With the 2013 NRL Season just around the corner, I take a look into the crystal ball and outline my predictions for the coming year.
Want the good news or bad news first?
6. Wooden Spoon
Sorry Titans fans, I think you’re in for a long season ahead.
Your 2012 finals hopes were cruelled by an error rate (11.1 per match) that was the second worst in the league and your team also found it difficult to ‘stick’ to the opposition in tackles with an average missed tackle rate of 34.7 per match (fifth worst in the league).
I simply don’t think a year is long enough to learn how to catch and tackle.
But my biggest concern for the Titans though is their halves.
While he didn’t play some of his best football in the Titans’ jersey, losing Scott Prince to rivals Brisbane Broncos is a bitter blow, although Aidan Sezer did prove to be a competent five-eighth in his first year in the NRL.
In saying that Sezer was the perfect foil for halfback Scott Prince 2012, and he is going to have to raise his game to whole new level in 2013 for Titans to compete week in week out. A tough ask for a young half still learning his trade.
Individually, several of the Titans squad performed well, in particular Luke Douglas and Nate Myles.
Douglas, a former Cronulla Shark, toiled admirably, playing all 24 matches and averaging 105 metres per match.
Nate Myles showed why Queensland selectors have valued him so highly for so long, with a great effort in his first year on the Gold Coast. In 2012, the burly prop ran for a career-best 2642 metres, cracking the line five times and scoring three times in the process.
Despite all of these potential positives, John Cartwright has his work cut out if the Titans are going to be competitive in 2013.
5. Buys of the year – South Sydney
South Sydney’s pack will become even stronger with the addition of premiership-winning prop Jeff Lima and former Bronco Ben Te’o.
With just 26 players used in 2012, South Sydney enjoyed a pretty decent run when it came to injuries, although it wasn’t always smooth sailing for the Rabbitohs in 2013.
Suffering up front for a large chunk of the season, both Roy Asotasi (missed 15 games) and Scott Geddes (played only 12 games – now retired) left the Rabbitohs short of troops.
Add a lack of finals experience and the Rabbitohs season came to a disappointing end.
The Rabbitohs have taken some big strides forward in recent years and these two signings will only enhance that.
Lima will return to the NRL following a successful stint with English Super League giants Wigan where he won the 2011 Challenge Cup under the guidance of now Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire.
Te’o, previously from Wests Tigers and Brisbane will replace departing second-rower David Taylor.
Although Taylor left his mark, Te’o is the disciplined type of player coach Maguire is looking for.
I expect both Lima and Te’o to make a serious impact on the competition this season.
4. The Blues to finally beat the Cane toads
This is the year. It simply has to be. No Lockyer, no Civoniceva; the Maroons have nothing or no one to play for, or so hope long-suffering Blues fans like myself.
NSW made giant strides under outgoing coach Ricky Stuart over the last two years and will be hoping to continue the momentum with new boss Laurie Daley.
With inspirational skipper Paul Gallen leading the way and dummy-half Robbie Farah finally finding his feet at Origin level, the Blues will be aiming to stop a gut-wrenching run of seven straight series defeats when the highly anticipated series gets underway in Sydney in May.
3. John Cartwright to be first coach sacked
It will come as no great surprise that I nominate John Cartwright as the first coach to get the punt in 2013.
Losing Scott Prince to the Broncos causes massive headaches for Cartwright considering the Titans have a distinct lack of depth in their halves.
Although Sezer went well last season, you simply can’t expect him to carry a team that has underperformed for several seasons now.
Watch for Greg Bird to be shifted to 5/8. Once this occurs, Cartwright is as good as gone.
A lack of experience and overall quality in their spine will be cripple Cartwright and his push for success in 2013.
2. Young guns to look out for in 2013
Michael Lichaa (Cronulla Sharks) – Keep an eye out for the name Michael Lichaa. One of the most creative and skilful hookers coming through the ranks at the Sharks.
Having been compared to Tigers and Blues rake, Robbie Farah, Lichaa is a strong defender, and his left-foot kicking game is developing nicely too.
He is unlikely to see any first grade action early on in the season, with a pair of useful players in De Gois and John Morris in front of him.
But Lichaa is highly rated in the Shire and will see some first grade action in 2013.
Jack Stockwell (St George Illawarra Dragons) – Continuing his development in the under-20s and NSW Cup, Stockwell towers over many at six foot and 100+ kilograms.
He got a taste of first-grade in 2012 having come off the bench on three occasions; Stockwell can secure a regular position on the pine with a consistent, injury-free start to 2013.
Stockwell who selected in Junior Kangaroos squad last season has real potential and should make his mark at some point this season.
Caleb Timu (Brisbane Broncos) – He has been dubbed as the Maroons’ next superstar.
Timu was one of the most destructive forwards in Queensland, which saw him earn selection in last year’s under-20s team of the year.
Scoring a match winning double to secure victory for the Maroons in the under-20s Origin match, Timu is 190cm tall and weighs 108 kilograms.
Following the retirement of Petero Civoniceva and the departure of Ben Te’o, the Broncos forward pack is crying out for new talent to stand up. Look for Timu to feature for the Broncos during the Origin period.
1. North Queensland to win the premiership
The Cowboys are due. They have the most settled line-up heading into 2013.
The loss of Aaron Payne (retirement) and James Segeyaro (Panthers) was offset with the addition of talented rake Scott Moore (Huddersfield) who many think could have the same devastating impact as other Englishmen who have and continue to make their mark in the NRL.
Their forward pack is quality, led by Matt Scott and James Tamou, and with Tariq Sims, Jason Taumalolo and the underrated Gavin Cooper in the backrow, the Cowboys have a nice blend of attack and defence.
Clint Greenshields, acquired from Catalans, is another talented addition that could make an impact in 2013.
As always, how they navigate the Origin period without Thurston will go a long way to deciding where the Cowboys are placed heading into the all-important back-end of the season.
In saying that, they have plenty of depth in the halves with Robert Lui, Ray Thompson and Michael Morgan.
The Cowboys have the best squad on paper, and although this doesn’t always prove to be the catalyst for a successful season, I’m convinced this is the year of the North Queensland Cowboys.