Welcome to The Roar’s 2020 NRL preview series, where we will go over the chances and fortunes of all 16 teams for the season ahead.
In this year’s series I’ll run eight parts, talking about each team at length and giving you squads, best 17s and all the highlights to watch out for in the schedule, revealing the ladder from bottom to top, two teams at a time.
These articles will be published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays until the beginning of the season, with the predicted top two revealed the day before the first ball is kicked when Parramatta take on Canterbury.
Without further ado, let’s get into it with the bottom two.
This one might surprise a few people, but the perennial Wests ‘missed it by that much’ Tigers could be in for a seriously difficult season in 2020.
It’s a struggle to work out where the positives are for Michael Maguire’s side leading into the new campaign.
After failing to make the finals in 2019 when they fell apart at a packed-out Leichhardt against the Sharks on the final day of the season, their recruitment for 2020 leaves a lot to be desired.
They struggled for consistency last year, and more of the same looks to be ahead.
Maguire has switched around the side that once prided themselves on a vibrant attack rather than defensively grinding out victories, but that change in approach didn’t bring them any extra level of success last season and, without reinforcements, is unlikely to this time around.
Moses Mbye (c), Benji Marshall (c), Josh Aloiai, Luke Brooks, Michael Chee-Kam, Oliver Clark, Adam Doueihi, Matthew Eisenhuth, Luke Garner, Chris Lawrence, Luciano Leilua, Joey Leilua, Robert Jennings, Jacob Liddle, Jock Madden, Sam McIntyre, Chris McQueen, Thomas Mikaele, Paul Momirovski, Zane Musgrove, David Nofoaluma, Russell Packer, Josh Reynolds, Alex Seyfarth, Dylan Smith, Tommy Talau, Elijah Taylor, Corey Thompson, Alex Twal, Billy Walters.
Development players: Kane Bradley, Zac Cini, Reece Hoffman, Jock Madden, Jake Simpkin.
Coach: Michael Maguire.
Co-captains: Benji Marshall and Moses Mbye.
Ins: Adam Doueihi (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Luciano Leilua (St George Illawarra Dragons), Joey Leilua (Canberra Raiders), Zane Musgrove (uncontracted), Alex Seyfarth (development), Tommy Talau (development), Billy Walters (Melbourne Storm).
Outs: Robbie Farah (retired), Mahe Fonua (Hull FC), Tyson Gamble (Redcliffe Dolphins), Esan Marsters (North Queensland Cowboys), Ryan Matterson (Parramatta Eels), Ben Matulino (retired), Robbie Rochow (retired).
The best 17
1. Adam Doueihi
2. David Nofoaluma
3. Paul Momirovski
4. Joey Leilua
5. Robert Jennings
6. Benji Marshall
7. Luke Brooks
8. Alex Twal
9. Moses Mbye
10. Josh Aloiai
11. Michael Chee-Kam
12. Luke Garner
13. Elijah Taylor
14. Oliver Clark
15. Matt Eisenhuth
16. Chris Lawrence
17. Thomas Mikaele
The only question surrounding the Tigers best 17 is whether Corey Thompson or Paul Momirovski gets the final spot, but with Adam Doueihi likely to play fullback, Thompson will likely miss out.
There is also a chance Oliver Clark will start over Josh Aloiai, while Thomas Mikaele will have to fend off competition for a bench spot from the likes of Luciano Leilua, Russell Packer and the recruited Zane Musgrove.
The Tigers’ top 17 looks weak on paper, though. A young forward pack who don’t have the motor to match other teams in the competition, an ageing veteran in Benji Marshall and the inconsistent Luke Brooks to line up in the halves, and a back line that has plenty of fragile defensive elements.
Adam Doueihi and Joey Leilua should bring them something in attack, but there are far more issues than positives when the eye is cast over the Tigers 2020 fortunes.
It’s hard to pinpoint real strength, but their back five will pose plenty of questions to opposition sides in attack.
Joey Leilua is a good get for the club, and while he almost averages a try every two games, it’s the work he does in the lead-up that can be most dangerous.
He and Jordan Rapana had an unbelievable combination in Canberra, and it’s something he will look to recreate at Wests with Robert Jennings (should he play on the right), who had a serious knack of finding the try line during his days at South Sydney.
Luke Brooks needs to force himself into a positive for the club as well. He always rates strongly in Tigers victories, as indicated by his recent Dally M Medal finishing positions, but consistency is the key, with the Tigers not playing finals footy since 2011.
Weaknesses punch you in the face from every direction at Leichhardt, but the hooking position stands out like a sore thumb.
Thanks to Jacob Liddle’s injury and the NRL’s likely blocking of Harry Grant’s loan to the club for Paul Momirovski, Maguire is left with Moses Mbye as his starting hooker and Josh Reynolds sitting on standby.
Mbye, who has been unable to make a backline position his own during a frustrating career, will look at this as a new opportunity, but he just doesn’t have what it takes to be an 80-minute hooker in the NRL week in and week out.
Fullback also looks to be a weakness. Adam Doueihi and Corey Thompson are solid options, but neither of them has qualities that can drag teams out of tough situations.
While there is reason to smile about the forward pack with plenty of young talent, they struggled to kick on as a group last year and downright crumbled under pressure against better packs, as evidenced in Round 25 against Cronulla.
Whether Oliver Clark, Josh Aloiai and Alex Twal can drag the Tigers along remains to be seen, but anything of genuine game-turning note seems a way off at this stage.
|1||Sun Mar 15||6:15pm||St George Illawarra Dragons||WIN Stadium||Fox|
|2||Sun Mar 22||4:05pm||Newcastle Knights||Leichhardt Oval||Nine/Fox|
|3||Sun Mar 29||4:05pm||Canterbury Bulldogs||Campbelltown Stadium||Nine/Fox|
|4||Sat Apr 4||3pm||New Zealand Warriors||Mt Smart Stadium||Fox|
|5||Mon Apr 13||4:05pm||Parramatta Eels||Bankwest Stadium||Fox|
|6||Sun Apr 19||4:05pm||Penrith Panthers||Panthers Stadium||Nine/Fox|
|7||Fri Apr 24||6pm||Gold Coast Titans||CBus Super Stadium||Fox|
|8||Fri May 1||6pm||Cronulla Sharks||Suncorp Stadium||Fox|
|9||Sat May 9||5:30pm||Canberra Raiders||Scully Park||Fox|
|10||Sun May 17||4:05pm||South Sydney Rabbitohs||Leichhardt Oval||Nine/Fox|
|11||Sat May 23||5:30pm||Manly Sea Eagles||Central Coast Stadium||Fox|
|13||Sun Jun 7||4:05pm||Parramatta Eels||Bankwest Stadium||Nine/Fox|
|14||Fri Jun 12||7:55pm||Penrith Panthers||Bankwest Stadium||Nine/Fox|
|15||Thu Jun 25||7:55pm||St George Illawarra Dragons||Bankwest Stadium||Nine/Fox|
|16||Fri Jul 3||7:55pm||Melbourne Storm||AAMI Park||Nine/Fox|
|17||Sat Jul 11||7:35pm||South Sydney Rabbitohs||Bankwest Stadium||Nine/Fox|
|18||Fri Jul 17||7:55pm||Sydney Roosters||Bankwest Stadium||Nine/Fox|
|19||Sun Jul 26||4:05pm||Newcastle Knights||McDonald Jones Stadium||Nine/Fox|
|20||Sun Aug 2||2pm||Cronulla Sharks||Jubilee Stadium||Fox|
|21||Sun Aug 9||4:05pm||Brisbane Broncos||Campbelltown Stadium||Nine/Fox|
|22||Sun Aug 16||4:05pm||Canberra Raiders||GIO Stadium||Nine/Fox|
|23||Sun Aug 23||2:05pm||Gold Coast Titans||Campbelltown Stadium||Fox|
|24||Sat Aug 29||3pm||Canterbury Bulldogs||Bankwest Stadium||Fox|
|25||Fri Sep 4||6pm||North Queensland Cowboys||Leichhardt Oval||Fox|
Teams to play twice: Parramatta Eels, Penrith Panthers, St George Illawarra Dragons, South Sydney Rabbitohs, Newcastle Knights, Cronulla Sharks, Canberra Raiders, Gold Coast Titans.
Five-day turnarounds: two.
Seven-plus-day turnarounds: 16.
Best home run: Round 13 to Round 18 (three out of six).
Worst away run: Round 4 to Round 7 (three out of four).
While the Tigers have a run from Round 13 to 18 where they play five out of six games on the run at Bankwest Stadium (away to Parramatta and South Sydney in that time), the rest of their season is a mess.
In fact they don’t play at Campbelltown between Rounds 3 and 21 or Leichhardt between Rounds 10 and 25.
Their worst away run of the season – which sees them play the Warriors in Auckland during Round 4, the Panthers away in Round 6 and the Titans on the Gold Coast in Round 7 – is followed up by a Magic Round home game in Brisbane and a home game against the Raiders in Tamworth.
In a positive, they play only four teams out of last year’s top eight twice, being the Raiders, Eels, Rabbitohs and Sharks.
Long the NRL’s most inconsistent team, the Warriors were nothing short of a rabble last season, and there are few reasons to see that turning around as 2020 gets underway.
After a 12th-placed finish, the third-worst defence and an only slightly better attack, you’d be excused for thinking the only way is up in Auckland.
Unfortunately, it’s not. Their recruitment has been poor, Stephen Kearney still hasn’t proven himself as a coach and the issues that confront the Warriors every season are going to remain.
While there are talented players in the side, it never seems to click for the men from Auckland, and without star controlling elements it’s a wonder how they expect that to change.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c), Bunty Afoa, Leeson Ah Mau, Gerard Beale, Adam Blair, Lachlan Burr, Josh Curran, Wayde Egan, Jackson Frei, David Fusitu’a, Blake Green, Tohu Harris, Chanel Harris-Tavita, Patrick Herbert, Peta Hiku, Eliesa Katoa, Adam Keighran, Karl Lawton, Ken Maumalo, Taane Milne, Kodi Nikorima, Agnatius Paasi, Isaiah Papali’i, Hayze Perham, Adam Pompey, Leivaha Pulu, Nathaniel Roache, Jazz Tevaga.
Development players: Tom Ale, Rocco Berry, Israel Ogden, Selesitino Ravutaumada, Tyler Slade, Paul Turner.
Coach: Stephen Kearney.
Captain: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
Ins: Josh Curran (Sydney Roosters), Wayde Egan (Penrith Panthers), Jackson Frei (development), Eliesa Katoa (development), Kodi Nikorima (Brisbane Broncos).
Outs: Blake Ayshford (retired), Solomone Kata (Rugby Union – Melbourne Rebels), Sam Lisone (Castleford Tigers), Issac Luke (St George Illawarra Dragons), Ligi Sao (Hull FC), Chris Satae (Hull FC).
The best 17
1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c)
2. David Fusitu’a
3. Peta Hiku
4. Patrick Herbert
5. Ken Maumalo
6. Kodi Nikorima
7. Blake Green
8. Agnatius Paasi
9. Wayde Egan
10. Leeson Ah Mau
11. Isaiah Papali’i
12. Tohu Harris
13. Jazz Tevaga
14. Lachlan Burr
15. Leivaha Pulu
16. Chanel Harris-Tavita
17. Adam Blair
The Warriors have plenty of problems with their side heading into 2019, but there is potential should things click.
Wayde Egan arrives from Penrith and will be expected to immediately play big minutes at hooker, while Blake Green and Kodi Nikorima will come under immediate pressure from young gun Chanel Harris-Tavita, who should claim the utility spot on the bench thanks to the injury to Nathaniel Roache.
Their back five picks itself, while most of the forwards do as well, although Jazz Tevaga won’t be available early in the season.
Lachlan Burr could be expected to start at lock while he is out, with Adam Blair also needing big performances after a few lacklustre seasons, but with Bunty Afoa to miss the season due to an ACL injury and a lack of quality forwards in the depth department, he should survive.
The back five, to put it bluntly. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is one of the best fullbacks in the game, and despite his teammates floundering in 2019, he had seven tries, ten try assists, 136 tackle busts, 14 line breaks and a stunning 206 metres per game.
Backed up by the damaging wing combination of David Fusitu’a and Ken Maumalo as well as Peta Hiku and young gun Patrick Herbert in the centres, the Warriors should have no problems scoring points if they can have an even share of possession.
Blake Green’s kicking game should also be a strength for the Warriors, and while he was on the outer by the end of 2019, his performances should improve after a full preseason alongside Kodi Nikorima.
The big weakness that has hampered the Warriors over the years has been consistency, and it may well rear its ugly head again in 2020.
The side might have talent across the park, but with Wayde Egan at hooker, Kodi Nikorima still not putting together a full good season, the unknowns surrounding Blake Green and a forward pack who appear flaky and without a lot of depth, the issues will continue to haunt the club.
When Leeson Ah Mau and Agnatius Paasi arrived at the club, big things were expected, but the Warriors didn’t live up to those expectations in the middle third last year, and that’s not helped by the continued poor returns from former skipper Adam Blair.
With Bunty Afoa’s input from the bench now gone, it could also be argued their replacements are a severe weakness, with a major drop-off between the top 13 and the next four in terms of expected output.
|1||Sat Mar 14||3pm||Newcastle Knights||McDonald Jones Stadium||Fox|
|2||Sat Mar 21||3pm||Canberra Raiders||Eden Park||Fox|
|3||Fri Mar 27||6pm||Manly Sea Eagles||Lottoland||Fox|
|4||Sat Apr 4||3pm||Wests Tigers||Mt Smart Stadium||Fox|
|5||Sun Apr 12||6:15pm||St George Illawarra Dragons||WIN Stadium||Fox|
|6||Sat Apr 18||5:30pm||Sydney Roosters||Mt Smart Stadium||Fox|
|7||Sat Apr 25||8pm||Melbourne Storm||AAMI Park||Fox|
|8||Sun May 3||1:50pm||Parramatta Eels||Suncorp Stadium||Fox|
|9||Fri May 8||6pm||Canterbury Bulldogs||Mt Smart Stadium||Fox|
|10||Sat May 16||3pm||Gold Coast Titans||CBus Super Stadium||Fox|
|11||Sat May 23||3pm||Melbourne Storm||Mt Smart Stadium||Fox|
|13||Fri Jun 5||6pm||Brisbane Broncos||Mt Smart Stadium||Fox|
|14||Sun Jun 14||2:05pm||Canberra Raiders||GIO Stadium||Fox|
|15||Sat Jun 27||3pm||North Queensland Cowboys||Sky Stadium||Fox|
|16||Sat Jul 4||7:35pm||Sydney Roosters||North Sydney Oval||Fox|
|17||Fri Jul 10||7:55pm||Canterbury Bulldogs||Bankwest Stadium||Nine/Fox|
|18||Fri Jul 17||6pm||Gold Coast Titans||Mt Smart Stadium||Fox|
|19||Sat Jul 25||5:30pm||Brisbane Broncos||Suncorp Stadium||Fox|
|20||Fri Jul 31||6pm||Penrith Panthers||Mt Smart Stadium||Fox|
|21||Sun Aug 9||2:05pm||Newcastle Knights||Mt Smart Stadium||Fox|
|22||Sat Aug 15||3pm||South Sydney Rabbitohs||Sunshine Coast Stadium||Fox|
|23||Fri Aug 21||6pm||Manly Sea Eagles||Mt Smart Stadium||Fox|
|24||Sat Aug 29||5:30pm||North Queensland Cowboys||Queensland Country Bank Stadium||Fox|
|25||Sun Sep 5||3pm||Cronulla Sharks||Jubilee Stadium||Fox|
Teams to play twice: Canberra Raiders, Sydney Roosters, Canterbury Bulldogs, Gold Coast Titans, Melbourne Storm, Brisbane Broncos, Newcastle Knights, Manly Sea Eagles, North Queensland Cowboys.
Five-day turnarounds: one.
Seven-plus-day turnarounds: 16.
Best home run: Round 9 to Round 15 (four out of six).
Worst away run: Round 22 to Round 25 (three out of four).
The Warriors, with their overseas travel, are the one team in the NRL who would prefer to play streaks of home and away games, but they will cross the Tasman back and forth until Round 8, when they play Magic Round as a home contest.
It’ll be a tough finish to the year for the Warriors as well, with the Auckland-based club to play the Rabbitohs, Cowboys and Sharks – all teams likely to make the finals – on the road within the final four weeks of the season, while their only home game in that period comes against Manly.
They have drawn the rough end of the stick in terms of which teams they play twice as well, with the Raiders, Roosters, Storm, Sea Eagles and Cowboys all included.
They do, however, start their season with the Knights, Tigers and Dragons all inside the first five rounds, which gives them a chance to build some momentum.
15. New Zealand Warriors
16. Wests Tigers
Be sure to check back in on Wednesday as we reveal the next two teams on our reverse ladder countdown for the 2020 NRL season.