Its time to raid the wardrobe and break out your footy jersey, the NRL season kicks off on Thursday night with reigning premiers Cronulla taking on the Brisbane Broncos at Shark Park. Its been five months since the Sharks won their maiden Premiership over the Melbourne Storm when in the dying minutes prop Andrew Fifita crashed over for a barnstorming try, then as the clock ticked down the Sharks defense survived for a 14-12 victory.
Five months is a long time in Rugby League, here’s a quick run-down of where your teams’ at and where they could go:
Cronulla: The old heads of Gallen, Lewis and Maloney will be key in guiding this team through the pressure of defending the title, losing the niggle man Michael Ennis and Ben Barba hurts but Valentine Holmes at fullback should fire, they’ll be playoff bound.
Storm: The fact the Storm even made the Grand Final last year without Billy Slater for long periods shows the quality of this team, his return and how fit he stays could spell danger for every other team.
Broncos: Old head Cory Parker is gone, Darius Boyd is now Captain and the mercurial Benji Marshall has moved over from the Tigers, that’s an interesting five months for Brisbane, the form of Milford and Ben Hunt determines how far they go.
Raiders: Canberra was a revelation last season, and their fans lapped it up with the ‘Viking Clap’. Losing Captain Croker for five weeks with a dislocated knee-cap in the pre-season doesn’t help their early rounds but adding big Dave Taylor to an already monster pack will, they’re a serious threat to win it all.
Eels: If the Eels didn’t get gashed 12 points last season for salary cap shenanigans they were a legitimate title contender, they’ve lost Keiren Foran to the Warriors but Michael Jennings, Radradra and new addition from the Titans, Josh Hoffman still give them plenty of firepower out wide.
Bulldogs: Most of the ‘experts’ have the doggies missing the 8, the coach with the best hair in the comp, Des Hasler almost got the axe after last season, the Dogs seem to go how Josh Reynolds goes, if he and his halves partner Moses Mbye can click expect the points to follow.
Panthers: the men from the mountains on the other hand are in most experts’ top 4, not sure if that’s a ‘kiss of death’ or not. Gus Goulds’ men will be hardened by the arrival of Cowboy James Tamou. A round 5 clash against the Storm in Melbourne will determine if they are contenders or pretenders.
Cowboys: Prop Matt Scott already has big shoulders but he’ll have to carry more of a load now his front row partner Tamou has left for the Panthers, the Cowboys though are essentially the same side as last season, not withstanding Ben Hannant retiring, any side with Johnathon Thurston is a threat.
Warriors: the team across the Tasman will give their fans more rollercoaster rides than Disneyland; they can beat anybody and lose to anybody. Kieren Foran may provide some steadiness in guiding them around the park but he’ll have to gel with Shaun Johnson and Issac Luke, they’re either top 4 or will run 14th.
Roosters: The Chooks finished 15th last year, I can guarantee that won’t happen this year, not with a roster including Pearce, Waerea-Hargraves, Jake Friend and Kenny-Dowall. Michael Gordon is a good buy from the Eels, a calm influence at fullback; this team will be in the thick of it.
Souths: Appendicitis has struck the Bunnies, with halfback Adam Reynolds sidelined for the first month of the season, that will hurt and it doesn’t help that new recruit, the old Tiger Robbie Farrah will be looking to work on combinations without Reynolds. Souths had a home record of 3-9 last season, that has to change for them to contend.
Manly: all the experts have already given up on my beloved Sea Eagles to get anywhere near the 8, surely that’s bulletin board material for coach Barrett. The Brookvale faithful are sad to see Brett Stewart, Steve Matai and Jamie Lyon all gone, that’s a lot of firepower and experience out of the backline. Akulia Uate from the Knights, Blake Green (Storm) and Tom Trbojevic have to link up with Cherry-Evans to fill the void.
Dragons: 26 rounds is a long season but after week 3 we’ll know a lot more about the Dragons and probably where they’re headed. Gone are Mitch Rein (Panthers), Ben Creagh (retired) and Benji Marshall (Broncos). They’ve got a tough start with Panthers (home), Eels (home) and Sharks (away) and if things go badly Coach McGregor will be lucky to survive the season.
Tigers: I’ve always liked watching the Tigers play, they can throw it around like your mama’s hot potato, Farah is gone which is probably a good thing considering it had become a major distraction, the intriguing part is Jamal Idris is back from his sabbatical and with a backline consisting of Tedesco, Moses and Luke Brooks that could mean ‘watch out’.
Titans: A lot of turnover on the Gold Coast with Dave Shillington (retired), Greg Bird (Catalans), Nathan Friend (retired) and Josh Hoffman (Eels) all gone. They have gained Kevin Proctor (Storm) and of course the wildcard is Jarryd Hayne, if he fires anything is possible, they made the 8 last year, don’t think they can do it again.
Knights: I must have left the Newcastle mob till last for a reason, probably because every ‘expert’ has predicted another wooden spoon, on paper they actually look worse than last year if that’s even possible. They’ve lost Jeremy Smith (retired), Kade Snowden (retired) and Akulla Uate (Manly), that’s 3 class players, maybe Coach Nathan Brown can work a miracle.
Ok, now its time for those predictions.
Wooden Spoon: Knights
Surprise Packet: Tigers
Top 4: Raiders, Cowboys, Storm, Roosters
Grand Final: Raiders v Cowboys