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Soward's 2022 ladder prediction: Part I

The grand final is only just in the rear-view mirror, but already the focus has turned to season 2022.

NRL.com expert Jamie Soward has run the rule over each team and predicted the big improvers, sliders and premiership contenders.

In the first of a two-part series, Soward outlines who he believes will miss next year's finals campaign and comprise spots 9-16.

Soward says ...

9. Brisbane Broncos 

2021 finish: 14th 

Adam Reynolds is a huge addition at halfback. I think he is worth another three or four wins per season. You'll see the value of Reynolds in his last-play options. That's what he's been bought to do.

His game-management is important. He'll get guys like Kotoni Staggs early ball and Payne Haas might not have to take two carries per set because Reynolds has kicked early, that kind of stuff.

The backline of Selwyn Cobbo, Herbie Farnworth, Jamayne Isaako, Tesi Niu and Staggs is one of the most exciting we've seen. It will be the second season for them as a group under Kevin Walters.

Brisbane have also gained Panthers second-rower Kurt Capewell, another professional leader who's just won a premiership. He'll give the likes of Haas and the young forwards more support.

10. Newcastle Knights

2021 finish: 7th

Newcastle just never seem settled; it's like they're always trying something new. Recently there's been talk about Mitchell Pearce's future and whether Kalyn Ponga should move into the halves.

End-of-season report card: Knights

Their injury toll hurt this year, but the Knights' style hasn't really been fluent. They don't look like they get to the same point in attack.

That's a bit like how Ponga's season went. He had some great touches, but there wasn't that consistent threat of, 'Man, here he comes'.

The Knights have just bought Jake Clifford, who's been a positive addition, so if they move Ponga to five-eighth, they're almost saying goodbye to Pearce. It'd be a massive call because they will probably think their premiership window is opening up.

I wouldn't play Ponga at six while they've got Pearce.

Defensively, I don't think Newcastle have been good under Adam O'Brien and that's put pressure on their attack.

Daniel Saifiti was fantastic this season. I felt like he became a real leader within that group and they responded to that. 

End-of-season report card: Titans

11. Gold Coast Titans

2021 finish: 8th

The Titans won't go into next season with the hoopla they had this year on the back of a couple of marquee signings.

They've made some roster changes and I think their maturity has to go up a level. Toby Sexton is only 20, but he could be a calming influence at halfback. He's got an old head on those young shoulders.

It'd be a massive decision to shift AJ Brimson to five-eighth, but I think they'll go that way after Gold Coast saw enough from Jayden Campbell to say he's going to be a really good player. Campbell is the prototypical fullback: electrifying, supports the ball, fast.

The thing for Brimson is how he adjusts to the tempo of playing in the halves and understanding that he has to organise a lot more rather than running and having people pass him the ball all the time.

Then there's the question of getting the best out of David Fifita. I think they need to push him into the front row at certain stages.

The Titans didn't always understand how to get him the ball on an edge. And when they did, Fifita had some games where he just ran over people and others where we hardly saw him.

They need to work out how to up his work rate so he can help the likes of Tino Fa'asuamaleaui, Moeaki Fotuaika and new arrival Isaac Liu.

End-of-season report card: Raiders

12. Canberra Raiders

2021 finish: 10th

I've got the Raiders regressing. It's interesting they've gone after Titans captain Jamal Fogarty. If they sign him as their new halfback, Canberra will have to adjust their style a little bit.

Jamal would have a lot of pressure on him to steer the team around and get Jack Wighton into the right positions. And how would that affect Josh Hodgson: could he still be a game-managing hooker?

The Raiders have some young, exciting outside backs but probably need a fresh lick of paint in the forwards. They've used the same guys a lot, they're a year older and we saw what they went through.

It's a massive season for Canberra because their premiership window might be nearly shut now off the back of 2019.

I have no doubt Ricky Stuart is still the man to coach them. He's going to be there as long as he wants to be, but maybe he needs to look at the people around him and how the team plays.

Their style hasn't changed too much in the last couple of years. They've been aggressive, but they need to get more finesse and footy into their game versus trying to bash everyone.

The highly skilled teams were able to out-skill them.

End-of-season report card: Bulldogs

13. Canterbury Bulldogs

2021 finish: 16th

It's tough to assess the Bulldogs because they didn't really show any improvement this year. However, recruits including Josh Addo-Carr and Matt Burton bring the experience of being in winning teams.

It still might take a little bit of time to get their style right and I don’t think they've solved the No.9 issue or who is going to play No.7. I'd partner Kyle Flanagan with Burton.

I like Flanagan and think he's been unfairly ruled out because of his forward pack this year; they didn't really give him a platform.

Canterbury made sweeping changes in terms of giving him a new halves partner every second week. Then he was in and out of the team. You can't get any confidence as a young kid that way.

End-of-season report card: Warriors

14. New Zealand Warriors

2021 finish: 12th

The biggest question for the Warriors is how the returning Shaun Johnson will fit into their team at halfback and the effect it'll have on five-eighth Chanel Harris-Tavita given they're similar players.

They don't have a controlling playmaker that can steer them into position and Shaun needs the ball given to him in the right places.

In Johnson, Harris-Tavita and Kodi Nikorima, they've got three guys who love coming up with the big play but I'm not sure they understand investing in sets and game-management stuff.

Shaun will have to adjust and it won't happen overnight. I think the Warriors will go backwards slightly. They haven't bought anyone of note after signing Addin Fonua-Blake and Matt Lodge this year.

Being away from home didn't help them, but if we're just talking footy, the Warriors were really inconsistent and hard to catch in 2021.

End-of-season report card: Wests Tigers

15. Wests Tigers

2021 finish: 13th

The first month will be crucial for the Tigers.

There are a few things to figure out with the arrival of Jackson Hastings. Does he play alongside Luke Brooks in the halves or at lock? I think he'd be a perfect No.6 for this competition.

A Hastings-Adam Doueihi combination would be really good and maybe Brooks could even come off the bench as a dummy-half.

I just don't know if the Tigers have been fully invested in Brooks. They've never really handed him the keys and said, 'We're going to play how you want to play'. They've always made him adjust to whoever else and I think that may have run its course.

A lot of their young guys went through the wringer away from the game this year. The documentary showed what they're trying to build but they haven't had a successful season for a while.

That being the case, the pressure will be on straight away.

End-of-season report card: Cowboys

16. North Queensland Cowboys

2021 finish: 15th

North Queensland have got too many pieces to the puzzle. Think about their halves: they've signed Chad Townsend to partner Tom Dearden but Scott Drinkwater is also in contention.

Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow should probably be at fullback, but they're also paying a lot of money to Valentine Holmes who wants to play there. It's been a somewhat weird recruitment strategy.

Chad will be the centrepiece up there. I'd pair him with Dearden; then you can play Drinkwater at fullback with Val on one wing, Kyle Feldt on the other and Tabuai-Fidow in the centres.

That seems like a bit more of a balanced backline.

Another alarming aspect for North Queensland fans is that Todd Payten didn't get the best out of Jason Taumalolo in his first year as coach. Taumalolo didn't look happy all season.

 

NB. Part II of Jamie Soward's 2022 ladder predictions will appear on NRL.com on Friday

 

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