michael Morgan and Jason Taumalolo, the next wave of talent that will push this team forward. Of course, JT returning to the team, along with Matt Scott, will only serve as a positive as the Cowboys establish themselves as one of the leading teams in the competition.

Weakness: Injuries and travel – The two appear not to be linked together but if an injury is suffered on the road, the recovery process can often be delayed as they travel back to Townville. The obvious question revolves around the fitness of Thurston and Scott but they are sitting in a great position if limiting injuries is their most pressing issue.

Key to their success: Winning at home with JT leading the way.

Verdict: Everything has come together strongly ahead of 2018 for the Cowboys and this has many believing they will be an unstoppable force. They will have a strong record at home and if they manage this as a minimum, they will half of their games and make the Finals. However, the Cowboys are a far stronger team than this and will win majority of their matches. Even if they suffer some injuries to key players, they proved last season the resolves that lies within this side. There is plenty to be excited about in Townsville and if Paul Green can emulate a creative game plan that delivered success a few years ago, the Cowboys will going deep into the Finals and are deserving favourites for the Premiership.

Prediction: The team to beat!


Parramatta Eels

2017 Finish: 4th – Eliminated Week 2 of the Finals by the Cowboys (W: 16 L: 8 Diff: +39)

Gains: Kane Evans (Roosters), Jarryd Hayne (Eels)

Losses: Semi Radradra (rugby union), Isaac De Gois (retired), Bureta Faraimo (Hull FC), James Hasson (released), Jeff Robson (retired)

Coach: Brad Arthur

The Eels played above and beyond expectations in 2017, finishing in the Top 4 and were eliminated in the second weeks of the Finals at the hands of the Cowboys. As disappointing as that was, this was undoubtedly a starting point for a new venture for this club. Brad Arthur has installed a strong work ethic within this team and all players are aware of the expectations with their training and performance. This was displayed in how tough it became for opponents to move past them, with many often underestimating the talent they possessed. The Eels would have learned plenty from their failings in 2017 and will be out to improve in more ways than one. Arthur has placed plenty of faith in the players within his squad as well as those coming through the Eels system, evident in the lack of recruiting of players. The better the Eels play, the more the hype around them grows and this can also be a downfall as fans of the club continue to wait for their first premiership since the 1980’s.

Strength: Resilience – It was a factor of their play last year that many came to know and love, with the Eels pushing every opponent regardless of the circumstances surrounding a match or what happened over 80 minutes. You knew that if you played the Eels, you were in for a tough match. Character such as this is not going to disappear quickly and those that knew Brad Arthur were not surprised with the way this team was performing.

Weakness: Jarryd Hayne – He is one of the most talented players in the competition, yet his track record of underperforming does not bode well for the aspiring success of the Eels. His disruptive nature and poor training ethic will cause trouble within this team sooner or later. While it is unfair to completely pin the weakness of the team on one individual player, history demonstrates that the Eels coaching staff need be wary of what can happen.

Key to their success:  Not believing the hype.

Verdict: The Eels made a statement of their intent last season and will be out to continue that in 2018. Providing they can overcome the “Hayne factor” and have it not affect the rest of the squad, they are in a strong position to finish within the Top 8. The only positive from the way they exited the competition at the end of last season is that they will be more determined this year to avoid such a situation. They have the right defensive structure to win tight matches and Brad Arthur has instilled confidence within his team that has them playing with little fear of their opponents. This combination makes for a dangerous setting and points towards another pleasing year for the Eels.

Prediction: Easily in the Top 8 and pushing hard for a Grand Final berth.


Penrith Panthers

2017 Finish: 7th – Eliminated by the Broncos in Week 2 of the Finals (W: 13 L: 11 Diff: +45)

Gains: Tyrone Phillips (Bulldogs), James Maloney (Sharks)

Losses: Sitaleki Akauola (Warrington Wolves), Zach Dockar-Clay (Hull Kingston Rovers), Peta Hiku (Warrington Wolves), Samisoni Langi (Leigh Centurions), Darren Nicholls (Dragons), Matt Moylan (Sharks), Mitch Rein (Titans), Leilani Latu (Titans), Mason Cerruto (Bulldogs)

Coach: Anthony Griffin

Despite a host of issues off the field, the Panthers powered their way into the Finals to be one of the most dangerous teams. Their run ended in Week 2 at the hands of the Broncos, although they went down with a fight and sent a strong message to their rivals ahead of 2018. Expectations were high heading into last season and they quickly came back to earth as their young team struggled with consistency, mistakes and never matched expectations and reality. The issues off the field have culminated in the departure of youngster Matt Moylan, with plenty of people quick to doubt coach Anthony Griffin and suggest that he has already lost the playing group. In a coup for the Panthers, they have acquired the services of James Maloney, offering plenty of stability and experience in a key area of play. Just how he fits into this team remains to be seen but there is no doubt the edge that he brings to any team. If the Panthers can fix up their mistakes and their poor defensive structures, they are capable enough to progress further into the Finals in 2018.

Strength: Talented Youngsters – While this can also be a downfall for most teams, the Panthers head into 2018 with one of the most talented and exciting roster full of youngsters. It meant they were a dangerous team to play in 2017 and it should be no different this year; providing they can play with poise at crucial points during the season, it will be a positive for them. This is where the recruitment of James Maloney will be a key factor.

Weakness: Defence – The Panthers averaged the most missed tackles of any team in the competition (36.4 per game) and conceded 19.1 points per game. More often than not, they were playing from behind in matches and while they had the attacking ability to make amends, they were guilty of giving some teams too great a lead. It is no secret that while attack wins matches, defence wins competitions.

Key to their success: Improving their defence.

Verdict: The Panthers have the foundations of a strong team that could give the competition a shake, yet they are a team that is craving maturity in their play. As mentioned above, the inclusion of Maloney is intended to have the impact of calming down the younger players at key stages of a match and doing what is required for victory. His combination with Nathan Cleary will also ensure they win more games than they lose this season and should ensure they of a Finals berth. Given this is their platform, there is no reason why the Panthers cannot finish high up the ladder and compete with the leading teams in the competition. Assuming they play a consistent brand of play, they could be a surprise packet this season (and put their trial form into perspective).

Prediction: Finishing inside the Top 8.


South Sydney Rabbitohs

2017 Finish: 12th (W: 9 L: 15 Diff: -100)

Gains: Dane Gagai (Knights), Jesse Arthars (Storm), Mark Nicholls (Storm), Richie Kennar (Bulldogs)

Losses: Bryson Goodwin (Leigh Centurions), Aaron Gray (Sharks), David Tyrrell (released), Anthony Cherrington (released), Luke Kelly (released), Dane Nielsen (released), Jack Gosiewski (Sea Eagles), Sitiveni Moceidreke (Raiders)

Coach: Anthony Siebold

The Rabbitohs missed the Finals for a second consecutive season following their Premiership success back in 2014. That achievement appears as a distant memory, with the Rabbitohs struggling to compete each week with several stars missing at different stages of the year. Given the lack of talent, they performed strongly towards the end of the season and it them a chance to expose some talented youngsters to the rigours of the NRL. Unfortunately, coach Michael Maguire will not be around to view the rewards as he parted ways with the club that he delivered a drought-breaking Premiership. No doubt they are rebuilding their club after it was dismantled following that success and the future looks bright. They have recruited well and have several players coming through their system that are out to make a name for themselves sooner rather than later. With a change at the helm, Anthony Siebold will realise that he is working on a limited timeframe for success, otherwise he will be cast aside. If they can keep their stars fit, the Rabbitohs could be one of the biggest improvers in the competition in 2018.

Strength: Improving quality – The Rabbitohs increased their value with the recruitment of Dane Gagai and this move adds and experienced player to an area of the field. They have just about every area covered and will rely on these players to lead to the way for the rest of the team. Hopefully for them, this also coincides with increased game time for the likes of Burgess, Inglis and Reynolds.

Weakness: Mistakes – It was the Achilles heel of the Rabbitohs in 2017, as momentum was continually lost through handling errors. When they managed a high completion rate, they were good to watch, build pressure through the power of their forwards and having numerous attacking options. It is very difficult to score points without the ball in hand…

Key to their success: Getting the best out of their stars.

Verdict: The Rabbitohs have invested plenty in rebuilding their club after they were decimated as a result of their Premiership. This was not well managed by head office and while plenty of questions are yet to be answered, the Rabbitohs will be hoping to take a step in the right direction. Assessing their chances, you cannot move past the fact that they are a club that is still rebuilding and hoping that their star players will draw the final piece of the puzzle before they achieve success. With this is mind, the Rabbitohs will be far more competitive that they have been in previous season and will be out to give themselves a chance of playing Finals football. That being said, they appear to still be missing a quality 5/8 to complement the style of their halfback and hooker, as well as a “no nonsense” set of props that will only focus on their jobs in matches. Hope is on the horizon but success appears to be another year away at this stage.

Prediction: Pushing for the Top 8 but may just fall short.


St George-Illawarra Dragons

2017 Finish: 9th (W: 12 L: 12 Diff: +83)

Gains: James Graham (Bulldogs), Ben Hunt (Broncos), Jeremy Latimore (Sharks), Darren Nicholls (Panthers), Mitch Allgood (Wakefield Trinity)

Losses: Josh Dugan (Sharks), Russell Packer (Wests Tigers), Mose Masoe (Hull Kingston Rovers), Will Matthews (Widnes Vikings), Tyrone McCarthy (Salford Red Devils), Taane Milne (Wests Tigers), Josh McCrone (Toronto Wolfpack), Drew Hutchison (Leigh Centurions), Siliva Havili (Raiders), Joel Thompson (Sea Eagles)

Coach: Paul McGregor

The Dragons started the season as one of the biggest surprises and it was quickly forgotten as they went on a horror losing streak. They attempted to change plenty to halt their woes but were unable to fix their issues in time to make the Finals. In finishing 9th, pressure built on coach McGregor, as many wondered that if a better option became available, would the Dragons take it? They have kept faith in their coach and given him the chance to rebuild his team. They have recruited well with the likes of James Graham and Ben Hunt delivering much needed quality and experience in important positions. The hope is that such players will be able to launch the Dragons to the next level and make them a consistent team.

Strength: Halves – The addition of Hunt adds another dimension to the Dragons attack and more importantly, takes plenty of pressure away from Widdop. He was at his best during the World Cup when he was free to play his natural game and Ben Hunt is a solid halfback. There were only glimpses of him at his best in Brisbane, as he too desired a more capable halves partner. Now with the two paired together, they appear to have the attributes to complement one another and achieve success.

Weakness: Controlling the middle – Looking at their losses, several players need to stand up for the Dragons in the middle of the field this season. There will be a few players wanting to establish themselves as regular first graders and it is these players who need to support the star recruits. Cameron McInnes is great at hooker and will only get better, yet this stands for nothing if the team is playing behind a beaten pack.

Key to their success: Keeping everyone on the field at the same time.

Verdict: The Dragons have the makings of a good team but will need some luck also; while their halves have the stability need towards the end of attacking sets, the forwards will need to establish a platform for them to work from. This is where the luck comes into it; they will need to keep a core group of players in this area together and find the balance of rotating players from the bench. They lost plenty with the departure of a few notable players and this can leave a hole in their team. The other factor hanging over the heads of the Dragons surrounds their coach; if they struggle early on in the season, there will be plenty of pressure upon his shoulders. There are plenty of capable coaches available and this can cause a big disruption to their team. Assuming this area is under control, the Dragons look set for the Finals. Their defence is only going to improve and establish a strong platform for them in matches.

Prediction: Scraping into the Top 8.


Sydney Roosters

2017 Finish: 2nd (W: 17 L: 7 Diff: +72) – Eliminated in Week 3 of the Finals by the Cowboys.

Gains: James Tedesco (Wests Tigers), Cooper Cronk (Storm), Reece Robinson (NSW Waratahs)

Losses: Kane Evans (Eels), Aidan Guerra (Knights), Connor Watson (Knights), Liam Knight (Raiders), Paul Carter (released), Mitchell Pearce (Knights)

Coach: Trent Robinson

The Roosters dominated majority of the season to finish second behind eventual Premiers, the Melbourne Storm; for a while there, it appeared as though they were going to capture the Minor Premiership. While they were unable to reach that milestone, many believed they were set for a spot in the Grand Final; that was until the Cowboys caused a major upset in the Grand Final Qualifier. Most teams would consider that a successful season and the Roosters appear to be in a stronger position ahead of their 2018 campaign. They have added two massive names in Cronk and Tedesco to their team and they are only to be better for their inclusion. Many believe they are the team to beat, however, such is the game of rugby league, high expectations can quickly unravel.

Strength: Talent as far as the eye can see – Aside from Tedesco and Cronk, the Roosters have maintained the likes of Keary, Cordner, JWH, Friend, Mitchell and Napa. This makes them one of the most dangerous teams in the competition and many will struggle to maintain all of their stars. There is no doubt that the Roosters are one of the teams to beat this season and each week they will showcase their potential and set a benchmark for other teams to reach.

Weakness: Too many voices – When the game is on the line, you want the ball in the hands of the right player. The Roosters have a host of players that will demand the ball at certain points and it can quickly become an issue if order is not established. Knowing the type of coach that Trent Robinson is, this will be a minor issue and if anything, it will take just a few weeks for these players to be cohesive over 80 minutes.

Key to their success: Finding the right balance between their all of their talented stars.

Verdict: The Roosters are one of the favourites for the competition and with good reason. They have a host of talented players that are strong on both sides of the ball and know how to achieve success. Trent Robinson has assembled a strong squad of players and if he manages to balance their talent, there is no doubt that they can capture the Premiership. There will be no shortage of teams aiming to play to their level each week and this can become very draining on a team and again, Robinson will have a difficult task of managing this throughout the season (not to mention the representative program). Roosters fans have plenty to be excited about ahead of this season.

Prediction: Top 4 and a big chance to feature in the Grand Final.


Wests Tigers

2017 Finish: 14th (W: 7 L: 17 Diff: -158)

Gains: Josh Reynolds (Bulldogs), Benji Marshall (Broncos), Russell Packer (Dragons), Ben Matulino (Warriors), Chris McQueen (Titans), Mahe Fonua (Hull FC), Taane Milne (Dragons), Robbie Rochow (Storm), Corey Thompson (Widnes Vikings), Pita Godinet (Sea Eagles)

Losses: James Tedesco (Roosters), Aaron Woods (Bulldogs), Matt Ballin (retired), Joel Edwards (released), Justin Hunt (retired), Jack Littlejohn (released), Kyle Lovett (released), Jordan Rankin (Huddersfield Giants), Ava Seumanufagai (Sharks), Jeremy Marshall-King (Bulldogs)

Coach: Ivan Cleary

2017 started positively for the Tigers but they quickly came undone amidst a host of issues, mainly with their coach. Jason Taylor was quickly shown the door and once Ivan Cleary came to the club, there was a definite shift in attitude. This meant that the playing squad were aware of the expectations and guidelines set by their coach and they bought into his philosophy. Due to the lack of talent within their team, the arrival of Cleary didn’t translate into success, although it does place them in a positive position heading into this season. Many believed that the Tigers were always going to struggle with the players in their team that were grabbing headlines for a variety of reasons, now that several of those players have departed, Cleary has the opportunity to build a squad of players that want to be at the club for the right reasons. You only have to look at the “Gains & Losses” (above) to see that a major attitude shift lies ahead in 2018.

Strength: Attitude – There are plenty of people doubting the potential of this team but Ivan Cleary is no mug; he understands the correct way to build a squad of players that want success and this will flow onto other areas. Attitude is a key factor in defensive structure and with some talented players around to create points, the Tigers may find themselves relying on defending their own line to get them through 50/50 matches.

Weakness: Depth – The Tigers are in yet another holding pattern as Cleary attempts to transition this team into the side that he wants in order to achieve success. Unfortunately, while the attitude within the club is ideal, the quality of players is not where it needs to be. While this may appear to be a negative at this stage, the learning curve for this playing squad will be invaluable to them in future years.

Key to their success: Not absorbing too many negatives in a rebuilding year.

Verdict: As mentioned above, the Tigers are not going to achieve the success their fans desire, although they will be building strongly for beyond this year. Unfortunately, Cleary inherited majority of this team and has only just had the opportunity to change the playing group. This appears to have worked on the attitude of the team; more often than not, this is the most difficult area to alter. Now that he has the players buying into his coaching philosophy, the rebuilding process is going to accelerate. For now though, fans must bide their time and focus on the bigger picture ahead.

Prediction: Miss the Top 8 but in a good position beyond 2018.


Good luck!






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