What is a pass mark for your NRL club in 2018?

David Holden Roar Guru

By David Holden, David Holden is a Roar Guru

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    Ah, the NRL pre season. It’s that wonderful time of year when every league fan dreams of an NRL premiership in early October. Sadly, for many of us those dreams are cruelly smashed before we get to the end of March.

    Not every team can win, but we hope our teams can at least achieve what we would consider a pass mark for the season. It’s that magical mark where marquee players and coaches are safe and where mad Monday celebrations can go ahead without much scrutiny from the media.

    So what is a pass mark for your club?

    Working from the top down, a pass mark for the North Queensland Cowboys and the Sydney Roosters is simply a premiership. North Queensland enjoyed a fairytale run through the semi-finals last year only to lose to the Melbourne Storm at the last hurdle. With Jordan McLean joining the club and Johnathan Thurston back from injury, expectations are rightfully high in Townsville.

    Likewise the Sydney Roosters will expect to win the premiership. After finishing second in the regular 2017 season the addition of Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco arguably gives the Roosters the best roster on paper in the competition. However, the loss of Kane Evans and Aidan Guerra will test their forward depth.

    (Matt King/Getty Images)

    For Melbourne Storm and the Parramatta Eels only a top-two spot will be considered a pass. The loss of Cooper Cronk will be felt at the Storm but we saw enough of Brodie Croft last season to know that he is a quality half. With Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cameron Munster in your team, the Storm will be playing deep into September again.

    The Eels’ late-season surge last year had them finish only one win behind the second-placed Roosters, and they would be shooting for a top-two spot this year. The loss of Semi Radradra is immense – though the Eels do have some quality backs – while the signing of Jarryd Hayne with something to prove could be significant. Kane Evans also adds to their forward pack.

    (Matt King/Getty Images)

    For the Brisbane Broncos, Penrith Panthers and Cronulla Sharks a top-four finish would be considered a pass, so you can see that not all clubs will hit the pass mark this year.

    The Broncos have lost or released some key players this year and have picked up Jack Bird from the Sharks. The Broncos should again be towards the top of the pile, but they are not as strong as some of the other clubs. Nevertheless, the Brisbane fans will want results and Wayne Bennett will be under pressure. I’d like Bennett coaching the Newtown Jets, if only for the Elton John jokes, but that’s not likely to happen.

    The Panthers have been about to cut loose for the past few years but have never quite delivered. The addition of James Maloney partnering with Nathan Cleary this year gives the Panthers some real stability in the halves, which could be just what they need with their exciting outside backs.

    The Sharks have lost James Maloney and Jack Bird and picked up Matt Moylan and Josh Dugan. All are quality. Whether Cronulla have won or lost on these trades won’t be known until well into the season. The improvement of Valentine Holmes at fullback is also critical. If Holmes does this, Sharks fans can stop praying for the return of Ben Barba.

    (Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

    The Canberra Raiders, South Sydney Rabbitohs, Canterbury Bulldogs, Manly Sea Eagles and St George Illawarra Dragons should all feel that making the top eight is a pass mark for the year.

    After falling one game short of the grand final in 2016 the Raiders were inconsistent last year, eventually finishing tenth. Other than perhaps Charlie Gubb, their recruitment hasn’t been outstanding. However, you could argue that Canberra underachieved in 2017 and will be looking to set the record straight this year.

    For the Rabbits, 12th place last year was disappointing. Their key addition is Dane Gagai, although much will depend on the fitness of Greg Inglis and Adam Reynolds, who have both been suspect in recent seasons. Their forward pack was also off the pace in 2017.

    It is an important year for the Bulldogs. A poor 2017 season saw the departure of Des Hasler and club stalwarts James Graham, Sam Kasiano and Josh Reynolds. On the plus side were the major signings of Kieran Foran and Aaron Woods. After this major clean out only a top-eight finish will be acceptable.

    The Sea Eagles finished a surprising sixth last year under Trent Barrett and will be expecting to do so again in 2018. The signing of Joel Thompson from the Dragons will provide additional starch to their pack, but the loss of Blake Green, with a lack of other experienced halves in the club, may prove significant.

    If any club is playing to right the wrongs of last year, it is the Dragons. Their fans are still trying to deal with the disappointment of missing the eight Losing Josh Dugan, Joel Thompson and Russell Packer will be felt. However, the key signings of Ben Hunt and James Graham should help them take part in the semi-finals.

    (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    And so to the rest, where anything less than top 12 will be a failure.

    There is no doubt the Newcastle Knights have recruited well. They won’t take the spoon this year. Equally, expecting them to jump from last to top eight is probably too much. Key signings are Mitchell Pearce, Kalyn Ponga and a range of forwards. I expect them to win a lot more games, but not enough to be playing in September.

    The Wests Tigers have now had a full preseason under Ivan Cleary and will also expect to improve their position this year. They have recruited well, but the loss of James Tedesco and Aaron Woods makes it difficult for them to play semi-finals.

    The Gold Coast Titans finished down the ladder in 2017, and unfortunately their recruitment for 2018 is not strong enough to change that. However, they challenged and beat some of the top teams in 2017, so more consistency this year would bring a higher ladder finish.

    And, finally, the New Zealand Warriors. The Warriors have had a major overhaul, with a number of high-profile departures and signings, such as Tohu Harris, Blake Green, Gerald Beale and Adam Blair. They should finish top 12 and probably higher. Whether they do or not remains to be seen.

    So there’s my take of what a pass mark looks for your club in 2018. As always, there will be a divergence of views, so please agree or disagree in the comments.

    The New South Wales State of Origin team for the 2018 series remains a mystery, with new coach Brad Fittler facing plenty of selection headaches. So we want you to tell us - and all your mates - who should start for Blues in Game 1 with our team picker.

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    The Crowd Says (87)

    • February 4th 2018 @ 9:22am
      Paul said | February 4th 2018 @ 9:22am | ! Report

      That’s a real good list Will. The only change I’m sure the Storm would make is to include them in the top tier, chasing the Premiership. The rest all seem to fit okay, though I’m sure there’s going to be some very disappointed Clubs come September – Broncos, Souths and the Raoders to name 3.

      • February 4th 2018 @ 5:08pm
        Peter Phelps said | February 4th 2018 @ 5:08pm | ! Report

        I second that.

        How on earth do you not have the storm with another premiership as their pass mark ?

        I am sure that Bellamy et al along with many of their fans will be very very disappointed if they do not break the back to back hoodoo and they are better placed than any on the last decade to achieve that. That should have been your opening line. I will concede that a minor prem won’t matter to them but the minimum expected in the southern capital will be a GF appearance.

        As for Cooper, his loss is being over estimated. Yes he is a loss but his loss simply reduces Melbourne from absolute dominance in 2017 to a mere mortal top of the class in 2018.

    • February 4th 2018 @ 9:48am
      Geoff from Bruce Stadium said | February 4th 2018 @ 9:48am | ! Report

      Good assessment David. I’m not totally convinced by the Eels. Semi dragged them single handed over the line a few times last season and he will be a huge loss – but they do have a couple of great halves in Moses and Norman. I also think Manly over-performed last season and will really miss Blake Green. There is always a bit of movement in the 8 from year to year and of the 8 from last year I have a feeling that the Broncos, Eels, Manly and Penrith are most at risk of dropping out with the Dragons and Raiders the most likely to replace two of them.

      Just reading that Bryce Cartright is moving from the Panthers to the Titans. Huge coup for the Titans – they may not be the basket place most people are predicting – and another sign that all is not well at Panther land after Matt Moylan’s earlier move to Cronulla. They have lost two potential super stars. And have to hand it to Shane Flanagan – he has recruited very well with Dugan and Moylan coming in for Maloney and Bird. I’m expecting the Sharks to be top 4 this season. Along with Storm, Cowboys and Roosters. The positions from 5 to 8 are not as easy to predict. Shapes up as another fascinating season.

      • February 4th 2018 @ 10:24am
        jeff dustby said | February 4th 2018 @ 10:24am | ! Report

        shars will come an honourable 12th. they have replaced a goal kicking winner with a guy thats barely played in the halves. they have also got Dugan who will be injured and cant pass

        • Roar Guru

          February 4th 2018 @ 12:16pm
          Nat said | February 4th 2018 @ 12:16pm | ! Report

          So how do you think Parra will go?

          • February 4th 2018 @ 3:43pm
            jeff dustby said | February 4th 2018 @ 3:43pm | ! Report


      • February 4th 2018 @ 1:27pm
        RandyM said | February 4th 2018 @ 1:27pm | ! Report

        Hope you’re right about the Raiders Geoff. I am not confident though… Great outside backs, good forward pack but our spine is poor.

        • February 4th 2018 @ 3:41pm
          Geoff from Bruce Stadium said | February 4th 2018 @ 3:41pm | ! Report

          Hey Randy. I’m not overconfident about the Raiders making the 8 but you would think with the squad they have they should be up there with around 7 other teams vying for spots 5 to 8. Lets face it – the team isn’t much different to the team that almost made a Grand Final in 2016 so the talent is obviously there. A lot has been said about the quality of the Raiders halves and whether Jack Wighton is the best option at full back. With Hodgson sidelined for most of the season, and the halves off contract at the end of they year, both Sezer and Austin have a lot to play for. This may sound daft but with Hodgson not there the halves will have to call all the shots which may be a good thing. There were times last year where Hodgson had brain explosions on the 3rd or 4th tackle that costs us a couple of tight games. I reckon Hodgson overplayed his hand last year and was nowhere near as effective as he was in 2016. Austin didn’t appear to run as much last year so hopefully he brings that back in to his game and I thought Sezer and Wighton were much better in the second half of last season.

          Much has also been said about whether Jack Wighton is the best option at full back. He has been prone to costly errors at times but he has also been getting better at linking in attack and setting up tries.

          I think this is a make or break year for Sezer, Austin and Wighton. If they all click the Raiders could have a really good season but if they fail to fire I can see a lot of pressure being put on Ricky Stuart to try other options. Cotric or Rapana are options for full back and Sam Williams is a handy back up for the halves and I am hearing there are big raps for Paull Roache who the Raiders recruited last year. Roache played 5/8 for the junior All Blacks. I’m hopeful the Raiders can make the 8. If they don’t there will be serious question marks on Ricky Stuart’s coaching credentials and a shaky future for a number of blokes on good money in the squad. I think its pertinent that the Raiders haven’t extended Austin and Sezer as yet. I think the club is waiting to see how the team goes after 5 or 6 rounds. You never know – given what a disappointing season they had last year they could come out of the blocks on fire from Round 1.

          • February 5th 2018 @ 12:34pm
            RandyM said | February 5th 2018 @ 12:34pm | ! Report

            Wighton isn’t a fullback in my opinion, he’s too error prone and doesn’t seem to improve. Put him at centre or in the backrow. Develop Cotric as a fullback, I would probably even rather Rapana at fullback than Wighton.

      • Roar Rookie

        February 5th 2018 @ 11:08am
        Joe said | February 5th 2018 @ 11:08am | ! Report

        Agree with your top four but I think Parra is a chance as they now have depth in key positions even without superstar Semi. Sharks will be there again as they have recruited well to fill in the holes created by Maloney, Birds departure. Also for Raiders Cotric to fullback sometime this year…preferably to start the season.

      • February 5th 2018 @ 11:37am
        Albo said | February 5th 2018 @ 11:37am | ! Report

        Geoff, I pretty much agree with all you have said here !
        But I still think the Storm will be the team to beat again this year, even without Cronk.
        I think the Sharks will be a lot stronger with Moylan & Dugan ( instead of Maloney & Bird). Some ” x-factor” in Moylan at Shark Park at last.
        Cowboys & Roosters on paper look strong , but depth and new combinations still to be tested.
        The Eels are a big query for me. Lost Semi and forwards iffy for mine.
        My Panthers have lost all their “x-factor” players in Moylan, Cartwright & Te-Mare Martin inside 6 months, and serious questions of Club management need to be asked . Can’t see them improving at all this season unless they have some other buy in mind ? Maloney apparently is the new hope of the side ??
        I had the Titans earmarked for the spoon this year, but now with the signing of Cartwright , they will at least have a chance of winning a few more games than they did last week..
        Plenty of teams will be a chance of a spot in the bottom of the 8 and a bit of luck with injuries and team cohesion early on could see anyone vying for a spot in the 8.

        • Roar Rookie

          February 5th 2018 @ 12:34pm
          Joe said | February 5th 2018 @ 12:34pm | ! Report

          I think both Sharks and Panthers should be stronger….Sharks needed an x-factor type player after Barba left so Moylan should provide that and Panthers had too many x-factor players and needed a older experienced head to curb the enthusiasm which Maloney should provide.

          • February 5th 2018 @ 3:15pm
            Albo said | February 5th 2018 @ 3:15pm | ! Report

            Hope you are right about Maloney, Joe ! But it does worry me that this “experienced head” gave away the most penalties of any player in the NRL and missed more tackles than any half in the NRL last year, and he’s now going into a team which already has a very poor defensive record for some years !

    • February 4th 2018 @ 9:57am
      Bonza said | February 4th 2018 @ 9:57am | ! Report

      That’s a fair take on it, good on you for taking on the challenge!
      Like the look of Eels if Moses /Norman keep clicking and not sold on Dogs. Hardly added to their backline + Foran’s best days may have been at Brookie.

    • February 4th 2018 @ 10:12am
      Cat whisperer said | February 4th 2018 @ 10:12am | ! Report

      Are parramatta a top 2 prospect?

      With that pressure on them , the eels might get the spoon now .

      What about the knights,, into the top 10-11 maybe ??

    • February 4th 2018 @ 10:18am
      jeff dustby said | February 4th 2018 @ 10:18am | ! Report

      cowboys pass mark is the 8. matt scott wont make much of a difference and they fluked a GF run last year

      • Roar Guru

        February 4th 2018 @ 11:07am
        Renegade said | February 4th 2018 @ 11:07am | ! Report

        Based on your first two comments… do you follow the NRL?

        • February 4th 2018 @ 1:07pm
          jimmmy said | February 4th 2018 @ 1:07pm | ! Report

          Don’t worry Rene , Sharks look very formidable to me. Duggan is a gun , just look at his performances for the Roos. Moylan is an incredible talent, he just wasn’t used right at the Panthers.
          As for his comments on the Cows. .? Having JT and Matt Scott back , plus Jordan Maclean , nah shouldn’t make a difference. See you in the finals Rene.

          • February 4th 2018 @ 3:46pm
            jeff dustby said | February 4th 2018 @ 3:46pm | ! Report

            yeah, Dugan was great against guys that arent NRL class

        • February 4th 2018 @ 3:45pm
          jeff dustby said | February 4th 2018 @ 3:45pm | ! Report

          sharks are old and dont have a star in their spine. Moylan is a star 1 not a 6, and holmes a star wing not a FB
          The Cows were lucky to make the 8, JT is 35, Scott is finished with injuries

          • February 4th 2018 @ 8:54pm
            jimmmy said | February 4th 2018 @ 8:54pm | ! Report

            Well we will just have to wait and see how wrong one person can be.

            • February 5th 2018 @ 12:21pm
              Oingo Boingo said | February 5th 2018 @ 12:21pm | ! Report

              I’ll throw my two bobs worth in …. I think the Cows will probably struggle early in the year , but if they can keep their main 17 on the field towards the end of the year , they’ll be there .

      • February 5th 2018 @ 9:05pm
        R N said | February 5th 2018 @ 9:05pm | ! Report

        No one flukes a GF in the NRL! A team can have a run of good fortune that through hard work and talent they take advantage of, but to call it a fluke is insulting to… hang on… why am I replying to a post that has the statement, “Mat Scott won’t make much of a difference “. I apologise to myself for wasting my time!

    • February 4th 2018 @ 10:24am
      Bearfax said | February 4th 2018 @ 10:24am | ! Report

      Pretty good assessment David.

      As a Sea Eagles supporter I agree a top 8 is a pass mark, but I think they can go a step further with the players they have been developing. 5/8 is a question mark and much will depend on either Croker or Hastings moving up successfully. The loss of Green is a problem, though his value is sometimes over stressed. Certainly he had an excellent kicking game, was a fine distributor to the back line that thrived, and was a stable foil for DCE. He wasnt however a great defender, was not a great attacking player. His value was as a link and as an excellent kicker. Both Croker and Hastings are at least as effective in defence, are however faster and have better attacking skills. Croker is also an excellent kicker. The issue is about the service to the backs. If either can get that right, they could be even better than Green.

      The second issue not looked at is the youth of the team, second youngest only to Newcastle. They have bought youth and potential rather than stars with only Thompson the one established first grader acquired. They also have several young players from their successful U20s squad who will be moving up. Manly will be across the park stronger than last year (if 5/8 is effective), and have more effective back ups, both in the forwards and backs. They could challenge for the final 4 if injury doesnt hit too hard.

      • Roar Guru

        February 4th 2018 @ 3:02pm
        Jason Hosken said | February 4th 2018 @ 3:02pm | ! Report

        Gday Bearfax – last season was awesome for Manly, I really enjoyed the ride especially when they clicked. Green a massive loss, his experience and subtleness still way beyond the young trio flagged to fill his boots.

        My other concern is Dylan Walker. He may return in round 4-5 but after significant injuries will he reach his best? Who fills his boots, there’s no great pace on offer, maybe Winterstein a worthy substitute – skilled and decent defender.

        • February 4th 2018 @ 5:32pm
          Bearfax said | February 4th 2018 @ 5:32pm | ! Report

          Thanks for your thoughts Jason. I actually predicted Manly would come in between 5-8 last year. This coming year Iv’e got them at 3-6 but that depends on injury issues and whether as you pointed out that Croker or Hastings are able to fill Green’s boots. I agree Green was great last year, not obviously stand out, but he did his job consistently and got that team moving forward. I think Croker in particular has the potential (Fittler has ear marked his as a future Blues player) but is he ready week in week out, is the issue.

          The loss of Walker is significant but there are a couple of talented speedsters coming through from last years U20s side in Tom Wright, Fuina and Jade Anderson. Each have clever skills, with Wright an outstanding prospect if he can keep his mind on the job. But same with the forwards, Manly’s team is a work in progress, not so different from their 2006-7 sides that were young, talented and on the way up. There’s a bunch of forwards there that in a year or two will be up there with the very best, if their development continues as expected. And I think Manly has secured the most important component in Barrett, as coach. He’s done wonders with this team

          Cant see Manly seriously challenging for the title this year (I could be proven wrong), but they are a team on the rise and obviously not being closely watched by many media people who have dismissed them for ’18.

          • Roar Guru

            February 4th 2018 @ 6:06pm
            Jason Hosken said | February 4th 2018 @ 6:06pm | ! Report

            I hope you’re right, I’d be grateful if they finish at least the same as last year.

            Do you have any news on Parker and if his knee is ready for round-1?

            • February 4th 2018 @ 6:41pm
              Bearfax said | February 4th 2018 @ 6:41pm | ! Report

              Havent heard but there is nothing suggesting he wont be starting. He’s signed a new contract until 2019. My feelings about Parker are that he would make a fine utility, playing either in the backs or forwards…a role presently being taken by Lewis

              • February 5th 2018 @ 9:05am
                MAX said | February 5th 2018 @ 9:05am | ! Report

                Jason and Bearfax,

                On Saturday 24th February at CC Stadium Easts v Manly.

                Last year was a sensational trial and I expect this to be even better.

                If you can get there …do so. Love to see you there.

                The 2018 fortunes of both clubs rest with how their respective packs perform
                and remain injury free.

              • Roar Guru

                February 5th 2018 @ 7:10pm
                Jason Hosken said | February 5th 2018 @ 7:10pm | ! Report

                Gday Max. I clearly recall your upbeat wrap after last season’s trial and your bold prediction of Manly’s season. I’d like to catch up but once again it clashes with my cricket season. I’ll be sweating on your observations that’s for sure!!

              • February 5th 2018 @ 10:12am
                Bearfax said | February 5th 2018 @ 10:12am | ! Report

                I’m waiting to see how the Roosters fare without Pearce, who I think was seriously under rated, given his game at SOO level was so criticised, yet he was up against two of the best of the last 10 years in Thurston and Cronk. But Pearce is only 29 whereas Thurston and Cronk are 34. I wonder if Cronk will have the impact at the Roosters they expect. Certainly Tedesco adds a lot

              • February 5th 2018 @ 12:26pm
                Oingo Boingo said | February 5th 2018 @ 12:26pm | ! Report

                I patiently waited for Pearce to go up a gear over the last few years , but he always seemed to play a dud hand when he was needed the most .
                Great throughout the year , but when final come around , it seems like he’s overawed by the situation.
                I hope he carves up at the Knights , but I do think the Roosters needed to change something.
                Will Cronk deliver that , “something ” only time will tell .

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