Hope springs eternal for all 16 Telstra Premiership teams heading into the new season. NRL.com expert Jamie Soward has his say on how your team ranks heading into the opening round.
1. Melbourne Storm
They’ve earned the right to be top of the Power Rankings. I know they lose Cooper Cronk, but this is the best chance we have seen in 20 years for a team to repeat as premiers. They hit the ground running in the World Club Challenge and deserve to be No.1.
2. North Queensland Cowboys
They made a grand final last year without their two best players, and then they pick up Jordan McLean. Everything points towards this side winning. But it is going to be a long season. The top three or four sides will be playing completely different come finals time because they know how to win those big games.
3. Sydney Roosters
We are going to have to wait and see. What we see now is not going to be the team we see later in the year. They are going to have to evolve and not rely on Cooper Cronk to do everything.
4. Cronulla Sharks
Experience can win you tight games. I love this pack and I love the inclusion of Matt Moylan in the No.6. He is going thrive being around experienced guys. He can just go out there and play.
5. Penrith Panthers
They’ve got a proper halves pairing now, with James Maloney joining Nathan Cleary. Maloney, along with Blake Green at the Warriors, could be potentially the buys of the year. For mine, James Maloney is probably one of the top two five-eighths in the competition.
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6. Parramatta Eels
Usually, you don’t take a lot out of trial form, but after hearing Knights coach Nathan Brown speak glowingly about them, they just have to meet the expectations. It is going to be one of those seasons where three or four teams stand out and the rest are going to be about meeting those expectations.
7. St George Illawarra Dragons
They started off fast last year, but they just didn’t have the halfback to steer them around when it became important. They get Ben Hunt now – an elite halfback who has played for Australia. Him combining with the experience of James Graham could make for a real danger team.
8. Brisbane Broncos
A lot has been made about Matt Lodge, and I think with the way he has handled himself he can be a real leader, from what I hear. They will be in and around that eighth, ninth, 10th all year. The big question is: Do they have their halves pairing (with Kodi Nikorima and Anthony Milford)? Is Darius Boyd going to make a change? Does Jack Bird go there?
9. Canberra Raiders
I’ve picked this team to be in my top eight. A lot of people will say that is crazy, but they’ve got a lot of talent down there. Yes, they do lose Josh Hodgson, but there is a guy who has been waiting, and aching, for a first-grade chance, and that is Craig Garvey. If he can pick the right times to run off this massive forward pack they can be a handful.
10. Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
This side has talent all over the park. But the thing that worries me is no No.6. They have Lachlan Croker, they have (Jackson) Hastings, they have options. But to start the year you want something settled. I think Croker will get a month or two to make the spot his.
Some nice trial form. A new coach. It will re-energise some guys, that change of attack and defence – the different structures. I think the guys that were a little bit stale under what Des (Hasler) brought, I think they are going to be excited at the start of the year. That usually bodes well.
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12. South Sydney Rabbitohs
They could go either way. They could struggle to make the eight, but they could also kick on. They are going to have to have a fast start to the year (if they are to make the top eight). They COULD be a surprise packet.
13. Newcastle Knights
Massive changeover. The biggest thing for the Knights is that they’ve had a losing habit in tight games over the last couple of years, now they’ve got to get those guys that have come in (led by Mitchell Pearce) to teach the younger guys how to win.
14. Wests Tigers
Their first nine or 10 games are going to be against really tough opposition. They have some new guys again, the teams towards the bottom of the power rankings are teams which have the new faces in important positions. I don’t think they will finish there, but they are 14th to start the year.
15. New Zealand Warriors
This is mainly because of the fact they have new pieces. They have rep players who should be able to get the job done, but they start the season with a tough trip (away to South Sydney). In the first couple of games it is going to be hard to get those guys in.
16. Gold Coast Titans
They have a new coach and new pieces that they need to fit into the squad. Their early-season form will be reliant on how they start games.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.