St George Illawarra Dragons predicted Round 1 line-up
The Dragons look a lot stronger for Ben Hunt's inclusion to partner Gareth Widdop and an already-potent pack is even stronger with James Graham's inclusion.
Spots in that pack are at a premium with new recruits Mitch Allgood and Jeremy Latimore long shots for round one spots and up and comers like Hame Sele and Jacob Host engaged in an intense battle for bench berths.
With the recent loss of Joel Thompson to the Manly Sea Eagles, there is a back-row berth vacant, opening the door for Tariq Sims to establish a permanent starting spot.
The major departure – fullback Josh Dugan – is readily covered by young gun Matt Dufty but Jai Field is also pressing his claims. Future stars like Zac Lomax and Tristan Sailor are also awaiting their chances.
NRL.com expert Jamie Soward says:
"The only question I have is over the fullback, Dufty. Can he live up to the hype of last year? He got a small taste. The rest of the team sort of picks itself. They've got a real working mentality.
"Does Kurt Mann force his way into the No.1 jersey or after the success Gareth Widdop had at fullback in the World Cup does he go to fullback with Mann as a running five-eighth and Ben Hunt can control the game? The X-factor is Jai Field, he's put on a bit of weight so they've got something they haven't settled on yet is fullback.
''Dufty, Field and Mann will all be looking to have strong pre-seasons, especially after watching Widdop at one. You'd be crazy if you're Paul McGregor not to at least look at the idea of putting Widdop at one and having a running five-eighth like Jai Field or even Dufty if they can handle the rigours of being in the front line.
"They've got a really good side this year. The guys on the bench, Sele is under pressure from guys like Latimore and Lawrie and Host who all have first-grade experience."
NRL.com's predicted Round 1 team:
1 Matt Dufty, 2 Nene Macdonald, 3 Euan Aitken, 4 Tim Lafai, 5 Jason Nightingale, 6 Gareth Widdop, 7 Ben Hunt, 8 James Graham, 9 Cameron McInnes, 10 Paul Vaughan, 11 Tyson Frizell, 12 Tariq Sims, 13 Jack De Belin. Interchange: 14 Leeson Ah Mau, 15 Hame Sele, 16 Jacob Host, 17 Kurt Mann. Reserves: 18 Mitchell Allgood 19 Blake Lawrie 20 Jeremy Latimore 21 Jai Field.