Every few years it comes up. Growing the game. Expanding into new markets. And hand-in-hand with the concept of expansion comes relocation.
We have heard a lot about the boom rookies set to take the NRL by storm in 2019.
Names like Corey Allan, Bronson Xerri and Dylan Brown have been thrown around by rugby league fans and experts alike throughout this off-season.
But have we overlooked the already established first-graders that are set to stamp their mark on the competition with a break-out season?
Form slumps, injuries or inexperience may have prevented some players from reaching their full potential on the field, so its time dust off the crystal ball and predict which player at your NRL club is primed to hit best form in 2019.
Brisbane Broncos: Jack Bird
It’s no secret that the former NSW Origin star’s first season at Red Hill was not a happy one. Bird struggled with fitness issues and was shuffled around between centre and an unfamiliar position at halfback before having his season cut short through injury.
According to new coach Anthony Seibold, the “deceptively strong” former Shark has had an uninterrupted pre-season and looks set for a permanent shift to left centre. A settled role within an expansive Brisbane game plan under Seibold sees Jack Bird primed to be a big improver in 2019.
Canberra Raiders: Emre Guler
Although he will not feature in Round 1, the imposing 21 year-old front rower is set to build upon a promising debut season last year.
The Under-20s New South Wales and Australian representative will have added responsibility on his shoulders this year after the departures of experienced props Junior Paulo and Shannon Boyd.
Guler has all the talent to make the most of this opportunity and establish himself as a cornerstone of Canberra’s forward pack as the season progresses.
Canterbury Bulldogs: Kieran Foran
The 2011 premiership winner only managed 12 appearances in his first campaign at the Bulldogs after crossing the Tasman from the Warriors, until a toe injury drew curtains on his debut season in blue and white.
For the first time in four years, after a rotten run of persistent injuries, Foran has managed to get through a full pre-season, leaving him in his best physical condition since his days at the Sea Eagles.
With the emergence of Lachlan Lewis last season, Foran will also have a settled partner in the halves, leaving him primed for a much improved season in 2019.
Cronulla Sharks: Matt Moylan
Although the former Panther had a relatively successful debut season at the Sharks in 2018, a shift back to his more natural position of fullback could see him return to the form that catapulted him into the New South Wales Origin side in 2016.
The addition of Shaun Johnson, along with the steadiness of halfback Chad Townsend, will take pressure off Moylan to organise the side’s attack, allowing him to roam the field and inject himself into the game when he spots an opportunity.
Gold Coast Titans: Ashley Taylor
The dynamic halfback is a player of immense ability that has somewhat lost his way in recent years.
Taylor has acquired the services of Matthew Johns over the off-season, who encouraged the 23-year-old to reignite the running game that saw him touted as a future representative star in his first season on the Glitter Strip.
The return of Tyrone Roberts and emergence of AJ Brimson will take pressure off Taylor and allow him to place more focus on his natural running game, while also playing behind a representative-calibre forward pack.
Manly Sea Eagles: Moses Suli
A full pre-season under a disciplinarian in Des Hasler will do the wayward young centre a world of good.
Poor attitude and application to training nearly cost the former teen prodigy his NRL career after being shown the door by the Tigers and Bulldogs.
After a strong preparation for season 2019, Suli is now in the best shape of his career. The suspension of Dylan Walker opens the door for the 20-year-old to stamp his mark on the NRL competition, as he looks set to turn heads this year.
Melbourne Storm: Brodie Croft
After being branded as a Cooper Cronk clone so early in his career, the crafty Melbourne No.7 was in and out of first grade in 2018.
Croft came into his own towards the back end of the season and was a standout player for Craig Bellamy throughout the finals series, showcasing a strong turn of pace and a willingness to take on the line.
Croft will be better for the experience in 2019 and you can expect him to cement his place at halfback and flourish for Melbourne this year.
Newcastle Knights: Connor Watson
The former Roosters live-wire will move to his preferred fullback position to start the season, after a much publicised positional switch with Newcastle whiz kid Kalyn Ponga.
There will be pressure for Watson to perform from the outset, after Ponga set the completion alight in the No.1 jersey last season.
However, the fullback role will complement Watson’s natural running game and will likely bring out his best form in 2019.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where we will run through the predictions for the most improved player for the remaining eight teams in the NRL.