Ahhh…the smell of leather. The smear of Vaseline. The strapping of tape. The sound of cheers. No, I’m not referring to your personal fetish…unless, of course, that fetish happens to be a complete and utter obsession for the game they play in heaven and hell. Yes gents, it’s time to take your beloved to one last romantic interlude (was Valentine’s Day strategically dated?) before biding her (and the kids) fare-thee-well until October… if your team makes it that far!
So, who makes the coveted 8? Who wins it? Who is consigned to the dreaded spoon? We seem to say it every year, but this year is the most even competition I can remember. Very little separates 12 teams. As always it will come down to injuries and off-field drama. Whichever team can minimise both, gives themselves the best shot at the title.
For what it’s worth and yes, I can hear you say “not worth much, at all!”, here’s what I reckon (sounding like a leaguie already) will happen during the NRL 2016 season.
Big improvers! As a former trainer myself, I believe they are always the fittest looking team in the competition. Their training regime is world class but they’ll need more than just fitness to succeed. For starters, they’ll need to win more home games than they did last year. Their away record was better than their home. If they can win 60-70% of their home games, they make the 8. Simple as that. The addition of Aidan “Hail” Sezer is massive. They now have 2 halves with the body shape that run at the line and Sezer’s kicking game will ensure good field position. Their backs are terrific but I have a question mark over the depth of their forward pack. Will rely heavily on Vaughan, Papali and Boyd to step up consistently.
Where do they finish? 7th to 9th.
Getting to the opposition red-zone has never been a problem for the Dogs under Des. Typically, His monster packs never have issues with meters gained. It’s what the team does when they get there. They seemed clueless attacking the opposition line last year. Hence the big question mark – do they have a dominant halfback that can organise, steer, create and gain repeat sets? Moses Mbye? Not so sure… Great forward pack. Excellent backs. But in desperate need of a world class 7. Will Des finally let the team play footy rather than one out predictable safety-first structured garbage? Dogs fans certainly hope so. Will Tony Williams be lambasted by Dogs fans? Absolutely.
Where do they finish? 5th-7th.
They’re going to be the tipsters nightmare. I can just see it. Brilliant young talent like Jack Bird and Valentine Holmes, old heads like Gallen, Lewis and Ennis sees the Sharks with a beautifully balanced roster. They may have found the final piece of the puzzle in James Maloney. Can they break their premiership drought? Cowboys did it last year. They can match it with any team. They are the best team at winning the tight ugly ones. Can they do it on a weekly basis?
Where do they finish? 7th to 9th.
Gold Coast Titans
Nightmare off-season! Losing the promising Kane Elgey to injury, James Roberts to the Broncos and Greg Bird being….Greg Bird. They also lost Nate Myles and Aidan Sezer to Manly and Canberra respectively. That’s enough to rip the heart out of any team, much less a struggling team like the Titans. Feeling sorry for them but then again, they’re Queenslanders aren’t they? Bugger them! They’ve got no hope. OK, politically correct. They’ll surprise some teams if Ash Taylor, Chris McQueen and Dave Shillington can rejuvenate them.
Where do they finish? Last (couldn’t help it…)
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
Big off-season changes! New coach, new players and nearly…new home ground. Will they gel? Will Trent Barrett run out of gel? Will the loss of Kieran Foran leave DCE stranded and under too much pressure? New buys Dylan Walker, Martin Taupau, Nate Myles, Lewis Brown, Apisai Koroisau and Darcy Lussick gives the team much needed grunt up front as well as utility options in the backs. You can never write off any team that contains Brett Stewart, Jamie Lyons and Steve Matai, however, when you have a new team with new structures, it takes time to find cohesion. They’ll have a better second half of the year and be the team steaming into the semi finals.
Where do they finish? 6th to 8th.
When are the big 3 going to age??!! I keep predicting Slater, Smith and Cronk are past their best and they keep proving me wrong. Damn you Maroon jersey!! That’s it. My punting instincts are kicking in. I’m sticking to my guns. Smith will get injured and that’ll be all she wrote. Cronk will be side tracked by on-going contract negotiations and Billy’s suspect shoulder will continue to plague him. Am I clutching at straws? Will Bellamy adapt to the new age of open ad-lib style footy rather than the typical Bellamy structured set-play style that has served them so well for over a decade?
Where do they finish? 8th to 10th.
Looks like a long season for the hapless Novocastrians. Aside from their much publicised front office issues, they must contend with losing a wealth of experience in players like Kurt Kidley, Beau Scott, Clint Newton, David Fa’alogo, Tyrone Roberts, Todd Lowrie and Chris Houston. Perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise? Either way, new coach Nathan Brown is going to have to nurture some exceptional young talent like Jake Mamo, Jaelen Feeney, Danny Levi, the Mata’utia brothers as well as the current Origin half back in Trent Hodkinson. Just as well Brown has shaved his head!
Where do they finish? Wooden spoon contention.
Wow! I’m still trying to get over the 2015 Grand Final. I’m finding it difficult coming back to earth, how must the players feel? No team has gone back to back since the Broncos in 1992-1993 (I’ve excluded the Super League era). Does this team have it in them? Well, they have the best player in the game, the best front row combination and the most under-rated player in Michael Morgan. Do they have the hunger? Do they have the scope for improvement? It would take a brave person to tip against them. They haven’t had much player movement. They haven’t had to.
Where do they finish? Top 3.
Part 2 to be continued tomorrow….