Finals climbers: NRL.com experts have their say

Which 2018 non-finals team is most likely to make this year's playoffs?

NRL.com's experts view

Michael Chammas (NRL.com chief reporter)

The Newcastle Knights have arguably enjoyed the best recruitment of any team in the competition over the past two years. They've now added David Klemmer and Jesse Ramien to the recruitment of Kalyn Ponga and are on track to return to finals football. Mitchell Pearce would have likely won the Dally M medal last year had he not been injured. His combination with Ponga is about to set the competition alight. If the Knights don't play finals football in 2019 they can consider it a failure.

Steve Renouf (Maroons legend)

The Gold Coast Titans have recruited really well with Shannon Boyd, Tyrone Peachey and Tyrone Roberts. How well did Tyrone Roberts play the other night for the Indigenous All Stars? His ball delivery and foresight will be vital for the Titans and we saw that with his passes for two Josh Addo-Carr tries. Peachey has put some bulk on and looks fit and strong. The Titans are primed to surge up the ladder and I have picked them in my top eight.

Margie McDonald (NRL.com senior reporter)

Canberra have been knocking on the door, finishing 10th the last two years, including half a dozen close losses in each of those seasons. They are are due to push their way into September football. And then there's the emergence of 'Little Britain' with John Bateman and Ryan Sutton joining Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead turning Canberra from a big, heavy pack to a lighter, more mobile (and highly dangerous) unit.

Jamie Soward (Former Blues five-eighth)

Newcastle Knights. Nathan Brown finally has his guys. With the group a year older and adding some real starch into their pack they are a force that's coming quick.

Tony Webeck (NRL.com reporter)

Jason Taumalolo. Matt Scott. Josh McGuire. Coen Hess. Michael Morgan. Gavin Cooper. Jordan McLean. Nene MacDonald. And now Jordan Kahu! No, it's not an All Stars side but the 2019 North Queensland Cowboys, and there's no way they miss the finals two years in a row.

Brett Keeble (NRL.com reporter)

After dragging themselves out of the basement to finish 11th last season, Newcastle should climb even higher in 2019. Serious injuries to Mitchell Pearce and Tautau Moga cruelled the Knights' finals hopes last year. But the emergence of Kalyn Ponga as a match-winner in his own right and a foil for Pearce in the halves, and a recruitment crop headed by David Klemmer, Tim Glasby and Jesse Ramien have given coach Nathan Brown a deeper, more talented roster to work with. If injuries do not cut too deeply, the Knights are capable of their first finals appearance since 2013.

Paul Suttor (NRL.com editor)

The Gold Coast have all the ingredients in place to make a big leap in 2019 – they've got forward depth, a young squad coming into its prime years and the addition of Tyrone Peachey, coupled with the rise of AJ Brimson, means their fortunes are no longer reliant on Ash Taylor's fluctuating form. They are a strong chance of sneaking into the finals.

Maria Tsialis (Big League editor)

I can't go past Newcastle. Though I'm unsure about Kalyn Ponga's move to five-eighth, you've got to assume with his natural talent and Mitchell Pearce next to him, he'll excel. Beyond that, the smart recruitment of guys like David Klemmer, Tim Glasby and Jesse Ramien has added the extra oomph I think they need to become a force.

Chris Kennedy (NRL.com reporter)

I'm expecting improvement from almost all of last year's bottom eight sides but realistically only two or possibly three will actually return to finals footy this year. Of those most likely, Newcastle's 2018 improvement and signing spree since should make them a force but I actually really like the look of the Titans this year. Their starting forward pack is pretty much all representative players, Tyrone Roberts will be massive for Ash Taylor, and AJ Brimson is a budding superstar. Their bench strength and their depth are both questionable but I wouldn't be surprised to see them win enough games to make the eight.

Alicia Newton (NRL.com reporter)

Newcastle – a fairly easy choice given the calibre now at their disposal. The squad Nathan Brown has built is three years in the making. There is simply no other expectation but for the club to reach the finals this year.

Lone Scout (NRL Fantasy expert)

If the Knights don't make the top eight with this line-up, something has badly gone wrong. David Klemmer leads a seriously reinforced forward pack, they've added depth in the outside backs, Mitchell Pearce was excellent in his first season at the club and Kalyn Ponga is basically a superhero (albeit one who is more dangerous at fullback than five-eighth).

Brad Walter (NRL.com senior reporter)

North Queensland Cowboys. The return of Michael Morgan and Jordan McLean after injury-affected 2018 seasons and the recruitment of Josh McGuire, Nene Macdonald and Jordan Kahu should see the Cowboys back in the finals this year.

Jonathan Healy (NRL.com reporter)

If they can get off to a decent enough start to the season and keep their best players on the park, there's no reason why the Newcastle Knights can't play finals football for the first time in six years. The off-season signings of David Klemmer and Tim Glasby seem shrewd pieces of business, while the halves pairing of Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga should thrive under the tutelage of veteran coach Nathan Brown.

Mary Konstantopoulos (Ladies Who League)

Despite finishing well outside the eight last year, I'm predicting that the Newcastle Knights will play finals footy this year. They were plagued by injuries in 2018 including to key playmakers like Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga which visibly hurt their attack. Their forward pack will be bolstered by the addition of David Klemmer and their new-look team will also feature talented youngster Jesse Ramien and Connor Watson likely at fullback. The Knights have amassed an impressive team over time – they will feature come September.  

Joel Gould (NRL.com reporter)

The North Queensland Cowboys will field a forward pack to be reckoned with this year. A fit Jordan McLean and Matt Scott, combined with new recruit Josh McGuire, Coen Hess, Jason Taumalolo and the versatile John Asiata will prove a real handful. Michael Morgan is back to direct play in the halves and the signing of Nene Macdonald gives the Cowboys another attacking string to their bow. Despite the retirement of Johnathan Thurston, last year was just a blip on the radar for the Cowboys and they will be back in the top eight in 2019.

Zac Bailey (NRL.com reporter)

Newcastle Knights. The additions of representative props David Klemmer and Tim Glasby will give the Knights engine room the grunt they've been lacking in recent years. Their halves combination of Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga is hard not to get excited about, plus Jesse Ramien will cause plenty of headaches out wide.

Katie Brown (NRL.com reporter)

Gold Coast Titans. This really is the Titans' time to shine. I'll even go as far to say they'll be top four (well that's what Michael Gordon told me anyway). There is genuine first grade depth if the Titans are plagued by injury and Ash Taylor can lean on the likes of Roberts, Peachey, Jacks and Brimson.

Kenny Scott (NRL.com podcaster)

Since their 2007 inception, the Titans have underperformed. However, 2019 will see them return to the finals after a two-year absence. Shannon Boyd comes in to bolster what is already a huge pack in Procter, Arrow, Hipgrave and Wallace. Add the now experienced Ash Taylor whose potential will finally turn into results in 2019. Meanwhile players like Tyrone Roberts and Ryley Jacks will provide options in the halves when it comes to form and injury. The impending Bryce Cartwright redemption story will be the cherry on top. It will be a good year to be a Titans fan.