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The 2019 premiers: the Roosters, Rabbitohs or Storm

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Expert
15th May, 2019
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2183 Reads

It’s only the end of Round 9 and already 13 of the NRL sides can pretty much be written off.

The Bulldogs just haven’t had the roster to compete.

Any wheels that Ivan Cleary thought the Panthers had have well and truly fallen off and been replaced by bricks while the bus is on the side of Mulgoa Road.

Every time the Titans look like getting it together they get whacked by the injury fairy, and they’re now already too far back.

With Jason Taumalolo back on deck the Cowboys look far more dangerous, but their backline just lacks the necessary venom for them to truly be a contender, even with Michael Morgan at the helm.

Jason Taumalolo

Jason Taumalolo is back for the Cowboys (Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

The Warriors… I mean, what do you even say? They are the first word in potential and last word in inconstancy and underachievement. They could make the finals, they could come last. It’s a mystery. What isn’t a mystery is that they won’t be in the 2019 grand final.

The Broncos’ poor recruitment and list management over the past decade or so has finally come home to roost. I mean, I’m okay if they want to put Tevita Pangai Junior on a massive contract, but I’m not sure I would. It looks likely they’ll miss the finals for just the third time in their existence.

Any real chance the Dragons had in this season that had such promise evaporated with the injuries the Corey Norman and Gareth Widdop. Add to that the NRLs ‘no fault’ suspension of Jack de Belin and the poor old Red V might as well start blooding the juniors now.

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The Knights should be doing a lot better as their list is actually pretty good. The results haven’t quite matched that potential. The Novocastrians may well make the finals, but they surely aren’t contenders in 2019.

While the Eels have won five of their nine games – some handsomely – they’ve been held scoreless by the Raiders, well beaten by the Roosters and shellacked by the Storm. As The Rugby League Project’s Andrew Ferguson told us, no side that’s conceded 50 points in a game has won the premiership that year.

Clint Gutherson

(Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

As the great win over the Storm showed, the Sharks can beat any side on their day. However, they have not been consistent at all this year and injuries have hamstrung them. What they wouldn’t give to have Valentine Holmes right now. Look, they could still give the title a shake this year, but they’ve got to get into a rhythm and injured players must get fit ASAP.

Exactly how do the Wests Tigers find themselves in sixth spot right now? When the Eels smashed them they looked like wooden spooners. They got beaten by the Bulldogs and the Panthers in the first meeting. However, they’ve won five games, so there they are. Does anyone truly believe they are a contender, though?

I thought the Sea Eagles’ lack of depth would see them in the bottom four in 2019 but it seems Des Hasler has really instilled some pride back into the club. Jake Trbojevic and Martin Taupau are Stars no doubt and – as usual – they’ve unearthed some good talent. So things are looking up at Brookvale, but they won’t win the 2019 premiership.

The Raiders might be building to something but the injury fairy looks like it will destroy this year’s chances. With no John Bateman, Joe Tapine, Jordan Rapana and Joseph Leilua for extended periods it’ll be hard to stay in the top four. And – as we know – if you aren’t in the top four come season’s end, you won’t win the title. Plus even if they do make it to the finals, the odds are good that the oldest Sutton boy will control their matches. Someone in green must have eaten his lunch or run over his dog given his handling of their matches against the Sea Eagles and Roosters.

So then we are left with the actual contenders.

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All three have great reasons to believe that they can win the premiership as well as issues that might stop them.

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The Melbourne Storm

Why they won’t win
The Storm aren’t quite what they used to be. Brodie Croft ain’t no Cooper Cronk and Jahrome Hughes is not Billy Slater. While not the oldest player in the NRL (that’s 37-year-old Paul Gallen), Cameron Smith turns 36 in June. Age must weary even the great referee whisperer. Can the future immortal – face it, he will be – drag his team to glory one more time? I’m not so sure. And if he gets injured, you can put a line through the Storm’s chances.

Why they will win
Of course Cam Smith can do it. He’s Cam Smith. Further, the Storm pack is just awesome and Bellamy ball is as effective as it ever was – especially with referees boss Graham Annesley ending the penalty blitz of 2018 with the result being that wrestling and continual defensive penalties are right back in vogue. Along with that, the Purple Horde’s discipline and focus can overwhelm any team.

The key man
How good is Cam Munster? I mean, just ask him. But he is so good. And he’s going to show you. He’s not scared of you and he’s going for your throat. If he continues this form, the Storm are definitely a real chance.

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Cam Munster

Cam Munster (Graham Denholm/Getty Images)

The South Sydney Rabbitohs

Why they won’t win
The Rabbitohs team is solid but it might lack that bit class to really enable them to reach for the golden ring. In 2014 there was Greg Inglis running the backline adding serious poise, experience and X factor. They haven’t replaced that. I mean, how can you? Latrell Mitchell I guess. Further, you just know that Sam Burgess is going to get a bit too much white line fever and get himself suspended at some stage. The only question is how long it will be for. While the Bunnies are far from a one-man team, without Big Sam they aren’t contenders.

Why they will win
Master coach Wayne Bennett knows how to mould clay like that wearing the cardinal and myrtle into premiership winners. His players will be able to fully commit to his instructions. That will make them formidable. Players like Dane Gagai, Cody Walker, Adam Reynolds and Damien Cook have great ability. And then there are the Burgii.

The key man
When Sam Burgess imposes himself as the alpha wolf on the field he grabs his side the ascendency. If he can stay on the field, the Bunnies can go all the way.

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The Sydney Roosters

Why they won’t win
No side since 1993 has won back-to-back titles. The Broncos triumph in 1993 was made a whole lot easier when Ricky Stuart snapped his ankle late in the season. Further, the long-term injury to Jake Friend has left them with Victor Radley as a makeshift hooker. That’s not ideal. It could hurt their chances.

Why they will win
Just look at that back line. It is stellar. All killer, no filler. Luke Keary is in career best form and Latrell Mitchell is very arguably the best player in the game right now. The pack also isn’t too shabby – and they clearly know how to get the job done at season’s end.

The key man
Cooper Patrick Cronk may be 35 but the old man with the sideways nose is the keystone that locks the Roosters together and makes them such a potent force. Uncle Nick sure knew what he was doing when he lured the Queenslander away from the Storm at such great expense. If Cronk’s shoulder holds up, the Roosters are good thing.

Once more, I predicted at season’s start that the Roosters would repeat their 2018 triumph. I see no reason to change that view.