Can Tom Trbojevic back up his remarkable 2021 season? How long will it take for the new look Bulldogs to gel? What impact will Mitchell Pearce's departure have on the Knights? Will Reece Walsh suffer second-season syndrome?
NRL.com identifies the most intriguing storylines for each club in the upcoming 2022 season and looks at how they may unfold.
There will be major changes to the way Brisbane attack in 2022, with the squad needing to adapt to former South Sydney star Adam Reynolds. A long-term halves partner needs to be identified sooner than later, with Kotoni Staggs a mooted option, Ezra Mam likely to get a chance at some point and existing halves Tyson Gamble and Albert Kelly arguably the early front-runners. The team's opening month performances will have a big say in how this develops.
Broncos character development camp
Jamal Fogarty looms as a suitable replacement for George Williams in the halves but the Raiders will need to find the spark in both attack and defence that got them into title contention in previous years. Arguably one of the most disappointing sides of 2021, the Green Machine have got the starpower but will need Fogarty and Jack Wighton at their best.
The annual Queen’s Birthday clash between Canterbury and St George Illawarra will have further spice when Matt Dufty and Paul Vaughan go up against their former club in June. The Bulldogs’ recruitment spree for 2022 was impressive but how quickly combinations develop will be the major talking point throughout next season. If Josh Addo-Carr and Matt Burton hit their straps out wide then the points will flow and the Dogs will have a lot more bite.
How will former Dragon Cameron McInnes fit in to the jigsaw puzzle under new coach Craig Fitzgibbon? The Sharks already have an 80-minute hooker in Blayke Brailey and star recruit Dale Finucane arriving to presumably play lock, although he could play prop and allow McInnes to spend big minutes at No.13. Fitzgibbon has plenty of quality at his disposal and it will be intriguing to see how he pulls it all together.
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Gold Coast Titans
Jayden Campbell made a massive impression in his seven appearances in 2021 and with a new-look halves pairing likely following the departures of Ash Taylor, Jamal Fogarty and Tyrone Peachey, how well the spine can combine during the pre-season will impact how the likes of David Fifita are brought into the game in 2022. After a heart-breaking exit during the finals in 2021, the Titans will want to ensure it’s not a one-off experience.
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Manly Sea Eagles
When you fly as high as Tom Trbojevic did in 2021, the pressure to back it up is enormous. Manly will be happy if their champion fullback can come through the season unscathed and play more games than he did in 2021 but everyone else will be expecting another string of superhuman performances and match-winning moments to catapult Manly towards a title. Producing one season like Turbo did this year is tough enough but if he can do it again in 2022 then surely the Sea Eagles are right in the hunt.
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Many people thought the loss of Cameron Smith would spell the end of the Storm's golden era but once again they rose to finish minor premiers in 2021 before bowing out in the preliminary final. In 2022 the same questions will arise as Josh Addo-Carr, Dale Finucane and Nicho Hynes move on and supercoach Craig Bellamy again works his magic to take the team in search of yet another premiership.
How will Newcastle perform without Mitchell Pearce? The Knights have a poor record without the 309-gamer and if they can’t land on a solid halves combination they may slip off the pace early. Newcastle’s attack struggled in 2021 to average 17.8 points per game but Dane Gagai’s arrival will add further spark to a backline that includes Kalyn Ponga, Jake Clifford and Bradman Best.
North Queensland Cowboys
If the Cowboys are to drag themselves out of the cellar they'll need Jason Taumalolo back to his barnstorming best. The Tongan powerhouse averaged a respectable 155 metres per game but there was plenty of outside noise suggesting coach Todd Payten under utilised his main man. Taumalolo played less than 60 minutes in eight of his 15 games and the spotlight will be well and truly on Payten to see whether he sticks to his plan of trying to look after the lock for the long term or increases his game time.
Inside Cowboys training camp
Parramatta’s exit from the 2021 finals series to Penrith was a heart-breaker and the majority of the squad are back to make amends. Reed Mahoney’s return from a shoulder injury is a massive boost and will provide the side with stability in the spine that they struggled to fill when it counted. Can the Eels lift to another level and finally break a premiership drought stretching back to 1986 or will Brad Arthur again come under the microscope after a finals finish fails to deliver the ultimate prize?
When will champion halfback Nathan Cleary make it back to the field after shoulder surgery and how will his body hold up when he does return? Cleary's ability to play through pain has already become legendary but if the Panthers are to go back-to-back they'll need their main man at peak fitness and bouncing around with his trademark enthusiasm. How coach Ivan Cleary handles the Origin period and the physical toll in the weeks following the series will be critical. He is sure to have learned plenty in 2021 as the Panthers overcame a minor mid-year hiccup when their Origin stars were missing to win eight of their last nine regular season games and power on to the club's third premiership.
Preparing the Panthers: Pre-season training
St George Illawarra Dragons
Has Anthony Griffin produced a masterstroke by recruiting a number of experienced players to come in and guide the likes of Talatau Amone, Tyrell Sloan and Jayden Sullivan? Or will Father Time catch up with George Burgess, Moses Mbye and Aaron Woods and dull their impact as the gruelling season rolls on?
South Sydney Rabbitohs
At times in 2022, Jason Demetriou is likely to feel like the bloke who went in to bat after Bradman. There is no doubt the rookie mentor is ready for the step up but when you take the reins from a man of Wayne Bennett's stature the scrutiny is bound to be intense. The departures of Adam Reynolds, Benji Marshall, Jaydn Su'A and Dane Gagai add another layer of complexity for Demetriou and his first order of business is to settle on his new No.7 and seamlessly slot him into a backline that was among the most lethal in the game in 2021.
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A new dawn beckons for the Tricolours after a 2021 campaign cruelled by injury, suspension and the retirement of three senior statesmen. The return of Luke Keary is key for the Roosters to get back into the top-four frame with a wealth of youth coming through the club’s system, along with the return of livewire utility Connor Watson. If Keary is anywhere near his best he can have the Roosters in the mix when things gets serious next September.
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Reece Walsh has the world at his feet after a sensational debut season but increased expectations come with increased pressure. The Warriors' whiz kid will find himself targeted week in and week out and he also faces the additional scrutiny that comes with an off-field indiscretion. With the right support network and guidance Walsh can emerge a better player in 2022 and better for the experience of having to put his hand up and owned his mistakes.
Michael Maguire’s coaching future generated a stack of headlines towards the end of the 2021 season and if the Tigers are unable to get off to a strong start in 2022 those whispers will get a whole lot louder. The joint venture will be without star five-eighth Adam Doueihi (knee) for the early rounds as they look to break a 10-year finals drought and the return of Jackson Hastings to the NRL will be another major talking point.