With the 2019 NRL season set to get underway shortly, we’ve had a go at predicting how the ladder will look at the end of the regular season!
1st: Sydney Roosters
Despite losing Blake Ferguson and Dylan Napa from their Grand Final winning team, the Roosters have somehow strengthened ahead of their title defence, bringing in Angus Crichton and International wingers Brett Morris and Ryan Hall. Add in the explosiveness of James Tedesco and Latrell Mitchell, the leadership of Boyd Cordner and the class of Cooper Cronk, and I don’t see – barring injuries of course – how this Roosters outfit can finish anywhere but top.
2nd: South Sydney Rabbitohs
With Wayne Bennett at the helm, I think this will be an excellent season for the Rabbitohs. South Sydney have sort of been going through the motions since winning the premiership in 2014, but Bennett is poised to get the best out of the club – and with the likes of Sam Burgess, Greg Inglis and Adam Reynolds on the roster, there’s no reason why Souths can’t be challenging for the premiership in 2019.
3rd: Brisbane Broncos
The rivalry between the Rabbitohs and Broncos – and interchanging coaches Wayne Bennett and Anthony Seibold – could be one of the major storylines in 2019. I think losing Bennett could be a blessing in disguise for Brisbane – Seibold did a great job with the Rabbitohs in his debut season as head coach last year and has a hugely talented roster at his disposal. Premiership winner Matthew Johns has been working with halves Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima, and if Jack Bird steps up this season, the Broncos could be in for a big one.
4th: St George Illawarra Dragons
Is it now or never for the Dragons in 2019? With star playmaker Gareth Widdop set to depart at the end of the season, there’s a sense this is the year St George Illawarra need to strike. With Ben Hunt and Corey Norman there for support in the playmaking stakes, along with a bunch of representative forwards in James Graham, Tyson Frizell, Tariq Sims and Paul Vaughan, the Dragons need to step up and make a genuine impact – all through the season – in 2019.
5th: Newcastle Knights
I’m backing the Knights to force their way back into the top eight this season. After a nightmare few seasons, Newcastle are seemingly back on track, signing the likes of Origin players David Klemmer and Tim Glasby to boost their forward pack, while rising star Kalyn Ponga and halfback Mitchell Pearce should both be in for bumper seasons. With some talented outside backs out wide, I think the Knights will surprise a lot of people in 2019.
6th: Melbourne Storm
The loss of Billy Slater is huge for Melbourne, but when you’ve got Craig Bellamy as your coach and Cameron Smith as your captain, you will almost certainly be making the finals. I do think the Storm will struggle this season and lose more games than they have in years, but with those two aforementioned legends steering the ship, Melbourne will find a way to lock down a place in the top eight.
7th: Canberra Raiders
I will blindly pick the Raiders every season to make the top eight against my better judgement! But seriously, Canberra are arguably one of the best teams in the competition when they find the right balance between attack and defence, and with Ricky Stuart coming out and saying his team have been working extra hard on the latter in the off-season – they lost 11 games by nine points or less in 2018 – I believe they can produce a more consistent campaign this year.
8th: North Queensland Cowboys
With the Johnathan Thurston farewell year done and dusted, the Cowboys should be able to refocus on their team as a whole and fight for a position back in the finals. Michael Morgan will be allowed to run the show – something he wasn’t really able to do last season – and with Jason Taumalolo causing havoc through the middle of the park, there is too much talent in North Queensland for the club not to make a push for the eight.
9th: Penrith Panthers
There’s been so much off-field drama at the Panthers before the season has even started, and I’m not sure if new coach Ivan Cleary will be able to settle his troops and get the best out of his team this season. It could go either way – Penrith might come together and galvanise, but with so much negative publicity surrounding the club right now, it might take a while before they hit their straps – and by then, it could be too late.
10th: Cronulla Sharks
I think the Sharks will struggle this season. Luke Lewis retiring will leave a huge hole in the Cronulla team, and with Paul Gallen getting older and with Andrew Fifita unreliable as ever, a few chinks in their armour might start to appear. And I’m not convinced with the signing of Shaun Johnson – he doesn’t really suit their style of football. Add in their salary cap controversy, and this could be a long season for the Sharks…
11th: New Zealand Warriors
On the flip side, the Warriors losing Johnson is a big blow for the club. Blake Green will take on responsibility as the leading playmaker as the Warriors haven’t replaced Johnson with a big-name signing, and with Simon Mannering retiring, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Kiwi club and how they will operate this season.
12th: Wests Tigers
The Tigers came so close to securing finals football last season, finishing ninth, but was that their opportunity to go on a deep run? Michael Maguire will provide a steely edge to the club, but with veterans Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah still running the show in key positions, are the Tigers still living in the past? With so many other clubs gunning for the top eight, it’s hard to put the Tigers above them.
13th: Parramatta Eels
There’s some definite talent on the Eels roster, but they lack that real leader who can take them to the next level. Jarryd Hayne leaving the club could be a blessing in disguise, but even with the signing of Blake Ferguson, I don’t think they have the halves to steer the club into a finals spot. They will be entertaining and play good football, but I don’t expect Parramatta to make much of an impact in 2019.
14th: Manly Sea Eagles
There’s a lot going on at Manly and that’s been the case for a while, leaving their actual football in tatters. I’m not convinced Des Hasler is the answer – he became out of his depth at the Bulldogs and there was a sense the game has passed him by. His style of football wasn’t effective and attack under his guidance was non-existent. You can’t write off a team with the Trbojevic brothers and Daly Cherry-Evans, but Manly could be in for another long season…
15th Canterbury Bulldogs
The Bulldogs are very much in a rebuilding phase and have rightfully moved on a host of veterans that were contributing to their salary cap woes. Dean Pay has a tough job ahead of him and much will depend on whether Lachlan Lewis can avoid second year syndrome and take his game to the next level in 2019. If he can, then the Dogs might fight for a top eight spot. If he doesn’t, then they will be battling to avoid the wooden spoon.
16th: Gold Coast Titans
Gold Coast have played finals football just once in the last eight seasons, and I don’t think it will happen in 2019. In fact, this could be their toughest campaign to date. It’s time for Ash Taylor to kick on and fulfil his potential if the Titans are going to make any sort of impact this season, and while the likes of Tyrone Peachey and Shannon Boyd are quality signings, Gold Coast for me will end up being the whipping boys of the 2019 season.