Desperate for some league articles that don’t revolve around Latrell Mitchell, I’ve decided to have a go at predicting which teams will jump up into this year’s top eight – and at the expense of who.
Looking at recent trends over the past four seasons, five teams have managed to make the finals after qualifying the previous year. I am going to buck this trend and suggest that 2020 will see six of last year’s top eight again fight for premiership glory from the first week of September.
The six teams I predict will remain in the eight are the Roosters, Storm, Raiders, Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles and Broncos.
That sees both the Eels and Sharks having early showers and looking ahead to 2021.
Parramatta is a risky choice seeing as they are heading into this season seemingly well balanced and have improved on last year’s roster with the inclusions of Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Ryan Matterson – albeit at the expense of the equally impressive Manu Ma’u. They also sit fifth in line in betting to be 2020 premiers. I have gone out on a limb here, but my thinking revolves around the Eels struggles to deal with the weight of expectation.
The 2017 season saw them finish the year on a positive note, with many believing they were sitting pretty for a premiership tilt the following year. They had finally obtained a premier halfback who was gelling well with the rest of the team. History tells us that they finished 2018 at the bottom of the ladder, the consensus being Mitchell Moses and Corey Norman didn’t complement each other and the team had failed to replace Semi Radradra.
These issues have since been rectified, but 2021 could come with a new batch of excuses. I don’t expect their fall from grace to be as dramatic as 2018, but they don’t feature in my top eight.
The other team I see slipping down the ladder is Cronulla. This comes down to roster balance, a problem that plagued them last season. The purchase of Jesse Ramian has only muddied the waters further, with John Morris, Josh Dugan and Bronson Xerri all either playing out of position or showing signs of unrest. Shaun Johnson’s reputation of struggling to close games has also followed him across the Tasman. Their forward pack also doesn’t strike fear into opponents as it did in years past.
If two teams go down, two must go up. My first prediction for 2020 improvers is the team that no-one seems to want to play for, the Wests Tigers. This one might be more of a romantic rather than logical selection, but their consistency coming ninth shows that they have to make only minor adjustments to move up one more spot on the ladder.
My thinking here mostly revolves around the coach and his ability to get the most out of his team. After consecutive seasons finishing ninth, the Tigers trained through last year’s finals series despite not qualifying. It is the first instance in my memory of a team doing that and creates an atmosphere at the club that shows if you want to achieve, you need to put the work in. After two years on the outer, Josh Reynolds and his desire to win may have a positive impact on the squad if he is given the No. 9 jersey.
Ryan Matterson and Latrell Mitchell’s reluctance to play for the club provides more evidence of the battle that lies ahead of them, and they will probably need one or two rookies to play well above their market value for this prediction to come to fruition. In saying that, streaks are made to be broken and it has been a long time between finals drinks for the joint venture club.
I struggled with my second pick from last year’s top eight as I see both the Knights and Cowboys as having finals-quality rosters in 2020. Therefore I have looked at the coaches in making my decision to go with the Novocastrians. Nathan Brown has shown to be a good rebuilding coach but underachieved with the cattle at his disposal last season. Adam O’Brien is highly rated and completed his apprenticeship under Craig Bellamy and Trent Robinson, the two undisputed coaching heavyweights of the last decade.
New ideas are just what the Knights need, and with five State of Origin representatives as well as smart recruitment, with Jayden Brailey and two young guns in Phoenix Crossland and Bradman Best, 2020 is destined to be the year that their horror spell comes to an end.
To finish off I will put 2020’s top eight in finishing order, providing something to look back on at the end of the season.