NRL 2013 Season Preview

NRL

It has been an agonising wait for the beginning of the 2013 NRL season, but the moment is almost upon us. At this stage, the season is promising for clubs.  Teams who came close in the finals will have high hopes of going a step further, while teams who had a very poor season in 2012 can only improve. Everyone has an opinion running into a new season and there is always uncertainty over what will occur and there are a number of questions that people want answered. Will it be a season full of controversy? Or will it be a season where the on field action dominates the headlines rather than the players antics off the field? Will NSW end the Queensland SOO dominance? Who will be the players that shine for their team and demonstrate their outstanding talent and which players will rapidly lose form? One thing is for sure, this is one of the most anticipated seasons in the games history. Many story lines will play out in front of our eyes and we will be left thinking and talking about games every night of the week. In amongst it all will be the chance to have a bet on some fixtures and hopefully win some money along the way. This preview is going to take a look at each teams chances running into the season, the changes to their playing roster and what could lie ahead for them.

Brisbane Broncos

2012 Finish: 8th (28 Points W:12 L:12 Diff: +34) – Eliminated first week of the Finals by the Cowboys
Gains: Joe Bond (Redcliffe), Scott Prince (Titans), David Stagg (Bulldogs) & Denan Kemp (Rugby).
Losses: Gerard Beale (Dragons), Petero Civoniceva (retired), Ben Te’o (Rabbitohs), Dane Gagai (Knights), Lagi Setu (Storm) & Mitchell Frei (Knights)

Everything seemed to be travelling very well for the Broncos last year and they looked set to finish within the Top 6 and secure a home final. Not only that, they were looking as though they would give this competition a real shake. But then things came falling apart and they limped into the finals in 8th spot. They then had the tough task of facing a Cowboys team at home and they were tossed out of the finals without a second thought. It appears the transition of Darren Lockyer leaving the side has had a large impact and this talented coach, Anthony Griffin, has his work cut out for him. They really couldn’t settle on a halves pairing to get them over the line in the tough games. They have gone some way to rectifying this problem though with the acquisition of Scott Prince. Yes he is aging and isn’t a shadow of his former self, but the knowledge that he brings to a young side should be very valuable. With Peter Wallace in the side, Prince should slot into half nicely and also provide some youthful advice for Corey Norman. He is a talented footballer who will grow and develop this season but isn’t consistent enough just yet. The Broncos will rely heavily on their forwards and maybe this burden will become too much.

Strength: Their forward pack is very big and they get around the park with ease. They should be able to set a very nice platform for their outside backs to work off. They are lead by Sam Thaiday and have Andrew McCullough working at hooker. McCullough is underestimated as a player and will make everyone take notice of him this year, if they haven’t already.

Weakness: The uncertainty over the halves and the consistency they play with. They will have room to work with courtesy of their forwards but it will mean nothing if they cannot use it to their advantage.

Verdict: The Broncos are going to find this season very difficult. Unlike Broncos teams of the past, they do not have a recognised playmaker within their halves. They will be close to making the finals but could just fall short.

Prediction: Bottom half of the 8, but only if they’re lucky!

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs

2012 Finish: 2nd (Minor Premiers 40 Points W:18 L:6 Diff: +199) – Lost Grand Final to the Storm
Gains: Tony Williams (Sea Eagles)
Losses: Sione Kite (Widnes), Michael Lett (Illawarra Cutters), Jonathan Wright (Sharks), Jake Foster (Raiders), Luke MacDougall (retired), Tupou Sopoaga (Sharks) Bryson Goodwin (Rabbitohs), David Stagg (Broncos) & James Gavet (Tigers)

The Bulldogs will be desperate to go one better than last year after they were trumped by the Storm in the Grand Final. Things are very positive over at the kennel and they have various reasons to be excited about the season ahead. Only a few people were able to predict the fortunes of the Bulldogs in 2012 and they quickly put everyone on notice with their talent. Des Hasler had them buying into his theory and they revolutionised forward play within rugby league. It was one of their main strengths and will continue to be in 2013.

Strength: Various! Their forwards are the obvious strength and they set such a good platform for their outside backs to work off, namely Ben Barba. The 2012 Dally M winner was untouchable and took his game to a new level. Expect him to only get better but he will have a great platform set for him and the other backs, by their forwards. Throw in new recruit Tony Williams into the fold and they’re even more damaging in attack and defence.

Weakness: Expectation. No one expected the Bulldogs to play as well as they did in 2012 but now people have high expectations of them. While this is mentioned as a weakness, Hasler will certainly have them focused on the job at hand and will not let them get too far ahead of themselves. In the end, he should be able to reign in any trouble related to the Bulldogs believing in their own hype.

Verdict:  The Bulldogs are going to be a contender for the 2013 premiership. They have class all over the field and a monster forward pack leading the way, as well as speed to burn out wide. Look for the Dogs to give this competition a shake throughout.

Prediction: Top 4

Canberra Raiders

2012 Finish: 6th (30 Points W:13 L:11 Diff: +9) – Eliminated in Week 2 of the Finals by the Rabbitohs
Gains: Joel Edwards (Knights) & Jake Foster (Bulldogs)
Losses: Michael Chee Kam (Sea Eagles), Dury Low (Bulldogs), Mark Ioane (Titans) & Bronson Harrison (Dragons)

The Raiders had a lot of people taking notice of their young side in 2012. They finished 6th and were comprehensively beaten by the Rabbitohs in the second week of the Finals. They demonstrated a lot of attacking flair in their charge towards the finals. In the end, the experience that they would have gained from that would be invaluable. They are a side that is on the up and will give this competition a real shake. But they need to play consistent footy. Perhaps that will come in the form of their squad maturing and learning what is required for a victory.

Strength: Having a very young squad at their disposal. They will back their ability when they need something special and will very rarely fear another side. Perhaps this could be a weakness as well, as it could demonstrate a lack experience. With a big forward pack that is very mobile, their speedy outside backs will pose plenty of problems with the ball in hand.

Weakness: As soon as things don’t go according to plan down in the nations capital, people will be calling for the head of David Furner. Having uncertainty over the coach can never sit well with the playing group. The more the players are asked, the more unsettling it will be. Of course, this will not happen if the Raiders play to their strengths and really use their home field advantage.

Verdict: The Raiders fortunes rest with the consistency of their play. If they are the clinical Raiders teams that finished 6th, they are a contender for the premiership. But if they are loose with their play and unable to put teams away, they will either limp into the finals or miss out altogether.

Prediction: Top 8, just not sure where.

Cronulla Sharks

2012 Finish: 7th (29 Points W:12 D:1 L:11 Diff: +4) – Eliminated in Week 1 of the Finals by the Raiders
Gains: Michael Gordon (Panthers), Luke Lewis (Panthers), Jonathan Wright (Bulldogs), Beau Ryan (Tigers), Chris Heighington (Tigers) & Tupou Sopoaga (Bulldogs)
Losses: Tyson Frizell (Dragons), Colin Best (retired), John Williams (retired), Josh Cordoba (retired) & Jeremy Smith (Knights)

The Sharks were a team that improved remarkably under the guidance of coach Shane Flannaghan. He was instrumental in turning around an “also-ran” side into serious contenders. Probably one of the highlights of the season was the first loss they handed to an unbeaten Melbourne Storm outfit, minus inspirational skipper Paul Gallen. Much like the Bulldogs, teams were not expecting a lot of the Sharks running into 2012, but they will now be on their toes. Especially when they have to play the Sharks at home. Boosting their chances this year is the acquisition of some quality players to add further depth to their playing stocks, most notably is Luke Lewis. If he can remain 100% throughout the season, there will be a very formidable back row at the Sharks. They have also added speed outwide with another Penrith recruit in Michael Gordon. The pair from the Tigers will also be a great addition to their squad.

Strength: Their forwards and the depth to their squad. As noted above, they have added some quality names to their roster. It should also go along way to relieving the pressure placed upon Gallen in the middle of the field. Be sure that the Sharks will be a very tough side to break down in the middle of the field with all of the muscle they have continually rotating off the bench.

Weakness: Keeping the entire squad healthy. Gallen has had his fair share of injuries throughout his career and so has Lewis. Although they have a willing and dominant replacement in Wade Graham, beyond him, they could really struggle. Not only that, their outside backs can be quite loose in defence and opposition sides may be forced to attack the Sharks there, especially if they are strong in the middle of the field.

Verdict: The Sharks are a contender! They will really trouble teams with their strong defence and their ability to continually pressure the opposition. Whether or not they can score at a high rate will impact upon their chances but you don’t have to score too many points if you are holding your opposition to a low score.

Prediction: Top 4

Gold Coast Titans

2012 Finish: 11th (24 points W:10 L:14 Points Diff: -28)
Gains: Dave Taylor (Rabbitohs), Mark Ioane (Raiders) & Matthew Russell (Wigan)
Losses: Boden Thompson (Tigers), Phil Graham (retired), Scott Prince (Broncos), Brenton Lawrence (Sea Eagles), Dominique Peyroux (Warriors), Michael Henderson (Dragons), Kayne Lawton (Sea Eagles) & Beau Champion (Rabbitohs)

The Titans have a lot of pressure placed on them heading into this season, both financially and on the field. Somehow, coach John Cartwright has been able to hold onto his job for another season. A few losses at the start of the season could spell trouble for him and his squad. With all the quality that they posses on their roster, you would have thought that this side would have achieved a lot more since their initial inception into the competition. For some reason, they just haven’t been able to consistently cement themselves as serious contenders. They have made a very good acquisition in Dave Taylor but for every bit of talent that this bloke has, he can be lazy and needs to lead from the front and play for 80 minutes every week.

Strength: The names on their roster. They have talent all around the park and particularly in the forwards, including representative players such as Greg Bird, Luke Bailey and Nate Myles. In saying that, a game of rugby league is never played on paper and some players may be looking for other clubs midway through this season if they are unable to perform or live up to their price tag.

Weakness: The uncertainty around the halves. They have a very talented hooker in Matthew Srama continually gaining meters around the ruck with the forwards and creating some nice room for the outside backs. That extra room will be useless if the Titans halves cannot capitalize on it. Looking at their roster, it still seems uncertain as to who will fill that role. If they end up playing Greg Bird at 5/8, they will lose a lot of potency in the forward pack.

Verdict: It’s going to be a long year ahead for the Titans. They are without a recognised halves pairing to lead them around the field. It is also hard to posses a lot of representative quality and have them injured in key games. They will press for the finals but will come up short in the end.

Prediction: Miss the 8, but will make a push for it.

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles

2012 Finish: 4th (36 points W:16 L:8 Diff: +94) – Eliminated in Week 3 of the Finals by the Storm
Gains: Michael Chee Kam (Raiders), Richie Fa’aoso (Storm), Ligi Sao (Warriors), James Hasson (Sharks), Ben Musolino (Dragons), Brenton Lawerence (Titans), Dane Chisholm (Tigers), Jacob Gagan (Eels NYC), David Gower (Dragons), Peta Hiku (Warriors NYC), Jesse Sene-Lefao (Panthers), Kayne Lawton (Titans), Esi Tonga (Eels) & Justin Horo (Eels)
Losses: Dean Whare (Panthers), Tony Williams (Bulldogs), Darcy Lussick (Eels), Daniel Harrison (Eels), Michael Oldfield (Roosters) & Josh Drinkwater (Dragons)

Everyone was tipping the Sea Eagles to struggle in 2012 after the loss of coach Des Hasler, but then Geoff Toovey stepped into his newfound role with ease. He was able to motivate this very talented squad and achieve the best out of them from the word go. The transition was also made easier with the retention of so many quality players. Heading into this season, they will definitely be excited after the retention of their very young and talented halves pairing. Of course, they are at their best when the forwards are tough up front. They have a formidable pack that is sure to dominate the opposition this year, despite the loss of Tony Williams. Experience is a key for most sides and it is aiding their case this season.

Strength: Their halves, Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans. They are the complete package when it comes to a halves pairing. Expect these two players to win a lot of close games for the Sea Eagles. But they have to make sure that they are not burdened with the complete weight of the team on their shoulders.

Weakness: An aging squad and injuries. No one is doubting the talent that the Sea Eagles posses, but with relatively the same players at their disposal now compared to when they won the competition, they could find it difficult to reach the same standards they have been known for. Throw in the fact that their squad doesn’t have the greatest depth and a few injuries could spell trouble.

Verdict: Manly will be a very tough side on their day, but the light is beginning to fade. It could be the last chance they have at winning a premiership as their golden era comes to an end. Saving them though, is the talented halves pairing lead by a very strong forward pack. Hopefully they can keep a full strength side on the field each week and they should feature in finals football.

Prediction: Bottom half of the 8

Melbourne Storm

2012 Finish: Premiers (38 Points W:17 L:7 Diff: +218)
Gains: Junior Sau (Storm), Junior Moors (Tigers), Lagi Setu (Broncos), Brett Finch (Wigan) & Kurt Mann (Knights)
Losses: Dane Nielsen (Warriors), Sika Manu (Panthers), Luke Kelly (Eels), Richie Fa’aoso (Sea Eagles), Rory Kostjaysn (Cowboys), Todd Lowrie (Warriors), Michael Greenfield (retired), Jaiman Lowe (retired) & Anthony Quinn (Knights)

The Storm have been a side that has continually been the benchmark for other teams to work from in the previous 5 seasons. But after all of the controversy surrounding their salary cap breaches, they were finally able to capture a “recognised” premiership. They have arguably the 3 best players within the competition at their disposal and working further in their favor is the positions they play. They make up 3/4 positions of the “spine” of the football team (the “spine” being the fullback, 5/8, halfback and hooker). The “Big 3” in Slater, Cronk and Smith are always vital to the success of the Storm but also having coach Craig Bellamy guiding the squad is invaluable.

Strength: The “Big 3”! Is there any more that needs to be said?

Weakness: Possessing three very talented players as the Storm do, they will be without them for a few games this season due to representative honors. It is never easy on them and it is always tough for the Storm to back up after a SOO game. As the games get tougher, these guys find it harder to recover. This could slow down the Storms momentum in the middle part of the season.

Verdict: The Storm will always be a contender for the title with the current roster that they have. They also have the players that are able to win the “big matches”, so long as they are playing their games. They are genuine contenders but need the “Big 3” firing each week. Each season is always a new test of their depth as well.

Prediction: Top 4

Newcastle Knights

2012 Finish: 12th (24 Points W:10 L:14 Diff: -40)
Gains: Beau Scott (Dragons), Toka Likiliki (Warriors), David Fa’alogo (Huddersfield), Jeremy Smith (Sharks), Mitchell Frei (Broncos) & Anthony Quinn (Storm)
Losses: Zeb Taia (Catalans), Richie Fa’aoso (Storm), Wes Naiqama (Panthers), Kyle O’Donnell (Panthers), Joel Edwards (Raiders), Evarn Tuimavave (Hull KR), Junior Sau (Storm), Sam Anderson (Panthers), Ethan Cook (Panthers) & Kurt Mann (Storm)

After signing Wayne Bennett as coach, people were tipping the Knights to go deep into the Finals in2012. They couldn’t be further from the fact as they were left wondering what might have been at the seasons end. It is fair to suggest that they were unlucky with injuries and were definitely going through a rebuilding year. Bennett is a great coach but even he had his work cut out for him heading to Newcastle. Now he has had a full season with his squad and a chance to overhaul the playing roster and recruit players that fit his mold as a coach. A lot of players were released and Bennett seems to have things running in his favor. We just have to wait and see if he is able to turn this club into premiership contenders.

Strength: Wayne Bennett at the helm. He will always get the best out his players and he is sure to take players like Kurt Gidley and Jarrod Mullen to the next level of play. Not only that, he has recruited players to the club that have done the job for him in the past with the Dragons, namely Beau Scott and Jeremy Smith.

Weakness: Financial woes off the field and the ruck on it. Owner Nathan Tinkler seems to be in a world of trouble and uncertainty over the future of the Knights is sure to impact the players regardless of their on field performance. Hopefully, they allow their play to do the talking. It will be tough for them on the field though at hooker. They have one of the greats of the game in Danny Buderus playing there but his light is fading fast and whilst he is still a talent, his body is struggling to keep up with the pace of the NRL (he is meant to be ruled out for the first 6-10 weeks of the season). Gidley would be able to do the job there but that will perhaps limit the impact of him in other parts of the field.

Verdict:  The Knights are going to be a completely different team and will be pushing strongly towards the title. They should feature in the finals with some very tough, gritty and even boring performances. Where they go from there is a mystery but they will be an improved side.

Prediction: Bottom half of the 8

New Zealand Warriors

2012 Finish: 14th (20 Points W:8 L:16 Diff: -112)
Gains: Thomas Leuluai (Wigan), Dane Nielsen (Storm), Todd Lowrie (Storm), Dominique Peyroux (Titans) & Harry Siejka (Panthers)
Losses: Lewis Brown (Panthers), Krisnan Inu (Bulldogs), Michael Luck (retired), James Maloney (Roosters), Toka Likiliki (Knights), Ligi Sao (Sea Eagles), Omar Slaimankhel (Rugby Union), Ukuma Ta’ai (Huddersfield)

If a person is brave enough to predict the fortunes of the Warriors, they deserve a medal! There is not a more volatile team in the competition than the Warriors. The only consistent part of their play is that they are consistently inconsistent. So what does season 2013 hold for the Warriors after an extremely disappointing end to 2012? At the end of last season, they sacked their head coach Brian McClennan and hired ex-Penrith coach Matthew Elliot. Elliot certainly has his critics within rugby league but you cannot help to think that he is only warming the seat as the powerbrokers at the Warriors move on a big name coach that is coming off contract. They haven’t exactly recruited talented players apart from the two from the Storm. Added to the pain is the talent that they lost to other clubs. Of course, they have one of the strongest junior programs in the NRL, so maybe they are sitting on a gold mine of talent that is yet to be unearthed. We saw the quality of junior players like Konrad Hurrell is capable of, but you can never trade talent for experience in the NRL.

Strength: The size and strength of their forwards. Not only that, they seem to offload the ball with ease and create a lot of second phase play. They are a very tough side to stop, especially when sides travel across to NZ to play them. Throw in two of the most exciting players in the competition in Shaun Johnson and Kevin Locke, and there is a possible recipe for success.

Weakness: Where to start? Mistakes? Defence? Consistency? There is a host of limiting factors that hamper the effectiveness of the Warriors. If they manage to get things rights for 80 minutes a week, they can be one of the hardest teams to stop in the competition. But when they’re off, they can be shocking.

Verdict: The Warriors are on a slide and it doesn’t look as though it will get any easier this season. They posses a lot of talent and will promise so much but again fail to deliver. Consistency is never a high priority for the Warriors and they always seem to struggle on the road. The hopes of the Kiwi’s should rest with the RLWC at the end of the season.

Prediction: Miss the 8 altogether

North Queensland Cowboys

2012 Finish: 5th (34 Points W:15 L:9 Diff: +152) – Eliminated in Week 2 of the Finals
Gains: Anthony Mitchell (Roosters), Rory Kostjaysn (Storm), Curtis Rona (Roosters), Clint Greenshields (Catalans) & Scott Moore (Huddersfield)
Losses: James Segeyaro (Panthers), Cory Paterson (Hull KR), Aaron Payne (retired), Moses Pangai (Panthers) & Dane Hogan (Easts Tigers)

The Cowboys can be another side that struggles with consistency, but they play with a lot more conviction and have a great host of talent within their side. They were unfortunately dealt a very tough hand in 2012 with the amount of injuries that they had to battle. With a strong offseason behind them, they can produce the very effective play that we have come to know from them. The hopes are squarely on the shoulders of Jonathan Thurston but should the Cowboys fail early on in the season, the heat will be turned up on coach Neil Henry. Due to the Cowboys decent performances in recent years, he has been able to hold onto his position there. He is a quality coach but an early season slump will have people calling for his head.

Strength: JT working off a great platform set by the forwards. The forwards that the Cowboys had last year were damaging, but they must ensure that they are all fit and firing at the same time. There is no use having the wealth of talent at your disposal and not being able to use it on a consistent basis. They also need to create room for their star play on a regular occurrence.

Weakness: Uncertainty surrounding Jonathan Thurston. There appears to be a bidding war coming up over the services of one of the best players in the game.  I am not questioning the character of this bloke, he is a professional and will act through one throughout the negotiations. But his mind may be elsewhere at certain points. Hopefully for the Cowboys sake, he makes his decision known early and it works in their favor. If it does, the real weakness may lie within the ruck. They had Aaron Payne retire at the end of 2012 and lost James Segeyaro. Maybe the acquisition of Rory Kostjaysn, who is a very capable and talented player, can offset the trouble they might have.

Verdict: The Cowboys are genuine contenders for the premiership and their chances will only be boosted with positive news regarding JT. They are always strong at home and posses a dominating forward pack that is capable of bruising football.

Prediction: Top 8

Parramatta Eels

2012 Finish: Last (16 Points W:6 L:18 Diff: -243)
Gains: Darcy Lussick (Sea Eagles) & Daniel Harrison (Sea Eagles)
Losses: Nathan Hindmarsh (retired), Luke Burt (retired), Casey McGuire (retired), Justin Poore (Wakefield), Shane Shackleton (Panthers), Esi Tonga (Sea Eagles) & Justin Horo (Sea Eagles)

The Eels have high hopes heading into 2013 and the only way is up for them after an extremely disappointing 2012. They acquired the services of coach Ricky Stuart who stepped aside from his role as NSW SOO coach to take up this opportunity. That decision was puzzling as he was working towards something positive with the state side but the desire was obviously there for him and he had some unfinished business. He will no doubt have a positive effect on the squad and push some talented players to reach their potential on a consistent basis. Especially when Stuart-coached teams have always been built around a very strong defensive game.

Strength: Stuart demanding the best out of his players. Players such as Chris Sandow, Tim Mannah and Jarryd Hayne are only going to benefit under his guidance. As leaders of the squad, they will hold a key position in motivating the rest of squad to bigger and better things. They will also see an improvement in their work ethic, attitude and defence.

Weakness: The pressure surrounding the arrival of Stuart. People will have to understand that this is not a club that is going to turn around their fortunes overnight. It is definitely a work in progress. They also have to figure out how to play Sandow and Hayne in the same side together. Both players are individually focused and like to dominate the play. There has to be one player leading them around the park.

Verdict: The Eels are going to be an improved side this year but they will not be contending for the title. Ricky Stuart will need more than one short preseason to turn the fortunes of this club around. They may make it to finals football but will trouble the top sides on their day.

Prediction: Pushing for the Top 8 and may just scrape in.

Penrith Panthers

2012 Finish: 15th (20 points W:8 L:16 Diff: -166)
Gains: Lewis Brown (Warriors), Dean Whare (Sea Eagles), Sika Manu (Storm), James Segeyaro (Cowboys), Wes Naiqama (Knights), Kyle O’Donnell (Knights), Jeremy Latimore (Dragons), James Roberts (Rabbitohs), Moses Pangai (Cowboys), Sam Anderson (Knights), Ethan Cook (Knights), Tom Humble (Tigers), Shane Shackleton (Eels) & Mose Masoe (Roosters)
Losses: Michael Gordon (Sharks), Masada Iosefa (Tigers), Nafe Seluini (Roosters), Sandor Earl (Raiders), Luke Lewis (Sharks), Travis Burns (Hull KR), Mitch Achurch (Leeds), Harry Siejka (Warriors) & Michael Jennings (Roosters)

There is a lot of change occurring out west and it seems as though they have only just begun a long road to rebuilding the club. You only have to look above to notice that. It appears that Phil Gould has his fingerprints all over the Panthers redemption, but at the end of the day, responsibility will fall with the players and coach Ivan Cleary. Cleary surprisingly left the Warriors two years ago to take up this position and it looks as though he is slowly getting the players he wants to coach, at the club. Much like the Eels, the only way up for them is up. By the clubs own admission, it is another rebuilding year ahead but they cannot continually use this as an excuse.

Strength: The exciting youngsters they have at their club. They cleared their decks last year and got rid of some club “legends”. Now the youngsters at the club have to stand up and lead from the front. This includes Lachlan Coote, Tim Grant and Luke Walsh. Otherwise further pressure will be placed on the entire squad as well as coach Ivan Cleary.

Weakness: The “Rebuilding-factor”. As stated above, the Panthers have admitted that it will be a tough season ahead. The squad doesn’t posses much talent either. A few injuries could see their season hampered further. Coach Cleary will have his coaching ability tested this year.

Verdict: It could be another long year for Panthers fans as this club continues to rebuild every aspect from the coach to the junior development. They will not play as poorly as they did last year and will be able to worry a few sides on their day. Maybe even be in Finals contention in the run home, but only a mathematical chance. Either way, it is better than where they were last season.

Prediction: Miss out on the 8, but will be a mathematical chance at in the run home.

South Sydney Rabbitohs

2012 Finish: 3rd (36 points W:16 L:8 Diff: +138) – Eliminated in Week 3 of the Finals by the Bulldogs
Gains: Jeff Lima (Wigan), Ben Te’o (Broncos), Mitchell Bucket (Sunshine Coast), Thomas Burgess (Bradford), Bryson Goodwin (Bulldogs) & Beau Champion (Titans)
Losses: Eddy Pettybourne (Tigers), Dave Taylor (Titans), Scott Geddes (retired), James Roberts (Panthers) & Adrian Ha’angana (released)

Hopes are high out at Redfern and the “easy-beat-Rabbitohs” seems to be a thing of the past. Coach Michael Maguire has worked extremely hard in changing the culture and mentality of this squad. 2012 was a good season for the Rabbitohs as they reached the Finals for only the second time since 1989. A lot of it comes down to the talent they have within their roster. They have the services of some out and out NRL Stars and it is showing in their play.

Strength: Various! They have the very damaging Greg Inglis at his sublime best and playing at fullback, Sam Burgess dominating up front (or where ever he plays on the field), Issac Luke dynamic out of dummy half and Adam Reynolds experiencing a great run in his rookie season. There is no doubt that the first three mentioned will always reach their best but a cloud does hang over Reynolds. Hopefully he doesn’t suffer an injury or the dreaded “second year syndrome”. No doubt Maguire will have all of these players motivated and firing when needed.

Weakness: Reliance on their stars. We saw at times in 2012 that when their stars were out through injury or suspension, they would struggle. This could happen again this season but can be avoided if everyone stays fit. They also cannot be caught up in their own hype. No doubt Maguire will have worked hard to counter both problems this season and ensure that his side remains grounded and share the workload.

Verdict: The Rabbitohs are genuine contenders for the premiership this season with a very talented roster. They will only be boosted when their stars are firing. Hopefully they would have learnt from the finish to 2012 and be hungry for more. Expect them to feature heavily this season in some very exciting fixtures.

Prediction: Top 4

St George-Illawarra Dragons

2012 Finish: 9th (26 points W:11 L:13 Diff: -33)
Gains: Gerard Beale (Broncos), Tyson Frizell (Sharks), Josh Drinkwater (Sea Eagles), Michael Henderson (Titans) & Bronson Harrison (Raiders)
Losses: Beau Scott (Knights), Dean Young (retired), Jeremy Latimore (Panthers), Ben Hornby (retired), Jack Buchanan (Tigers), Ben Musulino (Sea Eagles), David Gower (Sea Eagles) & Josh Miller (retired)

The Dragons are a side that seems to be still struggling with a Grand Final hangover from 2010. Since then, Wayne Bennett has left and Steve Price took the reins. While not recognised as a genuine coach, he was endorsed by Bennett and was quickly introduced to the NRL with a tough season. They failed to make the finals in 2012 and they had a fairly talented roster, but they were unable to play with consistency. When they did, they were tough to stop. But things will only get tougher for the Dragons this season after a lot of recognised players either left the club or retired. Many are tipping Price to be the first coach to be sacked in 2012 but you can never be too sure of the outcome of the season, especially when no one has high expectations of them.

Strength: The young players coming through their system. These players include; Mitch Rein, Dan Hunt, Trent Merrin, Jack de Belin and Drinkwater. All of these players except for Drinkwater, play in the forwards. They will be looking to these players when their pack needs leaders to put their hand up and take charge.

Weakness: The halves. Jamie Soward will play 5/8, but there is a lot of uncertainty over the halfback role. Some have touted Nathan Fein as a replacement, but many would agree when I say that he is only an average halfback now. If he can return to the form that people saw from him early in his career then he could be the answer. But for now, a lot of pressure will fall on Soward, especially if the side is unable to win those close games and play without structure.

Verdict: The Dragons are on a slide and they will require something very special to stop it from occurring. What that is remains a mystery. The 9th finish last season was very flattering and a lot of pressure will surround their coach. It is going to be a long season for them and they will be languishing down the bottom of the table.

Prediction: Miss out on the 8, possible spoon favorites.

Sydney Roosters

2012 Finish: 13th (21 points W:8 D:1 L:15 Diff: -164)
Gains: James Maloney (Warriors), Michael Oldfield (Sea Eagles), Nafe Seluini (Panthers), Samisoni Langi (Bulldogs), Sam Moa (Hull FC), Sonny Bill Williams (Rugby Union) & Michael Jennings (Panthers)
Losses: Braith Anasta (Tigers), Sam Perrett (Bulldogs), Anthony Mitchell (Cowboys), Justin Carney (Castleford), Curtis Rona (Cowboys), Peni Tagive (retired), Mose Masoe (Panthers) & Joseph ‘BJ’ Leilua (released)

The Roosters have featured heavily in the media during the offseason after they were able to secure the services of SBW, albeit for only one season. It seems a distant memory now, but the Roosters are also venturing into the season with a new coach. Brian Smith departed at the end of 2012 and they now have Trent Robinson running the show. The young coach has an advantage in taking this position, he was assistance coach of defence when the Roosters reached the 2010 Grand Final under Smiths guidance. He will no doubt have knowledge of the squad and how they operate, so maybe the transition to his coaching style will be easier than most think. Don’t forget that they have also made other useful acquisitions of Michael Jennings and James Maloney.

Strength: A youthful squad. They went through some very hard times during the 2012 but no doubt that would’ve had a positive effect on the squad. They were losing very close games and looked lost at times around the field. But it was no doubt a useful learning experience. Being a young squad will no doubt motivate them to strive for success. A lot of players remain from the 2010 Grand Final team and they will no doubt be hungry to return to finals football.

Weakness: A youthful squad. While it is listed as a strength, it can also be a weakness for them. It just depends on how coach Robinson can influence the squad. He really needs to mentor playmaker Mitchell Pearce, who is still yet to reach the heights he was destined for, despite playing SOO footy. Hopefully, Maloney can help him and it could be the calming effect that he brings to games that Peirce is looking for.

Verdict: Expect to see the Roosters improve dramatically in 2013. They have recruited very well and now have a very smart coach running the club. Although a rookie, he will emphasise defence as a key part of their structure. They should feature in the finals and will not be making up the numbers by any means.

Prediction: Bottom half of the 8.

West Tigers

2012 Finish: 10th (26 points W:11 L:13 Diff: -45)
Gains: Braith Anasta (Roosters), Masada Iosefa (Panthers), Eddy Pettybourne (Rabbitohs), Bodene Thompson (Titans), Jack Buchanan (Dragons) & James Gavet (Bulldogs)
Losses: Gareth Ellis (Super League), Beau Ryan (Sharks), Chris Heighington (Sharks), Junior Moors (Storm), Tom Humble (Panthers), Dane Chisholm (Sea Eagles) & John Grant (Rugby Union)

The Tigers may be coming to the end of a golden era at the club. It was apparent last year when they failed to make the semi finals and subsequently sacked coach Tim Sheens. Mick Potter is his replacement after coaching in the English Super League since 2006. He has served a very long apprenticeship and now it is his chance to make his mark at the NRL level. He certainly does have his work cut out for him. There is no doubt that the Tigers posses a very talented roster but they seem to be lacking in areas, which may limit their potency within this competition. The Tigers have also lost a few quality players from their 2012 squad and don’t seem to have any suitable replacements “jumping up” to replace players like Ellis, Ryan and Heighington. Time will tell with the Tigers and the difference in their season could come down to the effect that Potter has on his new club.

Strength: The unpredictability of their play. The Tigers are often at their best when they have Marshall and Farrah calling the shots and working their side around the field without structure. Of course, these two players need to be consistent and stay healthy.

Weakness: The depth of their squad. Last year they were pushed to the limits with injuries and it was part of their downfall. If the same thing occurs again this year, their season may very well be over sooner than they would like.

Verdict: It is going to be another tough season for the Tigers. They lack depth in some key areas and place too much pressure on the shoulders of Farrah and Marshall. The best thing that could’ve happened was the hiring of a new coach. That may keep them in finals contention as the season draws to a end but will not trouble anyone past that.

Prediction: Miss out on the 8, but will be a mathematical chance at in the run home.

Author

I have followed Rugby League since I was young enough to watch it and growing up in Sydney, it was inevitable. I will always make it my business to watch all 8 NRL fixtures per week and follow it with more than just passion. During my playing career, I have played at several representative levels, with and against current players. I began writing previews on NRL games early on in 2012 and really found a passion within this. I enjoy listening to various people and their opinions on the game, and then forming my own. Coupled together with another passion, gambling, I soon learnt that there was a market out there for more than the rugby league diehards. Hopefully I can pass on my knowledge of the game to help you win some cash.

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Scooby

Hey guys, i'm Scooby! I have followed Rugby League since I was young enough to watch it and growing up in Sydney, it was inevitable. I will always make it my business to watch all 8 NRL fixtures per week and follow it with more than just passion. During my playing career, I have played at several representative levels, with and against current players. I began writing previews on NRL games early on in 2012 and really found a passion within this. I enjoy listening to various people and their opinions on the game, and then forming my own. Coupled together with another passion, gambling, I soon learnt that there was a market out there for more than the rugby league diehards. Hopefully I can pass on my knowledge of the game to help you win some cash.

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