It’s that time of year again, when I put my neck on the chopping block and dream up five fearless predictions for the 2013 NRL season.
In 2011 I gave myself a score of 1.5, and last year I correctly predicted two, so hopefully I can ensure the trend of correct decisions keeps going up.
Drumroll please. . .
The Bulldogs won’t make the finals
I have a formula for this prediction each year: I simply chose whoever the underdog grand finalist was the year before.
My theory is that the underdog team struggles to live up to increased expectations the following year and subsequently fails to make the finals.
For the last two seasons, the Roosters and the Warriors ensured I got at least one prediction correct.
However, with the Bulldogs only slight underdogs last season, there was no real trend to follow for this season, nor a plausible reason to believe that the Dogs would miss the finals.
That was, until the Ben Barba drama unfolded. Suddenly, with their best player sidelined indefinitely, there was a cause for concern at Belmore.
As a Bulldogs fan, I hope I’m wrong on this prediction. However, for two reasons, I’m comfortable – if not personally concerned – with this prophecy.
Firstly, I’m using a formula that’s two from two.
And secondly, it can’t be overstated how much the Dogs rely on Barba’s brilliance.
Remember, the team actually isn’t blessed with the most creative halves; therefore, a lot of their attacking magic is generated by the sublime talents of Barba.
How long he sits out could well dictate the Bulldogs’ season.
2013 will be the ‘year of the player’
For the 2011 season, it seemed like the coaches were the main storyline in rugby league.
The defending premiers, the St George Illawarra Dragons, completely fell apart after supercoach Wayne Bennett’s mid-season defection to the Knights.
There was the bitter fall-out between Des Hasler and the Manly board, despite the Sea Eagles winning the premiership.
We also had Mal Meninga’s infamous post-State of Origin series dummy spit, Ivan Cleary signing with Penrith before miraculously leading the Warriors to the grand final, and the Brisbane Broncos firing Ivan Henjak before the season had even started.
Meanwhile, 2012 will be remembered as the year the referees took centre stage, but for all the wrong reasons as blunder after blunder was made by the game’s officials.
For 2013, I’m forecasting that the real stars of the show will reclaim the spotlight, with the players and their amazing feats on the field being the focus of attention.
It’s a fairly bold prediction considering the sensationalistic nature of some of rugby league’s journalists, but I get the feeling that the public is slowly getting over scandals, and would prefer that the actual sport is what dominates the media coverage.
The Wests Tigers will make the top eight
The Tigers stunk up the NRL last year.
Injuries, off-field issues, questions about their coach Tim Sheens, the loss of key players to other clubs, the Tim Moltzen drama, and most importantly, their performances on the field, all added up to a season the club would like to forget.
Such is the nature of the bandwagon, many people that predicted the Tigers to win last year are predicting them to be terrible again this year.
I’m not buying it.
This is a very good football team, and things appear a lot more settled this off-season.
The addition of Braith Anasta has been criticised by a few people, but I think it’s a tremendous signing, as the Tigers were in need of a cool head and veteran leadership, two qualities Anasta certainly brings to the table.
I also think the sacking of Sheens will help the club. No one doubts Sheens’ knowledge of the game, but every coach has a used-by date. No matter how loyal they are, players get tired of hearing the same voice, and can tune out.
Mick Potter will bring fresh ideas, fresh eyes and a new voice to the changeroom. While Potter is a rookie coach, I expect the change will rejuvenate the Tigers.
With their talent, they could even knock on the top four door.
Jonathan Thurston will win the Dally M
Thurston is arguably the best player in the league, so it’s not exactly daring to make this selection.
My first inclination was to look towards Melbourne for a winner.
However, the Storm’s terrific trio of Billy Slater, Cam Smith and Cooper Cronk have a tendency to steal points off each other. Additionally, the winning player is normally the focal point of their team, along with being a primary ball handler.
Using that information, you can rule out quite a few players, and from the list of remaining names, Thurston’s jumped out at me. I think he’ll win his third Dally M player of the year award.
Penrith will ‘win’ the wooden spoon
I’m not sure this could be classified as ‘fearless’. Nor is it terribly original, as I predicted it last year.
The Panthers finished 15th in 2012 season, yet rather than looking optimistically towards a change in fortunes this season, it would seem the club has actually gone backwards.
Three of the Panthers’ best players have departed the club with Michael Gordon, Luke Lewis and Michael Jennings all leaving on bad terms and happily finding a home elsewhere.
Most worryingly for Penrith fans, the talent walking out the door far exceeds that arriving.
Looking at the Panthers roster, it’s hard to identify where they’ll score points from, nor is it easy to claim they have a lot of depth.
I’ve always been a Gus Gould fan and will continue to bow to his knowledge of rugby league, but I don’t think I’m the only one wondering exactly what the plan is for the club at the foot of the Blue Mountains.