With just under six weeks out from the kick-off to the upcoming NRL season, I looked into the crystal ball for 2021 and conjured up some unabashed predictions for where clubs will place after the regular season, their most valuable player (MVP), how the finals series will play out, the Dally M recipient and Dally M team of the year.
Minor premiers: Melbourne Storm
Club MVP: Harry Grant
The benchmark club in Australian sport, the Melbourne Storm have the luxury of a near-complete line-up of representative players at their disposal. Even without Cameron Smith, the future Australian Kangaroos spine will take the reins and lead the Victorian-based club to their fifth minor premiership.
Second: South Sydney Rabbitohs
Club MVP: Latrell Mitchell
The signings of Jai Arrow and Josh Mansour offset any players that have left the club this season and will truly add to their go forward and execution in attack. Boasting a mean forward pack, agile backline and creative halves pairing, the cardinal and myrtle will be dangerous this year.
Third: Penrith Panthers
Club MVP: Isaah Yeo
Reeling from a near-perfect 2020, the Panthers have retained the majority of their players and with experience under their belt, the boys from Penrith will be hungrier to go one-better and prove to have another strong season in 2021.
Fourth: Sydney Roosters
Club MVP: Angus Crichton
Another club boasting a world-class line-up and with the return of their enforcer, Victor Radley, the Roosters will remain a force in the NRL. If the wraps on their young halfback Sam Walker are proven true then no doubt his ability utilised with the players surrounding him will take Easts a long way.
Fifth: Canberra Raiders
Club MVP: Josh Papalii
The ever-tough and gritty green machine will continue to ruffle feathers this season and match the best there is. The signing of Ryan James can hopefully alleviate the loss of John Bateman but there is little doubt that the Raiders will be competitive in 2021.
Sixth: Parramatta Eels
Club MVP: Clinton Gutherson
Brad Arthur’s blue and gold army have dug deep the past few years to solidify a spot in the top 8 and will continue to do so in 2021. With heavy rotation in their reserves roster only, the Eels have virtually the same starting line-up as last year so their experience will be beneficial come finals time.
Seventh: Gold Coast Titans
Club MVP: AJ Brimson
The smokey of 2021. Their best signing thus far has been their coach Justin Holbrook, who has reset the culture on the Gold Coast. Key signings in David Fifita, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Herman Ese’ese have beefed up their forward stocks and compounding them with Moeaki Fotuaika and Tyrone Peachey, as well as up and coming star AJ Brimson and the re-emergence of Ash Taylor will see the Titans make their first finals series since 2016.
Eighth: Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
Club MVP: Tom Trbojevic
The club on the Northern Peninsula that in recent years has been decimated by injuries has built a rather formidable line-up for the 2021 season. The return of Kieran Foran will hopefully prove to be a masterstroke, minus any injury scares, and his partnership with DCE and the Trbojevic brothers could prove to be deadly.
The club will be desperate for the return of Manase Fainu pending the outcome of his court matter, but regardless the club will return to finals footy.
Ninth: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
Club MVP: Raymond Faitala-Mariner
After three years of conceding defeat and acknowledging the reality that their club will be unable to be competitive in the player market, Canterbury have undoubtedly been the most active in the player market. Once they signed Trent Barrett, the dominoes began to fall with Kyle Flanagan, Jack Hetherington, Corey Waddell and Corey Allan signing, with Nick Cotric signing prior to his arrival.
Not to mention their depth and smart retention, the Bulldogs will have a much improved 2021 and finally return to the winning culture they’re used to.
Tenth: Newcastle Knights
Club MVP: Tyson Frizell
The Novocastrian-based club have proven to be a rather hot and cold team as of late and with no real change to their squad, besides signing Australian and Welsh international Tyson Frizell, it looks as though the club will miss out on a top eight spot.
11th: New Zealand Warriors
Club MVP: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
After their selfless and brave efforts to ensure the 2020 season was kept alive, the New Zealand-based club have bought well for 2021 to beef up their forward stocks. The fact that they will have to endure another season living in Australia for an unknown amount of time will undoubtedly be a major challenge which will unfortunately factor heavily into their absence for this season’s finals series.
12th: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
Club MVP: Siosifa Talakai
With their 2020 club man in Shaun Johnson being injured for the first two months of the season, much pressure will be placed on their so far underwhelming fullback-cum-five eighth, Matt Moylan, to deliver for the club. With an ageing roster and little depth, it seems as though the boys from the Shire won’t be sneaking into this year’s finals.
13th: Brisbane Broncos
Club MVP: Kotoni Staggs
With Kevin Walters at the helm, there is a strong sense that his reset of the Broncos culture will set the path for the club to one day return to their glory days. Although they will improve from the debacle of last year’s wooden spoon season, they won’t be tasting finals in 2021.
14th: St George Illawarra Dragons
Club MVP: Cameron McInnes
With relatively the same line-up as last season, of note adding Jack Bird and Poasa Faamausili and losing Tyson Frizell, it is hard to envision the Red V improving on their position from 2020.
15th: North Queensland Cowboys
Club MVP: Jason Taumalolo
Narrowly missing out on the wooden spoon (non)award, the Northern Queensland club was very quiet in the off-season player signing department, with their most formidable line-up reading as less than exciting. It is crucial that Jason Taumalolo remains fit all year, otherwise it will look direr than 15th place.
Wooden spoon: Wests Tigers
Club MVP: David Nofoaluma
Sorry Tigers fans, but the dreaded wooden spoon will be coming your way for the first time in the club’s history. Across the park, the best line-up on paper just seems weaker when compared to the rest which will, unfortunately, result in a long year for the club.
Qualifying final: Storm (1) def. Roosters (4)
Qualifying final: Rabbitohs (2) def. Panthers (3)
Elimination final: Raiders (5) def. Sea Eagles (8)
Elimination final: Eels (6) def. Titans (7)
Semi-final: Roosters (4) def. Raiders (5)
Semi-final: Panthers (3) def. Eels (6)
Preliminary final: Storm (1) def. Panthers (3)
Preliminary final: Rabbitohs (2) def. Roosters (4)
Grand final: Rabbitohs (2) def. Storm (1)
Dally M player of the year
Dally M team of the year
Fullback: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Warriors)
Winger: Josh Addo-Carr (Storm)
Centre: Joseph Manu (Roosters)
Centre: Kotoni Staggs (Broncos)
Winger: Charlie Staines (Panthers)
Five-eighth: Cameron Munster (Storm)
Halfback: Nathan Cleary (Panthers)
Prop: Josh Papalii (Raiders)
Hooker: Harry Grant (Storm)
Prop: Moses Leota (Panthers)
Second-rower: Cameron Murray (Rabbitohs)
Second-rower: Angus Crichton (Roosters)
Lock: Victor Radley (Roosters)
Coach: Wayne Bennett (Rabbitohs)
Roarers, what does your NRL ladder look like and who is winning the premiership? Who will win the Dally M medal and who is cracking a team of the year spot?