On the eve of a new NRL season, who has got the most to prove at each club?
Wayne Bennett has made significant changes to his squad – the forward pack has had a revamp and has lost a bit of depth, Andrew McCullough and Darius Boyd are coming back from injuries, while Jack Bird is now a million-dollar man.
Overall however, Brisbane’s halves have a point to prove. Kodi Kikorima is a talented young player and we all know how good Anthony Milford is, but how will they go as a long-term combination?
On paper, you look for halves with contrasting playing styles, a ball-runner and an organiser is ideal. Since Ben Hunt signed with the Dragons his ball-playing and organising credentials have been over stated – his strength was his running game. So the transition to a Milf-Nikorima combo may not be as unsettling as it looks.
It will be fascinating to see who takes on what role though, in terms of the organising and kicking. Expect the Broncos to play an up-tempo game and really put teams under pressure with the two halves and Bird running at the line.
Dean Pay is a rookie coach, Moses Mbye is hoping the move to fullback will be the defibrillator-shock required to kickstart his stalled career, and Michael Lichaa was axed and then re-signed at the end of 2017.
But here, it’s Kieran Foran.
The first five or six years of Foran’s career seemed charmed. Two grand final appearances, a premiership, Four Nations success – it’s strange to recall now, but he was also one of the most respected young players in the game.
How quickly it all unravelled.
The start of his Parramatta career in 2016 looked like it was going to be more of the same. He struck up a great halves combination with Corey Norman, the Eels won six of their first nine, and Foran played his 150th first grade game. Then Parra were done for salary cap rorting, Foran was rushed to hospital following a prescription medication issue, he went through a messy split with his partner, had a dispute about a third-party deal from his Manly days, and myriad other issues that played out in the front half of the paper.
Last season with the Warriors was a fizzer and as a result, Foran’s halcyon days seem a long time ago.
With an untested fullback, an inconsistent nine and a rookie halves partner, the Bulldogs need Foran back to his best as soon as possible.
Does he still have it in him?
[latest_videos_strip category=”rugby-league” name=”League”]
It seems odd to suggest that a premiership-winning captain, with 233 first grade games, 22 games for Australia, and 22 for Queensland would have anything to prove, but I’m tagging Matt Scott.
Scott turns 33 this year and is coming off a season-ending ACL injury. Big men are notoriously slow to get back to their best and most mobile following these types of injury. So are older players. Scott is both.
On top of that, North Queensland coped pretty well without him last season, and have recruited Jordan McLean in the engine room.
2018 could mean reduced minutes and reduced impact for Scott. Will he play a supporting role or prove he’s still the top dog?
Ben Hunt hasn’t looked a happy footballer since the 2015 grand final and has struggled to achieve the same consistency he had prior.
It’s great to get away from Brisbane to freshen up mentally and emotionally, but moving to the Dragons could be out of the frying pan and into the fire.
The club’s new million-dollar man is being pegged as their saviour at a joint that’s been one half short for a few seasons. What’s more, Gareth Widdop is a rocks-or-diamonds footballer, who doesn’t always make life easy for his partner.
The Red V made the semis in 2015, were dire in attack in 2016, and self-destructed in 2017 after looking world beaters in the early part of the season. There are question marks over Paul McGregor’s future and a poor start could see him back on the jet ski down to Wollongong.
It will be fascinating to see how Hunt goes in this environment.