PRICHARD: It’s the Bulldogs to win the NRL title in 2013

Greg Prichard Columnist

By Greg Prichard, Greg Prichard is a Roar Expert

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    The Bulldogs host the Storm at their spiritual home ground, Belmore. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

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    Sydney Roosters are one of the teams that can win the premiership, North Queensland, Brisbane and Wests Tigers are among those that can’t – and St George Illawarra are contenders for the wooden spoon.

    After taking last season’s results, subsequent player gains and losses and coaching changes into consideration, and then mixing all of that with a bit of gut feel, I have come up with my mid-summer predictions for season 2013.

    For starters, I have split the 16 teams into two categories – the teams that can win the competition, and the teams that can’t. Then I have further split those groups, identifying the most serious winning chances and those that are at grave risk of running last.

    So let’s begin.

    CAN WIN IT: Canterbury, Melbourne, South Sydney, Manly, Canberra, Cronulla, Sydney Roosters.

    CAN’T WIN IT: North Queensland, Brisbane, St George Illawarra, Wests Tigers, Gold Coast, Newcastle, Warriors, Penrith, Parramatta.

    MOST SERIOUS CHANCES: Canterbury, Melbourne, South Sydney.

    WOODEN SPOON CONTENDERS: St George Illawarra, Warriors, Penrith, Parramatta.

    I can’t see premiers Melbourne and grand finalists Canterbury not being right up there again.

    Storm coach Craig Bellamy and his players won’t be satisfied with having won one competition, and the club has proved that it can stay at a high level for a long time.

    Sure, it was cheating the salary cap for some of that time, but I’m talking about the Storm’s mentality more than anything. It is a relentless outfit.

    I would prefer the Bulldogs had something approaching a great halfback, but I don’t deny for one second the ability of their coach, Des Hasler, to still find a way to get the team to go one better than last season.

    The acquisition of power forward Tony Williams from Manly will certainly help.

    The Rabbitohs may have lost Dave Taylor, but Ben Te’o is a pretty good replacement. Halfback Adam Reynolds has got a full season of NRL behind him now, and the same goes for Michael Maguire as a head coach.

    Souths bounced back from a comprehensive loss to Melbourne in week one of the finals last year to at least win through to the third week, and they will gain a lot of benefit from that experience.

    Manly worry me.

    It was extraordinary that they could play as poorly as they did in their grand final qualifier against the Storm, and they have lost a number of players from their squad for this season without picking up anything stunning in return.

    They still have a hard core of matchwinners, no doubt, but I just think there is a question mark over the team in what will be another long, hard season.

    I like watching Canberra. They’re an exciting team. There is no guarantee David Furner is good enough to be a premiership-winning coach, but if playmaker Terry Campese can make a successful comeback from injury then the Raiders will be capable of winning plenty of games.

    On top of their return to the finals last season, Cronulla made a big splash in the player market. I’m not convinced the players they bought will have as big an effect as some people think, but there is no doubt the Sharks have got genuine depth, and that could mean two or three wins instead of losses at critical times of the season.

    That leaves the Roosters as the last team in my “can win it” group. Some will say I’m crazy, but the Roosters are the sort of club that can rise or drop sharply in a hurry, given the right circumstances.

    You only have to check their finishing positions in recent years to find the proof.

    For example, they finished with the wooden spoon in 2009 and made the grand final in 2010.

    The Roosters have had a change of coach – Brian Smith out, Trent Robinson in – and have signed Sonny Bill Williams and James Maloney. Robinson is, I’m told, proving to be a breath of fresh air at the club, and Williams is someone who can have a massive effect on a team’s fortunes.

    Plus, the Roosters are now making a late bid for representative centre Michael Jennings, from Penrith.

    The usual rules about gradually building towards premierships don’t apply to an outfit like the Roosters. They are a yo-yo club, with the potential to go up this season.

    Brisbane suffered a post-Darren Lockyer hangover last season, and it is set to continue this season.

    I don’t buy the idea of Scott Prince, signed from Gold Coast, as a saviour in the halves. Prince has been on the slide for a couple of seasons, and turns 33 next month.

    I know North Queensland have got a superstar halfback, in Johnathan Thurston, and great props, in James Tamou and Matt Scott, but the Cowboys never seem to be able to turn their positives into a premiership.

    Their struggles in road games are well documented, and although they will probably make the finals again I just can’t treat them as legitimate premiership contenders.

    Wests Tigers are capable of making the finals as long as they have Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah, but the window of opportunity when it comes to winning the premiership has shut on them for now.

    If they couldn’t win it in the last few years, why would they win it this year?

    I don ‘t like saying a Wayne Bennett-coached team can’t win the premiership, but I think Newcastle are going to have to wait until enough players come off contract for the club to significantly change the lineup for next season before they can hope to push hard.
    Gold Coast?

    A chance of making the finals at best. They have some big names in their side, but lack top playmakers.

    New Parramatta coach Ricky Stuart will presumably improve the team’s defence, but the Eels are starting off a low base, having run a long last in 2012. Can Stuart get erratic halfback Chris Sandow to fire?

    That working relationship has as much chance of ending in tears as anything else.

    It is always hard to predict what the Warriors are going to do, and even with a change of coach – Matthew Elliott is now there – I can’t get excited about them. James Maloney is a big loss.

    Penrith have bought a few good players, but they have lost a couple of really good ones in Luke Lewis and Michael Gordon.

    And Jennings could be going as well.

    Which leaves us with St George Illawarra.

    They finished ninth on 26 points last season, which was only six points ahead of second-last, and they have lost Ben Hornby and Dean Young, both retired, and Beau Scott, to Newcastle.

    The future of their coach, Steve Price, is already the subject of huge speculation, with the Dragons chasing Bellamy for 2014.

    The red-and-whites could be headed for a significant drop before they start heading in the right direction again, and if you don’t believe me, check out the odds.

    The bookmakers have them ahead of only two teams – Gold Coast and Penrith – in premiership betting. Even the Eels are at shorter odds!

    After the Bulldogs, Storm and Rabbitohs, I see nine other teams competing for the remaining five spots in the top eight. They are Manly, Canberra, Cronulla, Sydney Roosters, North Queensland, Brisbane, Wests Tigers, Gold Coast and Newcastle.

    My top eight, in order, is Canterbury, Souths, Melbourne, Canberra, Cronulla, Manly, Sydney Roosters and North Queensland.

    And to win the premiership?

    I don’t think the fanatical Hasler is going to run second two years in a row, and I don’t think he’s going to finish any worse, so it’s the Bulldogs to win.

    Greg Prichard
    Greg Prichard

    Greg Prichard has spent all of his working life in the media, from way back when journalists were still using typewriters. He has covered rugby league, football, AFL and various other sports for News Limited and Fairfax newspapers and also worked for magazines, radio and pay television. Twitter: @gregprichard

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    The Crowd Says (52)

    • January 10th 2013 @ 5:36am
      eagleJack said | January 10th 2013 @ 5:36am | ! Report

      It is always tough predicting the season ahead so well done for putting this forward. Will be interesting to look back in September to see how you went. I’m sure there will be some surprises as there always are.

      I’m not going to say whether you are right or wrong about Manly. But what I will say is I am fairly confident with their playing roster and foray into the player market for 2013.

      In the forwards T-Rex is a huge loss. No denying that one. But the loss of Lussick and Harrison has been covered. We have picked up established NRL players Brenton Lawrence, Justin Horo, Richie Fa’aoso. As well as 2 of the games brightest young prospects in Ligi Sao and Michael Chee Kam. Also picked up ex-Panther Jesse Sene-Lafao and ex-Dragon David Gower. And young Kane Lawton from the Titans. Certainly not big names by any stretch of the imagination but the Manly setup has always been able to get the best out of players who buy into their roles.

      In the backs we have lost 2 exciting players in Whare and Oldfield. But again they only were ever selected when others were unavailable. Whare was our Mr fix-it and did such a stellar job he was rewarded with a Kiwi jumper. So he is a loss. But we have picked up outside backs Esi Tonga and Peter Hiku, the Warriors u20 player of the year in 2012. Ben Farrar, who has played the role of Whare previously, also returns after a year long injury.

      But our most astute addition has been securing the exclusive services of Joey Johns. It can’t be underestimated the impact he will have on our young halves Foran and DCE. As well as the club in general.

      Our top side can mix it with the best. Luck certainly plays a huge role in that. But I think we do have depth to cover some of our big names if they do get injured.

      It certainly will be an interesting year! Can’t wait!

      • January 10th 2013 @ 6:25am
        Andy said | January 10th 2013 @ 6:25am | ! Report

        Manly will be top 4 again. They did it without Trex for most of last season, however losing Whare as back up for outside backs may be a bit of a loss. I think the Storm look likely to win it again if they have Cronk, Slater, and Smith on the park.

      • Roar Guru

        January 10th 2013 @ 8:02am
        peeeko said | January 10th 2013 @ 8:02am | ! Report

        i think Brenton Lawrence and Justin Horo will prove to be astute buys

      • January 10th 2013 @ 9:14am
        Mals said | January 10th 2013 @ 9:14am | ! Report

        EJ – the more journos that write off Manly the better. Hoping we can go unnoticed for much of the year & build to a strong finish in the 2nd half of the season. I think our best 17 were physically & mentally exhausted by the time they played that pre-lim final against the Storm.

        Let the Bulldogs, Storm & Bunnies hog the limelight.

        • January 10th 2013 @ 10:50am
          Schuey said | January 10th 2013 @ 10:50am | ! Report

          Manly flew to the Uk for the game against Leeds feb 17 last year. I agree that is going to count against you at the end of a long season.
          Hopefully we’ll be fresher at the business end.
          Question marks over Toovey remain. Can he bring on the younger players and get the best out of the experienced core?

          • January 10th 2013 @ 4:11pm
            Haz said | January 10th 2013 @ 4:11pm | ! Report

            I think the biggest difference (and someone mentioned this in an earlier article somewhere) is Andrew Johns as halves coach.

            In 2011 (with Andrew John’s mentorship), their halves combination was scintillating.
            In 2012 (when Toovey deemed Johns unnecessary), DCE and Foran were good, with only occasional flashes of brilliance.

            Although all the old hands have only gotten a year older, I’m expecting the two young halves to light up the competition in 2013.

    • Roar Guru

      January 10th 2013 @ 6:11am
      peeeko said | January 10th 2013 @ 6:11am | ! Report

      yes the dragons lost Hornby and Young who were well past their use by date. Beau Scott is a loss but has been replaced by Bronson Harrison who is a very good player on his day. Gerard Beale is a NZ rep and a good player and young Tyson Frizell has a tonne of potential

      • January 10th 2013 @ 11:32am
        Ken said | January 10th 2013 @ 11:32am | ! Report

        Yeah bit of hyperbole in the article I think. ‘Only six-points ahead of second-last’ – that’s a bit of a tortured statistic isn’t it? 2 points out of the eight after a mixed season better sums up the Dragons last year. They had some good days and they had some bad days. One more good day and they would have been playing finals footy.

        I don’t think they’ll be anywhere near the spoon but I suspect they might have a similar season. Some useful, if not big name, signings – it was a blow to have Stanley out for the season – if he can get his body right I think he could be a star and really provide some spark.

        This article falls into the same trap as most and predicts that the teams that filled the top 4-5 last year will be the one’s to watch again this year…. despite the fact that year on year this never works out. Storm will be thereabouts if the big 3 are on the park – but if one goes down they’ll sink like a stone – Souths, Dogs, Manly, history suggests that 2 out of 3 will be fringe top 8 or lower by mid-season.

        • January 10th 2013 @ 1:39pm
          Luke M said | January 10th 2013 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

          Also this does not take into account potential injuries, disciplinary problems, falling out with coach etc. There is always a team or 2 that will be affected by unseen circumstances like these and it will shape their season. Its far too easy to look at all teams and assume they will have a full strength team in top form and judge them on that.

        • January 10th 2013 @ 2:02pm
          Spiritfree said | January 10th 2013 @ 2:02pm | ! Report

          Ken, you’re right. I guess it’s fairly easy to write an article which looks at last year’s results and bases the whole thrust of it around that rudimentary analysis, coupled with some info. about the commonly-known changes in players and coaches. The article does however point out that the so-called unpredictable happens in mentioning the Roosters following their 2009 wooden spoon with a Grand Final appearance. So unpredictable. A team does really well when it has a great roster and replaces a coach who was by all accounts not able to get things going.

          Back to the article. The Warriors, for example, are dismissed as no-hopers, because they finished so badly last season and have lost James Maloney. Maloney was on fire for two years, but for almost the whole of 2012 he was in very poor form and his kicking percentage was similarly awful. So his going is hardly a big loss, is it? The Bunnies lost Chris Sandow and look what happened to them! The Warriors now have one of the best halves from the ESL in Thomas Leuluai, as well as Shaun Johnson, who Joey eulogised over, working with hooker Nathan Friend, one of the best in the game. Their pool of talent is second to none – Konrad Hurrell, anyone? Their off-season training has by all accounts been industrial-strength and they’ve recruited two Storm stalwarts who can only add to the emphasis on fitness. Finally, they’ve replaced a very poor coaching team with a professional outfit and they have the $$$ behind them as well. But hey, let’s dismiss all this anyway, eh?

    • January 10th 2013 @ 7:17am
      Toby c said | January 10th 2013 @ 7:17am | ! Report

      I think that all the critisicm on dragons coach Steve price is unfair. sure they didn’t make the finals last year but they finished a win off. Don’t forget in the 2011 off season they lost arguably one of the best centres in the world mark gasnier plus a few others and Wayne Bennett the best modern and overall coach of all time. He had a lot to live up to and in my opinions so far has fuflied his expectations.

      • January 11th 2013 @ 1:54pm
        NickF said | January 11th 2013 @ 1:54pm | ! Report

        Add to that the injury of Mick Weyman, Dean Young and Beau Scott in and out, 2012 was not a good year. But I put this to you, if the Dragons came 9th last year, I think this years team has strengths last years didn’t, especially in the forwards.
        Dragons forwards will probably be – Weyman, Rein, Hunt, Creagh, Harrison and Merrin. Merrin has been spoken of as an 80 minute lock.
        Backs will probably be – Beale, Morris, Cooper, Chase Stanley, Nightingale, Soward and either Fein or new boy Drinkwater.
        Bench – De Belin, King, Prior and Frizzle.
        10 players represented either Australia, NZ or NSW.
        I think calling them wooden spoon contenders is a bit strong.

    • January 10th 2013 @ 9:34am
      db swannie said | January 10th 2013 @ 9:34am | ! Report

      I read the 1st line & thought this article was a joke….It is meant to be a joke isnt it?

      “Sydney Roosters are one of the teams that can win the premiership”

      Anyone selecting a team ,with the most overated no 7 to ever play the game ,has to be doing it for a giggle.

      • January 10th 2013 @ 10:42am
        Pot Stirrer said | January 10th 2013 @ 10:42am | ! Report

        Im expecting Pearce to finally live up to his reputation this year. The roosters have had a clean out and he will have the players around him to ease the pressure in Maloney,SBW. If he doesnt i doubt he will ever play for NSW again.

    • January 10th 2013 @ 9:42am
      Brett said | January 10th 2013 @ 9:42am | ! Report

      There is no denying, no matter how much you say he is bad, that TREX will be a loss. He brought the size of a Brent kite, the speed of a centre and the strength of a Willie Mason. He will be a sad loss and we will all miss him bunches, but the way i see it, we have about half of the best NYC players joining our army and main of them utilities. We got some more size in our ranks which is great. Harrison and Lussick losses are now filled in by Ligi Sao and Chee Kam. Trex’s loss is filled with Brenton Lawrence, Whares loss is filled in with Dane Chrisholm and a returning Ben Farrar. Esi Tonga and Jacob Gagan replace a Micheal Oldfield. NYC Josh Drinkwater has been filled in by Kayne Lawton. Jacob Gower, Ben Musolino and James hasson (watch highlights of this guy on youtube) add depth to our 2nd Row. Justin Horo and Richie Fa’oso add utility ability and Pete Hiku and Jesse Sene-Lefoa add depth out wide. Manly fans we are more the safe if injuries strike.
      My Team
      1 Brett Stewart
      2 Jorge Taufau
      3 Jamie Lyon
      4 Steve Matai
      5 David Williams
      6 Kieran Foran
      7 DCE
      8 Jason King
      9 Matt Ballin
      10 Brent Kite or Ligi Sao if Brent is in the 2nd Row
      11 Anthony Watemough
      12 Brent Kite (to fill in or TREX) or Joe
      13 Glenn Stewart
      14 George Rose
      15 Jamie Buhrer
      16 Brenton Lawrence
      17 Justin Horo
      18 Michael Chee kam
      13 Glenn Stewart

      • January 10th 2013 @ 4:20pm
        Haz said | January 10th 2013 @ 4:20pm | ! Report

        Good tip off on James Hasson–that highlights package is very impressive.

        I really think Toovey needs to find space on the starting 13 for Jamie Buhrer. He’s a 60-80 minute player, he reads the game well, which means he’s always backing up the half-break. And he is deceptively fast. If you watch replays of the games, Whenever Buhrer is on the field and someone like T-Rex offloads, Buhrer is right up there with Brett Stewart for support play, and that’s going to mean more half-chances becoming genuine chances.

    • January 10th 2013 @ 9:51am
      Cole said | January 10th 2013 @ 9:51am | ! Report

      “I have come up with my mid-summer predictions for season 2012”

      Think that might be a typo 😉

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