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Experts' view: Which team's biggest early-season surprise in 2021?

Entering round one, everyone thought they had every team sorted out and their predicted top eight wasn't in doubt.

Three weeks in and the head-scratching has started as certain teams overwhelm and underwhelm.

In this week's Experts' View, the analysts and reporters have their say on which side has caused them the greatest vexation.

Of course, these surprises can be of either a positive or negative variety.

Experts' view - Most surprising team

Steve Renouf (Maroons legend)

It’s been the Sea Eagles for me. Even with Tom Turbo missing, I don't think their other big guns have been firing. They have a very long way to go to threaten any of the good teams in this competition.

Brett Kimmorley (Former Test halfback)

Melbourne. They are 11th on the ladder and have lost two matches in a row. Who was expecting that? It's certainly a shock to the system.

Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers legend)

Cowboys. I didn't expect them to start this poorly, especially with new coach Todd Payten arriving. They have found the going very tough.

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Jamie Soward (2010 premiership winner)

The Warriors have been outstanding to start the year and with some more consistency, they will make the top eight. After a great win on the road can they back it up against the Roosters?

Mary Konstantopoulos (Ladies Who League) 

There are a couple of contenders for this, but I have been surprised at just how bad the Cowboys are. Perhaps given Todd Payten's work with the Warriors last year, I expected too much. The team looks completely uninspired on the field. 

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Alicia Newton ( reporter)

The Cowboys were never certainties to make the final eight but the expectations on them were a lot higher than what they’ve produced. Losses on home turf to the Dragons and Titans are concerning. The Cowboys talked up playing a faster style but we’re yet to see it. 

Paul Suttor ( editor)

Parramatta looked like a team that was fading last year but despite just a few tweaks to their roster, they've kicked off the season with a rejuvenated edge and have exploded out of the starting blocks. The annual "this could be their year" talk has already begun, which is of course always concerning for their long-suffering fans who've been hearing this for more than three decades.

Chris Kennedy ( reporter)

Dragons. Yes, their two vanquished opponents are in wooden spoon conversations but they’ve looked more disciplined and cohesive than most people expected. They still won't likely make the eight but on current evidence they will be a far better team than expected.

Paul Zalunardo ( senior journalist)

Bulldogs. Ardent fans were expecting huge strides forward, but nobody was expecting what looks to have been strides back. They still find it very difficult to score tries (three in three games) but now they are also finding it difficult to prevent them. A horror start for new coach Trent Barrett.

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Lone Scout ( Fantasy guru)

The Sharks have surpassed my expectations. Without their star half, Cronulla made light work of an improved Dragons side, came within two points of matching a quality Raiders team and stayed within reach of the Eels for 70 minutes despite losing their entire interchange bench before half-time.

Brad Walter ( senior reporter)

The Bulldogs were the team I found hardest to leave out of my top eight predictions. I expected more of them. It’s not so much Cantebury’s failure to win a game in the opening three rounds but their inability to score points that has surprised me. Their attack was expected to be a strength.

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Troy Whittaker ( reporter)

The Dragons look more like finals contenders than wooden spooners on the basis of their last two performances. Granted, they only beat two of last year’s also-rans. But things could change now that Ben Hunt is sidelined with a leg injury.

Dan Walsh ( reporter)

Penrith. Putting away North Queensland and Canterbury – expected. Hanging on to beat Melbourne in a thriller without Nathan Cleary and Api Koroisau, on top of the experience void left by James Tamou, Zane Tetevano and Josh Mansour – unexpected. James Fisher-Harris, Isaah Yeo, and again surprisingly, Brian To’o are leading this young Panthers side.

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Martin Lenehan ( senior journalist)

They weren’t one of the premiership favourites but surely no one expected the Sea Eagles to be as bad as they have been. Des Hasler’s men are languishing in last place and have conceded 110 points, that’s a staggering 100 more than the table-topping Panthers. Tom Trbojevic can’t get back soon enough.

Zac Bailey ( reporter)

Warriors. A change of coach, news of their captain leaving at the end of the season and the thought of potentially another full season on the road gave them every excuse to underperform - but the Warriors have done the opposite. A 2-1 record could easily be 3-0.

Kenny Scott ( podcaster)

Cowboys. Expectations were relatively low for them this year but, after the first three rounds, it is clear they are in far deeper trouble than something a couple of quick signings will fix. It looks like it will take a few lean years and a roster rebuild before they can start contesting for a premiership again.


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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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