Listen to a former NRL star and a host of die-hard celebrity rugby league tragics and 2012 is bound to be the hardest-fought, tightest and most unpredictable NRL season ever.
NRL.com canvassed a retired club, state and international rugby league legend as well as a range of celebrity ‘experts’, including TV stars, radio hosts, sports presenters and even politicians on their predictions for the upcoming NRL season, and their message is unanimous: “Anyone can win the competition in 2012.”
Retired legend Glenn Lazarus and a host of public figures including NSW and Queensland Premiers Barry O’Farrell and Anna Bligh, Channel 7 News Anchor Chris Bath, Fox Sports commentator Warren Smith and WSFM radio and sometimes Footy Show celebrity guest Brendan ‘Jonesy’ Jones have wrestled with their top-eight predictions for season 2012. Here’s what they expect to unfold throughout the 2012 NRL season:
Premier of NSW
“If last year is any guide, 2012 will be one of the tightest competitions ever,” O’Farrell, a Tigers die-hard, tells NRL.com. “I am sure crowds will again respond whether it’s for those great old suburban rivalries in Sydney or clashes with the powerful out-of-town clubs like Brisbane, Newcastle and the Warriors.
“Of course, I’m excited by the Tigers’ chances this year. Last year’s heartbreak will drive the boys all season and with a bit of luck I think we can go all the way.”
The NSW Premier's tips: 1. Sea Eagles; 2. Warriors; 3. Wests Tigers; 4. Broncos; 5. Storm; 6. Knights; 7. Bulldogs; 8. Panthers.
Premier of Queensland
“I’m expecting big things from the Queensland teams and I’m particularly excited about the Titans – I know they’ll bounce back after last season’s disappointment,” Bligh says. “The addition of man-mountain Jamal Idris is going to give the boys some real fire-power.
“Of course the Cowboys are always dangerous with Jonathan Thurston directing play and Matty Bowen ready to show some of his magic.
“It’s going to be fascinating watching the Broncos without Darren Lockyer but they have big Petero Civoniceva back and he’ll be a great mentor to the young talent.
“Queensland’s teams to fill the top three spots on the table.”
The Queensland Premier's tips: 1. Titans; 2. Broncos; 3. Cowboys; 4. Storm; 5. Knights; 6. Tigers; 7. Warriors; 8. Sea Eagles.
News Anchor, Channel 7 (Sydney)
“The 2012 NRL season is one of the most open competitions ever,” Eels fan Bath tells NRL.com. “There’s lots for all fans to look forward to: the lucky Raiders keeping talent Josh Dugan until 2015; Chris Sandow playing for the mighty Eels; seeing what Wayne Bennett can do for the Knights, and what Des Hasler can do at the Bulldogs… even though my 11-year-old, one-eyed Sea Eaglet is heartbroken!”
Chris's tips: 1. Knights; 2. Cowboys; 3. Wests Tigers; 4. Storm; 5. Bulldogs; 6. Manly; 7. ‘Mighty Eels’; 8. Titans or Warriors (sorry, can't narrow it down further!).
Radio host, ‘Jonesy and Amanda’ WSFM Sydney
“It’s been a long time for us Sharkies fans, but we are the most patient and like an old-time prospector panning for gold we’re ever hopeful,” Jonesy says.
Jonesy's tips: 1. Storm; 2. Sea Eagles; 3. Dragons; 4. Sharks (don’t laugh); 5. Bulldogs; 6. Roosters; 7. Rabbitohs; 8. Titans.
Rugby league commentator, Fox Sports
“From last year’s finals I’ve overlooked Melbourne and Wayne Bennett’s much-vaunted Newcastle Knights,” Smith tells NRL.com. “I think the Raiders are easily written off because they’re outside of Sydney… I think they’ve got a much better roster than teams like the Panthers, the Eels, the Titans, the Roosters, even the Bulldogs. If the Raiders keep everyone on the park they’re a pretty good team… they had a bunch of key guys play very limited minutes last year through injury.
“With Melbourne, my concerns are the interpretations of the ruck might hurt them, and how long referees allow tackles to go on for… I think that might hurt them… and at some stage the toll on players like Cam Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk has to tell.
“I can easily see the Bulldogs making the top eight, too. I’m sure they’ll be in the running in the back end of the season.
“It’s going to be one of the closest, most entertaining seasons ever!”
Warren's tips: 1. Sea Eagles; 2. Wests Tigers; 3. Cowboys; 4. Warriors; 5. Dragons; 6. Raiders; 7. Broncos; 8. Rabbitohs.
Sports Reporter, Channel 7 (Sydney)
“This is the closest comp for more than a century,” Wilson tells NRL.com. But his money is on the Tigers. “Benji is ready to take the Wests Tigers to grand final glory, and Adam Blair a very handy pick-up. There’ll be a few more ‘hits’ for season 2012: Wayne Bennett at Newcastle; Melbourne under master coach Craig Bellamy and with Billy Slater back to full fitness…”
Jim's tips: 1. Wests Tigers; 2. Manly; 3. Cowboys; 4. Knights; 5. Melbourne; 6. Warriors; 7. Broncos; 8. Dragons.
Five-time premiership winner
“I know it gets said every year, but I really can’t tell you definitively who’s not going to make the top eight,” Lazarus admits. “The Titans have purchased well, you’d think the Rabbitohs wouldn’t suffer the injuries they did last season, and you’d think the Sharks will be better, as will the Panthers with the ‘Gus’ [Gould] factor… it’s such an open competition.
“Everyone’s written off the Raiders and the Roosters, and they are both capable of doing great things with the players they have on their roster. It’s anyone’s guess.
“Melbourne will finish well. They’re a great football side… they’re going to win quite a few games and I think they’ll finish on top after the regular season.
“The Cowboys will go well, too, as will the Knights now they’ve got Wayne Bennett as well as Kade Snowden and Danny Buderus.
“I think the Bulldogs will go very well after signing their new English recruit James Graham as well as their new coach Des Hasler… his no-nonsense style of coaching I think will propel the ’Dogs into the top eight.”
Glenn's tips: 1. Storm; 2. Knights; 3. Bulldogs; 4. Cowboys; 5. Wests Tigers; 6. Sea Eagles; 7. Rabbitohs; 8. Warriors.
Whichever team you support, there’s plenty to get excited about this NRL season in what could very well be the closest competition of all time. The good news is the fun – and the upsets, the thrillers and the controversies – have only just begun.