2016 NRL Preview Part 4 – The Real Deal

The champion will come from these teams (teams finishing 1st to 4th), if history is anything to go by. We’ve covered everyone else in the last few weeks (13th to 16th, 9th to 12th and 5th to 8th). BTW I don’t know what happened this year. The season preview was supposed to be done and dusted prior to the commencement of round 1. I think the ability to count is inversely proportional with age. Just saying.


Paul Gallen-Photo by Naparazzi-CC-BY-SA-2.0

Paul Gallen – Photo by Naparazzi – CC-BY-SA-2.0

Steadily trending upwards

Odds – 16.00 – 9th

Predicted Finish – 4th

If this Team was a Superhero that Superhero would be – Wolverine

No, this isn’t a steroids reference. Wolverine shouldn’t be that good but for some reason he has usurped all the other X-Men, at least in the film version. Credit Hugh Jackman for bringing street cred to the character. The Sharks will be very Wolverine-like this season. They manage to have a highly mobile monster pack, which is a contradiction in terms. Having seen how the new rules (reduced interchange and shot clock for scrums and drop outs) will affect teams, I can see a highly mobile pack being a big plus as the season wears on. Halves are hugely improved this year with a top 4 spine of Ennis, Barba, Maloney and Townsend. They score high in the quality youngsters stake too with Holmes and Bird.

Big Question – Can they continue to improve? 16th in 2014 and 6th in 2015, can they keep trending upwards? I think they can or I wouldn’t have picked them to finish 4th.

Top Gun – Paul Gallen – Still Cronulla’s best player but starting to see some miles on the odometer now. His uncompromising brand of football lays the platform for Cronulla. Prior to this season, they might have fallen in a heap if he wasn’t playing and while that is not the case now, it just means they have more depth.

Young Gun – Josh Cleeland – The former Ipswich Jet is the latest of the late bloomers from the Q-Cup to migrate south for the winter. There aren’t actually many positions up for grabs in the current line up and Cleeland will have to wait in queue behind James Maloney and Chad Townsend for an opportunity.

X-Factor – Jack Bird – There was a time when this was Ben Barba, without a doubt, but Barba is only just beginning to recapture lost form. Jack Bird will be targeted more than last season but should still shine for the Sharks.

The Big Leap – Chad Townsend – Came back to the Sharks a greatly improved player after being a bit, out of sight, out of mind in NZ. Should challenge for a rep jersey this year.

Coach – Shane Flanagan

Gains – Kurt Capewell (Ipswich Jets, 2016), Josh Cleeland (Ipswich Jets, 2016), Jordan Drew (Brisbane Broncos, 2017), James Maloney (Sydney Roosters, 2018), Matt McIlwrick (Sydney Roosters, 2016), Joseph Paulo (Parramatta Eels, 2017), Jesse Sene-Lefao (Manly Sea Eagles, 2017) and Chad Townsend (New Zealand Warriors, 2017)

Losses – Josh Addo-Carr (Wests Tigers), Tinirau Arona (Wakefield Wildcats), Blake Ayshford (New Zealand Warriors), Michael Gordon (Parramatta Eels), Jeff Robson (New Zealand Warriors), Kyle Stanley (Retired) and Anthony Tupou (Wakefield Wildcats)

Starting Team – Ben Barba, Sosaia Feki, Jack Bird, Ricky Leutele, Valentine Holmes, James Maloney, Chad Townsend, Andrew Fifita, Michael Ennis, Sam Tagataese, Luke Lewis, Wade Graham and Jayson Bukuya

Interchange – Matt Prior, Chris Heighington, Gerard Beale and David Fifita

Squad – Joseph Paulo, Fa’amanu Brown, Kurt Capewell, Josh Cleeland, Jordan Drew, Jacob Gagan, Matt McIlwrick, Junior Roqica, Mitch Brown and Myles Taueli

Injury List – Paul Gallen (knee, round 7)


Should be much better this year

Odds – 10.00 – 5th

Predicted Finish – 3rd

If this Team was a Superhero that Superhero would be – The Incredible Hulk

I write this every single year (and so does everyone else). The Warriors are big, strong and skillful and should make the top 4 except for their inconsistency. The League of Extraordinary Gentleman thinks I vote with my heart and not with my head when it comes to the Warriors but I can’t see how the Warriors (who should have made the 8 last year except for a Shaun Johnson injury) couldn’t improve with the additions of RTS and Isaac Luke. It is true that they have lost Chad Townsend (who was a perfect foil for Johnson) and Sam Tomkins (who was injured a lot last year anyways) and Andrew McFadden is still somewhat of an unknown quality (AKA we don’t know if he is any good yet) but balancing it all up I’m sticking with my gut on this one.

Big Question – Can they defend? Big forward pack. Check. Spectacular spine. Check. Stellar defence. That is where things get a bit dicey. They say defence is equal parts technique and attitude. Premiership sides generally have it in spades. The Warriors can do it from time to time but tend to clock off for periods of the game. Predicting they will finish 3rd indicates that I think they will steadily improve in this area. The other big question is whether they will be able to handle the rule changes. Less interchanges and fewer breaks sounds very un-Warriors. Another issue for them to solve.

Top Gun – Shaun Johnson – Pretty major injury at the back end of last season so may take time to get back to top form. The Warriors are counting on him bouncing back quickly.

Young Gun – Toafofoa Sipley – Latest in a long line of big units to emerge from the 20s for the Warriors, Sipley might find his way on to the bench this year. Honourable mention for Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad. The utility back is a good pickup from Melbourne.

X-Factor – RTS – Hasn’t started the year well with his defence resembling a revolving door and being well marked in attack but adjusting to a new system will take time (see Anthony Milford). Skill doesn’t disappear overnight but his confidence looks a little shaken at the moment. Should work his way back to peak form.

The Big Leap – James Gavet – I said this when he was playing for the Broncos but injury put paid to him finding his way back on to the field in 2015. Should pick up where he left off from 2014.

Coach – Andrew McFadden

Gains – Blake Ayshford (Cronulla Sharks, 2017), Ali Lauitiiti (Wakefield Wildcats, 2016), Issac Luke (South Sydney Rabbitohs, 2018), Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (Melbourne Storm, 2017), Jeff Robson (Cronulla Sharks, 2016), Ligi Sao (Manly Sea Eagles, 2017), Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Sydney Roosters, 2018) and Henare Wells (Burleigh Bears, 2016)

Losses – Brad Abbey (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), David Bhana (Newcastle Knights), Glen Fisiiahi (Rugby Union), Nathan Friend (Gold Coast Titans), Siliva Havili (St George Illawarra Dragons), Sebastine Ikahihifo (St George Illawarra Dragons), Ngani Laumape (Released), Suaia Matagi (Penrith Panthers), Nathaniel Peteru (Gold Coast Titans), Api Pewhairangi (Rugby Union), Dominique Peyroux (St Helens RLFC), Sam Rapira (Huddersfield Giants), Sam Tomkins (Wigan Warriors) and Chad Townsend (Cronulla Sharks)

Starting Team – Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Tui Lolohea, Blake Ayshford, Solomone Kata, Manu Vatuvei, Shaun Johnson, Jeff Robson, Jacob Lillyman, Issac Luke, Ben Matulino, Ryan Hoffman, Bodene Thompson and Simon Mannering

Interchange – Nathaniel Roache, Charlie Gubb, James Gavet and Raymond Faitala-Mariner

Squad – Jonathan Wright, Konrad Hurrell, Matthew Allwood, David Fusitu’a, Ali Lauitiiti, Mason Lino, Sione Lousi, Ken Maumalo, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, John Palavi, Toafofoa Sipley, Albert Vete and Upu Poching

Injury List – Thomas Leuluai (ACL, round 5), Henare Wells (hamstring, round 4), Ligi Sao (shoulder, indefinite), Ben Henry (knee, indefinite) and Sam Lisone (shoulder, indefinite)


Back to the GF 

Odds – 4.88 – 1st

Predicted Finish – 2nd

If this Team was a Superhero that Superhero would be – Superman

I’m not getting free tickets to Batman vs Superman but you can see where this is heading. The Broncos have pretty much everything going for them this season. Year 1 of the return of Wayne Bennett far exceeded expectations and a return to the GF will be par for this team. Let’s run through the vital statistics. Backline has all the strike in the world with James Roberts being the younger, faster version of Justin Hodges. He will need some time to settle in but he is the real deal. Young, talented spine. Forward pack full of big boppers with variety, offload capability and mobility. Otherworldly defence. Oh, and they have the best coach ever, so there’s that.

Big Question – Are the Cowboys their big game kryptonite and why is Batman ranked above Superman? Firstly, I’m a Batman fan. Superman is a little too clean cut for my liking. Secondly (and this is from my brother-in-law), Batman has a plan for every other member of the Justice League in case they go rogue. I like that. The big challenge for the Broncos will be to maintain the rage when expectations are raised. Bennett is a master of maintaining a cap on expectations but everyone will expect the Broncos to return to the GF. Will they be able to knock the Cows off when they get there? They just need to hold on for an extra 5 seconds.

Top Gun – Ben Hunt – Bona fide star now. I don’t buy into the theory that he cost the Broncos the GF either. That was a game with many twists and turns and golden point is like a penalty shoot out, either team can win.

Young Gun – Jai Arrow – Hard to see any young guns breaking into the Broncos setup this season but if Corey Parker goes down injured, Arrow is his logical replacement on the bench.

X-Factor – Anthony Milford – Was unstoppable towards the back end of the season and should be more of the same this year. Deadly out wide.

The Big Leap – James Roberts – Improved in leaps and bounds last season and his trajectory will continue on the up and up, especially playing outside Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford. As fast as the wind blows.

Coach – Wayne Bennett

Gains – Carlin Anderson (Ipswich Jets, 2016), Herman Ese’ese (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, 2016), Salesi Funaki (Wests Tigers, 2017), Darren Nicholls (South Sydney Rabbitohs, 2016), James Roberts (Gold Coast Titans, 2017), Marion Seve (Wests Tigers, 2016) and Caleb Timu (2017)

Losses – Dale Copley (Sydney Roosters), Mitchell Dodds (Warrington Wolves), Jordan Drew (Cronulla Sharks), Mitch Garbutt (Leeds Rhinos), Jon Green (Retired), Justin Hodges (Retired), Todd Lowrie (Retired), Jayden Nikorima (Sydney Roosters), Matt Parcell (Manly Sea Eagles), David Stagg (Retired), Ashley Taylor (Gold Coast Titans) and Daniel Vidot (Salford Red Devils)

Starting Team – Darius Boyd, Jordan Kahu, Jack Reed, James Roberts, Greg Eden, Anthony Milford, Ben Hunt, Adam Blair, Andrew McCullough, Josh McGuire, Alex Glenn, Matthew Gillett and Corey Parker

Interchange – Sam Thaiday, Jarrod Wallace, Joe Ofahengaue and Kodi Nikorima

Squad – Tom Opacic, Elijah Alick, Jai Arrow, Alex Barr, Jayden Berrell, Joe Boyce, Herman Ese’ese, Salesi Funaki, Brett Greinke, Jamayne Isaako, Aaron Whitchurch, Francis Molo, Todd Murphy, Darren Nicholls, Jonus Pearson, Aaron Rockley, Sam Scarlett, Marion Seve, Caleb Timu and Travis Waddell

Injury List – Lachlan Maranta (fractured wrist, round 7), Carlin Anderson (stomach, indefinite) and Corey Oates (shoulder, round 6)


Back to back premiers?

Odds – 7.50 – 2nd

Predicted Finish – 1st

If this Team was a Superhero that Superhero would be – Batman

I liked Batman as a kid but the early Batman movies didn’t really do him justice and when the latest tranche of Christian Bale led movies broke with an edginess hitherto not seen since Adam West (jokes – I can still remember Batman and Robin being forced to dance in one episode, a picture that will never leave me), let’s just say Batman was back. I remember seeing a t-shirt which said ‘Always be yourself, unless you can be Batman then always be Batman’ and the Cows are in the same boat.

Big Question – Can they repeat? Is it even possible? Let me count the ways. They have JT. He is only the best player in the World. They have Paul Green, who has immediately shown his quality as a coach. Their spine of Granville, JT, Morgan and Coote are All-Universe. Their pack lays the platform every week. Taumalolo and Lowe are mobile and dynamic. They have kept the same side and have some good young players coming through the ranks. What are they up against? It is virtually impossible to repeat. It will be riveting viewing.

Top Gun – JT

Young Gun – Kalyn Ponga – In Baseball you either hit for average or you hit for power. Some players can do both but it is rare. With Young Gun selection I’m always faced with a similar dilemna. The ‘hitting for the fences’ option is Kalyn Ponga (he of youtube fame) who is a cross between Benji Marshall and Greg Inglis. Ponga most likely won’t see the field this season behind Coote, JT and Morgan. A safer option would be Gideon Gela-Mosby, the try scoring freak. I’m going for the fences. I’m thinking Ponga will find a way onto the field. Honourable mention to Coen Hess.

X-Factor – Michael Morgan – Had a relatively quiet GF until ‘the Pass’ and the rest is history. If JT is Batman, Michael Morgan is Robin.

The Big Leap – Ethan Lowe – This is cheating because I can’t unsee what I have already seen. Ethan Lowe has probably been the best forward in the first 2 rounds for the Cows and he seems to have grown in strength this off season. Really locked down a starting role last year and has stepped up another level already. Rep duty beckons.

Coach – Paul Green

Gains – Shaun Hudson (Gold Coast Titans, 2017) and Jahrome Hughes (Townsville Blackhawks, 2016)

Losses – Glenn Hall (Retired), Viliame Kikau (Penrith Panthers), Cameron King (Parramatta Eels), Robert Lui (Salford Red Devils), Zac Santo (Canberra Raiders), Scott Schulte (Parramatta Eels) and Kelepi Tanginoa (Parramatta Eels)

Starting Team – Lachlan Coote, Kyle Feldt, Justin O’Neill, Kane Linnett, Antonio Winterstein, Michael Morgan, Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott, Jake Granville, James Tamou, Gavin Cooper, Ethan Lowe and Jason Taumalolo

Interchange – Ben Hannant, Rory Kostjasyn, Scott Bolton and John Asiata

Squad – Javid Bowen, Josh Chudleigh, Sam Hoare, Shaun Hudson, Jahrome Hughes, Patrick Kaufusi, Kyle Laybutt, Ben Spina, Braden Uele, Coen Hess, Kalyn Ponga, Gideon Gela-Mosby and Matthew Wright

Injury List – Tautau Moga (ACL, indefinite) and Ray Thompson (ankle, round 10)


Week 1

Cowboys vs Sharks – Cowboys

Bulldogs vs Eels – Bulldogs

Roosters vs Raiders – Raiders

Broncos vs Warriors – Broncos


Sharks vs Bulldogs – Sharks

Warriors vs Raiders – Warriors

Preliminary Finals

Cowboys vs Warriors – Cowboys

Broncos vs Sharks – Broncos

Grand Final

Cowboys vs Broncos – Cowboys

What is sweeter than Jelly Bread?

Kasper Schmeichel - Photo by Ronnie Anderson - CC-BY-2.0

Kasper Schmeichel – Photo by Ronnie AndersonCC-BY-2.0

  • Leicester City. Being a Newcastle United supporter and understanding that it is divinely decreed that only Man U, Man City, Arsenal and Chelsea may win the EPL, I’ve been waiting all season for Leicester to fall in a heap (along with the rest of the World) but this week after maintaining a 5 point gap at the top of the table, I have dared to believe. I fully expect Leicester to henceforth fall in a heap. 
  • NCAA Tournament. Always awesome but this year will be the most chaotic yet.

What isn’t? 

  • LSU – Very disappointing season. Looking forward to the NBA Draft for Simmons now. 

EPL Tips Match Week 31

Everon vs Arsenal – Draw 2-2

Chelsea vs West Ham – Chelsea 2-0

Crystal Palace vs Leicester – Leicester 1-0

Watford vs Stoke City – Watford 2-1

West Brom vs Norwich – West Brom 2-1

Swansea vs Aston Villa – Swansea 2-0

Newcastle vs Sunderland – Newcastle 2-1

Southampton vs Liverpool – Draw 1-1

Man City vs Man U – Man City 2-0

Tottenham vs Bournemouth – Tottenham 1-0

BTW I’m going head to head with Lawro (Mark Lawrenson of the BBC) again this year. He has gone and changed his scoring system (a correct result (picking a win, draw or defeat) is worth TEN points and picking an exact score FORTY points).

Week 29

Me – 140 (5 from 10 with 3 perfect scores) and Lawro – 40 (4 from 10 with no perfect scores)

Week 30

Me – 30 (3 from 5 with no perfect scores) and Lawro – 60 (3 from 5 with 1 perfect score)

Season so far

Me – 2180 and Lawro – 2110 (It has taken a while but I’m finally getting it going)

NRL Tips Round 3

As mentioned previously, tipping against the spread this year.

Cowboys vs Roosters (+12.5) – Roosters

Bulldogs vs Eels (+5.5) – Bulldogs

Knights (+4.0) vs Raiders – Raiders

Panthers (+6.0) vs Broncos – Broncos

Titans (+2.5) vs Tigers – Titans

Warriors vs Storm (+2.0) – Warriors

Dragons (+7.5) vs Rabbitohs – Rabbitohs

Sea Eagles vs Sharks (+1.0) – Sharks

Week 1


Week 2


Season so far

7/16 (This tipping against the spread is going to take some getting used to)

Stay Tuned

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode on Thursday, 31 March 2016 titled ‘Sports Tipping – How being mildly disinterested helps immeasurably’.


2 thoughts on “2016 NRL Preview Part 4 – The Real Deal

  1. Pingback: 2016 NRL Final Trimester Report Part 2 – Definitely Suffering Final’s Remorse | The Game of Sport

  2. Pingback: 2016 NRL Season Review – this is the last time I talk about it, I promise | The Game of Sport

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