Few people expected to see the Melbourne Storm in the NRL’s semi-final weekend but, unfortunately for their opposition, here they are.
As the 2018 season is about to kick off, many players will be feeling the heat come Round 1.
Big money recruits, a return home, these stars all have a point to prove. So who has the most at stake?
Broncos – Kodi Nikorima
After toiling for years as the club’s utility star off the bench, the recent departure of Ben Hunt as allowed Nikorima to steer the Broncos around the park in 2018. Concerns have been raised over his partnership with fellow half Anthony Milford as both have such similar ball playing abilities, but with super coach Wayne Bennett having shown faith in Nikorima, anything is possible for the young half.
But he will have to prove himself quickly, as the Broncos are a club always with an eye on success.
Bulldogs – Aaron Woods
To me, Aaron Woods is one of the most overrated players and props in the game. Averaging a good but not great 162m a game last year, Woods was still crowned the game’s premier Prop, beating the likes of much better players such as Jesse Bromwich, Paul Vaughan and Regan Campbell-Gillard.
Moreover, Woods has much to deliver this season, as replacing fan favourite and metre eater James Graham will be no easy task. Tasked with bringing back the ‘Dogs of War’ mentality, Dean Pay has made a very brave move trading Graham for Woods.
Only time will tell, but the pressure is on for Woods to fire and lead the pack.
Cowboys – Matt Scott/Johnathan Thurston
After a heroic and near fairytale run toward the end of 2017, the Cowboys were everyone’s favourite team at the end of the 2017 NRL season. It seemed that life after Scott and Thurston seemed ok.
Now, with the returns of captains in Matt Scott and Johnathan Thurston, and many pundits tipping them to be there come the first weekend in October, the pressure is on them to lead them to one better.
Dragons – Ben Hunt
They say you’re worth as much as someone is willing to pay you, and with that Ben Hunt must be one talented guy. Signing for a five year $6 million dollar deal back in 2017, Hunt arrives in Sydney with the expectation of leading the Dragons to the finals.
After a disappointing end to the regular season last year, Dragons fans will be wanting a finals berth in 2018. Anything less and Hunt will feel the pain.
Eels – Jarryd Hayne
The prodigal son returns! After a much-publicised war with former Titans coach Neil Henry, Jarryd Hayne returns to where it all started after signing a one year deal with the Eels for 2018. Presumed to be playing centre for the Eels this year, the media attention has already been fierce for Hayne as there were reports that he showed up to preseason overweight and out of shape.
Eels fans hope to see the two-time Dally M medalist back to that dazzling form, otherwise, Jarryd might be searching for another dream come September.
Knights – Nathan Brown
The traffic leading into Newcastle has never seemed busier. After a huge recruitment drive in 2017, Nathan Brown now has the troops that see Novocastrians hoping for a first finals game since 2013.
With Mitchell Pearce guiding the team around the park and young excitement machines such as Connor Watson and Kayla Ponga in the side, Brown now has no excuses if the Knights fail to deliver.
Panthers – Nathan Cleary
With stars such as Bryce Cartwright and former Captain Matt Moylan out the door, it seems that 20-year-old Nathan Cleary has the weight of all of Penrith on his shoulders. With some already calling for him to play Origin for NSW this year, Cleary is expected to lead the Panthers, alongside James Maloney, into another finals series in 2018.
With rumours of player anguish with coach Anthony Griffin growing louder, the tension and pressure on Cleary has never been bigger.
Rabbitohs – Angus Crichton
After signing a lucrative deal with arch-rivals Sydney Roosters starting from 2019, many Souths fans were calling for Crichton not to be picked by new coach Anthony Seibold for 2018. After being tipped by many to be a future captain of the club, Crichton now has the added pressure to show South Sydney fans just how much the club means to him and have a big 2018.
Raiders – Blake Austin
After winning the Dally M Five-Eighth of the year in 2015, many tipped Blake Austin to continue that form in the next two years and maybe even steal an NSW jersey. However, the combination with Aidan Sezer has not lived up to the hype and having only seen glimpses of that 2015 form, Austin has gone off the radar for NSW.
With Austin off contract at the end of this year, a big year is needed if he wants to stay in Canberra.
Roosters – Cooper Cronk
There has never been more pressure on Cooper Cronk than there will be in the next two years. Cronk could’ve road off into the sunset, retiring after winning Origin and another Premiership with the Melbourne Storm.
But after signing a two-year, $2 million dollar deal with the Sydney Roosters, the pressure is back on. The Roosters have already been backed as one of the most short-priced favourites in history, and anything short of a title in 2018 will have the fans scratching their heads as why they got rid of Mitchell Pearce in the first place.
Sea Eagles – Daly Cherry-Evans
With Blake Green departing the Sea Eagles for the Warriors late last year, it left a hole that Manly has been incapable of filling. After failing to sign Mitchell Pearce, the Sea Eagles now have three halves, Lachlan Croker, Jackson Hastings and Tom Wright to try and fill that void.
They only have a combined 44 NRL games of experience, 43 of those coming from Jackson Hastings. With Lachlan Croker leading the charge in pre-season, the pressure and weight of leading around Manly has never been bigger for DCE.
Sharks – Valentine Holmes
When Ben Barba was released from Cronulla at the end of 2016, the future still seemed bight with Valentine Holmes ready to step up and finally play his dream position. However, after an indifferent year, many still believe wing is his best position, after shining there for Queensland and Australia.
After only distributing a total of five try assists all last year, the Sharks need Holmes to become a second playmaker for their team. And with the recent signing of Matt Moylan, an excellent ball-playing fullback, Holmes needs to show he has what it takes.
Storm – Brodie Croft
An almost clone-like playing style and personality as Cooper Cronk, Brodie Croft now has the pressure of stepping into the shoes and taking over a team once led by one of greatest halfbacks our game has ever seen.
Albeit, he has Cameron Smith and Billy Slater around helping him, Croft will no doubt feel the weight on his shoulders as he pulls on that purple number seven come Round 1.
Titans – Kane Elgey
After a terrific rookie season in 2015, Kane Elgey put hope back in the minds of Gold Coast Titans fans. But after a season rupturing ACL tear in early 2016, expectations of a dazzling combination with exciting young half Ash Taylor was put on hold.
2017 was an indifferent year for Elgey, after his pairing with Taylor didn’t gel early on, and he was soon benched for Tyrone Roberts. With another pre-season under his belt, 2018 is the biggest year for Elgey as he also off contract at the end of this year.
It’s either boom or bust for Kane in 2018.
Warriors – Shaun Johnson
The Warriors have been the most disappointing team in recent memory for me. With a plethora of talent, they continue to fail to deliver in the big moments, not tasting finals footy since 2011. And it seems that Shaun Johnson has been a representation of this.
With all the talent in the world, Johnson fails to show up in the big moments and deliver a consistent season for the Warriors. For the Warriors to excel and play finals in 2018, Johnson needs to play strong, consistent and reliable rugby league.
Wests Tigers – Josh Reynolds
Another high profile recruit in the offseason, Reynolds has been handed the task to steer the Tigers attack around the park, and provide the spark and energy that will be missing from the likes of James Tedesco and Mitchell Moses.
Many pundits questioned the recruitment of Reynolds, as his brash, in your face attack, would not complement or further enhance the development of young half Luke Brooks. With a new look team and Ivan Cleary’s first full season, Reynolds will no doubt feel the heat to resurrect the Tigers attack.
What do you think, Roarers?