I didn’t think I was ready for the NRL to start, but I was wrong.
Last year’s NRL Preview was a tome. I’m talking 432,000 words and 4,200 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 covered 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 covered teams 9 to 12. The ‘Missed by that Much Teams’, a homage to Maxwell Smart. Google it if your under 35.
Part 3 covered 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.
This week, Part 4 covers teams 1 to 4. The Contenders.
They’ve waited 20 years. This year should be their year.
Odds – 11.31 – 6th
Predicted Finish – 4th
If this Team was a Movie that Movie would be – Superman – Only apt given I posted on 13 January 2015 that the Cows are burying their kryptonite. I think this will be their year. JT is obviously the Man of Steel. The Bunnies are Lex Luthor or maybe the referees are. One of the major issues for the Cows is that JT has often had to do it on his own. I think that has finally changed. Michael Morgan was the find of 2014 and should continue to improve. Over the last few years, the forward pack has grown in stature with Scott, Tamou (hopefully injury free this year) and Taumalolo the standouts. They will miss Tariq Sims. I think that Lachlan Coote should get a jersey this year as well despite Morgan so ably filling in for him last year. Coote will be an additional weapon if injury doesn’t strike him again, although he will be much better in 2016 (I think recovery for knee injuries is really a 2 year process before confidence and strength really come back). At any rate, I think they should both be on the field. The primary reason I think this year is different for the Cowboys is their attitude (as mentioned in that previous post). I think Paul Green has added a new dimension to the team and they will continue to improve, especially away from home.
Big Question – What are they going to get from dummy half? The one position of concern is hooker. Since Aaron Payne, a few players have threatened to become the permanent solution at Hooker but I don’t think anyone has really grabbed the mantle. James Segeyaro would have been the answer but he moved himself on. Ray Thompson has threatened in patches. Cameron King has been injured more often than not. Rory Kostjasyn is the incumbent but fits into the steady mould more than anything. Jake Granville has potential but hasn’t been able to hold a permanent position down in the NRL yet. Hopefully it will sort itself out.
Top Gun – JT. Enough said.
Young Gun – Jason Taumalolo – No-one else really on the horizon for the Cows and Taumalolo is only 21. Wrecking ball doesn’t really sum up what he brings to the Cows on the edge but it comes close. I expect him to keep developing including adding an offload to his game (he is so strong) and strengthening his defence.
X-Factor – Michael Morgan – Really arrived as a first grader last year and I don’t think anyone saw it coming. Whether he plays Fullback or 5/8, I expect things will work out for him. He will only continue to improve.
The Big Leap – Jake Granville – I think he did the right thing moving North as McCullough seemed entrenched in the Broncos number 9 jersey. Even if Granville doesn’t make it off the reserves bench he will provide a great change of pace to Kostjasyn. I wouldn’t be surprised if towards the back of each half both Kostjasyn and Granville find themselves on the field at the same time.
Coach – Paul Green
Gains – Jake Granville (Brisbane Broncos, 2016), Ben Hannant (Brisbane Broncos, 2015), Kyle McConnell (2016), Tautau Moga (Mid Season: Sydney Roosters, 2016), Justin O’Neill (Melbourne Storm, 2016), Kelepi Tanginoa (Parramatta Eels, 2016)
Losses – Anthony Mitchell (QLD Cup), Curtis Rona (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Ashton Sims (Warrington Wolves), Tariq Sims (Newcastle Knights), Brent Tate (retired), Ricky Thorby (QLD Cup)
Starting Team – 1. Michael Morgan, 2. Antonio Winterstein, 3. Matthew Wright, 4. Kane Linnett, 5. Justin O’Neill, 6. Johnathan Thurston (c), 7. Robert Lui, 8. Matt Scott (c), 9. Rory Kostjasyn, 10. Ben Hannant, 11. Gavin Cooper, 12. Ethan Lowe, 13. Jason Taumalolo.
Interchange – 14. Jake Granville, 15. Scott Bolton, 16. James Tamou, 17. Glenn Hall.
Squad – Lachlan Coote, Hezron Murgha, Cameron King, Tautau Moga, Tom Humble, Josh Chudleigh, John Asiata, Javid Bowen, Kyle Feldt, Sam Hoare, Patrick Kaufusi, Zac Santo, Ben Spina, Kelepi Tanginoa and Ray Thompson.
Injury List – None.
Almost as strong as last year but not quite
Odds – 6.13 – 2nd
Predicted Finish – 3rd
If this Team was a Movie that Movie would be – Weekend at Bernie’s – The absence of SBW will leave a big hole in this side. Minor Premiers (2013 and 2014), Premiers (2013) and Preliminary Finalists (2014), isn’t a bad haul for a 2 year contract. Probably more concerning (for Roosters fans) was their returns from 2012 (13th) and 2011 (11th) which are a reminder of how things were pre-SBW. Fortunately, the arrival of SBW also coincided with that of Trent Robinson, Michael Jennings, James Maloney and Sam Moa so clearly all is not lost. I think they will finish top 4 but I’m afraid they’ll be out in straight sets. Don’t underestimate the impact of Anthony Minichiello’s absence either.
Big Question – Will this be a step backwards for the Roosters? I don’t think it will be. More like a step sideways. They will be competitive with one of the better backlines in the NRL. Waerea-Hargreaves and Moa provide the go forward with young guns Napa and Evans backing them up. The fringe will be ably looked after by Cordner and Guerra and the spine is solid, especially when they play direct. They have some good young players coming through as well.
Top Gun – Mitchell Pearce – It is fair to say Pearce is the best player at the Roosters, especially now that SBW has moved across the ditch. He is entering his prime (I can’t believe he is only 25) and will be relied on heavily to steer the Roosters around. Much of their success will depend on Pearce. Can’t see him unseating the Hodkinson/Reynolds ticket for the blue jersey this year but a bright start to the season will help.
Young Gun – Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – The 21 year old gets his chance to succeed Mini for the number 1 jersey. He won’t disappoint. Hampered off and on with injuries last season he should continue his upwards trajectory in season 2015.
X-Factor – Blake Ferguson – Slipped quietly back into the NRL after his long behaviour related lay off but Ferguson should be back to his electrifying best and the Roosters will be the beneficiaries.
The Big Leap – Dylan Napa – A real firebrand, Napa should elevate his game to the next level this season under Trent Robinson. Off contract at the end of 2015, the latest mail indicates that the Dragons and Titans won’t be able to nab him and a three year contract with the Roosters the most likely outcome.
Coach – Trent Robinson
Gains – Blake Ferguson (2015), Martin Kennedy (Brisbane Broncos, 2016), Willie Manu (St Helens RLFC, 2015), Matt McIlwrick (Canberra Raiders, 2015), Abraham Papalii (New Zealand Warriors, 2016), Lagi Setu (Canberra Raiders, 2015), Nathan Stapleton (Mid Season: Cronulla Sharks, 2015)
Losses – Remi Casty (Catalan Dragons), Saulala Houma (Cronulla Sharks), Kurt Kara (NSW Cup), Heath L’Estrange (St George Illawarra Dragons), Rhyse Martin (QLD Cup), Anthony Minichiello (retired), Tautau Moga (North Queensland Cowboys), Daniel Mortimer (Gold Coast Titans), Curtis Naughton (Hull FC), Frank-Paul Nu’uausala (Canberra Raiders), Jonathon Reuben (QLD Cup), Sonny Bill Williams (Rugby union)
Starting Team – 1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 2. Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 3. Michael Jennings, 4. Blake Ferguson, 5. Daniel Tupou, 6. James Maloney, 7. Mitchell Pearce (c), 8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, 9. Matt McIlwrick. 10. Sam Moa, 11. Isaac Liu, 12. Boyd Cordner, 13. Aidan Guerra.
Interchange – 14. Sio Siua Taukeiaho, 15. Dylan Napa, 16. Mitchell Aubusson, 17. Kane Evans.
Squad – Jackson Hastings, Martin Kennedy, Nene Macdonald, Willis Meehan, Brendan Elliott, Tyler Cornish, Samisoni Langi, Willie Manu, Abraham Papalii, Lagi Setu, Nathan Stapleton and Jack Siejka.
Injury List – Jake Friend (Shoulder – Indefinite)
Build it and they will come
Odds – 9.94 – 4th
Predicted Finish – 2nd
If this Team was a Movie that Movie would be – Field of Dreams – For a long time it looked like Wayne Bennett could do no wrong. After successful stints in the Brisbane Rugby League with Souths and Brothers, Bennett moved to Canberra and coached with Don Furner but it was with the Broncos that he obviously made his name. 21 seasons, 18 finals appearances, 4 minor premierships and 6 premierships will do that for you. However, the thing that finally silenced his critics in Sydney was his support of Stephen Kearney which helped the Kiwis win the 2008 World Cup and his 3 seasons at St George which yielded 3 finals appearances, 2 minor premierships and 1 premiership (which had eluded the Dragons since 1979). Many thought Bennett would provide a similar transformation in Newcastle but for a number of reasons this wasn’t to be. The first season was pretty much a rebuilding year with 2013 a welcome step in the right direction but 2014 was a debacle. Nathan Tinkler’s financial woes seemed to destabilise the club but the catastrophic injury to popular young player Alex McKinnon blew the team out of the water and Darius Boyd also had a difficult season. Many things are more important than sport and this was one of those times. At the end of the day Bennett saw out his contract and the rest is history.
Big Question – Can Bennett weave his magic in Brisbane again? Some people have forgotten how he was treated by the Broncos hierarchy in the last few years of his first stint. The Broncos have learnt to be careful what you wish for. Bennett has learned there is no place like home. Bennett hasn’t actually had to do much to this team. Blair, Gavet, Boyd and Milford are in. Barba, Hannant, Kennedy and Hoffman are out. Some say the Broncos have lost their aura. It will take a little while for combinations to settle in, but once they have, this team will make some noise. Ben Hunt exceeded expectations last year and Milford was other worldly for the Raiders and will give the Broncos another focus for attack other than Hunt and Hodges. Boyd is a big loss but they expect him back by mid-season. People made a lot of his form last year but it was pretty clear there were a few things impacting his performance on the field. I thought the forward pack had too many backrowers last year. Corey Parker and Sam Thaiday are two of the best players in the NRL but they aren’t props. Fortunately, Blair and Gavet should help out with the middle and they still have all of that capability at the edge of the ruck. At the end of the day I think a premiership will be close but I think the Cows and Bunnies more likely. Stranger things have happened though.
Top Gun – Ben Hunt – I think he is the man. His form in the Four Nations was a perfect culmination for a greatly improved season. The Broncos will need him to steer them around, decide when to unleash Milford and Hodges and when to kick. His kicking game is crucial.
Young Gun – Kodi Nikorima – I thought this last year as well and no-one really took the mantle so Nikorima won by default. I think I might have been a year early. In Basketball they call players like him Tweeners. No real position. He reminds me of a faster, more skilful version of John Plath. That sounds like an insult but it isn’t. I rate him. Unfortunately for him, Anthony Milford is holding down the smaller non-halfback fast skilful position. Given McCullough, Glenn and Parker can essentially all play 80 minutes there should be a slot on the bench for a player who can provide a nice change of pace.
X-Factor – Anthony Milford – What Brisbane thought they were getting when Ben Barba signed for them. I still think Barba was recovering from his ankle injury last year. I think Barba will get his pace back this year. Milford is Ben Barba circa 2012. He is the real deal. Everyone knows that now. The thing about Milford in Canberra last year was every team knew he was pretty much the sole danger for the Raiders and he still shredded defences. That is the sign of a special player. At the Broncos teams won’t have the luxury of sweating on Milford as Hunt and Hodges are also danger men. Plus Corey Parker’s NRL leading off load ability (69 – 1st) won’t hurt Milford’s game either.
The Big Leap – James Gavet – Gavet is old school tough and something of a late bloomer. Another one of these Warriors NYC players who can’t seem to find a permanent position in the Warriors setup. Bennett has an otherworldly ability to unlock the talent of hitherto underperforming players. I’m thinking Terry Matterson and Chris Johns and thousands of others over the years. I think Gavet will be the latest to benefit.
Coach – Wayne Bennett
Gains – Adam Blair (Wests Tigers, 2017), Darius Boyd (Newcastle Knights, 2017), Greg Eden (Hull Kingston Rovers, 2016), Mitch Garbutt (Melbourne Storm, 2017), James Gavet (Wests Tigers, 2016), Anthony Milford (Canberra Raiders, 2016), Matt Parcell (2015), Travis Waddell (Newcastle Knights, 2016)
Losses – Ben Barba (Cronulla Sharks), Cameron Cullen (QLD Cup), Jake Granville (North Queensland Cowboys), David Hala (Gold Coast Titans), Ben Hannant (North Queensland Cowboys), Josh Hoffman (Gold Coast Titans), Martin Kennedy (Sydney Roosters), Duncan Paia’Aua (rugby union), Jharal Yow Yeh (retired)
Starting Team – 1. Jordan Kahu, 2. Jack Reed, 3. Justin Hodges (c), 4. Dale Copley, 5. Lachlan Maranta, 6. Anthony Milford, 7. Ben Hunt, 8. Josh McGuire, 9. Andrew McCullough, 10. Adam Blair, 11. Alex Glenn, 12. Sam Thaiday, 13. Corey Parker.
Interchange – 14. Mitchell Dodds, 15. Matt Gillett, 16. James Gavet, 17. Corey Oates.
Squad – Kodi Nikorima, Daniel Vidot, Ajuma Adams, Joe Boyce, Jordan Drew, Jon Green, Brett Greinke, Francis Molo, Darren Nicholls, Jarrod Wallace, Greg Eden, Mitch Garbutt, Travis Waddell, Joe Ofahengaue, Todd Lowrie, David Stagg, Tom Opacic, Aaron Whitchurch, Matt Parcell, Zach Strasser, Ashley Taylor and Jayden Nikorima.
Injury List – Darius Boyd (Achilles injury – Mid Season)
BTW how ironic is it that after the Broncos signed Greg Eden the Fullback depth chart was roughly Darius Boyd, Ben Barba, Josh Hoffman and Greg Eden with Anthony Milford capable of playing there as well. Round 1 we have Jordan Kahu playing Fullback. That makes Kahu 6th choice.
They thought the mountain was steep the first time
Odds – 5.75 – 1st
Predicted Finish – 1st
If this Team was a Movie that Movie would be – Glory – I was going to choose Watership Down just because it is the only movie I know which has rabbits in it but I couldn’t figure out how the storyline would suit Souths. Glory is more appropriate. There is a reason the Broncos have been the only team to repeat in the last 20 years. It’s nearly impossible. The main reason is the salary cap. A team just can’t afford to keep all of its talent year on year and this year is no exception. Sam Burgess and Ben Te’o have both headed to Rugby Union. Burgess was on the pantheon with SBW and James Graham as the best forwards in the World so he is impossible to replace even though his brothers are the same size and shape. Te’o is a hitman on both sides of the ball and is hard to replace as well. That being said, Souths are still unbelievably awesome. Just look at how they rolled St Helens the other day. Every week will be like a Finals match though. The John Sutton/Luke Burgess Arizona thing wasn’t a great finish to last year either. I think like Glory (Spoiler alert – BTW do you have to give a spoiler alert to a 1989 movie) they will fight for every yard across the whole season only to fall at the last hurdle.
Big Question – How will Glen Stewart fit into this team? With Luke Keary and Adam Reynolds as ball playing halves and Sutton as a ball playing backrower will it be a case of too many cooks. Stewart often floated right to the very edge of the ruck at Manly so that might fit but then Inglis plays ball out that way as well. It is probably a good problem to have but Michael Maguire will have to solve it.
Top Gun – Greg Inglis – I love the goanna try celebration and I’ve got a feeling we will see it at least 1,000 times this year. Criticised for floating in and out of games, those criticisms have largely disappeared since he moved to Fullback which unsurprisingly is his favourite position. I think this year will be another special one. Will spearhead Queensland’s attempt to win SOO as well.
Young Gun – Alex Johnston – Still only 20, he headlines the next generation of Souths players (Luke Keary (23), Dylan Walker (20) and Kyle Turner (23)). Unfortunately for opponents he will only continue to get better this year. Outside chance for a blue jersey this year.
X-Factor – Isaac Luke – Given it was his 8th season, it bordered on tragic that he was suspended for the one Grand Final Souths have won since 1971. He’ll certainly be hoping the Bunnies repeat as Premiers. I think Luke has played at such a high level for the Bunnies and the Kiwis that to a certain extent people start to take him for granted but he is a special player and at 27 he still has a number of exceptional seasons ahead of him.
The Big Leap – George Burgess – Taking over the mantle as the best Burgess, George should continue to develop as one of the most damaging forwards in the game. Look for him to lead the much vaunted Bunnies pack.
Coach – Michael Maguire
Gains – Tim Grant (Penrith Panthers, 2018), Sione Masima (Cronulla Sharks, 2015), Daryl Millard (Catalan Dragons, 2015), Scott Sorensen (Cronulla Sharks, 2015), Glenn Stewart (Manly Sea Eagles, 2016), Cody Walker (Melbourne Storm, 2016)
Losses – Luke Burgess (Manly Sea Eagles), Sam Burgess (Rugby union), Beau Champion (Parramatta Eels), Matt Hyland (NSW Cup), Apisai Koroisau (Penrith Panthers), Nathan Merritt (retired), Joe Picker (retired), Ben Te’o (rugby union)
Starting Team – 1. Greg Inglis (c), 2. Alex Johnston, 3. Dylan Walker, 4. Bryson Goodwin, 5. Joel Reddy, 6. Luke Keary, 7. Adam Reynolds, 8. George Burgess, 9. Issac Luke, 10. David Tyrrell, 11. Ben Lowe, 12. John Sutton, 13. Glenn Stewart.
Interchange – 14. Jason Clark, 15. Chris McQueen, 16. Chris Grevsmuhl, 17. Tom Burgess.
Squad – Tim Grant, Cameron McInnes, Daryl Millard, Aaron Gray, Angus Crichton, Sione Masima, Ed Murphy, Setefano Taukafa, Sam Manulelua, Jack Gosiewski, Wartovo Puara, Thompson Teteh and Scott Sorensen.
Injury List – Kirisome Auva’a (Suspension – Indefinite), Cody Walker (Suspension – Indefinite) and Kyle Turner (Neck – Indefinite)
Rabbitohs vs Cowboys – Cowboys
Broncos vs Roosters – Broncos
Sea Eagles vs Tigers – Sea Eagles
Bulldogs vs Warriors – Warriors
Rabbitohs vs Sea Eagles – Rabbitohs
Roosters vs Warriors – Warriors
Cowboys vs Warriors – Cowboys
Broncos vs Rabbitohs – Rabbitohs
Rabbitohs vs Cowboys – Cowboys
What was sweeter than Jelly Bread?
- Jason Taumalolo staying with the Cowboys. Happy days.
- Cricket World Cup. Still awesome but waiting for the finals to start now.
NRL Tips Round 1
Broncos vs Rabbitohs – Rabbitohs (Wayne Bennett + Home Field Advantage < Premiers – Sam Burgess. I can’t fault the maths)
Eels vs Sea Eagles – Sea Eagles (Sea Eagles are underrated this year and Eels are overrated)
Knights vs Warriors – Warriors (The Warriors will be better this year but they have always travelled badly and although I’m getting nervous tipping all the away sides they will be too big, too fast and too strong)
Titans vs Tigers – Tigers (This stinks of a trap game for the Tigers but I just can’t in good conscience tip the Titans. Not because of the cocaine allegations but because there is a chance they will be historically bad)
Cowboys vs Roosters – Cowboys (This will be a great match but I think the Cows will have enough at 1300 Smiles. Still hate that name)
Panthers vs Bulldogs – Bulldogs (Flip a coin. There won’t be much in this. In situations like this I pick the grittier of the 2. Bullies have grit in spades. Love mixing my metaphors)
Sharks vs Raiders – Sharks (Should be better this year but Raiders will be even worse, if that is possible. Maybe they will get relegated and the Northern Pride will get promoted. I wish)
Dragons vs Storm – Storm (Dragons got out of the gate quick in 2014 but I like the Storm to get out of the gate even quicker in 2015 (than the Dragons at least))
Robbie Farah (Tigers), Paul Gallen (Sharks), Andrew Fifita (Sharks), Shaun Fensom (Raiders), Corey Parker (Broncos), Jason Taumalolo (Cowboys), Daly Cherry-Evans (Sea Eagles), Thomas Leuluai (Warriors), Solomone Kata (Warriors), Beau Champion (Eels), Greg Inglis (Rabbitohs), Eto Nabuli (Dragons) and Tuimoala Lolohea (Warriors)
Kierran Moseley (Titans), James Gavet (Broncos), Mitch Cornish (Raiders) and Mitch Moses (Tigers)
Balance of the squad
Rory O’Brien (Dragons), Chris Grevsmuhl (Rabbitohs), Lachlan Burr (Titans), Brendan Santi (Tigers), William Zillman (Titans), George Jennings (Panthers), Lachlan Maranta (Broncos) and Edrick Lee (Raiders)
EPL Tips Match Day 28
Aston Villa vs West Brom – Draw 1-1 (Sherwood vs Pulis, both tasked with avoiding relegation. Baggies looking better at this stage but this one will be close)
Hull vs Sunderland – Hull 2-1 (This is another relegation battle with Hull definitely playing better of late)
Southampton vs Crystal Palace – Southampton 2-0 (Palace have definitely played better under Pardew with last week’s away win against West Ham a definite surprise. Southampton will want to keep pace with Man U and Liverpool with Spurs breathing down their neck. They will be too strong at home)
Man City vs Leicester – Man City 4-1 (City missed a real chance to pull even closer to Chelsea on the weekend. Can’t see them dropping points at home to Leicester)
Newcastle vs Man U – Man U 2-1 (I think Man U will do enough to win this but Newcastle could upset them at home)
QPR vs Arsenal – Arsenal 2-0 (QPR in real danger of going down and Arsenal will keep them on 22 points this week)
Spurs vs Swansea – Tottenham 2-0 (Swansea are shaking themselves out of their mid-season swoon but can anyone stop Harry Kane?)
Stoke vs Everton – Stoke 2-1 (Stoke to win a close one. I’m pretty sure the head of Peter Crouch will have something to say before this game is out)
West Ham vs Chelsea – Chelsea 3-1 (Hammers were disappointing last week against Palace after a run of hard fought draws. Chelsea to bounce back after last week’s debacle against Burnley)
Liverpool vs Burnley – Liverpool 3-0 (Liverpool to continue its mirror opposite season to last year and continue winning at the back end of the season)
QPR vs Spurs – Spurs 2-0 (Kane scores. Eriksen scores. Game over)
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 – 6 (4 from 8 with 1 perfect score) and Lawro – 7 (3 from 8 with 2 perfect scores)
Season so far – Me – 193 and Lawro – 177 (Lawro randomly includes the odd FA Cup or League Cup fixture which is why his score is different on the BBC site)
Fantasy Premier League
Transfer of the week
Paul McShane (Hull) for Marcin Wasilewski (Leicester) – Just tweaking my reserves as this is pretty much the best starting side I can afford at the moment.
My team this week
Forster (Southampton), Clyne (Southampton), Ivanovic (Chelsea), Terry (Chelsea), Sanchez (Arsenal), Eriksen (Spurs), Downing (West Ham), Hazard (Chelsea), Cazorla (Arsenal), Kane (Spurs) and Austin (QPR) with Hamer (Leicester), Ings (Burnley) Haidara (Newcastle) and McShane (Hull) on the bench.
172,847 from 3,465,058
Stay tuned for the next exciting episode on Thursday, 12 March 2015 titled ‘Once were Punching Bags – Why the ICC must keep the Associates at the World Cup.’