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Under pressure: Who needs to perform in NRL 2020?

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Roar Guru
4th February, 2020
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A fresh season is nearly upon us, and while everyone is hungry for success, those responsible for providing it are under the blowtorch.

Here are five of players, coaches and clubs who will be feeling the heat in 2020.

Matt Moylan
The hottest new kid on the block in 2014, Moylan and Jamie Soward propelled the Panthers to a preliminary final, before injury prematurely ended his 2015.

Under a new coach in 2016, Moylan spearheaded the Panthers’ finals campaign, this time only getting them to Week 2.

Signed to a long-term deal after playing Origin in 2016, and unveiled as captain for 2017, Moylan bizarrely went AWOL at the pointy end of 2017 and in 2018 he was wearing Sharks colours.

Once talked about as the future Darren Lockyer, with plenty of match-winning highlights to boot, the last two seasons have been mediocre. Shifted between fullback and five-eighth, he has barely rated a mention in Origin discussions.

Now part of a jam-packed backline, it’s time for Moylan to return to his best football.

With Shaun Johnson and Chad Townsend the obvious halves partnership, Moylan will start the year at the back, but with Josh Dugan on big money and also having played fullback, the pressure is on.

On paper, this side has a great roster, and the running game of Johnson, the control of Townsend and the ball-playing of Moylan should bring plenty of points.


If they don’t, it will add fuel to rumours of cultural problems.

Russell Packer tackled Matt Moylan

AAP Image/Daniel Muñoz

​Paul McGregor
This is the seventh season ‘Mary’ has been mentor at the Dragons and it hasn’t been a joyous ride. The Red V have made the finals a couple of times under McGregor but never looked premiership material.

The side were plain awful to watch at the end of last season and it led to a club review headed by Phil Gould.

In his time, McGregor he has made significant signings, not least Ben Hunt, but he struggles to get the most out of players week to week.

While Gareth Widdop’s departure is a big hole to fill, it also means the club have lost an excuse, and cannot be depending on Widdop to spearhead their campaign.

Hunt and Corey Norman have 400 games of NRL experience between them and have both been deemed good enough to play Origin. The pair lead a backline that is young but has plenty to offer, while there’s plenty of experience in the forwards.

St George Illawarra might not have a premiership-winning squad, but it is a competitive one, and far better than other clubs in terms of their spine.


Unfortunately for McGregor, if his charges start slowly, he is the common denominator and might be out the door well before his contract expires.

Paul McGregor

Is Paul McGregor the right man to lead the Dragons? (Photo by Matt Blyth/Getty Images)

Anthony Milford
58-0. What a way to end a season. It eliminated the achievement of getting to the finals in the first place.

Brisbane’s capitulation to Parramatta in the first week of the finals last year cannot be squarely placed on one player – it shows how far off the pace the team is as a whole.

Milford reminds me a lot of Matt Moylan. On his day he is a bona fide match-winner, at other times he can be the most frustratingly uninterested player on the field.


The difference is that Milford is the highest-paid player, in a one-club city where standards have always been higher than at other clubs.

They have a proud history of making the finals and contesting premierships, but Brisbane is in a drought and the fans are getting restless.

Many felt Milford deserved the Clive Churchill in a losing side in the 2015 grand final, such was his performance, but five years on and he isn’t the talented rookie or young gun he was back then, he is an Origin representative with 170 NRL matches under his belt.

The last champion five-eighth at Brisbane had a couple of qualities that Milford needs to work on. Lockyer made things happen and wanted his hands on the football when the game was there to be won. Milford needs to do the same with the profile he has and the money he is on.

Milford cannot sit back and be choosey about his involvement, he needs to turn a game and have that influence or the Broncos face another mediocre exit.

Stephen Kearney
I feel sorry for the coach of the Warriors, I really do – it’s the hardest gig in the NRL coaching ranks.

What should be such a vibrant, talented team, with a home fortress full of parochial fans is quite often the most disappointing team.

In a results-driven business, Stephen Kearney doesn’t have the results.


I was sceptical about his appointment from the word go and my thoughts haven’t changed. He struggled big time at Parramatta and has done the same across the ditch.

In the same way that players go to Melbourne and seem to get better, players go to New Zealand and seem to get worse.

The Warriors need a coach like Craig Bellamy, Des Hasler or Trent Robinson – a disciplinarian who isn’t intimidated by the challenge, the players or the culture. They need to start again with a focus on development and a long-term strategy.

I haven’t seen evidence of this from the Warriors for a long time. They tolerate the enigmatic, talented players who fire seemingly when they choose, and they haven’t had the resolve in defence required to compete in a long time.

They often rely on a player with a touch of brilliance to boost their wins column but who cannot provide them with consistency.

Sadly I don’t see Kearney as the man to bring about the change necessary to be competitive. This will be the fourth season with Kearney in charge, and if​ he can’t get them winning in September, I don’t know why they​ would persevere.

Stephen Kearney

Stephen Kearney (AAP Image/Robb Cox)

Newcastle Knights
I could happily support Newcastle if I were to live there and I have an admiration for their supporters, especially through the last five years of pain.


It ​felt like a real changing of the guard moment last season when Mitchell Pearce ducked under the sticks to score a try against the Roosters, rising to his feet to kiss the Knights’ badge in a not-so-subtle display of his loyalty.

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Friday night, massive home crowd and a win over the reigning premiers. It looked like the Knights were destined for September as they surged towards the top of the ladder.

It wasn’t to be though, as Newcastle crashed and burned to end the season. A big loss to the Panthers and the head coach resigning were daggers in the heart of a once-again optimistic fan-base.


The Knights don’t have excuses. A new coach brings about a change of philosophy and Adam O’Brien​ will want to put his own spin on things.

But this is a talented and balanced roster that has shown the kind of football they can produce on their day. The challenge will be to get back off the canvas and work their way into September.