Biggest sliders: NRL.com experts have their say

Which 2018 finals team is most likely to drop out of the top eight this season?

NRL.com's experts view

Margie McDonald (NRL.com senior reporter)

Warriors. They snuck into eighth spot last year but they are now without two of those core-strength players – Shaun Johnson (Sharks) and Simon Mannering (retired). That's enough to set off a few  wobbles in those Warriors wheels. Johnson was worth 142 points in 2018 from his 4 tries and 61 goals and maybe most importantly, his 4 field goals. Mannering as a 300-gamer and former skipper kept the forwards honest. Still, they do have the reigning Dally M player.

Michael Chammas (NRL.com chief reporter)

The loss of Shaun Johnson is huge for the Warriors. It's hard to see how they can improve on last season without an established No.7, regardless of how good Blake Green is. Unless they can pick up a late signing, they will struggle to return to finals football.

Steve Renouf (Maroons legend)

The Cronulla Sharks are the side set to slip out of the top eight. They've lost the likes of Val Holmes, Luke Lewis and Jesse Ramien and all the shaky stuff around the salary cap is destabilising. Even though he did the wrong thing, they are also going to miss Shane Flanagan. He was able to get that team to play their best footy and the players respected him. He will be a massive loss.

Jamie Soward (2010 premiership-winner)

The Warriors only just snuck into the finals last year and have big question marks over how they will replace Shaun Johnson in the halves. I think they will do it tough this year. I also have the Storm on the bubble of potentially missing the finals for the first time since 2010. With Billy Slater joining Cooper Cronk in leaving the club their aura of invincibility is just starting to fade.

Paul Suttor (NRL.com editor)

The Sharks are far from certainties to make the playoffs for a fifth successive year as their roster is ageing, they've got a rookie coach, not as much depth as previous years and their best player from last year is chasing pigskin Stateside. They could be in for a testing season if injuries strike early.

Sam Squiers (NRL.com reporter)

The Warriors limped into the finals last year (breaking that seven-year curse) and the only thing they've changed for 2019 is to offload Shaun Johnson, a move that still has many question marks. You never know what they're planning across the ditch though and their pre-seasons always lack the spotlight which can blind many an 'expert' from a team's true form.

Maria Tsialis (Big League editor)

Until we see the Warriors and their new halves on the field, they're a no-brainer for missing the top eight. Considering the influence Shaun Johnson had on the team over many years, his absence will need to be covered well and covered immediately - a tough ask for whichever rookie halfback takes the role on.

Dan Walsh (NRL.com reporter)

With an average of 2-3 teams falling from finals grace each year, I'll take a punt on St George Illawarra joining the Warriors as 2019 casualties. Jack de Belin will take serious replacing, while the Dragons enjoyed a dream run with injuries for the three months they were on fire last year. They fell off a cliff when the casualty ward filled up, and I'm not convinced they will be able to cope if history repeats, or that they've sorted their late season fade outs.

Chris Kennedy (NRL.com reporter)

I'm certain the Warriors will have issues given they are yet to really replace game-breaking half Shaun Johnson but in the interests of mixing it up I'll take the Sharks. The disruption of losing long-serving coach Shane Flanagan is massive, they have lost Clive Churchill Medallist Luke Lewis to retirement, star fullback Valentine Holmes to the NFL and Wade Graham – one of their most important players – is out til mid-season due to a knee reconstruction. The silver lining is the signing of Johnson plus some young stars just emerging into first grade but it could be a rebuilding year for the Sharks.

Alicia Newton (NRL.com reporter)

The Warriors – no Shaun Johnson hurts their cause when there is limited cattle with experience to replace him with. The loss of Simon Mannering in the forward pack also hurts them. It was a fair effort for the club to reach the finals last season but they may find it difficult this time around.

Jonathan Healy (NRL.com reporter)

The Dragons are unlikely to surprise any teams this season and could easily find themselves outside the top eight at the end of the season. With Jack de Belin sidelined until his court hearing is finalised and a question mark over the status and future of Kogarah Oval, we feel it might be a tough year for Paul McGregor's men.

Tony Webeck (NRL.com reporter)

A rookie coach, their most potent attacking weapon on the other side of the planet and continued questions over their salary cap compliance. Drama rarely worries the Sharks but they might not have the personnel to drag them out of it in 2019.

Katie Brown (NRL.com reporter)

Warriors – Unfortunately losing Shaun Johnson won't do them any favours. Blake Green will have to form a new combination with Adam Keighran or Chanel Harris-Tavita who both have no first grade experience. Too risky to keep them in my eight.

Brett Keeble (NRL.com reporter)

The Warriors have lost match-winning playmaker Shaun Johnson (Sharks), his deputy, Mason Lino (Knights), and veteran pack leader Simon Mannering (retired) from the team that finished eighth last year, only to be eliminated by the Panthers in week one of the finals. How effectively they can plug those holes remains to be seen, though they do still boast reigning Dally M Medallist Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. The Warriors have just extended the contract of coach Stephen Kearney until the end of 2022. If he can steer them to a second straight finals appearance, he deserves double what they are paying him.

Joel Gould (NRL.com reporter)

New coach John Morris has walked into the perfect storm at the Sharks and I am tipping them to join the Warriors as top eight casualties from last year. The loss of match winner Valentine Holmes and the ultimate warrior in Luke Lewis will hit hard. Wade Graham is also set to miss the early rounds and his game smarts and leadership will leave a void. The Sharks have been able in the past to bind together when off-field dramas strike but this year the personnel is not there to win enough games to make the eight.

Lone Scout (NRL Fantasy expert)

There may be a couple of teams to drop out of the eight, but one will definitely be the Warriors. Letting Shaun Johnson leave without a readymade replacement in mind is one of the bigger gambles in the player market in recent memory.

Brad Walter (NRL.com senior reporter)

Unless they make a late signing the NZ Warriors are going to start the season without an established halves combination after unexpectedly losing star playmaker Shaun Johnson to the Sharks.

Mary Konstantopoulos (Ladies Who League)

Last year I predicted the New Zealand Warriors would end up winning the wooden spoon – the joke was on me when they ended up making the top eight. But I think their success will be short lived. With the departure of Shaun Johnson and Mason Lino there's potential for a promising youngster like Chanel Harris-Tavita to get his opportunity – will he rise to the occasion or struggle? It's a big ask from someone so young, but at least he has the experience of Blake Green to help guide him. Additionally, David Fusitu'a may have been the NRL's top try scorer last year, but without Shaun Johnson there this year to feed him the ball, I doubt his point scoring will be as prolific.

Zac Bailey (NRL.com reporter)

The Warriors. The New Zealand-based team excelled in 2018 after having their most settled halves combination in years. Blake Green remains, but Shaun Johnson has left a massive hole to fill. Stephen Kearney hasn't been able to replace Johnson with another player of his calibre which severely weakens the Warriors' spine. Mason Lino would've been an adequate replacement, but he is now with the Newcastle Knights. The retirement of Simon Mannering also hurts the club.

Tanisha Stanton (NRL.com reporter)

The Warriors started the 2018 season with guns blazing, coming away victorious in seven of their first ten matches. This year will be interesting to see how the departure of playmaker Shaun Johnson will impact the New Zealand side’s 2019 campaign, as the halfback was instrumental in that strong start to 2018 and getting his former club to the finals.

Kenny Scott (NRL.com podcaster)

History says the Dragons will start the season well and fade away after about 10 rounds or so. Nothing will be different this year. The off-season noise will galvanise them in the early rounds and Corey Norman will be hungry to prove himself at his new club, but once the grind of the season kicks in the Dragons will quietly exit through the back door without making a fuss.