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Hardest team to predict? NRL.com experts have their say

A new season always throws up its share of teams that either emerge out of nowhere or fail to live up to expectations.

Who are the leading contenders in those categories heading into the 2020 NRL Telstra Premiership?

So, before you get your tips in for Round 1, take a look at who the NRL.com experts think are going to either surpass or fall short of expectations.

NRL.com experts view

Steve Renouf (Maroons legend)

Broncos. With the spine very new to each other and a lot of positional changes from last year's team its hard to know how they will start. Also, taking into account how they finished 2019, just about anything is possible.

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Brett Kimmorley (Former Test halfback)

It's hard to get a gauge on the Knights and Panthers, though I think they should both make the eight. Newcastle were top four last year until off-field dramas led to a losing streak. They have a whole new coaching staff, not just a head coach. For Penrith, James Maloney's gone but Api Koroisau is a great buy and they have the best crop of kids.

Jamie Soward (Premiership winner)

The Panthers seem like they have had all the tools to go deep in the finals but haven't been past the second week of September in recent years despite a great crop of talent. Will that continue?

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Alicia Newton (NRL.com reporter)

It's hard to get a strong read on the Storm. I've got them in my eight based on their amazing record over the last two decades but each season seems to get tougher for them in terms of depth. They won one of three finals matches last year after dominating the regular rounds. I'm unsure they can replicate that home and away form.

Margie McDonald (NRL.com senior reporter)

Warriors. So many good players, so many up-and-down results. There just seems a cohesiveness problem – they're great one day, perplexing the next. How many times do we keep tipping them, only to find that when we stop, they win?

Zac Bailey (NRL.com reporter)

Knights. Their new logo is pointing forward, but I'm unsure if they'll head in that direction on the field. They were very streaky in 2019 and extremely hard to get a read on. Talk surrounding Kalyn Ponga's future could also prove to be a distraction. His form will also need to improve - and the club has to settle on a five-eighth - if the Knights are to return to the finals.

Chris Kennedy (NRL.com reporter)

Sharks. Many, including myself, haven't put them in their top eight predictions due to some key personnel losses and losing their home ground. However, their in-game stats last year were easily on par with the top four sides. Most of their losses have handy replacements and they always seem to be thereabouts. They could land anywhere between fourth and 14th.

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Brad Walter (NRL.com senior reporter)

After their performance in the NRL Nines, it was tempting to tip the Cowboys to win the premiership too but this is a team that finished 14th last season and had one of the worst attacks in the competition. It remains to be seen whether Valentine Holmes, Esan Marsters and Reece Robson can make a significant difference to results.

Dan Walsh (NRL.com reporter)

Broncos. Could be anything. And anything can mean 58-0 in sudden-death finals football. Payne Haas and David Fifita are the two most dynamic forwards in the game while Anthony Milford has long held the potential for a similar status in the halves, but their biggest strength – talent, too often proved their fatal flaw last year. So many question marks remain over Milford, Darius Boyd and Andrew McCullough.

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Paul Suttor (NRL.com editor)

It might seem odd to say this for a team that has won the past two competitions but it's hard to predict with any certainty whether the Roosters will again be the juggernaut they proved to be in 2018 and '19. They will definitely be in the finals but with a new halfback, no Latrell Mitchell and an ageing squad, they could slip lower than a lot of people think.

Katie Brown (NRL.com reporter)

Dragons. In recent years they've been far too unpredictable. Their forward pack is impressive and if their spine clicks, Dragons fans are in for a treat. If they don't, more pain may be ahead. Cam McInnes' injury doesn't help at all.

Mary Konstantopoulos (Ladies Who League)

I can't decide if the Knights will make the eight or not. At points in 2019, we saw what the squad was capable of, but that didn't last. This year there is a new coach with plenty of talent at his disposal. But without seeing how this team has come together it's very difficult to predict where they will finish. 

Maria Tsialis (Big League editor)

The Cowboys have such an incredible forward pack and leadership. It's been hard to pick how they're going to perform at any given point over the past couple of seasons. I think the signing of Valentine Holmes is a masterstroke - not only will it give them some extra strike at the back, he can take some pressure off Michael Morgan. Remains to be seen whether it will work in action.

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Martin Lenehan (NRL.com senior journalist) 

Tipping the Storm in round one has been a sure-fire winner since the turn of the century but the departures of Croft and Chambers will hurt and the absence of Christian Welch and Brandon Smith leaves them vulnerable early on. They face an ambush at Lottoland and another one at Cronulla a week later. If they start 0-2 it will get very interesting.

Brett Keeble (NRL.com reporter)

Knights. Getting a read on this team in 2019 was near-on impossible. Results included losing streaks of five and six games, and in the middle of those they compiled a six-match winning sequence that included a 38-12 dismantling of the Roosters. Resilience and consistency have been catch-cries in Newcastle all summer long but the Knights' actions must speak louder than those words.

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Lone Scout (NRL.com Fantasy expert)

Cronulla have lost some key figures this year and the bookies have them missing the eight, but they also have a lot of promising youngsters, a strong spine and were one of the best-attacking teams in the competition in 2019. They're capable of threatening the top four if things go right and finish bottom-four if they go wrong.

Tanisha Stanton (NRL.com reporter)

Eels. There is so much expectation this season with the inclusion of Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Ryan Matterson and the form we saw last season from Mitchell Moses. In the past when the side has had high expectations placed on them and they haven't been able to handle that. Will things change?

Troy Whittaker (NRL.com reporter)

The Sharks traditionally thrive under adversity but there's just so much against them right now with injury worries, a max exodus of experience and administration changes. It won't surprise me to see the youthful Sharks defy the doubters and reach the finals, but equally, a low finish won't shock.

Corey Rosser (NRL.com reporter)

Canberra have lost their unsung hero Aidan Sezer and enter 2020 without the potent Leipana combination. While I have them in the finals, it's hard to know where they will slot into the top eight and if they can go close to repeating last year's achievement. 

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Todd Balym (NRL.com reporter)

Newcastle are the team that could easily finish top four or bottom four and you wouldn't be that shocked either way. Strong pack and talented playmakers, but they lack consistency. 

Joel Gould (NRL.com reporter)

Where the Broncos are at in their development under coach Anthony Seibold will only become apparent after five or six rounds. With such a young pack of forwards, the injury to Matt Lodge and a new spine it is hard to get a read on them. They relied too much on Payne Haas and David Fifita last year to get them out of trouble. Will that duo get the help they need?

Matt Nicholls (NRL.com reporter)

This Broncos team could be a top-four side or a bottom-four flop. On paper, they have all the tools to be successful. A strong middle, some talented backs and a strong brains trust in the coaching box. But you can't be confident they'll put it together week-in, week-out. The NRL's enigma. 

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Jonathan Healy (NRL.com reporter)

Rabbitohs. All the hype has been about the arrival of Latrell Mitchell, but it is easy to forget that the Bunnies have lost experienced duo Sam Burgess and John Sutton since the end of last season. Just how well Mitchell fits in remains to be seen.

Kenny Scott (NRL.com podcaster)

The Knights have a mix of talent, potential, and grit, along with a rookie coach and a fanbase that has seen the worst a club can get yet still believe in (and secretly expect) fairy tales. Their season could go anywhere. Enjoy the ride.

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.