Every year there are a handful of Telstra Premiership teams that exceed - or fall short - of expectations.
Be it through a new coach that fails to get thing rolling in the right direction in year one or a group of new players who fail to live up to expectations, the chance to disappoint is always there.
On the flipside, seeing teams making surprise runs for finals spots is also a yearly occurrence.
The experts at NRL.com have had their say on which side they think is hardest to predict on the eve of the 2021 season.
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Experts' view - Hardest team to predict
Broncos. They have a new coaching team working on things such as culture, which has diminished in recent years. How will they react to that and if they do how long will that take? I think this will show on the field but they could remain inconsistent for a while.
Warriors. A new coach will be interesting. There is so much hope about the way they played last year, but now they have to do all that again. With a host of new players coming in, it could be a dream 2021. It also could be a nightmare.
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Brett Kimmorley (Former Test halfback)
Titans. They're expected to do very well and have bought in some really good players. Now they need to live up to those expectations. I have them finishing in the top eight and will be hugely shocked if they don't.
Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers legend)
Warriors. They have a lot of new players and it remains to be seen how well they all fit in together. Also, they have a giant forward pack, how will that work with the faster game we are expected to see?. The extended stay in Australia could also make things very difficult.
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Knights. Their finish to last season tells you all you need to know. One day they look like world beaters and the next it turns ugly. With injuries and off-field distractions over the summer their upcoming campaign is a hard one to work out. They have the team on paper to do well but it wouldn’t surprise many if it all fell apart either. It’s all between the ears for Adam O’Brien’s men.
As we've heard for decades, this could be Eels' year. If everything clicks they are potential premiers but if things go against them, it could crater quickly.
The new rules will suit smaller packs, which is not good news for Junior Paulo and Reagan Campbell-Gillard. Mitchell Moses, Ryan Matterson and Nathan Brown need to live up to their hype to support captain Clint Gutherson and it's also a crucial year for coach Brad Arthur.
The Titans narrowly missed out on the top eight last year, but made some astute signings including David Fifita and Tino Fa'asuamaleaui. My expectation is that the Titans will at least make the top eight, but it’s still unclear just how deep into the finals they will progress.
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The Titans could land almost anywhere. Coming off a bounce last year with some massive recruits, a best-case scenario has them pushing for top four but let’s not forget they struggled mightily against the top sides last year and if things don’t click and they get a few injuries, 14th or lower isn’t out of the question.
The Cowboys had become one of the league’s most predictable teams – in terms of the 17 they named each week and, eventually, their status as bottom-eight strugglers. But with new coach Todd Payten at the helm there are reasons to be quietly confident North Queensland can climb the ladder again. Payten overachieved with the Warriors last year, so don’t be surprised if his team surprises a few rivals in 2021.
The Broncos won the wooden spoon last year but have some of the best young talent in the game. Their decline was a shock. They are expected to perform better under new coach Kevin Walters but have lost players without boosting their roster significantly.
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There are many unknowns with Manly. Can they thrive without a genuine hooker? How many games will Tom Trbojevic play and will he find his best? What impact will Kieran Foran have? It won’t shock if they shoot back into the finals or become wooden spoon contenders.
Manly. So much rests on a core few. Tom Trbojevic’s fitness has more influence on this side than any other player/club combination in the game. The bones of a finals-bound side are certainly there (see 2019), but so is the potential to be well off the pace (see 2020).
New coach Kevin Walters is saying all the right things. If the Broncos are to restore lost pride then playmakers Brodie Croft and Anthony Milford simply must stand up and Tevita Pangai jnr needs to rediscover his damaging best. They could give the top eight a scare, but if they suffer early losses and doubts creep in then Walters’ debut season could turn into a horrow show.
Titans. There is rightfully plenty of hype around the club – given their big-name signings in David Fifita and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui - but their inability to sign a top class hooker could be an issue. Jamal Fogarty enters his second full year as a playmaker in the NRL which means he could fall victim to the dreaded second-year syndrome.
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Eels. Before anyone gets onboard the Eels bandwagon, they should remember the disclaimer that comes on at the end of superannuation commercials: "past results are not a reliable indicator of future performance." Over the last five seasons they’ve gone from third last, to top four, to the wooden spoon and back again. Who knows what they’ll bring in 2021.
Sharks. They made the final last year but didn't beat another top-eight side. They'll probably beat at least one of them this year, but how will they go against the likes of the Titans, Warriors and improving Bulldogs? If all their young stars fire and Shaun Johnson returns at his best, the bottom half of the eight is possible. If not, a finish as low as 12th or 13th could occur.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.
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