Following Part 1, let’s check out a few more men under the pump in the 2020 NRL season.
Within 18 months of making his first-grade debut, Jack Bird was playing Origin footy and had won a premiership. In 2017 Bird flew the coup and signed a big-money deal with the Broncos. The dream he was living quickly became a nightmare.
He arrived in Brisbane injured with Wayne Bennett claiming the Sharks hadn’t disclosed the extent of his late-season shoulder injury. Following surgery there were reports of him showing up for pre-season training overweight.
Whatever the reason, his early season form didn’t measure up to what he’d shown previously. Injuries have plagued his time in Brisbane with sternum and ACL injuries prematurely ending his 2018 and 2019 campaigns respectively.
On a contract rumoured to be close to a million dollars a season and a return of 17 games in two years, the Broncos gave Bird permission to negotiate with other clubs in September last year. Not surprisingly, with the hefty price tag and injury history there were no suitors.
Like every player, every season, Bird is reportedly training the house down to get his career back on track. Making his potential return even more complicated, the word on the Bird out of Red Hill is that he’ll have first crack at the fullback position.
The Raiders had an extremely successful 2019, making the grand final and giving the Roosters a run for their money. If not for a couple of controversies, they may have won.
Aidan Sezer spent four years in the lime-green number seven jersey Ricky Stuart made his own. While he’s been a part of two deep semi-final runs, the words that spring to mind to explain his tenure are solid and dependable. Ricky and the Raiders will be looking for more than that from Sezer’s replacement, George Williams.
Williams has played 184 games for Wigan in the Super League, winning two titles, a World Club Challenge and scoring an impressive 63 tries.
If Williams can replicate that in Australia, he’ll give the Raiders genuine attacking threats on both sides of the ruck – Sezer was never known for his running game. If that happens and Josh Hodgson can steer the team around the park from dummy half, Williams could be the missing ingredient to take the Raiders one step further in 2020. No pressure.
There’s no shortage of million-dollar men on this list fighting to justify their price tag. The opposite is true at the Sea Eagles. With the top end of the Manly roster locked down, the player in focus is their emergency signing Danny Levi.
Manase Fainu burst onto the scene last year. His dynamic play out of dummy half helped the Sea Eagles to sixth and week two of the semi-finals. Des Hasler was so sold on Fainu that he went all in, releasing proven hooker Api Koroisau to the Panthers.
However, Fainu was involved in an off-field incident and has been stood down by the NRL. From having a settled roster, there was panic on the peninsula about who would wear the nine.
Speaking of hookers who burst onto the scene, enter Danny Levi. Levi debuted for the Knights at the height of their triple-spoon era in 2015. By 2017 he was playing Test footy and looked to be one of the young players that Nathan Brown would rebuild the Knights around. From there, he seems to have lost his way a little. Still a strong defender, his game hasn’t come on like it looked like it would in his early days. He’s not super quick out of dummy half and his option-taking leaves a little to be desired.
Having said that, Hasler likes to give his nines relatively straightforward roles so that may work in Levi’s favour. As well as Levi potentially playing for his career, with almost 50 per cent of the Sea Eagles’ salary cap tied up in 20 per cent of their roster, Manly need to get the most out of their fringe players to make the most of the premiership window that has undoubtedly opened for them.
To describe Paul McGregor’s coaching career as a roller coaster is an understatement. Taking over from Steve Price in 2014, the Dragons’ form immediately improved and in 2015 they made the semi-finals for the first time since 2011.
In 2016 the Dragons’ attack was absolutely dire, with only the single-victory Knights and heavily handicapped Eels finishing with fewer points scored. Not for the last time, McGregor’s coaching career was under threat with many expecting a bottom-four finish for the Dragons in 2017.
The brilliant starts and devastating finishes to seasons 2017 and ’18 have been well documented. McGregor has now had five years in charge, a 47 per cent win rate and a squad that looked on the way up two or three years ago but has flatlined dramatically.
After a struggling season in 2019, the Dragons called in Phil Gould for a review and have appointed Shane Flanagan as Mary’s assistant. Depending on who you talk to, Flanagan is either just in charge of defence, will take over mid-season or is already calling the shots behind the scenes.
It’s questionable whether even a successful season can save McGregor. If the Dragons brain it this year, how much credit will McGregor get compared to Flanagan? I’m sure Gould will be staking a claim, too!