Yesterday, Part 1 examined the existing halves combinations that will play on in 2016. Now let’s look at the new combinations and the clubs who have big decisions to make.
Sydney Roosters: Mitchell Pearce and Jackson Hastings
Strengths: Pearce has plenty of big-game experience and looked a leader in his first year of co-captaincy in 2015. Hastings impressed with opportunities starting or off the bench, belying his youth and inexperience.
Weaknesses: Pearce’s detractors will point to his general kicking and last-tackle options. Hastings is yet to experience the rigours of week-in, week-out NRL for an extended period.
The verdict: Trent Robinson succession planned for this, but can the Rooster halves deliver?
Canterbury Bulldogs: Moses Mbye and Josh Reynolds
Strengths: After last season’s three-way juggle with Trent Hodkinson, Doggies fans can now see Mbye’s skill and Reynolds’ energy weekly. Both play an off-the-cuff style and will rarely be behind a beaten pack.
Weaknesses: Neither Reynolds nor Mbye are real game-managers. Reynolds’ passion is a blessing and a curse, as his stints on the sideline have shown.
The verdict: Mbye needs to take the reins and allow Reynolds to simply play what’s in front of him.
Canberra Raiders: Aiden Sezer and Blake Austin
Strengths: Sezer is a real organiser with a quality kicking game, which will allow Austin – how can open a game up quickly – to run the ball. The much-improved Sam Williams provides cover, and pressure on the starting halves to perform.
Weaknesses: Austin dropped away in the second half of 2015 through fatigue, the absence of Williams, or other teams waking up to his style of play. He needs to find a way to have an impact even when tightly marked.
The verdict: Structure and spontaneity will make the Raiders halves a dangerous combination.
Parramatta Eels: Kieran Foran and Corey Norman
Strengths: Foran is all class with a complete game, while Norman has exquisite passing and a new confidence with a lock on the number 6 jersey.
Weaknesses: Norman’s tendency to drift across the line has been a criticism of his game, although he has a perfect role model on straightening the attack in Foran. And you can’t mention the Parra no 7 jersey without mentioning the curse of expectation that goes with it.
The verdict: If Foran can run the game and Norman can run the ball, this will be a big year for the Eels.
Newcastle Knights: Trent Hodkinson and Jarrod Mullen
Strengths: At their best both players have astute kicking games and can control a game well. Big game experience and cool heads.
Weaknesses: Mullen’s recent seasons have been blighted by injury and Hodkinson has been criticised for a lack of creativity.
The verdict: Experience and calmness, but will rely on other players for penetration.
Cronulla Sharks: James Maloney and Chad Townsend
Strengths: Maloney is a proven match-winner and Townsend took his game to a new level in 2015 at the Warriors. Both can run, kick well and organise a game. Maloney’s goal kicking is an absolute bonus. But are these two going to shift rookie of the year Jack Bird to the centres?
Weaknesses: Maloney’s defence improved under Trent Robinson but remains a soft spot. Can Townsend produce another high quality year or will his consistency be a one-season wonder?
The verdict: A potentially exciting combination, but a few poor games could see the confidence evaporate quickly.
Gold Coast Titans: Kane Elgey and Tyrone Roberts
Strengths: Elgey showed maturity beyond his years in 2015, taking control of the Titans essentially solo after Sezer’s injury. Roberts played some of his best footy when he was fighting for his spot on the Knights roster. He’ll need to maintain that standard with new recruit Ash Taylor gunning for an NRL start.
Weaknesses: Is Elgey mature enough to be the senior partner with Taylor if Roberts falls into old habits of fading out of games and is dropped?
The verdict: Much rides on Elgey’s shoulders. Will the pressure from Taylor keep Roberts firing? Time will tell.
New Zealand Warriors: Shaun Johnson and ?
Strengths: Johnson is a special talent, but who will partner him? The exciting Tuimoala Lolohea is the obvious choice, with international experience to go with a breakout 2015. Veteran Thomas Leuluai is another option, as is new recruit Jeff Robson.
Weaknesses: In a team struggling for consistency, is there is a case to be made for the experienced, reliable and perennially underrated Jeff Robson? And how will Johnson return after his season-ending leg injury?
The verdict: The obvious choice may not be the best. Don’t be surprised if Robson offers more than injury cover.
Manly Sea Eagles: Daly Cherry-Evans and ?
Strengths: DCE is a bonafide superstar. Potential halves partners are many: Jamie Lyon, Peta Hiku, Api Koroisau or Dylan Walker if the rumoured trade goes through.
Weaknesses: Lyon has always seemed a reluctant five-eighth, even though he has won a premiership wearing 6. Hiku may be off to the Dragons, Koroisau is a lock for the 9 jersey, and Walker failed to impress in his time in the halves at Souths.
The verdict: Big decisions for new coach Trent Barrett. Looks like DCE is about to earn his dollars.
So there we have it. Over to you Roarers. Which other combinations might we see, and which new halves pairing has you excited for 2016?