Next Thursday the St George Dragons and Brisbane Broncos kick off the 2018 NRL season at Jubilee Oval which means its time footy fans to enter those tipping comps and fill up your Sportsbet account. Melbourne shellacked an injury riddled Cowboys in last year’s Grand Final, lets take a look at what your team has done in the offseason and where they might go:
Melbourne: Cooper Cronk going to the Roosters breaks up the ‘big 3’, they only lost 4 games all of last season, last year’s Premiers will again be a force and be somewhere in the Finals but as always the Origin period will hurt them, top 4 is likely but not guaranteed as in previous seasons.
Roosters: Many experts are tipping the Chooks to go all the way, no Mitchell Pearce no problem, we’ve got Cronk and James Tedesco, how they work in with dummy half Jake Friend will determine their season.
Broncos: Crusty Wayne Bennett will be in Anthony Milford’s ear to ramp up his game now Ben Hunt has bolted to the Dragons. Former Shark Jack Bird is the wildcard.
Eels: Coach Brad Arthur won’t put up with any J.Hayne drama derailing the team, if the former San Fransciso 49er is serious, the centre pairing he forms with Michael Jennings will be fun to watch. Mitchell Moses will only add more spark this season; expect this team to go far.
Cronulla: Boy did the Sharks miss Ben Barba and Michael Ennis last season. Former Panther Matt Moylan joins the team; a team that will want to send Paul Gallen out a Champion in his final year, the loss of ball player James Maloney will hurt.
Manly: I was surprised as anyone that the Sea Eagles made the Finals last year, pleasantly surprised of course. They were in the Mitchell Pearce sweepstakes at five-eighth but lost out to the Knights with salary cap dramas, losing Blake Green will hurt, the Trbojevic brothers have to fire to make a finals run.
Panthers: Last few seasons the Mountain Men have been dogged by expectation. Will this year be any different? The James Maloney, Nathan Cleary halves pairing looks really good, if they miss the Finals, the pressure on Gus Gould will be enormous.
Cowboys: What they did last year in making the Grand Final without Matt Scott and Johnathan Thurston shows the toughness of this team and the quality of Paul Green as coach. Jordan McLean coming over from Melbourne only puts more steel in the forward pack; I’d be shocked if they weren’t top 4.
Dragons: The Kogarah boys missed the Finals last year by a whisker, if Gareth Widdop gets the ball to former Bronco Ben Hunt often enough good things might happen, not sure how much new signing James Graham has left but if he shows life that’s a good pack with Tariq Sims and Tyson Frizell.
Canberra: Most ‘experts’ pick to go all the way last season (I’m no expert but I picked them as well). Not many saw they’d miss the Finals altogether. Losing hooker Josh Hodgson to an ACL will hurt but it’s the maddening inconsistency of this team that derailed last year, if they solve that they’ll be tough to beat.
Bulldogs: The Doggies have gone through massive transition since last year, losing local favourites Reynolds, Kasiano and Graham, they’ve gained Keiren Foran and prop Aaron Woods from the Tigers. The attack struggled under Des Hasler, if Dean Pay doesn’t fix that they’ll languish in mid table all year.
Souths: The 2014 Premiership seems like eons ago, the messiah from that season coach Mike Mcguire was fired last year and the bunnies lost star Greg Inglis in the first game, it was a year to forget. Former Knight Dan Gagai will help but if Sam Burgess doesn’t get help from the forwards Adam Reynolds won’t be wielding any magic.
Warriors: Last season the Kiwis went 7-17, I expect better this year with Blake Green and Shaun Johnson in the halves, new recruits Peta Hiku and Gerard Beale makes for a pretty handy backline, cut down the errors and this team could surprise.
Tigers: The prodigal son Benji is back home, they’ll need him as a spark because Wests finished 14th last year, but it will be the halves pairing of Josh Reynolds and Luke Brooks and if they gel that determines the Tigers fate. Ivan Cleary is a good coach and he’ll need to be.
Titans: The Hayne/Henry drama is gone; it’s a new coach and hopefully new club for the Gold Coast. Halfback Ash Taylor is the future but its hard not to see the Titans as a club in rebuild mode, they’ll be in the middle of the pack somewhere.
Knights: Last years’ wooden spooners will look to climb off the bottom, that’s very likely with star signing Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga a former Cowboy who’s a hot prospect at fullback. Aiden Guerra will also add experience to the forwards.
Now its time to do the near impossible and predict some outcomes.
Wooden Spoon: Warriors
Surprise Packet: Knights
Top 4: Cowboys, Roosters, Eels, Panthers
Grand Final: Cowboys v Eels