Nigel Wall,, NRL.com
Gold Coast Titans
With his powerful running on the edges and off-the-cuff creativity, colossus Dave Taylor might just put the ear-to-ear grin back on the face of coach John Cartwright.
After three solid seasons at Souths following mixed success at the Broncos, 2013 looms as the biggest season in Taylor’s NRL career to date – and he’s still only 24, with the best part of a decade of NRL footy ahead!
The ‘Coal Train’ is a perfect cog for the revamped Titans forward machine, which will boast second-to-none offloading capability in 2013. Taylor led all back-rowers in the NRL in 2012, making 42, while his try assists (six) and line-break assists (10) ranked second to Feleti Mateo.
His fringe charges will leave plenty of opposition halves sick and sorry – last season 118kg Taylor averaged 118 metres and tallied 14 line-breaks. Also, his 97 tackle busts were just five behind Tony Williams’ benchmark 102 – but carved out in an average 15 fewer minutes game time.
Danger sign: Any time the Titans play from in front in games you can expect Taylor’s confidence stocks to soar – and the outrageous skills to flow like the Amazon River in the wet season.
Sonny Bill Williams
The whole rugby league world is buzzing about SBW’s return to the NRL. After a five-year hiatus the powerful yet creative back-rower is ready to pick up where he left off in 2008, terrorising opponents with brutal one-on-one defence (albeit minus his former trademark shoulder charge) and bamboozling them with audacious offloading in the tackle.
When last seen in the NRL he was unstoppable down the right edge of the field – but from what we saw in his Round 1 return, scoring a try on the left edge, it would appear coach Trent Robinson has handed him a licence to roam. If that’s the case his teaming with Mitchell Pearce and Shaun Kenny-Dowall (right) and James Maloney and Michael Jennings (left) is certain to make the Tricolours one of the more lethal edge attacking units in the premiership.
In his last full season SBW topped the competition for offloads (with 60) and left 73 would-be tacklers in his wake, while his remarkable second-phase play put 13 team-mates away into space. If he can quickly get back to his average of a busy 64 minutes a game, SBW may yet prove the buy of the year.
Danger sign: If defences hang off Sonny Bill, or ‘gang’ tackles aren’t effective, fringe defences will have no chance of stopping Roosters raids out wide.
North Queensland Cowboys
The hulking 24-year-old prop’s rise to the top has been nothing short of spectacular, cementing his name in the NSW Origin and Australian Test team line-ups in just his third full year at NRL level.
After being a consistent contributor in 2011, Tamou really stepped up in 2012 – leading all front-rowers for territory per game with an average 155 metres in just 52 minutes on the park each week!
Tamou’s worth is boosted by the fact he’s a skilful promoter of the Steeden despite attracting plenty of attention from defenders – he managed a deft 34 offloads up front for the effervescent Cowboys last season, just three fewer than overall NRL position leader Sam Kasiano. Expect that number to hold solid again as he plays with confidence in front of an expansive, speedy backline.
Danger sign: If Tamou is allowed to break into a gallop the Cowboys will again lead the league in good field position. His 79 tackle-breaks in 2012 – the NRL-high tally for a front-rower – will surely be smashed this season.
Manly Sea Eagles
With Tony Williams missing from the Manly back row in 2013 and right-edge threat Glenn Stewart sidelined with injury for the first two months of the season, ‘Choc’ knows it falls to him to provide the momentum in the pack the Sea Eagles will need if they are to contest the top rungs on the Telstra Premiership ladder.
He’s certainly the man for the job. Last year he had the ‘luxury’ of watching on as T-Rex grabbed a huge share of his normal workload. Consequently, after making more tackle-breaks than any other second-rower from 2007-09 (with an all-time high of 175), and ranking second in the category in 2010-11, he dipped to just fourth-best (64).
With halves Daley Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran reportedly ready to ignite the Sea Eagles’ attack like never before, the likelihood is that Watmough will reclaim his mantle.
Danger sign: Halting Watmough after he’s punched a hole in the defence is one thing; halting the flow of the play is another. ‘Choc’ made 30 offloads in 2012, up there with the likes of Tony Williams and Frank Pritchard.
A true ‘follow me’ style of leader, Tigers captain Farah’s 2013 season should be a roaring success – he just has to stay fit and stay on the park.
Farah endured a truly emotional season in 2012 – but despite being limited to just 15 appearances he nevertheless ranked second for line-breaks made by a player wearing the No.9 (with six) and tallied the third-most runs in his position (8.5 average). He also displayed his trademark creativity, ranking third among hookers for try assists (seven) and line-break assists (nine).
His impact in 2013 is bound to be greater given an overhaul of the Tigers pack – last year the side failed to win the physical battle up the centre, struggling to the second-fewest metres each week and with just two members of their starting forwards and interchange making triple-figure gains.
Farah’s darts out of dummy-half and his ability to feign a pass and burrow through the defensive line will be to the fore.
Danger sign: When Farah zooms into dummy-half inside the opposition 10-metre zone it’s anyone’s guess what he’ll do. Will he grubber kick; or drift across field and pick up supports; or go himself? Whatever – you can bet it will be dangerous.
Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
New club – but same old wrecking ball attitude: ‘T-Rex’ is the final ingredient in Des Hasler’s plan to make the Bulldogs’ pack totally ‘bad to the bone’.
Williams’ expected teaming with fellow damaging runner and distributor Frank Pritchard, not to mention elusive centre Josh Morris, will make Canterbury one of the three most potent attacking sides on the left edge of the field.
Williams took to the park just 15 times in 2012 – but that was still enough minutes for him to wrap up the title as the leading tackle-busting back-rower in the NRL. And his force defies logic – able to shrug off or steamroll over a defender even from a standing start.
Danger sign: Williams is sure to add another dimension to the Bulldogs’ attack which relied so heavily on Ben Barba and opportunistic broken-field runs in 2012. The side scored more tries from moves originated outside opposition 20-metre zones than any other (49) – yet managed just the fourth-fewest inside an opponent’s 10-metre zone (37). Williams will change that.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Is there a player that relishes the tough stuff through the middle third of the field more than the big Englishman? Monolith-man Burgess brings a heap of menace to the Rabbitohs’ front row, ensuring that any opposition that might have visions of intimidating the myrtle and green had better think again.
He’s adaptable and is showing increased discipline, too. When playing in the front row his total focus is on dominating the ruck, both in territory and bell-ringing defence – he rumbled to an average 145 metres last season, with 25 tackles. His surges provided 74 tackle-breaks – only James Tamou made more by a front-rower.
But he can be a wonderful ball-player too, with a sublime offload that is the perfect complement to the prolific numbers offered by hooker Issac Luke. With Dave Taylor no longer in the fold, Burgess may up the ante in second-phase play, surpassing his 35 from last season.
Danger sign: If as expected the Rabbitohs improve their territory rank (seventh in 2013) you can bet Big Sam will be churning out big metres every week.
Expect a banner year from Thaiday who, by his own admission, got a little lost at times in 2013, buried under the weight of expectation in his first year as captain of the Broncos.
For the first time since 2009, Big Sam’s metres dipped below 100 each match. But given he will divide his time between the front row and second row in 2013, we anticipate a return to his head-rocking best.
The positional tweak – a necessity given the Broncos’ limited forward stocks – is likely to see him play fewer minutes than in past seasons. But that will only guarantee furious output in shorter time span.
Thaiday is at his best when he looks for action: he’ll make multiple hit-ups in sets to inspire his teammates, then back it up with tackle after tackle (he averaged a career-high 35 last year).
Danger sign: Whenever the Broncos move into good attacking position. Thaiday is one of the best edge runners in the business and he’ll look to cut through on the right side off a nicely timed pass from his playmakers.
Ricky Stuart secured Lussick from the Sea Eagles for his potential – and there’s no better coach in the NRL at turning potential into reality than the former NSW Origin mentor.
Stuart is well aware the Eels have been sadly lacking up front in past seasons – particularly in 2012 when not one of their forward pack managed to pump out triple figures for metres gained.
At Manly, Geoff Toovey could afford to play Lussick in short sharp bursts – he ended up averaging just 36 minutes in his first full season in the NRL. That was the perfect launching pad for what will surely be a huge year for the 23-year-old.
We’re expecting Lussick to play up to 45 minutes a game; he’ll bring force, defensive starch and excellent offloading skills – despite his limited game time he still managed 21 offloads in 2012, the fifth most by a Sea Eagle.
Danger sign: When he gets on a roll Lussick can prove unstoppable, as he did when he powered to 166 metres from 17 runs against the Dragons back in Round 13 last year.
Elsewhere on NRL.com we’ve predicted Mateo will gain a long-awaited call-up to the NSW Origin squad in 2013. Certainly if that’s to happen he’ll need to explode out of the blocks for the Warriors over the first two months of 2013.
Mateo is the perfect weapon to deploy through both the centre of the ruck and also the edges. He’s versatile, able to contribute either taking the ball out wide or when seizing his chance at first receiver. And coach Matt Elliott knows he’ll get the desired result regardless of whether Mateo starts in games or is injected into the fray off the bench mid-half.
Mateo’s great footwork at the defensive line is one of his best assets – it helped him to 61 tackle-breaks last season.
Danger sign: Oppositions just know he’s going to try to offload... but try as they might to stop that from happening, invariably Mateo will get his pass away. He’s led the NRL for offloads in four of the past five seasons now – including the past three in a row.