How It Will Finish
5. Sea Eagles
Roosters: Did a magnificent job in keeping their premiership winning side together. Luke O’Donnell is the only player who will not back up for the club after retiring. He has been replaced by French standout Remi Casty so you get the feeling they won’t lose much there. The Roosters have the best outside backs in the competition, arguably the second best halves, after Manly, and one of the top three packs. Will be extremely hard to beat. Can’t see anyone putting together the consistency to worry the Bondi outfit. Injuries are the only hope other teams have.
Bulldogs: Had a miserable 2013 and will be looking to get back to their best in 2014. Ben Barba was a superstar, but was also a distraction for the club. With his moving to Brisbane, the club no longer have that excuse to rely on for poor form. The Dogs were exposed early last season as teams worked on shutting their ball playing forwards down. The Dogs halves failed to fire and without Barba’s amazing input of 2012, the club limped into the finals and were bundled out by the Knights. Des Hasler is a VERY good coach, he’ll have them firing from day one this season. Expect Reynolds and Hodkinson to shoulder much more of the attacking workload this season, with success.
Bunnies: Fell one game short of the grand final for the second straight season. Adam Reynolds is yet to overcome the big game ‘yips’ but the general feeling is 2014 may be the year he matures. Luke Klearey’s injury is a big blow to the club however John Sutton will simply push his projected move into the backline off until the talented youngster is fit. The Burgess clan will again be key to the Bunnies success. Sam’s signing for Rugby for next season could prove a distraction, or may bring the team together to send him out a champion.
Storm: Could this be the year the Storm finally slide? They’ve lost talented five-eighth Gareth Widdop to the Dragons, however any team containing Dally M medalist Cooper Cronk, Cam Smith and Billy Slater is hard to write off. Ryan Hoffman remains key as he is the one most likely to take the pressure off the Big Three. Ben Hampton looks like he will get the nod in the number six and the season could hinge on how he performs. Having watched him play for the Sharks NSW Cup side, Storm fans have reason to be excited by this young star. Will Chambers may play Origin if Justin Hodges does not recover in time.
Sea Eagles: Have lost a mountain of experience in their front row, however boast the competition’s most exciting young crop of forwards. The Eagles boast the best halves combination in the game in Cherry-Evans and Foran, while they have one of the most potent backlines. Jamie Lyon shows no signs of slowing down and will again be key. His right side combo with Glenn Stewart and David Williams is something every team in the competition wishes they had. May lack to go forward to push for a top two spot as no matter how talented the club’s youngsters are, there is no substitution for experience. Brent Kite will be missed.
Warriors: There is a lot of buzz coming from across the Tasman in the form of the Warriors. Sam Tomkins is a massive signing for the New Zealand based club and although it may take him a few rounds to adjust to the increased speed and skill of the NRL, he will be a star. Shaun Johnson is one of the game’s premier halfbacks and will be looking to stamp his authority with new halves partner Chad Townsend. The Warriors can be absolutely brilliant or absolutely terrible, which frustrates fans and officials alike. On their day they’re almost unbeatable, but unfortunately Matthew Elliot is yet to find the recipe to ensure the Warriors are on their day more days than not. It may come this year.
Sharks: The ASADA cloud just refuses to go away. Will miss their coach Shane Flanagan this season however have a more than suitable replacement in Peter Sharp. Boast one of the best packs in the game, if not the best. Luke Lewis should be back by round five or six meaning Gallen, Lewis, Graham, Tagataese and Fifita will lead the charge for the Shire club. Todd Carney is the key, and is perhaps the most important player to any club’s chances in the league. Jeff Robson, Daniel Holdsworth and John Morris are all solid players, however hardly strike fear into opposition defences. Will be hoping young guns Michael Lichaa and Tupou Sopoaga mature quickly. Must re-sign Andrew Fifita and Michael Lichaa.
Panthers: People laughed when Gus Gould laid out his five year plan. Now it is fans of the Penrith club who are struggling to hide a smile. Have recruited two former Origin halves as well as former Origin stars Brent Kite and Jamal Idris. The club’s backline is bursting with excitement machines with Mansour and Moylan especially looking like long-term mainstays. David Simmons had his best season in 2013 and will be looking to reproduce the form that had some suggesting he may play rep footy. Tyrone Peachey may be the sleeper signing of the year. The five year plan is well on course.
Knights: Massively overachieved last season on the back of some ridiculous form running into and including the finals. Jarrod Mullen’s injury sets them back massively however Kurt Gidley may have finally shaken off his injury concerns. An aging squad, especially in the forwards, rely on experience and the technical smarts of their coach Wayne Bennett. Have some scary outside backs in Uate and McManus, as well as reformed bad boys Gagai and Leilua. Will be hoping Kade Snowden rediscovers the form that earned him both Blues and Roos jerseys.
Cowboys: Were unlucky to exit the finals they way they did. Although much was made about the horrible refereeing error, the fact that they had more than enough chances to bury the Sharks on the day has been somewhat overlooked. Paul Green won’t make the mistake of putting the finals exit down to the officials. Won their first silverware with their win in the nines and have some bright stars coming through. The loss of Matt Bowen will be huge, as will the injury to replacement Lachlan Coote. Without a star fullback to back Johnathan Thurston up, they will struggle. Bowen meant so much to the club in terms of try assists, line breaks and try saving plays. I don’t see anyone in the side being able to contribute 15 try assists to aid their superstar halfback. Have the game’s premier front row, and won’t lose too many battles up the middle.
Titans: The Titans are a hard side to grade. Any side containing an all Origin back row is not to be messed with, however the strike power out wide seems to be lacking. Aidan Seazer was brilliant last season but both he and Kelly will need to find a level of consistency that just wasn’t there in 2013 if the Gold Coast side is to feature come finals time. Greg Bird and Nate Myles are world class forwards and provide experience on and off the field. The Titans lack something across their backline, which has become more pronounced sinced losing Jamal Idris to the Panthers. Whereas the Sharks have Todd Carney to make their understrength backline look better than they are, Seazer has a long way to go before he can claim to be in the same class.
Broncos: Had a brilliant nine’s campaign, falling short in the grand final, however were belted from pillar to post by the Warriors in the last trial game of the season. Better judges than I will tell you that trial form means nothing, however the signs are worrying. Have gained a mega star in Ben Barba however have lost their three top halves. Non Broncos fans, without using google, I ask you to name who the front runners are for the halves positions this season. Star centre Justin Hodges faces yet another long stint on the sidelines and will have to work hard to feature by Origin. Corey Parker, Sam Thaiday and Ben Barba mean they’re hardly lacking star power, however across the park just don’t have the talent to match the top sides.
Tigers: Have the competition’s most exciting youngsters. Luke Brooks is already being spoken of as a future Origin player while Tedesco looks like he is capable of dominating the highlight reels. Simona, Nofoaluma, Luani, the list goes on. There is plenty of talent there, but it’s a dangerous game relying on a bunch of kids to compete with established stars. Will excite plenty of fans with their expansive game plan this season, however won’t have the consistency to worry the top sides often. Robbie Farah and Keith Galloway are absolutely key for the club this season, and an injury to either could spell absolute disaster.
Dragons: Recruited well in the off season, however lack the size up front to match the Roosters, Bunnies, Sharks, Eagles etc. Gareth Widdop is a handy pick up, however time will tell just how much of his brilliance can be attributed to being surrounded by Slater, Smith and Cronk. Sam Williams is another handy signature although it’s not fair to expect him to be able to turn around the Dragon’s fortunes having spent most of last season in the reserves. Bren Creagh has a battle on his hands as he will be the linchpin for the forward pack. Steve Price is at very short odds to be the first coach axed in 2014 and although the Dragons are far too proud to become easybeats, I simply can’t see where they will find enough wins to make the eight.
Eels: Will improve on last season. They have to. The two time defending wooden spooners have a genuine star in their backline who can assist Hayne in Will Hopoate. How he returns to the game having spent two years away from the day to day NRL lifestyle will be one of the season’s many great sub stories. Hayne had a brilliant World Cup at centre and will return to his favoured position of fullback for the Parra side. Ricky Stuart was lauded as the savior, however left a horrible legacy having cut a large number of the club’s playing staff and leaving without rebuilding the squad. Brad Arthur steps into the furnace and will be hoping Hayne, Moi Moi, Hopoate and Mannah fire on all cylinders, however the club could be looking down the barrell of a third straight wooden spoon.
Raiders: Raiders fans will be happy I have them coming last after seeing the Panthers prove me so wrong last season. Simply put Robinson and the departing Milford aside, I don’t see many points in the Canberra outfit. Terry Campese is one of the best five-eighths going around when he’s on the pitch, however it has become a matter of when, not if, Campese will get injured. I hope he plays every minute or every game this season for the Raiders as he’s a brilliant player, but his long list of long term injuries has me worried. There is more than enough talent, and size, in the Canberra forward pack to batter opponents into the ground, however the Raiders just don’t have the outside backs to make use of their forward pack’s dominance. Wighton, Lee, Croker are all players capable of brilliant games, however the consistency just isn’t there. You can put your house on the Raiders making the eight now that I’ve placed them last.
Dally M Medal: Todd Carney – Came extremely close to winning the medal last season despite missing rounds through injury. If the Sharks win more than they lose this season, Carney will poll big numbers. Robson and co. are solid backup, however do not take many votes away from the brilliant pivot. Gallen, Fifita and Lewis are his biggest threats at the Sharks of taking points off him however they spread the workload and may cancel each other out. Inglis will start the red hot favourite however his knees worry me. Cherry-Evans will finish second, Inglis third.
Rookie Of The Year: Luke Brooks – The hype that follows young Brooks is absolutely ridiculous and I hope it does not weigh him down. Brooks is brilliant. His running game, his passing game, his kicking game, and by all account his defence are top notch. Can he hold his ground with the competition’s big men targeting him constantly? it’s going to be a baptism of fire for the youngster, however he is going to play a part in many highlights in 2014 and will beat Ben Hampton to the ward.
First Coach Axed: Steve Price – Unfortunately for the Red V it is all about avoiding early losses to save their coach. Will play the Tigers, Warriors and Sharks first up. Could be 3-0, could be 0-3. Their early season form must be good before they run into the Bunnies, Storm, Roosters and Dogs or they will fall a long way behind the pack. Whereas other coaches of teams not performing well are popular with fans, Steve Price doesn’t seem to have the fans on his side.