Where will your side finish in 2018? (Part Two)

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    With the 2018 season approaching and one of the closest finishes in recent memory anticipated, yesterday I began my preview of the upcoming year, offering my thoughts on the likely bottom four sides in 2018.

    Today I reveal the sides I believe will just miss out on a finals berth this year.

    12th – Newcastle Knights
    To all the dreamers who believe that Newcastle will make the finals in 2018 I have one message: wake up. Nathan Brown has certainly purchased wisely during the offseason, with signings such as Tautau Moga, Aidan Guerra, Jacob Lilyman and Chris Heighington adding vital depth, while the arrivals of Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga should provide Newcastle with strike power in attack.

    Nevertheless, this is still a side that has won three straight wooden spoons. While the Knights should avoid adding to this tally in 2018, a finals appearance would be stunning given the miraculous turnaround necessary in defence.

    From 2015 to 2017 the Knights have averaged 16.5 points per game while conceding 28.6 points. By way of comparison, in the past three years the team that has finished the regular season in eighth place has averaged 19.6 points per game and 18.7 points conceded. This highlights that while Newcastle are not far off in attack, their weakness in defence is still a considerable hurdle they must overcome to qualify as a top eight side.

    It remains to be seen how Newcastle’s largely new predicted spine of Ponga, Connor Watson, Pearce and Danny Levi will perform together. Their four positions are crucial to Newcastle’s attack, and while Watson and Pearce may have spent some time together, it still will take time before combinations click.

    There appears to be a growing belief that Newcastle’s new recruits will return them to their first finals series since 2013. However, I am not so sure that their issues can be fixed so quickly.

    (AAP Image/Darren Pateman)

    11th – South Sydney Rabbitohs
    After claiming a drought-breaking grand final victory in 2014, the Rabbitohs have quickly faded into mediocrity following back-to-back 12th place finishes in the past two years. Their poor recent form saw premiership-winning coach Michael Maguire sacked in favour of Anthony Seibold, who will be tasked with guiding the Rabbitohs towards their first top eight appearance since 2015.

    South Sydney’s chances of success are boosted by the return of classy fullback Greg Inglis. It remains to be seen how the Australian and Queensland representative will bounce back from the devastating ACL injury he suffered in Round 1 last year. If he is able to rediscover his brilliance, the Rabbitohs will boast an impressive backline given the arrival of Newcastle Knight Dane Gagai. Yet Gagai will also need to improve given that he only managed two tries in 22 games last year.

    The Rabbitohs forward pack is one of their major strengths, headlined by the departing Angus Crichton and inspirational Sam Burgess. However, the pressure is building on George Burgess in particular, who has struggled for consistency in recent years.

    An area of contention at Redfern in 2018 is also the hooking position, with Seibold recently declaring his preference for an 80-minute hooker – a move which could spell the end of the career of Robbie Farah. Despite enormous potential, too many question marks hang over the Rabbitohs of 2018.

    (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Colin Whelan)

    10th – Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
    Will a new coach and spine be enough to spark Canterbury’s spluttering attack? In 2017 the Bulldogs struggled to post points, averaging just 15 points per game. As a result, despite making the finals in five of his six seasons at Canterbury, coach Des Hasler was moved on and replaced by Dean Pay.

    In his first move towards sparking his side’s attack Pay has opted to shift Moses Mbye to fullback and William Hopoate to centre. Mbye experienced a disappointing 2017 season, managing just two tries and four try assists from 22 games, and the rise of Matt Frawley threatened to see the 24-year-old forced out of Belmore. Bulldogs fans will be hoping that a new spine, including new recruit Kieran Foran, can alleviate Canterbury’s attacking woes.

    Pay has also assured fans that the Bulldogs of 2018 will be reignited – that the ‘dogs of war’ mentality absent in 2017 will be reborn again. If Pay is genuine in his desire to rediscover a Canterbury culture, the losses of Josh Reynolds and skipper James Graham are significant blows given the passion both players had for the Blue and White.

    Former Tiger Aaron Woods has been recruited to make up for the noticeable absence of the inspirational Graham. Meanwhile, Reynolds has been replaced by Foran, a risky purchase given his past two seasons at Parramatta and New Zealand. Unfortunately Foran’s questionable signing does not convince me that the Bulldogs’ attacking problems will be quickly resolved.

    (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    9th – Manly Sea Eagles
    The halves merry-go-round has been the major talking point of the 2018 off-season and threatens to derail the top eight hopes of Trent Barrett’s Sea Eagles. The release of five-eighth Blake Green to the New Zealand Warriors suggested that Manly would soon be announcing the signing of Mitchell Pearce in a move that would have certainly boosted their premiership credentials. Instead, Pearce opted to join the Newcastle Knights and the Sea Eagles were left without an obvious option for the five-eighth role.

    While Daly Cherry-Evans is certainly capable of leading his side without an established halves partner, the greater concern would be the possibility of Cherry-Evans suffering a significant injury.

    When combined with salary cap investigations, the Sea Eagles enter the 2018 season under a cloud of uncertainty. The departures of Brenton Lawrence and Nate Myles have left a considerable hole in Manly’s forward pack, though the recent signing of former Dragon Joel Thompson somewhat rectifies that issue.

    In what shapes as a highly competitive year for spots inside the top eight, Barrett’s choice at five-eighth may well define Manly’s fate in 2018.

    By the process of elimination you should now be able to figure out my predicted top eight for 2018. But where will the eight sides finish exactly? Keep an eye out for my next instalment to find out.

    In the meantime, let me know in the comments below if you agree with my forecast so far.

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    The Crowd Says (69)

    • January 3rd 2018 @ 8:18am
      BA Sports said | January 3rd 2018 @ 8:18am | ! Report

      I think you are being generous to Souths. Practically all of their “good” / key players are in decline – Reynolds, Burgess, Inglis, Farah, Sutton – all are past their best. That can be a tricky thing to manage for a coach – and the Rabbitohs have a rookie coach.

      As for the Knights – That Spine of Pongia / Watson / Pearce and Levi is night and day better than what they had in 2017.
      In 2017, nobody played 10 games at fullback – they had to chop and change around including Brendan Elliott getting extended runs at the back. In the halves, Brock Lamb who has potential got 21 games in, which is great, but he was just a kid. Meanwhile they had the corpse of Trent Hodkinson (17) playing and quite possibly one of the worst halves to ever play in the NRL, Jaylen Feeney making up the difference. At hooker, the Buhrer started 7 of the last 8 games at Hooker. But Levi, now has some NRL and International experience and should be better.
      I don’t think they are a lock for the 8, but they should be in the mix with two or three weeks to go.

      • January 3rd 2018 @ 9:24am
        mark said | January 3rd 2018 @ 9:24am | ! Report

        Ponga has played only a few NRL Games.. Dont let the Hype cloud your judgement. Watson has not been an 80 minute player yet and has Major defensive deficiencies . No depth at all in the backs, or at hooker. Lillyman Heighnton, Guerra , all way past their best . Home ground will see them win a fair share. But top 8 will be a few years away at best

        • Roar Guru

          January 3rd 2018 @ 9:53am
          Mr X said | January 3rd 2018 @ 9:53am | ! Report

          In regards to the Knights, Mark took the words out of my mouth as to Ponga. He should prove Newcastle with strike in attack, yet I am still aware that he has not played much consistent first grade and needs to prove himself first. The Knights should be in the hunt for a Top Eight spot but I just don’t think their defensive deficiencies can be fixed by all the purchases they have made.

          As to Souths, I agree that Sutton and Farah are on the decline. Burgess, Inglis and Reynolds, however, are players who I believe still have some really good years left in them. As I said at the end of my paragraph on Souths, they are a team of massive potential given the names in their roster, but there are too many question marks (regarding whether these names will finally step up) for me to put them any higher.

        • January 3rd 2018 @ 9:54am
          BA Sports said | January 3rd 2018 @ 9:54am | ! Report

          aahhh, Conner Watson made 294 tackles last year and missed just 22 – That means he missed 1 every 13.4. That is Cooper Cronk level… .Compared to say Feeney who missed close to 1 in 3 and Lamb and Hodkinson who missed about 1 in 7..

          Yes I acknowledge that Ponga is a kid and beware the hype, but again if they can have the same guy back there for 20 plus games, it is much better than what they had last year.

          • Roar Guru

            January 3rd 2018 @ 10:00am
            Mr X said | January 3rd 2018 @ 10:00am | ! Report

            That’s a tackle efficiency rate of around 92.5% so you’re definitely right there BA sports, don’t worry. As for Ponga, you bring up a good point that barring injury, Newcastle will now have stability in their spine which they have been missing for years.

    • January 3rd 2018 @ 9:03am
      Greg Ambrose said | January 3rd 2018 @ 9:03am | ! Report

      Losing Nate Myles isn’t a negative and we have some big and strong young forwards ready to step up to the plate. I wrote an article a while back explaining why Manly were in trouble when Bozo stepped in to revive the place a few years back. Recruitment had been terrible in the four or five years leading up to that point.

      The team consisted entirely of aging , injured superstars and fringe first graders in 2015 apart from the Turbo brothers. Despite my ramblings being howled down by fellow supporters virtually all those players are retired or still fringe first graders at other clubs.

      My degree of blind optimism is due to the ability of Bozo , who is gone now. to recruit the right cattle. I believe this year we will see some real first graders emerge from the lower ranks and before long have the odd player looking at higher honors.

      Last time the Eagles did really well players like Matai and Glen Stewart emerged from obscurity and it’s possible that something similar will happen again.

      We seem to forget that recruitment is common during the season these days and it’s possible that any team can fill a weakness during the season. Moses to Parra last year is one example.

      The Bulldogs season to me hinges on the fitness of one player, Foran. Unfortunately he was part of a group of Manly players who achieved success partly by putting their bodies on the line like I haven’t seen before or since. The price they paid has been a fairly early retirement for all of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if he retires this season.

      • Roar Guru

        January 3rd 2018 @ 10:04am
        Mr X said | January 3rd 2018 @ 10:04am | ! Report

        Morning Greg. Yep, Manly certainly could make the finals. I just can’t predict they can at this point in time with the uncertainty surrounding their 5/8th position. As I said below, the early word is that Lachlan Croker could get the nod. They may also be chasing Hodkinson but can only do so once they sort out their salary cap issues.

        As for the Dogs, I agree with your assessment that Foran’s role is very significant. I am very concerned given his recent seasons with NZ and Parramatta. I think this year may be his last year to prove his worth.

    • January 3rd 2018 @ 9:17am
      Bearfax said | January 3rd 2018 @ 9:17am | ! Report

      Five eighth is certainly the one area, other than injuries, that will determine the Sea Eagles chances this year. The forwards are in fact stronger than last year and the loss of Myles for example occurred early in the 2017 season and had little impact on the team. Lawrence has been a fine performer, but there are a couple of young players who will easily fill the breach.

      I can see, as someone who doesn’t have much awareness of the young players coming through, how you’ve come to your conclusion. And the comp will be tougher this coming year than last year. But if one of the young guns succeed at five eighth, or Manly snare Hodkinson, despite his injuries, Manly has in fact strengthened and the younger players have developed further, to suggest that you may be seriously under estimating the club. But then outsiders have been under estimating the Sea Eagles for more than the past decade.

      • Roar Guru

        January 3rd 2018 @ 9:58am
        Mr X said | January 3rd 2018 @ 9:58am | ! Report

        100% agree. Despite the unknown surrounding Manly’s five-eighth situation, they still have a great team and I couldn’t ignore that, hence placing them in 9th currently. I believe youngster Lachlan Croker is being looked at for Manly and if he does do well then they are definitely in the hunt. They had a very disappointing end to last season and it will be interesting to see how they respond.

        • January 3rd 2018 @ 11:09am
          Geoff from Bruce Stadium said | January 3rd 2018 @ 11:09am | ! Report

          Manly are really struggling if they are considering Lachlan Croker as their 5/8. Good luck to the young fella but he barely got a game with the Raiders and when he did he didn’t do a lot.

          • January 3rd 2018 @ 12:08pm
            Jaime O'Donnell said | January 3rd 2018 @ 12:08pm | ! Report

            GFBS… He played one first grade game for Canberra, and ruptured his ACL I’d say that’s a fair reason his performance was down in that game.

            I thought he was very good for Mounties last season, and we all know that Ricky is a halves killer as a coach…

            Hopefully young croker can get back to the form he had in the 20’s and as a junior kangaroo. I alos think young Tom Wright will be a chance at he #6 jersey, though I hear that Bazz has him training at Centre.

          • January 3rd 2018 @ 12:34pm
            Greg Ambrose said | January 3rd 2018 @ 12:34pm | ! Report

            As a Manly fan I have no knowledge of Croker but I have huge faith in the ability of good players to play their best footy at Manly. A lot of the current squad were languishing in park football a couple of years back but had some great wins last year in 1st grade.

            The opposite rarely happens however when Eagles fly the nest. JWH and Gurherson are rare examples.

      • January 3rd 2018 @ 11:09am
        Greg Ambrose said | January 3rd 2018 @ 11:09am | ! Report

        Bearfax , another factor those from outside the club wouldn’t have seen was the development of Curtis Sironen. He was an average 1st grader for much of the season and then something clicked and he was outstanding. Shortly after he was injured. If he can replicate that form then it is another plus for good pack of forwards.

        Losing Green could work in our favor as did losing Hodgkinson a while back who was replaced by a rookie in DCE . DCE was dynamic in his rookie year and the notion that a rookie is a negative is a lazy assumption. Phil Blake, Geoff Toovey are two of many examples.

        The same nonsense was widely broadcast about Barrett because he was a rookie. The highly experienced Des Hasler is relaxing at Collaroy whilst the rookie Barrett is still coaching in the NRL.

        • Roar Guru

          January 3rd 2018 @ 12:49pm
          Mr X said | January 3rd 2018 @ 12:49pm | ! Report

          Definitely agree regarding Sironen. He went from an average second rower to a great one, especially with running lines and hitting holes. If he can rediscover some of that form the Manly pack will be one of their most underrated assets.

          • January 3rd 2018 @ 3:19pm
            Not so super said | January 3rd 2018 @ 3:19pm | ! Report

            Great ?

            • January 3rd 2018 @ 5:08pm
              Greg Ambrose said | January 3rd 2018 @ 5:08pm | ! Report

              Yes he was great till he was injured, not a great but vastly improved from average. He was breaking the line and scoring tries , couldn’t be happier with that form.

    • January 3rd 2018 @ 9:40am
      Geoff from Bruce Stadium said | January 3rd 2018 @ 9:40am | ! Report

      If the Rabbitohs and Dogs finish above the Raiders in 2018 I won’t be renewing my membership. They both stunk last season and I can’t see them improving much this year. The Knights have recruited well and should be much more competitive. Manly may have overachieved last season but can never be underestimated.

      • Roar Guru

        January 3rd 2018 @ 10:10am
        Mr X said | January 3rd 2018 @ 10:10am | ! Report

        Haha sorry Geoff! It’s the nature of this year’s competition that any one of the Rabbitohs or Dogs could easily finish in the Bottom Four and replace Canberra. The Dogs especially given my lack of confidence in their halves. The main reason for the 10th place finish for Canterbury is based on their recent success. They have made the finals in 5 of the past 6 years. On multiple occasions I have looked at their roster, seen declining players and tipped them for a downfall… and ended up with egg on my face. They do have a new coach this year though, which makes things interesting. As for Newcastle, I agree and while I have them in 12th, I am not expecting a massive gap in points between 8th and 12th so they will definitely be better this year. Manly can’t be underestimated, that is true, especially given the talent they have. I will probably have a clearer idea of their fate once their five-eighth is decided.

        • January 3rd 2018 @ 11:20am
          Geoff from Bruce Stadium said | January 3rd 2018 @ 11:20am | ! Report

          I will be genuinely shocked if both the Rabbitohs and Dogs finish above the Raiders this season. Both of them struggled to bother the scorers for much of last season. Some of the Dogs games were excruciating to watch and some of the Bunnies games weren’t much better. Jury is out on whether Foran can return to the form he showed back in his Manly days. The Rabbits will benefit from the recruiting of Gagai and the return of Inglis to add to Johnston in the back but they have an ageing pack many of whom are past their use by date. Both teams have new coaches so it will be fascinating to see the fans reaction if they start slowly. I agree with others about we need to put a lid on the hype surrounding the Knights. As others have said Pongia is exciting in attack but he will be a defensive liability until he builds himself up a bit.

          • Roar Guru

            January 3rd 2018 @ 11:33am
            Mr X said | January 3rd 2018 @ 11:33am | ! Report

            Both the Dogs and Rabbits came close to finishing on top of your lot last year and I can’t see Canberra doing much better with Hodgson on the side line so I guess it depends on whether Pay and Seibold can get the best out of their sides.

            • January 3rd 2018 @ 12:01pm
              Geoff from Bruce Stadium said | January 3rd 2018 @ 12:01pm | ! Report

              The Raiders were a couple of games clear of the Rabbitohs and one game clear of the Dogs in 2017 but the difference in for and against is more marked. Raiders were plus 61 (due to some big wins and many narrow losses), Bulldogs were minus 95 (due to their awful attack and reasonable defence in scrappy games) and Rabbitohs minus 100 (due to their awful defence and attack). I just don’t understand what you see in the Souths roster. They are bottom 4 for mine.

              • January 3rd 2018 @ 12:10pm
                KenW said | January 3rd 2018 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

                They are potentially a very different team with a fit GI. Both from his individual performance and the way the rest of the team balances.

                Sadly (as a fan of watching the big man play, not as a Souths fan), I’m not sure that we’ll ever really see a fully fit Inglis again. He has looked very fragile for a few years now and I’m not sure how he will come back from a full season out of the game.

                Then again I’m the sort of pessimist that thought Slater was gone too, so what do I know?

              • Roar Guru

                January 3rd 2018 @ 12:37pm
                Mr X said | January 3rd 2018 @ 12:37pm | ! Report

                Hey Geoff – in regards to Souths:
                1. Their halves pairing of Reynolds and Walker is perfectly balanced. Reynolds has a strong kicking game while Walker has speed and a dangerous running game.
                2. Their forwards are very strong and can be one of the best packs in the game but the likes of the Burgess twins need to step up more.
                Just my opinion. My problem with Canberra, as we have discussed, revolves around Sezer and Austin as most of their attack will now have to come from them with Hodgson gone. If that pair realises their potential this year, Canberra definitely have the quality in their pack to rise up the ladder. If you compare try-assists, for instance, Reynolds and Walker combined last year for 30 vs. Austin and Sezer’s 15. That’s the main issue for me.

              • January 3rd 2018 @ 2:37pm
                BA Sports said | January 3rd 2018 @ 2:37pm | ! Report

                Ken; GI hasn’t been GI for a while.
                In 2016 he scored just 5 tries and had 8 try assists.

                His five tries were against the teams who finished 16th, 15th, 10th, 6th and 5th
                His 8 try assists were against the teams that finished 16th (twice), 11th, 10th, 9th, 8th and 3rd.

                Now he has missed a full season and is another year older. As you say, Billy showed a comeback is possible, but GI was already showing signs of wear and tear and his issues have been largely leg related.

              • January 3rd 2018 @ 4:05pm
                Ken said | January 3rd 2018 @ 4:05pm | ! Report

                Agree BA. He’s looked like he’s running on one leg for a while. A real shame but it just appears his body isn’t up for it anymore.

                The only hope is that being out for so long has actually given him the chance to freshen up a bit.

          • January 3rd 2018 @ 1:56pm
            rossco said | January 3rd 2018 @ 1:56pm | ! Report

            Souths ageing pack? Who are you referring to? If Sutton and Farah – they won’t be in the run-on sides and I doubt if Farah will be on the bench barring injuries. The three Burgess are young for forwards and Murray and Crichton are not long out of school. Musgrove and Fuimaona ore also youngsters. “Many past their use by date”?

    • January 3rd 2018 @ 9:59am
      Duncan Smith said | January 3rd 2018 @ 9:59am | ! Report

      I’ll predict your top 8:

      Cowboys, Storm, Roosters, Sharks,
      Parra, Penrith, Brisbane, St George

    • Roar Guru

      January 3rd 2018 @ 10:37am
      Nat said | January 3rd 2018 @ 10:37am | ! Report

      I made my case yesterday about the Dogs making the 8, probably in place of St George or even Sharks. Newcastle have recruited some names and Pearce is the only proven star still in prime. Moga cost Brisbane a lot of points last year. Ponga was disappointing with the Cowboys last season. He may have the moves of Michael Jackson but he has the same body as well and the FB position means organising defensive lines, tackling as well as you running. Manly, I believe DCE is at his best when he has a foil and a young half won’t cut it. Walker is a huge out. Agree with their positioning though, always competitive but middle road.

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