Sterling Gold: Where each team needs to lift
In a sport of few certainties, there's one thing we can be sure of in rugby league: what was good enough one season won't be good enough the next.
Basically if you haven't moved forward then you've gone backwards.
Last year only three teams managed to make the top eight after doing so the previous season. In 2009 just 4 clubs went back to back.
In today's game you pay for success, which means it is increasingly difficult to remain competitive and the window of opportunity is fleeting.
After an arduous off-season, every club is confident of being faster, stronger and more skilful – but it remains to be seen who really has what it will take. Part of their preparation will have been to look back at their last campaign and where improvement is called for.
As a preview to 2011 these are the areas that I believe each club will need to have addressed.
DRAGONS: Can't rest on their laurels
The fact there hasn't been a successful premiership defence in a full competition in 17 years shows the task at hand. In winning the title, the club used just 28 players in the top grade. Whilst they boast plenty of star power it will again be those that carry a lower profile and how they cover the loss of Jeremy Smith, Neville Costigan and Jarrod Saffy that will go a long way in determining their fate. These three played 56 games between them and the likes of Michael Greenfield, Trent Merrin, Jon Green, Adam Cuthbertson, a fit-again Dan Hunt and some talented rookies will need to make strong contributions.
PANTHERS: Need to switch it up in attack
In amassing a whopping 117 tries last year the mountain men crossed more times than any other team in 2010. It is, however, extremely unlikely that they will boast a 40% success rate in scoring off the boot again this year. It is difficult to be critical of how any tries are scored (as long as they are), but the Panthers did get predictable at times with the frequency of their bombing raids. With opposition defences now possibly over-reading this ploy, Penrith could look at running the ball late in the count.
TIGERS: Can't forget the basics
When it comes to entertainment value the Tigers lead the way, but in my opinion their greatest strength can also be their biggest weakness. Whilst it is refreshing to watch a team always looking to play football, there must be a recognition that in every game there is a time when the smartest play is to take the ball forward, eat up the metres and reach a position to kick.
TITANS: Need to rise to the occasion
The competition's new boys have grown in stature in their four years of existence but it is time for them to be able to raise their performance to go to the next level. The oldest playing group in the league have displayed tremendous commitment and character to finish 3rd at the end of home and away the last two seasons. Coach John Cartwright will want more of the same but will have to find a way to avoid their season again plateauing late.
WARRIORS: Have to stay focussed
They've harnessed their former laissez faire attitude with the football but still struggle mentally to maintain a full 80-minute performance. When their numerous big men got tired, it was again displayed not only physically but through poor decision making. The Kiwis have an abundance of genetically gifted performers but some struggled with their lateral movement, which made them vulnerable to inside passes around the ruck area.
ROOSTERS: Discipline is the key
Despite making it to the decider the tri-colours battled a discipline problem throughout the season, finishing in front in the penalty count just 6 times from their 28 matches. Statistics show very clearly how many tries are scored on the back of infringements. In total the Roosters gave away 173 penalties whilst receiving just 127. Showing how poor they were in comparison were the Dragons, who played 27 games and finished on the wrong side of the count a mere 6 times. They were almost the exact opposite of the Roosters, being awarded 172 penalties and only conceding 135.
RAIDERS: Better last tackle options
They came home with a wet sail which coincided with Terry Campese focusing on forcing as many line-drop outs as possible. For the majority of the season the Raiders' last-tackle plays were poor, especially in the opposition 20, and as a result they struggled to maintain pressure. Once Campese publically declared that he was going into games primarily concerned with forcing re-starts from under the posts, their season came alive. In his absence a huge responsibility is now with Matt Orford.
SEA EAGLES: Maintain concentration
Manly's first game set the trend for their next seven months. They opened 2010 by relinquishing an 18-point half-time lead against the Tigers, being overrun in the second 40 minutes and losing the game. In fact only seven times did the Eagles score more points in the second-half than they did in the first. Remarkably they went on to score more first-half points than any other team (364) but less second half (181) than anyone else. Theirs is a mental, not physical, problem.
RABBITOHS: Work hard for 80 minutes
Souths again struggled to put effort upon effort. If teams were able to force consecutive sets, the worrisome sign was that the Rabbitohs would more than likely crack. The most telling performances were narrow round 15 and 18 losses to Manly and Canterbury, where Souths seemed set to win but didn't. I thought these games showed why Souths failed to make the top eight.
BRONCOS: Young guns need to step up
Brisbane's marvellous final's run came to an end due to a predominantly youthful squad, totally lacking experience, being unable to maintain the weekly grind that is the NRL. It was a case of short term pain for the longer term gain. Their multitude of talented youngsters will be much better for their tough initiation but they now face a further, unexpected test with a rookie coach in Anthony Griffin guiding their fortunes.
KNIGHTS: Aim for consistency
Many teams struggle to display consistency on a weekly basis, the Knights regularly did so within the space of an 80-minute contest. The Novocastrians played some scintillating football but showed a propensity to go to the other end of the spectrum in the space of a couple of plays. Way too much of a roller-coaster in their performance.
EELS: Concentrate on going forward
In recent seasons the Eels have looked more likely to score from 50 metres out than 5. This comes down to play selection with their ball-players failing to recognise that you take the ball forward, not sideways, against a retreating defence. This then allows Jarryd Hayne to be more selective as to where and how he injects himself without feeling as though he has to manufacture every big play.
BULLDOGS: Commit to the contest
After their lofty finish in 2009 the 'Dogs carried great expectations but these were dashed by mid-season after winning just three of their first 13. It didn't appear to be a lack of effort but they definitely paid the penalty for struggling in the opening 20 minutes of games and failing to get into the necessary arm wrestle. They only scored the opening try in 11 of their 24 matches.
SHARKS: Introduce some unpredictability
The Sharks were the only team to score less than 400 points in 2010 and their lack of control and variety failed to put anywhere enough pressure on opposition defences. No surprises about where they need to improve this year.
COWBOYS: Lift the intensity
The biggest disappointment of all and would deservedly have taken out the wooden spoon if not for Melbourne's demotion. They played with a complete lack of intensity and this poor attitude led to a real softness in all aspects of their play.
STORM: Maintain high standards
Despite being devoid of incentive, personal pride in performance saw them win more games than they lost. No such problem with motivation this year but they do go in with an inferior playing roster to past seasons.
See the official team lists for the opening round of NRL action.