It’s that time of year. All around the country (well, the bits that play rugby league) NRL coaches, boards and support staff are sitting down to plan for season 2017.
Budgets, rosters and brown paper bags are all lined up. Now for the finishing touch.
The chief executives, after extensive consultation, are writing their last minute letters to Santa. But what is the one thing that they really want more than anything else?
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks might be asking for a fullback, after the loss of Ben Barba but with young gun Valentine Holmes full of fire after a successful Kangaroos tour this is quickly crossed off the list.
No, what the Sharks want is the ability to defy history and go back-to-back. But with the burden of history lifted will the drive be there? A look back at Souths a few years ago and the Cowboys last year would say no. This will take some Santa intervention if it’s going to happen.
Melbourne Storm have a really short list. They need a halves partner for Cooper Cronk, as they do pretty much every year.
With Blake Green moving on and previous backup fill-in Ben Hampton moving north to the Cowboys, the cupboard is bare. If Billy Slater is fit, and that’s a huge if, then young gun Cameron Munster slots in.
If he’s not fit then the Storm are relying on youngster Brodie Croft or moving Munster regardless and slotting in another, perhaps Josh Addo-Carr, to fullback.
Canberra Raiders are riding a wave of confidence, having defied the predictions of many to finish in the top four in season 2016.
Their well-balanced squad seems just as strong for 2017. What they want from Santa is some coverage. Despite playing the most exciting brand of rugby league in 2016 most fans only got to see 30 second snippets on free-to-air.
More time in front of the cameras is on the list, and if they keep playing the same brand of footy, it will be on a lot of fans’ wish lists too.
North Queensland Cowboys have maintained the bulk of their premiership-winning squad from two years ago. What they are asking for in their stocking is a successful contract negotiation for the club’s big names.
Johnathan Thurston is a legend of the game, but if the Cowboys pay him his worth, then how do they keep Matt Scott and the other players coming off contract? If there was ever a club wanting NRL Chairman John Grant to get on with it and finalise the 2018 funding arrangements and salary cap, it’s the Cowboys.
Brisbane Broncos are looking for another big body or two. The Broncos pack has consistently punched above its weight for a couple of years, but the loss of forward leader and workhorse Corey Parker is massive.
Jarrod Wallace seemed to go up a level in 2016 and will also be missed. Mitchell Dodds returns to the club from overseas, but despite this the pack looks light on (Mitchell who??). Props please Santa!
Penrith Panthers are desperate to not get one thing in 2017 and that’s second-year syndrome for young half Nathan Cleary.
The teenager was a real spark in 2016 and with halves partner and fellow youngster Te Maire Martin coming off an international debut there’s plenty to like.
Cleary seems level-headed enough, but the NRL has seen quite a few exciting young halfbacks unable to turn one great year into two. Tim Smith, anyone?
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs would love to find neatly wrapped and addressed to Des Hasler one thing: an updated game plan.
The power forward game that has served them well enough to make the finals consistently but not well enough to win it looked very tired towards the back half of 2016. Time for a new plan. Oh, and another try-scoring machine to replace Curtis Rona?
Gold Coast Titans surprised a few last year and did so on the back of rookie half Ash Taylor, a rejuvenated Chris McQueen and a more mature Ryan James. Yet the team with a surplus of fullbacks last season seems light on in the outside backs for 2017. But what they really want to find when they unwrap the box under the tree is an even contribution from all their players.
If this team think they can expect Jarryd Hayne to pull off the big plays week in, week out, they will find themselves in the same boat as Parramatta circa 2010-2014. And that’s a place nobody wants to be.
Wests Tigers might want a few things, but what has become clear over the last two years is that what Jason Taylor wants is what matters in Tigerland. And what Jason Taylor wants, what he really wants deep down, is to beat the Rabbitohs.
The club that sacked him as coach and his former nemesis at the Tigers together at last. Finals would be nice, securing James Tedesco on a long-term deal and some forward depth would also be lovely, but beating the Bunnies is at the top of the list.
New Zealand Warriors want what they ask for every year. Consistency. And they never get it. It’s enough to make you wonder if Santa Claus is actually real.
St George-Illawarra Dragons have seen a few big names depart and after a lacklustre season something needed to change. But what the club needs, and the fans want, is some kind of identity as a football team.
The Raiders are all flash and dash. The Storm are all method and structure. The Sharks are in it for the grind, with the dazzle to follow. The Dragons? How can red and white be vanilla and beige? Yes Santa, we’ve been nice. Can we have a personality please?
South Sydney Rabbitohs would like one of those catching practice games that kids use to improve their skills. Make that two. Label one T Burgess and the other G Burgess. That should be a big help.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles would like some of those labels that read Hello My Name Is and then you fill in the name in the blank section.
They played 2016 like they needed them, and they’ve had another large turnover again this season. At least in Blake Green they can cross ‘half-decent five-eighth’ off their list.
Parramatta Eels can write whatever they want on their list. A halves partner for Corey Norman. An out-of-court settlement with Anthony Watmough. A controversy free year. A board that is competent. A club that makes a small financial loss rather than a massive one. Ask for it all.
It won’t make any difference. Santa won’t be visiting. They’ve been naughty.
Sydney Roosters might wish for their best players to spend most of the year playing footy in 2017. But really they’ll be hoping that their recruitment of three ratbags in Paul Carter, Zane Tetevano and Liam Knight doesn’t backfire on them. Otherwise they might be asking for overtime from their lawyers and public relations people.
Newcastle Knights had a horror 2016 and the one thing they would like to receive on December 25th is some self-belief. There are some talented kids on their list but running out every week knowing you are going to get belted by a cricket score can dent even the most exuberant youth.
A few wins, or even some competitive losses, could see the Knights turn from punching bags to, well, a footy team. If the Knights can believe in Santa, then they can believe they will be competitive in 2017.
And the fans? The fans want one thing too. For the 2017 NRL season to begin as soon as possible!