SMITHY: Breaking down your NRL team’s chances in 2013 (Pt 1)

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Melbourne Storm on route to their 2012 grand final triumph over the Canterbury Bulldogs. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

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With only three days remaining until the long-awaited kickoff to the NRL season, I thought I’d run the rule over each of the 16 NRL teams to find out who will be tasting success in 2013.

Melbourne Storm

Myths: Melbourne are grinding, defensive, wrestle, rule-bending champs – well they are, but they are also full of tricks (all practised to razor-sharp execution) in both attack and defence.

A team with many looks and capable of upping the ante to meet every opponent’s strengths and weaknesses

Rookie to the rescue: Jesse Bromwich (not a true rookie) is a real live monster in the making . Watch out for Kurt Mann, a versatile half/fullback from Queensland Country

What can stop the train: losing Cameron Smith. He is so good, he competes well every game and rarely looks tired.

Smart and for the Storm hopefully, smart enough also to avoid serious injury but some things are non-preventable.

The only other risk I could envisage is if someone in another club works out a way to negate Smith in either attack or defence or more importantly something to disrupt his leadership and direction of the juggernaut so the rest of the NRL latches on to it.

Why they can win it (or have a great year): because they still have great players in control positions and some good young players ready to step up to fill limited roles previously covered by likes of the departed Quinn/Lowrie/Manu/Nielsen/Fa’aoso/Kostjaysn

What I really like about them: they figure stuff out during the course of every season to continuously find improvements and adjustments tower or counter trends in the game.

Rating: strong chance for big things again

Parramatta Eels

Myths: rapid improvement can’t happen in the NRL. In the past decade there are many examples of teams jumping from the foot to near top of table in a single season.

Rookie to the rescue: Jacob Loko. This young man has had so much bad luck with injury and pressure of exceedingly high expectations (courtesy of that crazy idea of including talented but totally unproven NRL players in future Origin squads). I haven’t helped that by naming him here but truth is its hard to find another!

What can stop the train: any sort of injury list will hurt a very skinny roster for depth, especially losing Hayne.

Why they can win it (or have a successful year): the intensity and drive of Coach Stuart.

If all at the club get behind the plans of coaching staff and fully commit even without early results they may just get a foothold on resurrection.

What I really like about them?: the scope for improvement!

Rating – more testing times likely – the long term price of neglect in building a club at lower levels

St George Illawarra Dragons

Myths: this team now knows how to win a comp. How many of those guys who won it 2010 are still at the club or capable of playing at that level?

Perhaps others in responsible positions at the club now know how to win a comp so it’s those people who can make the biggest difference to the 2013 Dragons .

Rookie to the rescue: Cameron King played just five matches off the bench last year but looks like his role might be much bigger this season backing up the tremendous efforts of Rein in 2012.

What can stop the train – constant talk of 2014 and beyond. Coach Price has made a seriously strong contribution and commitment to the club for many seasons and thoroughly deserves that to be reciprocated from all and sundry.

Why they can win it (or have a successful year anyway): – a better run with injuries and an injection of younger new blood into the team can add some speed and quickness to a team who looked burnt out and tired of playing a grinding minimal style week-on-week season on tiring season with veteran guys.

A bright new style of attack will require some great coaching and powerful sale to some players who might still believe in the old style.

What I really like about them: the way many of us will write the Dragons off. If opponents do same they may just shock us all. Still got some very good players.

Rating: most difficult to rate before season starts. I reckon we will all know more four to six weeks in when we can see the way they are going about their football and how they think they can win.

Canterbury Bulldogs

Myths: you need top quality halves in their traditional roles to formulate a quality footy team. Well at least the Dogs were mythbusters on this point in 2012.

Rookie to the rescue: Michael Klemmer. Another big bopper with real touch of class for one so young. But he ain’t Graham! No-one is Graham!

What can stop the train – or maybe just stall it for a while: No Graham for important opening matches of new season could hurt.

I rate him as one of the best professionals I have ever dealt with – and ruthless in his pursuit of success – and a great teamman and even better bloke.

Wish I had gone harder for him with some of that famous Rooster left over salary cap from 2012.

And news of Barba’s in-house suspension is obviously a massive concern unless he responds well and does not re-offend.

The not so obvious is Daniel Anderson and the refereeing crew who may take away that potent play the Dogs excelled at last season obstructing defenders coming from inside out to stop Barba and co.

Anderson has offered some very tough guidelines on what will be a penalty this season. Can’t wait to see this unfold in opening matches.

Why they can win it (or have a successful year anyway): if they get just a few wins up early on and get Graham back, Barba is sorted out and stays fit and Des finds a way to keep the refs happy (I thought it became the opposite way round at some stages of recent seasons) or a different way to attack in 2013.

What I really like about them: the commitment to each other and that incredible energy level that they seemed to generate almost every week last season. Also the depth of the young player sector of their roster.

Rating: hard not to like their chances, with a couple of provisos. The real battle could be fought in the preparation and coaches rooms at Belmore.

Do they try to do what they did last season even better, or did they start to look for plan B during preseason to have something up their sleeves for refereeing issues and savvy opponents copying Storm intense defence from the GF?

Gold Coast Titans

Myths: Gold Coast can’t attract top end players. In recent times Myles, Taylor, Jamal Idris. It looks to me like its the next tiers of players where any roster problem might lay.

Rookie to the rescue: can’t find one at all. Another club with a lack of NYC development causing then pain in depth and enthusiastic youngsters beating the door down for a shot.

Aiden Sezer will likely get to start his first full season with first shot in the halves NRL games in 2013. He looked classy I thought and could really sharpen up the attack.

What can stop the train: whatever it was that stalled much of the Titan’s 2012 season. From the outside I certainly don’t know what that was and nor did I know why they looked so much better than that in consecutive weeks at times too.

It doesn’t matter that you and I don’t know but it sure does if they don’t know. In coaching there is only one thing worse than winning and not knowing why and that’s losing and feeling the same way!

Why they can win it (or have a successful year anyway): I think the latter is the most likely. I once had a guy say to me it’s often not who you add to your team that always determines how you will do – sometimes its who you subtract.

I have a good feeling for the Titans that a whole new opportunity exists for their team this season through the halves.

Nowhere near as experienced or likely to be able to control it all like Prince but fresh fast and threatening the D-line and a little bit of the unknown makes for more unpredictable play from them.

This is much needed with a strong and industrious forward pack and young hooker but none of whom add a lot of threat or variety to the attack.

What I really like about them: intriguing to see if they can find out about themselves as a team, that point of difference to perform at their best more often.

Rating: mystery bag – would love to know what they actually think about each other before making a prediction.

Brian Smith is a former player with St. George and South Sydney and first grade coach at Illawarra, St. George Dragons, Bradford Bulls, Parramatta, the Knights and the Roosters. He has taken teams to the NRL Grand Final on four occasions. He is a weekly columnist on The Roar, but to read more of his writing on rugby league, check out his website, Smithy Speaks.

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