Fans across the country are optimistically proclaiming “It’s our year!” The News Limited scribes are frothing at the mouth, ready to unleash thousands of ‘crisis’ articles. Off-season scandals will now give way to scandals of the in-season variety.
It can all only mean one thing: the NRL is upon us.
Which also means it is time for my fearless predictions for the year.
Coming off a ridiculously impressive score – 4.5 out of 4 – for my 2018 predictions, my confidence for 2019 is only matched by my smugness. Can I go one better this season, and score 5.5 out of 5? Given my dodgy maths, I really don’t see why not.
So you may as well go ahead and bet your mortgage on the following five fearless predictions.
1. The Roosters will become the NRL’s first back-to-back premiers
I picked the Chooks to win the premiership last year, and I’m doubling down and predicting them to win it again.
On the surface this selection doesn’t appear fearless at all, as one could argue that it’s not all that brave to say the best team the year before will be the best team again.
However, that conveniently overlooks history, for as I alluded to in the prediction itself, no team has ever won the NRL competition in consecutive seasons. That’s right: dating back to the first NRL premiership in 1998, we’ve never had repeat winners.
With their experience, talent, coaching, culture, recruitment, cap management and resources, the Roosters are an extremely impressive organisation.
Considering all that, it would be nice if they could increase their crowds a little bit, but be that as it may, it won’t stop them from once again beating all challengers – plus history – to be the last team standing on the first weekend in October.
2. The NSW Blues will win the State of Origin series 3-0
The Queensland dynasty hasn’t just come to an end; it’s dead, buried and forgotten. Seriously, can anyone even remember any Maroons players from their supposed ‘golden era’? I can’t.
NSW won the Origin series last year behind a new crop of exciting, young, talented players and the fresh approach of coach Brad Fittler. In many respects the Blues are ahead of schedule, as the new culture and personnel that was infused into the camp in 2018 were meant to pay dividends this year.
Instead NSW unceremoniously ended the career of a Queensland Origin great and romped to a deserved series victory, a year ahead of most people’s predictions. (Ahem, not mine.)
This season they’ll go one further and complete a series whitewash.
3. The New Zealand Warriors will challenge … for the wooden spoon
The only thing stopping me from going all out and saying New Zealand will win finish dead last is the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs. And the Parramatta Eels.
Those two teams are putrid, and it particularly hurts me that I think the Dogs are the absolute favourites to take home the spoon. That playing roster ensures I’m as uninspired and pessimistic as I’ve ever been as a Doggies fan.
But back to the Warriors, who I think should be fined for negligent management for the way they treated Shaun Johnson. I cannot believe how lowly New Zealand rates one of the best halfbacks in the competition, and I feel they will immediately rue letting him walk.
So much so that I think the Warriors will struggle this year and finish in the 12 to 14 range on the ladder.
4. The Brisbane Broncos and St George Illawarra Dragons will miss the eight
I had a lot of success with my ‘two-for-one’ prediction last season, so I’m repeating the recipe and once again picking two teams who made the finals last year to drop out in 2019.
The Broncos have a lot of talent across the park but the halves remain somewhat a concern. Incumbents Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima, along with youngster Thomas Dearden and off-season recruit Sean O’Sullivan, won’t instil too much fear in the opposition each week.
All have talent, especially Milford, who should be nicknamed ‘The Shower’, such is his propensity to run hot and cold. Yet in a league dominated by quality halves, it’s an area that may well be Brisbane’s Achilles heel. Again.
Meanwhile, the Dragons just have too many question marks. Can they fit three playmakers – Ben Hunt, Gareth Widdop and Corey Norman – seamlessly into their attack?
Will Matt Dufty adjust to a new role?
Is Paul McGregor a good coach?
Will Widdop’s end-of-season departure have him motivated to leave on a high or does he already have one foot out the door?
Will the club miss the veteran calmness of Jason Nightingale?
Can the club survive the Origin period, when they could lose Tyson Frizell, Paul Vaughan, Ben Hunt and Tariq Sims?
And the elephant in the room: how will the club deal with the Jack de Belin drama, along with the potential loss of the talented backrower?
Too many questions for mine. Sorry Dragons fans.
5. Trent Barrett will be coaching an NRL team by season’s end
There are a couple of relatively high-profile coaches without gigs for the 2019 season, including ex-Manly coach Trent Barrett.
Many people feel Barrett was handed a raw deal at the Sea Eagles, while just as many people will tell you he didn’t cover himself in glory at Brookvale. The truth, as ever, is probably somewhere in the middle, but there’s still plenty of people who rate Barrett as a coach.
As such, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him back coaching before the 2019 season is over.