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My NRL top eight for the 2018 season

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

By Mary Konstantopoulos, Mary Konstantopoulos is a Roar Expert

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    Mitchell Pearce during training for the Knights. (AAP Image/Darren Pateman)

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    It’s just three more sleeps until the 2018 NRL season begins.

    This is my favourite part of the season because at this particular point my team (and every other one) can win the premiership. The mistakes and disappointments of last year have (almost) been forgotten and it really is a fresh start for each of the 16 sides.

    It’s also a fun time of the year because I get the chance to make some fearless predictions which will largely be forgotten by the end of the year (unless I’m right and then this article should be shared again!).

    The question I’ve been asking people is ‘who makes your top eight this season?’ and the responses have been fascinating because, in my view, this is going to be one of the most competitive seasons we have ever seen.

    It speaks to the evenness of our league (one that has seen five different premiers in the last five years) that I truly believe that every single team is capable of making the finals in 2018.

    So after much thought, I give you my top eight:

    1. Melbourne Storm
    2. North Queensland Cowboys
    3. Sydney Roosters
    4. Cronulla Sharks
    5. Parramatta Eels
    6. Brisbane Broncos
    7. St George Illawarra Dragons
    8. Newcastle Knights

    Cameron Smith NRL Rugby League Melbourne Storm Grand Final 2017

    (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

    I am pretty confident that teams one to six will make the eight. But I’m less so about the last two spots, which are up for grabs.

    I can’t recall a season where so many teams are heading into Round 1 as unknown quantities.

    Rather than being remembered for drama, this off-season will be remembered for transfers and the number of changes we have seen at the clubs both in player and coaching personnel. So many teams head into this season looking dramatically different to 2017.

    Ben Hunt and James Graham have joined the Dragons.

    Aiden Guerra, Connor Watson, Kayln Ponga and Mitchell Pearce have joined the Knights.

    For the Dragons, James Graham will be key in bolstering a forward pack in need of some aggression and mongrel.

    For the Knights, part of me predicting that they will make the eight may be hope for the ever loyal Newcastle fans. But their squad is strong and if they don’t make the eight this year, they will go close.

    But what about teams that have missed my eight? There are several there that may surprise all of us.

    You have the Gold Coast Titans and their new coach Garth Brennan, recently bolstered by the addition of Bryce Cartwright. Brennan has some talent at his disposal including Ryan James, Ash Taylor, Leilani Latu and Michael Gordon.

    It was good to hear Brennan admitting that he wants his team to play exciting, attacking football this year, so what the Titans look like this season will be anyone’s guess.

    What about the Canterbury Bulldogs, who head into this season with a new captain (Josh Jackson), a new CEO (Andrew Hill) and a new Chairperson (Lynne Anderson)? The squad will also look very different this year with the losses of Josh Reynolds and James Graham and the inclusions of Keiran Foran and Aaron Woods.

    It is a foolish fan that writes off the Bulldogs, so while they don’t make my eight, I wouldn’t be surprised if they snuck in.

    The South Sydney Rabbitohs also intrigue me. For fans of the red and green, 2017 can only be described as a disappointment. The Bunnies finished the season with 22 points after compiling just nine wins and 15 losses.

    But there have been plenty of changes this season. Greg Inglis will return fit and healthy and they have a new coach in Anthony Seibold. There is also plenty of potential in the squad including Alex Johnstone, Cody Walker and Angus Crichton.

    For Souths, 2018 could be either a success or completely written off as a rebuilding year.

    So who doesn’t make it?

    One team that plenty of people have making their top eight is the Penrith Panthers. Truth be told, I just don’t see it.

    Yes, the Panthers have talent – Dylan Edwards, Nathan Cleary, Josh Mansour, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and James Maloney.

    Nathan Cleary Penrith Panthers NRL Rugby League 2017

    (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    But something just doesn’t feel right for me.

    We’ve seen the likes of Matt Moylan and Bryce Cartwright depart the club this year. It seems bizarre to me that the club would be willing to part ways with two such talented players who looked to be a key part of the nucleus that the Panthers were looking to take into the next five years.

    Josh Mansour has also indicated that 2018 may be his last at the club.

    If there’s drama off the field, then talent on it isn’t going to be enough to save the Panthers.

    Then there’s the Warriors – my wooden spooners for the year.

    When I predicted my top eight last year, I included the Warriors and said that if they didn’t make the finals in 2017 I would never pick them in my eight again.

    I have stayed true to my word and despite a squad that features the likes of Shaun Johnson, Issac Luke, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Adam Blair and Tohu Harris, I cannot recall a player that has gone to the Warriors and become a better footballer.

    The Warriors are serial underachievers and will underachieve again in 2018.

    Because I’m feeling generous, I have one more prediction.

    The Sydney Roosters and the North Queensland Cowboys will play in the grand final this year and the Cowboys will win.

    Bring on Round 1 – if there’s one thing I’m sure about it it’s that it will be an exceptionally entertaining season.

    Mary Konstantopoulos
    Mary Konstantopoulos

    Mary Konstantopoulos is a lawyer, sports advocate and proud owner and founder of the Ladies Who empire, including Ladies who League, Ladies who Legspin, Ladies who Lineout and Ladies who Leap. You can find her podcast on iTunes and find her on Twitter @mary__kaye and @ladieswholeague.

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    The Crowd Says (51)

    • March 5th 2018 @ 7:28am
      Adam said | March 5th 2018 @ 7:28am | ! Report

      I don’t see the Eels, Sharks or Knights making the 8 in 2018. For the Eels they have a squad lacking in forward power up front and haven’t replaced Radradra in any way while Hayne will be more miss than hit. The Sharks’ halves are a real concern for me, especially with no Maloney while Dugan is injury prone. The Knights I see finishing in the bottom 4. Pearce has spent his entire career behind a formidable forward pack but it’s a big drop in standard at the Knights. For me the top 8 is as follows:
      Cowboys
      Roosters
      Storm
      Dragons
      Titans
      Broncos
      Raiders
      Warriors

      • Columnist

        March 5th 2018 @ 8:15am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | March 5th 2018 @ 8:15am | ! Report

        Adam this is a really interesting top 8! What makes you think the Titans will finish so highly? 🙂

        • March 5th 2018 @ 9:13am
          Adam said | March 5th 2018 @ 9:13am | ! Report

          I think they will flourish without all the Hayne attention and a new coach as well. Ash Taylor is primed for a big year and they picked up a handy player in Will Matthews too

    • March 5th 2018 @ 7:42am
      Alec said | March 5th 2018 @ 7:42am | ! Report

      The dragons? They couldnt match it with a weakened Souths outfit despite 10+ penalties and a sin binning, absolute mud the bunnies will finish above them

      • Columnist

        March 5th 2018 @ 8:17am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | March 5th 2018 @ 8:17am | ! Report

        Is that based on trial form? Because if so, the Knights beat Melbourne and then the Eels beat the Knights which then I guess means that the Eels should be tile contenders?

        As I said in my piece, there is a lot of unknowns about Souths and I wasn’t willing to take the risk.

        • March 5th 2018 @ 8:31am
          Alec said | March 5th 2018 @ 8:31am | ! Report

          The difference is the dragons were completely full strength and Melbourne were not. Souths welcome Inglis and Gagai in with a much better attack this year. Top 8 should be a minimum with the side they’ve got

        • March 5th 2018 @ 8:33am
          Alec said | March 5th 2018 @ 8:33am | ! Report

          I personally expected the dragons to edge us when Inglis and AJ left after 20 minutes, but somehow they didnt

      • March 5th 2018 @ 9:12am
        Adam said | March 5th 2018 @ 9:12am | ! Report

        You do realise it was a trial? Dragons pretty much played their reserve grade second half

        • March 5th 2018 @ 10:21am
          Alec said | March 5th 2018 @ 10:21am | ! Report

          And? Souths were far more weakened we had our spine and centres sit out the 2nd half with Farah at hooker

        • Roar Rookie

          March 5th 2018 @ 7:13pm
          3_Hats SSTID 2014 said | March 5th 2018 @ 7:13pm | ! Report

          It intrigues me when fans can only see their side of the ledger.
          The Mergers had their reserves on in the second half.
          So what.
          It is called rotation as Graham and their Lock came back on.

          Adam Reynolds, Kyle Turner and Cam Murray didn’t even play
          Inglis had 19 minutes, AJ had about 31 minutes.
          We also had plenty of young blokes come on in the second half.

          The bottom line is in the first half the Dragons had about 76% of the ball and all the field position they had about 10 opportunities yet only scored 2 trys.

          Souths had 4 opportunities and scored 3 trys and all of them were slick with precision.
          Souths defence and attacking ball movement was 10 times better than the Drags.

    • March 5th 2018 @ 8:25am
      KingCowboy said | March 5th 2018 @ 8:25am | ! Report

      Love your prediction of the Cows winning it overall Mary. I have said on other posts that our only concern is at dummy half. A lot of our play comes off the dummy half and if Granville goes down, we could struggle. Besides that, it’s our P’ship to lose. With both JT and JT both playing through the Origin series, we shouldn’t have a drop off there either.

      Really like the look of your Eels this year. Norman has turned into one of the best players in the NRL. I see him and Moses going well. I hope Cameron King gets to show how good he truly is. Injuries have really hurt him as a footy player but if he can stay injury free, people will see how good this kid truly really be.

      Storm are a great team and they were far and away the best team last year. In saying that, you can’t lose a player of Cronk’s quality and expect everything just to keep on rolling. I think they will make the top 4 but Croft will need a year or two before they will be true title contenders again. I do rate him but he needs time.

      Roosters are lacking grunt up front. Thought Napa and JWH were disappointing last year. Cronk will be great for them but just not enough power in their forwards.

      Broncos have no true half back. Love Kodi N as an impact player off the bench but to me, just isn’t a good enough halfback to beat the top sides. Real plus for them is Jack Bird. This kid has something about him.

      My real smokey is the Titans. They picked up some quality players and letting Hayne go is another plus IMO. Just the drama he brings isn’t worth it. Ash Taylor will have a massive year and I actually think he is a smokey for Dally M player of the year. An under the radar signing was Gordon. I think he will bring a level head to this team from the back. A lot of people have them coming last but call me crazy, I have them in the top 4.

      • Columnist

        March 5th 2018 @ 8:34am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | March 5th 2018 @ 8:34am | ! Report

        Good shouts there, KingCowboy!

        The Cowboys are really the obvious front runners. Last year they were exceptional even without Matt Scott and JT and if anything, losing JT helped strengthen the team because it really allowed Morgan to develop. I hope the injury Gods are kind to the squad, because I really think they will be something special this year.

        As for the Titans – I don’t think it’s crazy. They are such an unknown at the moment though so they are hard to predict. They do have plenty of attacking prowess though and it would make me really happy to see them make it in too!

    • March 5th 2018 @ 9:05am
      rossco said | March 5th 2018 @ 9:05am | ! Report

      I think the Roosters have a lot of hype about them that is undeserved. I say this because whilst their backline is good they are not so in the forwards and have little depth to bring up when injuries occur. Also, I am agnostic about Cronk in a new team.

      I’ve been proved wrong many times but I don’t think the Roosters are GF material.

      • Columnist

        March 5th 2018 @ 9:13am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | March 5th 2018 @ 9:13am | ! Report

        Rossco, you definitely aren’t the only person saying this.

        Who do you think makes the Grand Final?

        • March 5th 2018 @ 1:23pm
          Fred said | March 5th 2018 @ 1:23pm | ! Report

          Tigers v Knights, or Tigers v Warriors grand final. 2018 is the year of the year of the underdog!

        • Roar Rookie

          March 5th 2018 @ 4:18pm
          Fats1996 said | March 5th 2018 @ 4:18pm | ! Report

          Roosters have this nice ability to forget how to play footy for about 10-20 mins in big games. Its kinda funny.

    • March 5th 2018 @ 9:22am
      Paul said | March 5th 2018 @ 9:22am | ! Report

      Mary, I can see reasons for all of your teams, bar Newcastle, being in the finals. I suspect, as you suggested, you might be hoping on behalf of Newcastle supporters rather than basing this on solid fact. In saying that, I think they should be certainties to make the finals in 2019.

      I reckon there are 3 sides who are smokies for the finals; Manly, Souths and Canterbury. Not sure which will make the eigth spot but it probably doesn’t matter a lot. I can’t see anyone getting close to the Cowboys and Storm, as long as they keep their main guys relatively fit.

      • Columnist

        March 5th 2018 @ 9:25am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | March 5th 2018 @ 9:25am | ! Report

        Paul, I think your last point is a good one, in that this is another season where I feel like there will be a big gap between the top say 4 teams and then the rest. Those last two spots in the 8 could go to almost anyone, but I don’t see 7th or 8th being competitive come finals time.

        • March 5th 2018 @ 9:56am
          Paul said | March 5th 2018 @ 9:56am | ! Report

          It’s not to say there can’t be a “fairytale” GF as there was last year with one playing eight. The only problem with that scenario is the likely score line, with one winning by a distance.

    • Roar Guru

      March 5th 2018 @ 10:03am
      Nat said | March 5th 2018 @ 10:03am | ! Report

      Hi Mary,
      Newcastle hey? Last season was quite predicable and the ruthless Storm gave an air of inevitability very early on. This season there will be a bolter or two and I have no idea who that will be. For the people of the Hunter I hope it’s them but I cannot see it – yet. It will be interesting if they do start off very strong and Pearce earns another start on SoO, can the haters argue then? I think the Dogs and Souths will be contenders this year, simply too much talent to remain down the bottom again. Sorry to say but maybe for Parra and Knights.

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