‘I’m gonna play my game… things do happen, and I don’t apologise for that.’
Rating the finals chances of the 16 NRL teams this far out from the start of a new season is a challenging prospect.
But it’s always entertaining and gives fans something to debate during the long summer months. To quote the iLOVEFRiDAY song, who will hit, and who will miss, the finals in NRL season number 22?
Dylan Brown (2019), Andrew Davey (2019), Blake Ferguson (Sydney Roosters, 2021), Shaun Lane (Manly Sea Eagles, 2020), Junior Paulo (Canberra Raiders, 2022), Maika Sivo (Penrith Panthers, 2020), Stefano Utoikamanu (2019)
Kirisome Auva’a (retired), Kenny Edwards (Catalan Dragons), Cameron King (released), Suaia Matagi (Huddersfield Giants), Beau Scott (retired), Tony Williams (released)
Hit or Miss?
The only way is up for Parramatta, with the worst outcome for them in 2019 being winning the despised wooden spoon again. The Eels have recruited gun outside back Blake Ferguson from the Roosters. Ferguson will be 29 when the next season kicks off, and it remains to be seen how long he can sustain his incredible levels of production.
He’ll get their starts off on a roll, but how much difference can a winger make to a struggling team?
The recruitment of big boppers Shaun Lane and Junior Paulo will improve the Eels’ meterage. Last season, none of their forwards cracked the 100-meter barrier consistently, except for enforcer Nathan Brown.
You can expect the Eels to average an extra 1-200 meters per game with the addition of these players. But yardage was only one of Parramatta’s problems last year. So long as playmakers Corey Norman, Mitchell Moses and Clint “King” Gutherson continue to misfire, expect the Eels attacking woes to continue.
Then there are the other issues of poor defence, discipline, a lack of a dependable dummy half and Jarryd Hayne to contend with. Probably too much of a hole to dig out off during one offseason.
Verdict: Miss finals
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
Jade Anderson (2019), Cade Cust (2019), Kane Elgey (Gold Coast Titans, 2020), Brendan Elliot (Gold Coast Titans, 2019), Reuben Garrick (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2019), Trent Hodkinson (Cronulla Sharks, 2019), Albert Hopoate (2019), Sean Keppie (2019), Semisi Kioa (2019), Luke Metcalf (2019), Haumole Olakau’atu (2019), Corey Waddell (Penrith Panthers, 2019)
Lewis Brown (released), Jackson Hastings (Salford Red Devils), Brian Kelly (Gold Coast Titans), Shaun Lane (Parramatta Eels), Darcy Lussick (Toronto Wolfpack), Joey Lussick (Salford Red Devils), Akuila Uate (Huddersfield Giants), Jonathan Wright (retired), Tom Wright (rugby union)
Hit or Miss?
Manly-Warringah are an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, arranged in a puzzle.
On their day, they have the attacking flair to wipe teams off the park. Unfortunately for their supporters, such days are few and far between. A lack of consistency has plagued the side since the retirements of their golden generation of 2007-2013. Will Des Hasler/Trent Barret/Bob Fulton have what it takes to make the Eagles reach the finals in 2019?
On paper, the Sea Eagles have retained the bulk of their stars. Their biggest off-season recruit to date is Kane Elgey, a talented playmaker, with poor defence, admittedly a great fit for the Eagles’ roster. Other than that, they signed Brendan Elliot.
You know, the guy who used to play at the Roosters and Titans? No? Well, he’s a handy player. You just don’t know it yet.
The key is to get the stars of the team (ie Taupau, Trbojevic (x2), Cherry-Evans, Walker, Fonua-Blake) to be able to perform consistently at a high level. How do they do this?
I’m not sure. But Dessie sure does. Expect their defence to improve under the golden-haired god. Once this improves, so will their ladder position.
Verdict: Hit finals
Gold Coast Titans
Jesse Arthars (South Sydney Rabbitohs, 2019), Shannon Boyd (Canberra Raiders, 2022), Ryley Jacks (Melbourne Storm, 2019), Brian Kelly (Manly Sea Eagles, 2021), Tyrone Peachey (Penrith Panthers, 2021), Tyrone Roberts (Warrington Wolves, 2020)
Kane Elgey (Manly Sea Eagles), Brendan Elliot (Manly Sea Eagles), Joe Greenwood (Wigan Warriors), Konrad Hurrell (Leeds Rhinos), Ryan Simpkins (retired)
Hit or Miss?
The Titans have not made the finals since 2016 when Neil Henry led them to a controversial first-week exit against the villainous Broncos. At least the Cowboys exacted sweet revenge upon them a week later.
That short-lived campaign broke a six-season finals drought. Recent success has been minimal, so fans are getting hungry for a return to September action.
The Titans have recruited well and now boast one of the most impressive forward packs in the competition. Behemoths Ryan James and Shannon Boyd form one of the best front row combinations in the game. Jai Arrow is a weapon, a workhorse capable of regularly making 150+ and 30+ tackles a game.
Kevin Proctor, Keegan Hipgrave, Jarrod Wallace, Morgan Boyle and Leilani Latu are less consistent but have the size and skill to keep the momentum going. In Bryce Cartwright and Tyrone Peachey, Garth Brennan also has two of the most brilliant offensive forwards in the game.
If they can reach their potential, my goodness, how dangerous.
The Titans have also picked up the reliable Ryley Jacks from Melbourne and prodigal son Tyrone Roberts from Warrington. Expect these two to exert pressure on Ashley Taylor. I know, he’s led the team in try assists and all other attacking stats since he joined the club.
In my opinion, he looks complacent. Complacency breeds laziness, and I don’t think he has done enough to cement his position in the halves. Hopefully, he can kick on and lead the Titans to clutch wins in crucial matches. I hope he does. If not, expect Brennan to make changes.
The team is there to make the finals. But, as the Panthers discovered, unbridled talent doesn’t translate to immediate on field success. It takes hard work and dedication. If the Titans can rediscover that hard edge they possessed under Henry, with this line-up, they will hit 2019 in a big way.
My gut says they won’t, my head says they will. I’m going against the saying. If they don’t make the finals now, they never will.
Verdict: Hit finals
North Queensland Cowboys
Kurt Baptiste (Sydney Roosters, 2019), Ben Barba (St Helens RLFC, 2019), Nene Macdonald (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2021), Josh McGuire (Brisbane Broncos, 2022), Tom Opacic (Brisbane Broncos, 2020), Dan Russell (2020)
Josh Chudleigh (released), Lachlan Coote (St Helens RLFC), Shaun Fensom (released), Sam Hoare (released), Shaun Hudson (released), Kyle Laybutt (released), Kane Linnett (Hull Kingston Rovers), Johnathan Thurston (retired), Antonio Winterstein (retired)
Hit or Miss?
The Cowboys have recruited astutely since the conclusion of season 2018. Management have paid close attention to the issues which plagued the side and have set about correcting them by writing cheques. Hey, if it works for the Roosters, it should work for all.
The Cowboys boast the best forward pack in the competition, chocked full of representatives. But the same thing was said this time last year and look what happened. Why will 2019 be different?
Jordan McLean and Matt Scott hit their straps after returning from injury against the Knights to provide hope of a stronger opening in 2019. Josh McGuire has the ability of turning a game with his aggression. I’ve never played in the forward pack of any footy team, but I could imagine seeing someone like McGuire tearing the opposition to shreds would inspire the rest to greater heights.
Kind of like if you were in a war and saw someone from your squad eliminate an enemy bunker single-handedly. The iconic one-eyed “Moose” will make a huge difference to momentum and morale.
The Cowboys also boast genuine game-breaking ability at the back for the first time since “Mango” Matt Bowen graced the turf of 1300 Smiles Stadium. Ben Barba is a weapon. He was in 2012. Not so much from 2013-15. He was in 2016, and again for Saint Helens this year.
He’s back, he’s hungry, and he wants to cement the Cowboys No.1 jersey. Expect a big season from him.
Nene MacDonald will add genuine strike and solid yardage to the left flank. Kurt Baptiste will provide snappy service and another attacking option from dummy half in conjunction with Jake Granville. The Cowboys haven’t enjoyed a dual attacking hooker rotation since the Payne-Segeyaro combination of 2011-12.
The real question mark lies over the ability of Michael Morgan to rediscover his best form to lead the Cowboys around the park, with the assistance of the talented Jake Clifford and Te Maire Martin.
The cream always rises to the top, and Morgan, like the rest of the team, will be keen to atone for a quiet 2018.
Verdict: Hit finals
In the next edition we will consider the finals prospects of the Bulldogs, Newcastle Knights, Canberra Raiders and Wests Tigers.