In a competition where accurately tipping a single round of matches is a big ask, predicting the season's big winners and losers before a ball has been kicked is clearly a mug's game. Well, the writers at NRL.com are happy to be those mugs this week as we make our bold predictions of what will happen in the 2016 NRL season. Who will win the comp? Which halves combination will the NSW selectors pick for Origin I? Who will be the best (and worst) buys of the year?
Read on for our predictions, which we're making so far out from the start of the season that you've hopefully forgotten what we've said by the time the year is through.
Who will win the comp?
Chris Kennedy: Broncos. It's always tough to tip this far out but Brisbane have lost very few of their grand final stars, and have a few young players who should be better again. That said there are easily another half dozen clubs (Sharks, Storm, Warriors, Sea Eagles, Roosters, Cowboys) in with a great shot.
Dominic Brock: Who knows, but I'll say the Broncos. Nobody wins back-to-back, which rules out the Cowboys, and the Roosters and Rabbitohs have lost key players. Cronulla and the Storm are my smokies.
Tony Webeck: If you'd asked me with five minutes to go this year I still would have gotten it wrong but a refreshed Billy Slater, a forward pack made up almost entirely of Kiwi internationals not to mention the Australian skipper and a star in the making in Cameron Munster and I reckon the 'big three' might have one more Storm title up their sleeves.
Jack Brady: The thought of the Broncos holding up the Provan-Summon trophy in 2016 crossed my mind as soon as Johnathan Thurston's grand final-sealing field goal sailed between the posts. Sure they lose their skipper Justin Hodges but the signing of James Roberts offsets that loss to some degree. Besides Roberts, between Jack Reed, Jordan Kahu and Dale Copley you have three readymade centres who have proven before they can do a job for Wayne Bennett.
Andrew Bryan: Broncos – They surprised many in 2015 and were one tackle away from winning the whole competition. The loss of Justin Hodges is a big one - even with a decent replacemen - but I'm confident that they have the team to again go deep into Finals football. From there, anything is possible.
Adrian McMurray: Brisbane. With the pain of the 2015 decider still fresh in their minds it's hard to look past Wayne Bennett's charges going one better in 2016. The loss of Justin Hodges can't be underestimated, but the Dally M Centre of the Year James Roberts is a fairly handy replacement. It must be said as well that Cronulla's 2016 roster looks more than a chance of challenging for the Provan-Summons trophy.
Chris Kennedy: I'll say the Titans – just – from the Tigers. Both clubs are in an unenviable spot at the moment for a few reasons but with the players Gold Coast have lost and lack of depth in key positions has me thinking the Tigers may just win enough games to stay off the foot of the ladder.
Dominic Brock: Titans. Aidan Sezer, James Roberts and Nate Myles are big losses, and they weren't a great team in 2015 to begin with. The Tigers will push them all the way though.
Tony Webeck: This is becoming as hard to predict as the premiers. If the Titans can't settle on a highly-functioning halves combination in the first six weeks of the season they may find themselves in the firing line again. The depth at the Knights also worries me.
Jack Brady: Who knows? People had St George Illawarra pencilled in for the wooden spoon in 2015 before a ball had even been kicked and they were the only team apart from the Broncos to bow out of this year's finals series with some sort of grace. At a guess I'd go with the Titans, but even then anyone is capable of an upset on their day.
Andrew Bryan: Titans – They've lost Aiden Sezer, James Roberts, Nate Myles and a few other players and while there is a lot of positive talk coming out of the Titans in preseason, I can't see them challenging for the top 8. They will be a nuacance at times for the more fancied teams, but over the course of the long Telstra Premiership, they'll lose more games than they win.
Adrian McMurray: Wests Tigers. They still have plenty of quality in their side, but the loss of Martin Taupau, Keith Galloway and Pat Richards might be too much for this young group to overcome. Have looked towards youth and players from lower grades, and while they will be keen to make an impression in first grade, there are still too many questions that need to be answered.
Dally M winner?
Chris Kennedy: Hmmm. Milford?
Dominic Brock: Johnathan Thurston again? He's the best player in the game, plus the Grand Final showed that when the judges aren't sure, they just give the prize to Thurston.
Tony Webeck: Halves and fullbacks have owned the past nine Dally M medals so I'll say Johnathan Thurston ahead of Billy Slater.
Jack Brady: Ben Hunt will outlast Johnathan Thurston and James Maloney long enough to secure his first Dally M Medal.
Andrew Bryan: Johnathan Thurston – how can you back anyone else? The only way he won't win it is if he gets injured during the year or takes some time off to rest. Sit back and enjoy watching him while you can, champions of the game are few and far between.
Adrian McMurray: Anthony Milford. Was arguably the best player on the park in the 2015 grand final, and with a full year in the halves at the Broncos now under his belt, should take his game to another level in 2016.
Top try scorer?
Chris Kennedy: Could easily be Semi Radradra again. Ben Barba got it two years running in 2011-12 so it's not like it can't be done. I reckon the Eels will probably be crossing for a few more tries overall in 2016 while the Bulldogs are looking at a tougher time in attack which is why I'm not opting for Curtis Rona.
Dominic Brock: I'll go Alex Johnston.
Tony Webeck: You can look for value but the strike-rate of Eels behemoth Semi Radradra is impossible to ignore.
Jack Brady: Curtis Rona will get his revenge on Semi Radradra and secure the chocolates in his second full season of NRL football.
Andrew Bryan: Semi Radradra – a try-scoring machine in a team that struggled in 2015. What will he do when they start to improve? Hard to go past the flying Fijian.
Adrian McMurray: Valentine Holmes. Scored 16 in 2015, and should improve along with the rest of the Sharks side.