What your team needs in 2016: Part 1
We analyse each NRL club's strengths and weaknesses in 2015, what ingredients they should be chasing next season and who they have recruited already for 2016.
We're starting at the foot of the ladder with the bottom four clubs of the 2015 season, and will move onto the Eels, Panthers, Raiders and Sea Eagles in Part 2, to be published on NRL.com during the week.
Key 2015 stats: Attack – 10th; Defence – 15th; Completions – 11th; Tackle Breaks – 9th
What they've got: A team reeling from the second wooden spoon in the club's history, with a new coach on the way. Defensive woes told the story for Newcastle this year, and the team's completion rates dropped after the departure of Wayne Bennett and his focus on mistake-free football. The club is also losing a lot of experience with captain and master utility player Kurt Gidley off to England, Beau Scott bound for Parramatta, Tyrone Roberts joining the Titans and Clint Newton and David Fa'alogo retiring. The Knights do possess some young talent in the outside backs in Dane Gagai and Jake Mamo, while Tariq and Korbin Sims are developing as leaders of the forward pack.
What they need: New blood in the halves to replace Gidley and Roberts, and some genuine quality in a forward pack that lacked impact this season.
What they're getting: Trent Hodkinson is the star signing, and it's somewhat of a coup for a wooden spoon-winning side to recruit an incumbent NSW halfback. Hodkinson is the kind of clutch player and calm organiser that the Knights need pulling the strings, and he should take the pressure off talented but injury-prone five-eighth Jarrod Mullen next season. Todd Lowrie and Mickey Paea add experience to the pack but the Newcastle faithful would love to see some younger forwards also join the club before 2016. Along with Hodkinson's arrival arguably the best bit of business the Knights have done is to re-sign young rep stars Dane Gagai and Sione Mata'utia for the next few years.
Key 2015 stats: Attack – 6th; Tackle Breaks – 6th; Defence – 11th; Completions – 13th; Run Metres – 13th; Penalties Conceded – 15th
What they've got: A team ready to begin a new era, potentially without captain and star player Robbie Farah. The Tigers have made it more than clear they're keen to part ways with the veteran hooker and NSW vice captain, leaving the future of the club in the hands of young guns Luke Brooks, Mitch Moses and James Tedesco. The pressure would be on without Farah, because the team already has a lot of room for improvement despite being among the NRL's best attacking sides in 2015.
What they need: A stronger defence, some big men to support Dally M Prop of the Year Aaron Woods, and more consistency from their young halves pairing. They'll also need to compensate for the departure of veterans Pat Richards and Keith Galloway, who are heading to the English Super League.
What they're getting: No huge names as yet, with fringe first-graders Jack Littlejohn and Michael Chee-Kam arriving from Manly, Justin Hunt joining the club from the Dragons and Jordan Rankin returning to the NRL from Hull.
GOLD COAST TITANS
Key 2015 stats: Attack – 14th; Defence – 16th; Completions – 16th; Penalties Conceded – 15h; Offloads – 4th
What they've got: A team with a lot of room for improvement. The Titans were hit with a double blow this season – not only did they spend another campaign at the wrong end of the ladder but they also had a star signing slip through their fingers when Daly Cherry-Evans reneged on an agreement to move to the Gold Coast. They lost five-eighth Aidan Sezer to Canberra during the Cherry-Evans negotiations, and will lose big-name forwards Nate Myles and Dave Taylor next season as well.
What they need: A bit of an overhaul, most likely. For starters, some new blood in the halves, then replacements up front, and some added experience for a team that has some quality young talent (most notably electric centre James Roberts) but has been far too erratic this season.
What they're getting: The Titans have been one of the most active clubs in the transfer market, with David Shillington and Zeb Taia to provide size and experience in the pack, veteran tackle machine and occasional backflipper Nathan Friend to slot into the No.9 jersey, plus Knights halfback Tyrone Roberts and promising Brisbane youngster Ashley Taylor to boost the halves. None of those names have the star power of Cherry-Evans, but the Titans still have some spending power to continue their off-season buying spree.
NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS
Key 2015 stats: Line Breaks – 7th; Offloads – 5th; Attack – 13th; Defence – 14th
What they've got: A team that, once again, can be described as brilliant at their best and woeful at their worst. Consistency has been the missing ingredient for practically the Warriors' entire history, and the club's poor performances late in the year following a season-ending injury to Shaun Johnson show that they still rely too heavily on their star No.7. They do have a strong side on paper with some quality internationals in the forward pack (Simon Mannering, Ryan Hoffman, Ben Matulino) and talented youngsters in the backline led by rookies Tui Lolohea and Solomone Kata.
What they need: Another go-man in attack – or two – besides Johnson, and stronger overall consistency. A couple of big-name New Zealand stars from teams with strong winning cultures could do the trick...
What they're getting: The game's next superstar in Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and possibly the strongest dummy-half runner in the game in Issac Luke. The double coup will have Warriors fans – and neutrals – licking their lips in anticipation for next season, with RTS and Luke likely to form a super spine alongside halves Johnson and Lolohea in 2016. Both have winning experience, with Tuivasa-Sheck's Roosters having a stranglehold on the minor premiership in recent times and Luke's Rabbitohs having won last year's premiership, and they could free up Johnson next season in the same way Lachlan Coote, Michael Morgan and Jake Granville have allowed Johnathan Thurston to thrive at the Cowboys this year. Expectations will be high for the Warriors next season.
Part 3: Dragons, Rabbitohs, Sharks, Bulldogs
Part 4: Storm, Cowboys, Broncos, Roosters