I didn’t think I was ready for the NRL to start, but I was wrong.
I’ve been watching some EPL. I’ve seen some NFL. I’ve definitely been watching the Cricket. The NRL 9s kind of snuck up on me and before I knew it I was scoffing down 2 minute replays of all the games like they were Tic Tacs (that wasn’t product placement – I wish it was product placement as I would have a life time supply of Tic Tacs. What would that look like? Half a room? 4 palettes? I digress). Last year’s NRL Preview was a tome. I’m talking 432,000 words and 4200 pictures (only slightly exaggerating) but it near killed me to write it across a week so I’m breaking this one down into 4 parts.
Part 1 will cover teams I’ve predicted to finish in positions 13 to 16. The ‘Wishing there was a Draft but happy there’s no Relegation Teams’.
Part 2 will be teams 9 to 12. The ‘Missed by that Much Teams’, a homage to Maxwell Smart. Google it if your under 35.
Part 3 will be teams 5 to 8. The ‘There and Thereabouts Teams’. Could get hot and make the GF like the Bulldogs last season but unlikely to win the whole thing.
Part 4 will be teams 1 to 4. The Contenders.
As always we are travelling in the reverse skating direction (BTW if you didn’t have a sizable portion of your childhood in the 80s you’re just not getting that or you’re thinking its just not funny or both).
WISHING THERE WAS A DRAFT BUT HAPPY THERE’S NO RELEGATION TEAMS
Subtraction by subtraction
Odds – 91.00 – 16th
Predicted Finish – 16th
If this Team was a Movie that Movie would be – Saving Private Ryan – Arguably, the Raiders could be contending for the top 8 if they had retained all of their junior talent over the years. While it is true that the majority of departures haven’t been entirely their fault, the upshot is they are stuck in NRL purgatory. A cursory look at their Toyota/Holden Cup teams over the last few years will tell you all you need to know. Joel Thompson (2008), Josh Dugan (2009), Daniel Vidot (2009), Travis Waddell (2009), Sam Mataora (2010), Drury Low (2010), Matthew Allwood (2012) and Anthony Milford (2012) have all played for the Raiders at Toyota/Holden Cup level and have since left the team. I just can’t see them making the 8. Expect to see Ricky Stuart under pressure fairly early in the season.
Big Question – How are they going to replace Anthony Milford? Short answer. They can’t. To be fair to the Raiders, they tried everything to keep him but he is from Brisbane, his family are in Brisbane and the change of coach obviously didn’t help them, especially in terms of timing. Mitch Cornish is a prodigious talent. They will be counting on him to offset Milford’s loss to a certain extent. They’ve also jettisoned Terry Campese. I’m thinking young halves are a recipe for disaster unless their names are Foran or Cherry-Evans.
Top Gun – Josh Papalii – Papalii didn’t have his best season last year, although he was still good enough to make the Australian team on talent alone. He isn’t quite in the Tony Williams category yet for mercurial performance but he should be wary of being pigeon holed this way. In other words, Stuart will be looking for Papalii to lead the way up front.
Young Gun – Brenko Lee – If you haven’t seen Brenko Lee play yet then you are in for a treat of the Mal Meninga variety (192cm, 101kg). He is a unit and a fast one at that. Currently behind Waqa, Croker, Hawkins and his cousin Edrick Lee for a position in the back line, if he can get on the field I think he can make a real impact.
X-Factor – Jack Wighton – Wighton has been touted for a number of years now and in the absence of Anthony Milford, Canberra will be looking for a good deal of attacking spark from him.
The Big Leap – Mitch Cornish – Anyone who watched Cornish play in the 20s will know how talented he is. Canberra have held off exposing him to the blowtorch of first grade and with Anthony Milford on the books they didn’t really need to. Now is his time. I expect he will be equal to the step up in pressure.
Coach – Ricky Stuart
Gains – Blake Austin (Wests Tigers, 2017), Josh Hodgson (Hull Kingston Rovers, 2016), Rhys Kennedy (Melbourne Storm, 2016), Frank-Paul Nu’uausala (Sydney Roosters, 2017), Iosia Soliola (St Helens RLFC, 2016), Sisa Waqa (Melbourne Storm, 2016) and Sam Williams (Catalan Dragons, 2016).
Losses – Matthew Allwood (New Zealand Warriors), Terry Campese (Hull Kingston Rovers), Jake Foster (QLD Cup), Matt Frawley (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Tom Learoyd-Lahrs (Melbourne Storm), Sam Mataora (Newcastle Knights), Matt McIlwrick (Sydney Roosters), Anthony Milford (Brisbane Broncos), Mosese Pangai (QLD Cup), Reece Robinson (Parramatta Eels), Sami Sauiluma (Cronulla Sharks), Lagi Setu (Sydney Roosters) and Brett White (retired).
Starting Team – 1. Jack Wighton, 2. Sisa Waqa, 3. Jarrod Croker, 4. Brenko Lee, 5. Edrick Lee, 6. Blake Austin, 7. Mitch Cornish, 8. Dane Tilse, 9. Josh Hodgson, 10. David Shillington (c), 11. Josh Papalii, 12. Joel Edwards, 13. Frank-Paul Nuuausala.
Interchange – 14. Josh McCrone, 15. Shannon Boyd, 16. Iosia Soliola, 17. Paul Vaughan.
Squad – Jack Ahearn, Kurk Baptiste, Mitchell Barnett, Glenn Buttriss, Mitchell Cronin, Jeremy Hawkins, Jarrad Kennedy, Rhys Kennedy, Jeff Lynch, Patrick Mago, Mark Nicholls, Kyle O’Donnell, Luke Page, Kilu Pangai, Tevita Pangai Junior, Jordan Rapana, Bill Tupou and Sam Williams.
Injury List – Shaun Fensom (Knee – Round 4)
Can’t see them finishing higher than this
Odds – 30.00 – 13th
Predicted Finish – 15th
If this Team was a Movie that Movie would be – The Remains of the Day – Still suffering from a Wayne Bennett related hangover. Net recruitment would have to be considered in the negative at the moment. Losing Dragons royalty in Brett Morris was a blow. This team has some talent especially in the playmaking department with Gareth Widdop and Benji Marshall and Josh Dugan is certainly a stand out as well but I can’t see them making enough yards in the forwards and I can’t see this season playing out any different to last year.
Big Question – How many miles are left in Benji’s legs? Benji Marshall has been on the scene so long it feels like he should be 40 by now but in reality he is just about to turn 30. I think he will be fine this year. The biggest issue will be his forwards giving him something to play off.
Top Gun – Gareth Widdop – No doubt about it. Gareth Widdop has lifted his game to the next level and I expect his career trajectory to continue. Unfortunately, I can’t see him getting the support he needs for St George to really make a mark this year.
Young Gun – Eto Nabuli – I know this man is 26 but in Rugby League years he is only turning 3. Fast as the wind blows, Nabuli will look to unseat Runciman on one of the wings to make an impact in the NRL. The Dragons other shining junior lights will probably not make an impact this season. Addin Fonua-Blake is suspended indefinitely because of alleged domestic violence and Drew Hutchinson is stuck behind Benji Marshall and Gareth Widdop (and probably Kris Keating) in the pecking order.
X-Factor – Josh Dugan – Dugan will be looking to challenge for the NSW State of Origin Fullback position in the absence of NFL hopeful Jarryd Hayne and the Dragons should be the beneficiaries.
The Big Leap – Mitch Rein – Last year I bought Tyson Frizell stock banking on the Big Leap but incremental improvement is what I got instead. Not such a bad thing. Mitch Rein on the other hand has come on in leaps and bounds. The Dragons will be relying on him to continue such growth and while I don’t think they have the horsepower to make the finals it won’t be this man’s fault.
Coach – Paul McGregor
Gains – Fraser Alcock (2015), Beau Henry (Gold Coast Titans, 2015), Kris Keating (Hull Kingston Rovers, 2015), Heath L’Estrange (Sydney Roosters, 2015), Eto Nabuli (Penrith Panthers, 2015), Dane Nielsen (New Zealand Warriors, 2016), Rulon Nutira (Gundagai Tigers, 2015), George Rose (Melbourne Storm, 2015) and Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard (New Zealand Warriors, 2016).
Losses – Josh Ailaomai (QLD Cup), Gerard Beale (Cronulla Sharks), Jack Bird (Cronulla Sharks), Matt Groat (Salford Red Devils), Brett Morris (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Adam Quinlan (Parramatta Eels), Kyle Stanley (Cronulla Sharks), Jack Stockwell (Newcastle Knights), Sam Williams (Canberra Raiders) and Michael Witt (retired).
Starting Team – 1. Josh Dugan, 2. Eto Nabuli, 3. Dane Nielsen, 4. Dylan Farrell, 5. Jason Nightingale, 6. Gareth Widdop, 7. Benji Marshall, 8. Ben Creagh (c), 9. Mitch Rein, 10. Tyson Frizell, 11. Leeson Ah Mau, 12. Joel Thompson, 13. Trent Merrin.
Interchange – 14. Jack De Belin, 15. Dan Hunt, 16. Mike Cooper, 17. George Rose.
Squad – Eaun Aitken, Shannon Crook, Craig Garvey, Yaw Kiti Glymin, Nathan Green, Beau Henry, Drew Hutchinson, Kris Keating, Heath L’Estrange, Jake Marketo, Peter Mata’Utia, Will Matthews, Rulon Nutira, Rory O’Brien, Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard, Charly Runciman and Shannon Wakeman.
Injury List – Addin Fonua-Blake (Suspension – Indefinite)
At the end of the day you need the cattle
Odds – 50.75 – 15th
Predicted Finish – 14th
If this Team was a Movie that Movie would be – Groundhog Day (Mrs TGOS suggested Remember the Titans but I’d already settled on Groundhog Day) – The Titans have certainly been better than the Giants/Seagulls/Chargers ever were, but things seem to be painfully edging towards a similar end. The NRL is supportive of a presence on the Coast so there’s that. They have a custom built stadium which is another plus and they have a history of some success, something the Giants/Seagulls/Chargers couldn’t really claim. Despite all of that, they find themselves stuck in a rut of limited success (missed the finals in the last 4 seasons), they don’t have any of the foundation players that were the corner stone of their last finals foray and they have a new coach. Average crowd figures have dipped year on year. Unfortunately, I can’t see this turning around this season.
Big Question – Will David Taylor be able to translate potential into consistent performance? This is a question that has been asked in one form or another since his arrival on the scene. Four seasons at the Broncos, three at Souths and two at the Titans have probably revealed that this is as good as it is going to get with Dave Taylor. If he can turn into the wrecking ball most hypothesise is in there then the Titans could benefit all the way to a place in the 8.
Top Gun – Greg Bird – Bird is the heart and soul of this team. His junkyard dog character is the perfect tonic for a Gold Coast team often light on grunt and he lifted his team time and time again with his rock like defence and his ball running and ball playing around the ruck. Will he have any support this year?
Young Gun – Kierran Moseley – The talented Cloncurry Bulls junior fled the assembly line of hookers at Penrith for a better chance at the Titans but will still find himself competing with Beau Falloon and Matt Srama for first team reps. If you saw his play in the 20s for Penrith you will know what he is capable of.
X-Factor – James Roberts – This man is fast, superman fast but there is more to his game than his speed. Disciplinary issues have dogged him since he graded but he seems to have settled down at the Titans. If Sezer can find a way to unlock him this season, look out.
The Big Leap – Aidan Sezer – Sezer has shown bucket loads of promise in his 3 seasons at the club so far but injuries have derailed him on a number of occasions. If he can stay on the field and form a strong combination with Falloon, Mortimer and Hoffman this will go a long way towards the Coast remaining competitive this season.
Coach – Neil Henry
Gains – Lachlan Burr (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, 2016), Davin Crampton (Northern Pride, 2015), David Hala (Brisbane Broncos, 2016), Josh Hoffman (Brisbane Broncos, 2017), Jai Ingram (2015), Daniel Mortimer (Mid Season: Sydney Roosters, 2016), Kierran Moseley (Penrith Panthers, 2016), Eddy Pettybourne (Wigan Warriors, 2015), James Roberts (Mid Season: Penrith Panthers, 2015), Matt Robinson (Penrith Panthers, 2016) and Ryan Simpkins (Penrith Panthers, 2016).
Losses – Luke Bailey (retired), Maurice Blair (Hull Kingston Rovers), Ashley Harrison (retired), Beau Henry (St George Illawarra Dragons), Sam Irwin (Featherstone), Albert Kelly (Hull Kingston Rovers), Tom Kingston (Army), Steve Michaels (Hull FC), Mark Minichiello (Hull FC), Cody Nelson (Parramatta Eels) and Brad Takairangi (Parramatta Eels).
Starting Team – 1. Josh Hoffman, 2. Kevin Gordon, 3. William Zillman, 4. James Roberts, 5. David Mead, 6. Aidan Sezer, 7. Daniel Mortimer, 8. Luke Douglas, 9. Beau Falloon, 10. Ryan James, 11. David Taylor, 12. Greg Bird (c), 13. Nate Myles (c).
Interchange – 14. Kierran Moseley, 15. Matthew White, 16. Eddy Pettybourne, 17. David Hala.
Squad – Kalifa Faifai Loa, Brad Tighe, Christian Hazard, Caleb Binge, Lachlan Burr, Davin Crampton, Kane Elgey, Jamal Fogarty, Anthony Don, Shaun Hudson, Mark Ioane, Ryan Simpkins and Matt Srama.
Injury List – Ben Ridge (Pectoral – Mid Season)
Things are looking up. At least ASADA is behind them.
Odds – 34.25 – 14th
Predicted Finish – 13th
If this Team was a Movie that Movie would be – The Empire Strikes Back – Cronulla will be better but ultimately they won’t be that much better. Why don’t I think they will be that much better? Too many question marks. Will Barba recapture lost form? Will key players Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis, Michael Ennis and Michael Gordon remain injury free during the year. Will Sosaia Feki, Valentine Holmes and Ricky Leutele keep developing? Will Wade Graham turn from serviceable back rower to All Star? It is not often that I think 1 player makes the difference but I would feel so much better about this team if they had kept Michael Lichaa. Cronulla almost didn’t play him at all last year but he was too good to keep out of the team. In the end I see them as playing well in patches but not being able to sustain it for the whole season. They’ll miss Paul Gallen during Origin too.
Big Question – Has Ben Barba peaked? I don’t think he has. I think people have underestimated 3 things with Ben Barba. Brisbane never really figured out how to use him. He is only 1 season removed from a major ankle injury which affected his pace of the mark, probably his most valuable asset. He nearly broke tackles so many times last year. Even half a yard of pace would have made the difference. His last season at Canterbury was wiped out with injury and personal issues. He seems to have overcome all 3. I think he is ready to fire.
Top Gun – Paul Gallen – Gallen has been and will be the bedrock upon which the Sharks season is built. Everything good that happens springs from the metres he gains in the middle of the park.
Young Gun – Valentine Holmes – Holmes really arrived at the back end of last year sparking a predictable eligibility battle for his services during the Four Nations. I think he will certainly build on that this season.
X-Factor – Andrew Fifita – Not many forwards get the X Factor tag but Fifita is one that has certainly earned it. Sheer aggression in attack and defence is an apt description of his playing ability. He is big and fast for his size and has the ability to offload as well. If he can stay on the field this year he will go a long way towards any success Cronulla experiences.
The Big Leap – Wade Graham – Graham has been underrated since his early days at Penrith. He is kind of the forgotten man when it comes to representative teams. A ball playing forward who started in the backs he is largely in the mould of Luke Lewis, however, he hasn’t quite fulfilled his potential at this stage. This may be his year.
Coach – Shane Flanagan
Gains – Ben Barba (Brisbane Broncos, 2017), Gerard Beale (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2017), Jack Bird (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2016), Mitch Brown (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, 2016), Jayson Bukuya (New Zealand Warriors, 2016), Michael Ennis (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, 2017), Saulala Houma (Sydney Roosters, 2015), Todd Murphy (2015), Sami Sauiluma (Canberra Raiders, 2015) and Kyle Stanley (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2015).
Losses – Todd Carney (Catalan Dragons), Isaac De Gois (Parramatta Eels), Bryce Gibbs (retired), Michael Lichaa (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Sione Masima (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Mark Mexico (Gateshead Thunder), John Morris (retired), Beau Ryan (retired), Tupou Sopoaga (Penrith Panthers), Scott Sorensen (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Nathan Stapleton (Sydney Roosters), Siosaia Vave (Manly Sea Eagles) and Jonathan Wright (New Zealand Warriors).
Starting Team – 1. Michael Gordon, 2. Sosaia Feki, 3. Ricky Leutele, 4. Gerard Beale, 5. Valentine Holmes, 6. Ben Barba, 7. Jeff Robson, 8. Andrew Fifita, 9. Michael Ennis, 10. Sam Tagataese, 11. Luke Lewis, 12. Wade Graham, 13. Paul Gallen (c).
Interchange – 14. Matt Prior, 15. Kyle Stanley, 16. Jayson Bukuya, 17. Tinirau Arona.
Squad – Blake Ayshford, Jack Bird, Mitch Brown, David Fifita, Jacob Gagan, Nathan Gardner, Chris Heighington, Saulala Houma, Todd Murphy, Pat Politoni, Junior Roqica, Sami Sauiluma, Anthony Tupou and Dallas Wells.
Injury List – Fa’amanu Brown (ACL – Indefinite)
What was sweeter than Jelly Bread?
- Central Coast Mariners connecting with Everton. I think that’s a great idea.
Other random thoughts
- As predicted (and this wasn’t rocket science), the Khurram Khan works as an airline steward stories have started.
EPL Tips Match Day 25
Arsenal vs Leicester – Arsenal 2-0 (Arsenal will be keen to atone for last week’s loss to Spurs)
Hull vs Aston Villa – Hull 2-1 (Encouraging signs from Hull last week against Man City. Crucial relegation battle which should go the way of the home side)
Sunderland vs QPR – Sunderland 2-0 (Sunderland have played much better of late and Jermain Defoe has been a pleasant surprise. I see them having too many goals for the Austin-less Rangers)
Liverpool vs Tottenham – Liverpool 2-1 (Can’t really trust Harry Kane to stay quiet but I like Liverpool now that Sturridge is back and at Anfield. May be missing Sterling though)
Chelsea vs Everton – Chelsea 2-0 (Chelsea back on track even sans Costa. These midweek games are always tricky though)
Man U vs Burnley – Man U 2-0 (Man U will be desperate to make up for their last showing. Will do better than the 0-0 draw they managed at Turf Moor last time. That seems like a long time ago now)
Southampton vs West Ham – Southampton 2-1 (Just when I think the Southampton bandwagon is going to break down they find a way to get the points and stay in the Champion’s League places. I don’t see this match as being any different)
Stoke vs Man City – Man City 2-1 (City have dropped 9 points in the last 4 games. They will be desperate not to lose further ground on Chelsea)
Crystal Palace vs Newcastle – Crystal Palace 3-2 (This will be all about Alan Pardew. Palace have played much better of late and Newcastle seem to be edging into form again. I think this will be a shootout befitting of the drama off the field)
West Brom vs Swansea – Draw 1-1 (West Brom are locked in a relegation battle and Pulis will be looking to work his magic again, this time for the Baggies. Swansea have been a bit inconsistent of late but I see this ending in a draw)
I’ve adopted the scoring system utilised by Mark Lawrenson on the BBC (a correct result (picking a win, draw or defeat) is worth ONE point and picking an exact score THREE points) and even though he wouldn’t know me from Adam we are going head to head all season long. It’s on like Donkey Kong (unless I get a letter from his lawyer or Donkey Kong’s lawyer and then I’m tipping against myself again).
Last week – Me – 3 (3 from 10 with no perfect scores) and Lawro – 4 (4 from 10 with no perfect scores)
Season so far – Me – 173 and Lawro – 157 (Pretty tough round for everyone)
Fantasy Premier League
Transfer of the week
Santiago Cazorla (Arsenal) for Raheem Sterling (Liverpool) – Injury cloud with a short turnaround.
My team this week
Forster (Southampton), Clyne (Southampton), Ivanovic (Chelsea), Terry (Chelsea), Walters (Stoke), Eriksen (Spurs), Downing (West Ham), Hazard (Chelsea), Cazorla (Arsenal), Kane (Spurs) and Aguero (Man City) with Hamer (Leicester), Austin (QPR), Wasilewski (Leicester) and Wisdom (WBA) on the bench.
142,954 from 3,451,200
Stay tuned for the next exciting episode on Friday, 20 February 2015 titled ‘2015 NRL Season Preview Part 2’