2013 NRL Season Preview Part 1

Picture: Michael Klein/heraldsun.com.au
Melbourne Storm won the 2012 Premiership. Picture: Michael Klein/heraldsun.com.au

Click here to watch the Tatts.com 2013 NRL season video preview

 

Melbourne Storm

Ins: Brett Finch (Wigan), Junior Sa’u (Knights)
Outs: Dane Nielsen (Warriors), Sika Manu (Panthers), Richie Fa’aoso (Sea Eagles), Rory Kostjaysn (Cowboys), Todd Lowrie (Warriors)

Strengths: The Storm has the best ‘spine’ in the competition with Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith the best players on the planet in their chosen positions. It goes without saying, but they were the driving force behind Melbourne’s success last season and will be pivotal to the chances of the team going back-to-back.

Weaknesses: Depth. Melbourne lost some of its best utility and fringe players with Richie Fa’aoso, Rory Kostjaysn and Todd Lowrie leaving the club during the off season. If some of the first team were to be struck by injury, coach Craig Bellamy could be scratching his head looking for replacements. If any of the big three were going to be out for a prolonged period, the Storm could struggle.

Prediction: If they can keep their big guns on the field, there is no reason to think that the Storm won’t become the first team to win back-to-back grand finals in a unified competition since the Broncos in 1992 and 1993.

Betting
: Premiers    Top 4    Top 8    Miss Top 8    Most Season Losses



South Sydney Rabbitohs


Ins: Jeff Lima (Storm), Ben Te’o (Broncos), Beau Champion (Titans), Bryson Goodwin (Bulldogs)
Outs: Dave Taylor (Titans), Eddy Pettybourne (Tigers), Scott Geddes (retired)

Strengths: The Rabbitohs have game breakers right across the park, from Greg Inglis at fullback to wide running second rower Ben Te’o. Add to the mix English Test forward Sam Burgess and prolific tryscoring machine Nathan Merritt and it is evident that Souths have enough from 1-13 to cause plenty of headaches for opposition defenders.

Weaknesses: Rookie halfback Adam Reynolds was a revelation in his first season last year, guiding Souths around the field with great aplomb but he faces a difficult task backing that up this time around. Many NRL players have suffered from ‘second season syndrome’ after a stellar start to their season and the Rabbitohs are likely to struggle if he doesn’t perform.

Prediction: A Super League winning coach with Wigan, Michael Maguire took Souths to the grand final qualifier last season and will be hopeful of going one better this year. They have strengthened despite the loss of Dave Taylor and can get to the decider with natural improvement from the last campaign.

Betting: Premiers    Top 4    Top 8    Miss Top 8    Most Season Losses



Newcastle Knights


Ins: Beau Scott (Dragons), Jeremy Smith (Sharks), David Fa’alogo (Huddersfield), Mitchell Frei (Broncos)
Outs: Zeb Taia (Catalans), Wes Naiqama (Panthers), Joel Edwards (Raiders), Junior Sa’u (Storm)

Strengths: Master coach Wayne Bennett has got the squad that he wants in the second season of his tenure in the steel city, with a good balance of youth and experience. Off season signings Beau Scott and Jeremy Smith join old heads Danny Buderus, Willie Mason and Darius Boyd at the Knights to give the squad a core of senior players capable of taking them a long way, especially when you add to the mix Kurt Gidley, who missed most of last year through injury.

Weaknesses: Depth. While the Knights boast a formidable starting line-up, they could find themselves in trouble if they suffer a raft of injuries. There are plenty of promising young players in the ranks but it would be a tough task for them if they were thrown into the NRL without the experienced players lining up beside them.

Prediction: The Knights went into last season as one of the premiership favourites but failed to even make the finals. With another preseason under Bennett and some quality off-season signings, Newcastle is a legitimate contender in 2013 and should at least finish in the top four.

Betting: Premiers    Top 4    Top 8    Miss Top 8    Most Season Losses

The return to fitness of skipper Kurt Gidley is a huge boost for the Knights. Image courtesy of dailytelegraph.com.au



North Queensland Cowboys


Ins: Anthony Mitchell (Roosters), Rory Kostjaysn (Storm), Clint Greenshields (Catalans), Scott Moore (Huddersfield)
Outs: Aaron Payne (retired), James Segeyaro (Panthers)

Strengths: The Cowboys have some of the best players in the competition in key positions. Jonathan Thurston is arguably the best playmaker in the world, while Matt Scott and James Tamou form the best front row in the game. Add to that the fact that Matt Bowen rediscovered some of his best form in 2912 and it is obvious that they will be a tough team to beat this year. They also boost strong depth in the back row with the likes of Tariq Sims, Jason Taumalolo, Gavin Cooper and Dallas Johnson in the ranks, along with utility Rory Kostjaysn.

Weaknesses: To win the premiership, you have to win matches in Sydney and that is something that North Queensland has struggled to do with the frequency required to reach the top. The Cowboys have won just four of their past 26 matches in the harbour city and must arrest that record to be legitimate title contenders.

Prediction: North Queensland boasts one of the best rosters in the NRL and can go very close to lifting the trophy if they can keep their keep players on the field. Expect them to better their 5th placing from last year and finish in the top four.

Betting: Premiers     Top 4    Top 8    Miss Top 8    Most Season Losses



Sydney Roosters


Ins: Michael Jennings (Panthers), James Maloney (Warriors), Sam Moa (Hull FC), Sonny Bill Williams (Rugby Union), Luke O’Donnell (Huddersfield)
Outs: Braith Anasta (Tigers), Joseph ‘BJ’ Leilua (Knights), Mose Masoe (Panthers)

Strengths: The Roosters are going to cause all sorts of problems out wide this season, with prized recruit Michael Jennings forming one of the most dangerous centre pairings in the competition alongside Kiwi international Shaun Kenny-Dowall. Add to the mix Sonny Bill and Luke O’Donnell and the Roosters will be very dangerous when they run the ball.

Weaknesses: With so many new recruits and former Catalans boss Trent Robinson taking charge for the first time, just how well the side gels has to be a big question out Bondi way. All the signs have been good during the pre-season, but there is a lot of work to be done after the club could finish only 13th in 2012.

Prediction: After collecting the wooden spoon in 2009, the Roosters rose to finish as beaten grand finalists twelve months later and should find similar improvement this campaign after missing the finals last season. They should finish in the top eight.

Betting: Premiers    Top 4    Top 8    Miss Top 8    Most Season Losses



Cronulla Sharks


Ins: Michael Gordon (Panthers), Luke Lewis (Panthers), Beau Ryan (Tigers), Chris Heighington (Tigers)
Outs: Colin Best (retired), Jeremy Smith (Knights)

Strengths: The Sharks welcome several highly talented new players to the club this season, but the area that they are the strongest in is without a doubt the backrow. Test stars Luke Lewis and Chris Heighington join Paul Gallen, Wade Graham and Anthony Tupou in the fight for the 11, 12 & 13 jerseys and will only add to a pack that made the second most metres in the competition last season.

Weaknesses: More than at any other club in the NRL, there is huge pressure on the Sharks to win the premiership, with the club yet to win one in 46 attempts. The current crop is arguably one of the best that has come together in the shire and with the great ability and skill levels comes great expectation. Can Gallen and co deliver?

Prediction: The Sharks finished seventh on the ladder last season and have strengthened considerably since last year so you would think that they will certainly be laying finals football again in 2013.

Betting: Premiers    Top 4    Top 8    Miss Top 8    Most Season Losses

Image courtesy of foxsports.com.au

Paul Gallen leads a strong Sharks side looking to deliver a maiden premiership for the club. Image courtesy of foxsports.com.au 



Bulldogs


Ins: Tony Williams (Sea Eagles)
Outs: David Stagg (Broncos), Bryson Goodwin (Rabbitohs), Corey Payne (retired)

Strengths: There is no doubting that Des Hasler is a great coach and his record of having taken his team to the finals in eight of the nine seasons that he has been in charge is phenomenal. He won two premierships with Manly, was in charge when they made the decider in 2007 and took the Bulldogs to the grand final at the first time of asking last year. He may have talented stock at his disposal, but Hasler gets the best out of all of his troops.

Weaknesses: With Ben Barba stood down by the club indefinitely, there is a gaping hole at fullback. The Dally M medallist and leading tryscorer from 2012 was central to so much of what the Dogs did in attack and without a star playmaker in the ranks, their attacking threat will undoubtedly be diminished.

Prediction: The Bulldogs were arguably the best team in the competition throughout 2012 but were simply outplayed in the biggest game of all. While there is no doubt that the absence of Ben Barba will have an impact of their performances, they are still good enough to at least finish in the top eight.

Betting: Premiers    Top 4    Top 8    Miss Top 8    Most Season Losses



Wests Tigers


Ins: Braith Anasta (Roosters), Eddy Pettybourne (Rabbitohs), Bodene Thompson (Titans)
Outs: Gareth Ellis (Hull FC), Chris Heighington (Sharks), Beau Ryan (Sharks)

Strengths: The Tigers have great variation in their attack with the likes of Benji Marshall, Robbie Farah and Braith Anasta in the ranks. Marshall is one of, if not the best ad-hoc player in the game and his ability to do something magical when it is least expected keep opposition defenders on their toes for the full eight minutes. Farah and Anasta bring more composure and control in attack and it is this balance and variation that makes Wests so dangerous when they have the ball.

Weaknesses: Wests have blown hot and cold more than any other team in the NRL over the past few seasons, looking like world beaters one week then not turning up the next. They need to find greater consistency if they are to deliver on the promise that they have shown when playing at their best.

Prediction: If you look at the Tigers squad, there is no reason to think that they shouldn’t finish in the top half of the table, although the same was said twelve months ago when they started the season as one of the favourites. Mick Potter had a good record in the UK Super League and should get his new club into the top eight.

Betting: Premiers    Top 4    Top 8    Miss Top 8    Most Season Losses

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