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The Raiders, Knights, Broncos and the Dragons are being backed to wash away all the gloom and doom of the 2019 Telstra Premiership pre-season.

A selection of rugby league's top commentators who spoke to at Wednesday's Fox League launch were split on who would prove the best on-field story over the next eight months.

But there's always one dissenting voice in a room full of opinions.

"It hurts me to say this because he's a Blue, but Nathan Cleary," said NRL 360 host and former Queensland Origin five-eighth Ben Ikin when asked who would turn the most heads.

"If Nathan starts to realise his full potential then God help us come Origin time.

"I'm a massive fan, and with his family, he is not only a spectacular young man he ticks all the boxes as a great player. So the Panthers are in for a good year.

"He's in a good system and I reckon he'll shine brightly this year."

Former Sharks premiership-winning hooker Michael Ennis has heralded one of the NRL's newcomers as the man to spark some excitement among all fans – not just those in Canberra.

Raiders forward John Bateman.
Raiders forward John Bateman. ©

"I'm really excited about [Wigan recruit] John Bateman. He's a guy I've watched closely in Super League the last few years," Ennis said.

"I was hoping, when I had a role at Cronulla [assistant trainer], they'd be able to lure him there.

"But fortunately now I get to work with him in Canberra. He's a guy who brings so much competitiveness, so much aggression and just general football nous and will to win to a side.

I think Newcastle will put the love back into the game

Gorden Tallis on what the Knights could provide in 2019

"He will make people sit up and take notice. If he has a healthy 2019 he's a player that is going to pleasantly surprise many," Ennis said.

Ennis has a soft spot for halves since he worked with quite a few in his time at the Knights, Dragons, Bulldogs and Sharks.

"I also think an uninterrupted season for Mitchell Pearce, in the happy place he is in, will do wonders not just for the Knights but for how good it is to see rugby league played so well," he said.

For former Australia, Queensland and Broncos captain Gorden Tallis, the Hunter is "saviour territory" for a game which got a battering in the off-season.

"I think it will be Newcastle that will lift us all up," Tallis said.

"After the competition split, in 1997 they were the club that brought it all back together I believe.

"Where they are now is a credit to Nathan Brown and his patience and intelligence – along with his staff – of building a good roster and to attract some young superstars like [Kalyn] Ponga," he said adding Tautau Moga (from Broncos) and Jesse Ramien (Sharks) to the list.

Ponga and Pearce break down new halves combination

"I think Newcastle will put the love back into the game."

Queensland coach Kevin Walters is heading to the other historic steel city - Wollongong.

"The Dragons normally hit the ground and run pretty well early. I can't see that changing this year as they've had some good changes to their roster," Walters said.

"I really like Gareth Widdop at fullback – that is a very good move.

"He's a very elite player and now he still fits in with [Ben] Hunt and [Corey] Norman in the halves and Cameron McInnes at hooker, that's a spine that can do something special straight off.

New Dragons fullback Gareth Widdop.
New Dragons fullback Gareth Widdop. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

"I also can't ignore the talent of the Broncos. It's a new team, new coach. They've let go of some senior players and I think they'll be bringing plenty of excitement to the NRL."

The other question for Walters is how far Kalyn Ponga can push himself into the Maroons in this year's Holden State of Origin series. He played off the bench in 2018.

But just because Ponga moves to No.6 for the Knights this year, doesn't mean he will be parachuted into the Queensland halves.

"Look there a few players in there who are all such great talents and have got the ability to be quite flexible where they play," Walters said.

"It really depends on how they play in the first part of the season and that's too early to call obviously.

"Kalyn moving into the halves doesn't change anything as far as Queensland is concerned.

"Let's see how he settles into clubland first and get some miles into his legs, his shoulders and his head in that key role [No.6]."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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