With teams starting their pre-season for 2016 it is an opportunity to take an early look at each club’s halves combinations. Who will shine? Who will struggle?
Part 1 looks at the established pairings, with the new combinations and the clubs that still have some big decisions to make covered in Part 2.
North Queensland Cowboys: Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan
Strengths: An all State of Origin pairing with the world’s best player. Thurston’s game management is second to none and both are capable of taking on the line or putting on a match-winning play.
Weaknesses: Er… the only question mark is depth. With both starting halves certain for Origin the leap down to Ray Thompson and Rory Kostjasyn is a big one.
The verdict: The gold standard and the pairing to beat.
Brisbane Broncos: Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford
Strengths: Young, enthusiastic and talented. Hunt has learnt to control a game and Milford can bust a game open in a matter of seconds. Premier coaching from Wayne Bennett and Allan Langer along with a year forming their combination adds to the potency of the pair.
Weaknesses: An over-reliance on Hunt’s kicking is a concern. And how will Hunt respond to his grand final disappointment?
The verdict: More experienced than last year, but just as talented. Watch out!
Melbourne Storm: Cooper Cronk and Blake Green
Strengths: Cronk is the role model for consistency and few match his ability to control a game. Green brought the two things the Storm have lacked in a halves partner for Cronk, reliability and consistent effort. Add Craig Bellamy’s structured play and you know this pair will produce week in, week out.
Weaknesses: Can Green produce another high-quality year? Does Cronk still have the pace to bust the line? Storm fans will say yes. The rest will watch with interest.
The verdict: While structure and consistency are the Storm’s hallmarks, is there enough spark in this duo to dominate?
South Sydney Rabbitohs: Adam Reynolds and Luke Keary
Strengths: Reynolds is a quality player and this was never more evident when he was out in 2015. His short kicking game in particular is top class. Keary is undoubtedly talented and his passion outstrips his frame.
Weaknesses: Keary showed in 2015 he is still learning to control a game. More comfortable free running than organising, this pushes the pressure back onto Reynolds.
The verdict: Time for Keary to find another level, or the Bunnies are one Reynolds injury away from also-rans… again.
St George-Illawarra Dragons: Benji Marshall and Gareth Widdop
Strengths: Experience. Both are international representatives and have years of NRL behind them. Widdop is a quality organiser and Marshall’s maturity has seen his mistake rate decline over the years.
Weaknesses: Marshall’s mistake rate is proportional to his level of spontaneity. This pairing struggled to find points in 2015 and this is the challenge again for next season.
The verdict: Coach Paul McGregor must find a way to unleash some Marshall magic, otherwise 2016 will be a repeat of 2015.
Penrith Panthers: Peter Wallace and Jamie Soward
Strengths: Another experienced pairing. Wallace is as tough as old boots and knows how to run a game. Soward has a top-shelf kicking game and showed greater maturity last season in Wallace’s absence.
Weaknesses: Wallace was never the quickest and recent injuries can’t help. Soward’s reluctance to take on the line is now par for the course.
The verdict: Old heads, but on very tired legs.
Wests Tigers: Luke Brooks and Mitch Moses
Strengths: The talent is there and both now have a full year of NRL under their belts. Fast, enthusiastic and fearless with ball in hand.
Weaknesses: 2015 was tough and the question is if it taught them or broke them. Moses struggled fitting his freewheeling style into coach Jason Taylor’s structure and the lads need a big off-season of tackling practice.
The verdict: It’s time for potential to become weekly performance.
So there we have it. What’s your take on the established halves combinations? And stay tuned for Part 2 to explore the new combinations and possibilities.