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Cowboys hot, Knights not: My 2018 NRL predictions

The Cowboys head to Brisbane to take on the Broncos. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Roar Guru
4th January, 2018
32
2157 Reads

I’ll keep the intro short and sweet, nothing about crystal balls, etc. Here is how I see the 2018 NRL ladder at the end of the season.

16th: Newcastle Knights
Sorry Knights fans but I don’t see a climb up the ladder for your team. Yes they have recruited heavily, but have gone for quantity over quality.

Mitchell Pearce is their biggest recruit, but he struggles at times, and still hasn’t stepped up in the rep arena. Kalyn Ponga is raw and could be anything.

They leaked 27 points a game in 2017 and while they will continue to build, they are still a long way from being competitive week in, week out.

15th: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
Looked ugly during 2017, and that was when they were in form, which wasn’t too often. New coach Dean Pay will need to get the best out of a struggling side and the Dogs two big recruits Kieran Foran and Aaron Woods have polarised fans over the years.

They tried to offload both Morris twins but got no bites and it’s hard to see where the points are going to come from with a fairly ordinary backline.

14th: South Sydney Rabbitohs
It’s been a big slide from the glory days of 2014, and this will continue in 2018. Sam Burgess is overrated in my opinion, and his brothers, George and Thomas are hit and miss.

Greg Inglis will take time to recapture his best and there are questions surrounding the hooking role. Damian Cook offers more than Farah and could easily play the full 80, but will Farah handle being in reserve grade each week?

13th: New Zealand Warriors
A side laden with talent, but short on mental toughness, being a Warriors fan must be a tough gig. They are inconsistent, lack any ability to close out tight games and the sooner they get rid of Stephen Kearney the better.

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They will jag a few wins when everything clicks but will also lose plenty of games they could have won if they played smarter.

12th: Penrith Panthers
They let Matt Moylan go to the Sharks in order to grab two-time premiership winner James Maloney, who struggled in 2017. They are also looking a little thin out wide and will struggle to match it with the better teams with a forward pack that, outside of Regan Campbell-Gillard is modest at best.

Nathan Cleary is the best young half in the game, but he needs a forward pack that will give him room to showcase his talents.

Nathan Cleary Penrith Panthers NRL Rugby League 2017

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

11th: Wests Tigers
The return of Benji Marshall and a host of new faces should see the Tigers improve from a disastrous 2017 that saw them finish 15th, but I’m not prepared to lock them in for a finals spot.

Marshall’s role will be crucial, and Ivan Cleary needs to take note of how Wayne Bennett used the veteran playmaker; off the bench in limited minutes, with no pressure to run the team. Taane Milne is a great buy and he showed his wares at the World Cup, starring for Fiji, while Josh Reynolds brings plenty of enthusiasm.

10th: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
They shipped reliable veteran Blake Green off to the Warriors ahead of the 2018 season, but missed out on Mitchell Pearce and suddenly are desperate for a halves partner for Daly Cherry-Evans.

A quick glance at their 2018 roster reveals only Tom Wright, a former rugby five eighth, and Jackson Hastings. Hard to get too excited there. With the Trobojevic brothers and the addition of Joel Thompson they will trouble teams but won’t be finals bound in 2018.

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9th: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
They signed Josh Dugan on fullback money, but already have Valentine Holmes on their books and then went and signed Matt Moylan. It’s a confusing situation down in the Shire, and one that needs to be sorted out.

Maloney’s experience is a big loss and they’ve got an overrated utility in Moylan in return. I’m sure Panthers fans would be happy to see the back of their former skipper, while Dragons fans won’t be losing too much sleep over Dugan’s absence.

Lewis and Gallen are a year older and Fifita remains enigmatic while their halves are suddenly looking much less potent.

8th: Canberra Raiders
For too long the difference between the Raiders’ best and worst, has been vast and I don’t see this changing in 2018. The loss of Josh Hodgson to a long-term knee injury is a cruel blow and it’s a big drop in standard to the likes of Savila Havili.

They will score plenty of points and will also leak plenty but I’m backing them to grab the last finals spot.

7th: Parramatta Eels
They’ve taken a massive gamble luring egomaniac Jarryd Hayne back and his attitude could easily derail their season, as could his hot and cold form.

They have the makings of a decent side and Mitch Moses is coming along nicely. Still a year or two away from being a genuine contender but they should sneak in.

Mitchell Moses Parramatta Eels NRL Rugby League 2017 tall

(AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

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6th: Gold Coast Titans
A new coach and no Jarryd Hayne could only be a positive for the Titans, add to that reliable custodian Michael Gordon, and guys like Mitch Rein and Jack Stockwell who are looking to re-ignite their careers, and things are looking up for the club.

Former Titan Will Matthews has also returned to the area after pulling out of his deal with Wakefield, so look for the club to make a play for the rangy backrower. I like the look of young half Ash Taylor and Konrad Hurrell provides plenty of power out wide.

5th: St George Illawarra Dragons
Yes I’m a Dragons fan and some may see this as bias, but I genuinely believe the Red V are in for a big year. Josh Dugan spends most of his time injured and looking angry, and his loss is easily covered by boom rookie Matt Dufty, while Joel Thompson had little onfield impact, simply running and tackling hard, like most NRL-level backrowers.

Luciano Leilua provides plenty of spark and is set for a big season, while Ben Hunt provides the club with an experienced halfback alongside Gareth Widdop. They have a plethora of backrow talent, and the return of centre Euan Aitken should set the scene for a big year. If they don’t make the finals it’s bye bye Mary.

4th: Brisbane Broncos
Master coach Wayne Bennett will have his troops primed for another assault on the title, and the addition of classy utility Jack Bird makes them even more potent. Bird isn’t a centre, not sure why the Sharks persisted with him there, he’s a back rower with great ball skills.

James Roberts provides the spark out wide and their forward pack remains solid. They are an experienced, professional outfit although their halves is a worry with both Milford and Nikorima capable of lapses.

James Roberts

(AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

3rd: Sydney Roosters
James Tedesco wanted to play finals football and he came to the Roosters, giving them a great shot at their first title since 2013.

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Mitchell Pearce is gone, but they have a handy replacement in Cooper Cronk, one of the best halfbacks of all time. Luke Keary continues to improve and they boast an outstanding talent in Latrell Mitchell and an inspirational skipper in Boyd Cordner. Possible GF combatants.

Cooper Cronk

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

2nd: Melbourne Storm
The Big 3 is now the Big 2; Cooper Cronk is no longer there but they still boast arguably the greatest fullback of all time in Billy Slater and the greatest hooker of all time in Cameron Smith who pretty much won everything in 2017.

Brodie Croft looks to have the inside running for the halfback spot, but he’s no Cooper Cronk, and that could be the difference in those tight games, but don’t be surprised to see them on GF night yet again.

1st: North Queensland Cowboys
The Cowboys made it all the way to the 2017 decider sans both Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott. Add those two back in plus the handy recruitment of rising prop Jordan Maclean and I’m backing them to go all the way in 2018.

Jason Taumololo is the best player in the world right now and gives them a go-forward that no other player has, while players like Lachlan Coote, Michael Morgan and Ethan Lowe are ultimate professionals. Ivan Drago, that is, Coen Hess is a potential superstar and the Cowboys will be very hard to beat in 2018. Premiers.