Here are some question I hope the upcoming NRL season will answer.
How will the Storm fare in the post-Cameron Smith era?
Albeit not confirmed, I think it’s fair to assume the Storm will be without their champion number nine for the 2021 season. Arguably the best player to ever play the game, it will be interesting to see how the Storm deal with it.
It’s not as if they aren’t used to greats retiring. Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater have both retired in recent years and the success hasn’t waned – they’ve found handy replacements (Jahrome Hughes and Ryan Papenhuyzen) – and I don’t think they have a bad replacement in a player named Harry Grant.
However, the loss of Smith, probably the most influential player the game has seen, will undoubtedly take the most adjusting to.
I still believe the Storm have the strongest roster in the NRL, which combines the best pack in the game with an envious spine of Papenhuyzen, Hughes, Cam Munster and Grant.
I think we will see Melbourne vying for premiership honours at the end of the year.
Can the Titans kick on after an impressive finish to 2020?
The Titans finished the season in great shape, stringing together five wins and emphatic 36-6 over Newcastle in the last round.
To add to that, they’ve recruited excellently – adding Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, David Fifita and Herman Ese’ese to a pack that needed some firepower last season. Fa’asuamaleaui is the best young forward in the game, and he adds a lot of physicality and size to the pack. Fifita could turn out to be the biggest signing in tean history – he’s got the potential to be one of the best players in the game and he looks primed for a massive year after his injury-plagued 2020.
They also have great x-factor in the backline lead up by Alex Brimson and Brian Kelly.
Brimson is one of the most exciting players in the game and I think he only gets better as his combinations with the spine improve.
Justin Holbrook did a fantastic job last season and he will look to build on that this year. He’s assembled a well-balanced side that should be in the finals.
Has the Canterbury resurgence begun?
The Bulldogs have struggled over the last four years, not making the finals in any of those seasons.
In fairness, they haven’t had a side that could challenge for a top-eight spot. That looks to have changed in 2021, they’ve recruited well – adding Kyle Flanagan, Nick Cotric, Corey Allan and Jack Hetherington. I’m especially excited to see how Cotric develops in the centre position – he’s one of the strongest backs in the game and I think he will be dangerous with some early ball.
The biggest signing, however, has been Trent Barrett. A fantastic coach who was a large part of why the Panthers had such a great 2020 season – he will bring the best out of Flanagan and transform their attacking game (which has been their downfall in recent years).
The Dogs have always turned up and I think this resilience they have in their defence will combine well with Barrett’s renowned attacking structures. Canterbury should be challenging for a top-eight spot in 2020 and looking for a foundation year before the arrivals of Matt Burton and Josh Addo-Carr in 2021.
Will the Panthers go one better?
Despite 17 wins a row during the year, Penrith unfortunately fell short in the final against Melbourne. Not to take away from their season – they were fantastic. I can’t remember seeing a side that looked so in sync during games.
The challenge is now how do they go one better? It’s a chance for Penrith to show they can be one of the top franchises in the game by backing up their season.
They’ve lost a couple of hardened forwards in James Tamou and Zane Tetevano, however, this provides a platform for youngsters such as Spencer Leniu and Billy Burns to develop. It’s a system Penrith have long trusted; bringing through talented youngsters from the Penrith football nursery. It’s worked in the past and I’m glad they’ve stuck solid to this approach.
They have the talent to win a premiership, and it’s a massive opportunity for the likes of Jarome Luai and Stephen Crichton to back up their fantastic 2020 seasons and help the side go one better.
The best clubs in the game make a habit of backing up each season – the Storm and the Roosters are prime examples. It’s now Penrith’s turn to show they belong at the table of the game’s elites.
Can the Warriors make the top eight?
A new coach, new signings and a new consultant (Gus Gould). The Warriors have made some significant changes in 2021 and I’m really excited to see how they go.
NRL.com posted their predicted side for the year and I was really impressed with it. They have a fantastic forward pack which will be led by Addin Fonua-Blake and Tohu Harris, coupled a great backline consisting of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, David Fusitua, Peta Hiku, Euan Aitken and Kennedy Maumalo – it’s one of the stronger back fives in the NRL.
Nathan Brown is a good coach and I think he will create a style of play that suits the Warriors, not following the mould of other sides. The best Warriors teams of the past have played expansively, utilising offloads and second phase football to score points. With players like Tuivasa-Sheck and Kodi Nikorima, it seems silly to try to play any other way.
The one question mark I have is how the halves combination will go: Nikorima and Chanel Harris-Tavita. Both extremely talented players, however, not noted game managers. I think Nathan Brown needs to settle on a number 9 and allow the spine to find their groove instead of chopping and changing.
The NRL needs a strong New Zealand side and I believe they can push for a top-eight spot.