After last year’s capitulation against ‘Queensland’s worst-ever team’ many assumed that Jack Wighton was a lock to start at five-eighth.
These are the two teams that I reckon will finish sixth and seventh this NRL season.
7. Gold Coast Titans (last year ninth)
Season 2020 was a year of progress for the Gold Coast Titans as they nearly captured a spot in the top eight.
Since the Titans have come into the NRL competition, they have been a team that was most of the time around the bottom of the standings as they have only succeeded in making the finals twice in their existence.
Despite being one of the rare existing teams to not have a title, the Titans are looking promising this season as they are a real shot at making the finals.
Last year was Justin Holbrook’s first year as Titans head coach and he looked anything but the wrong man for the job as he has steered this team in the right direction for the future.
Holbrook has had a stellar off-season as he was able to bring David Fifita to the Gold Coast on a million-dollar contract. This was one of the biggest signings of the off-season, if not the biggest.
The young gun’s signing has been not just a great signing because of how good of a player he is, but it is also wonderful because it attracted other exceptional forwards to sign with the Titans like Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Herman Ese’ese.
These big-name signings will go along side Moeaki Fotuaika, Jarrod Wallace and Kevin Proctor in the forward pack. A big take is that the Titans have a top-three forward pack in the NRL.
Of course, however, these additions cause some players to have to go elsewhere. Some of these players include Jai Arrow, Ryan James, Dale Copley and Nathan Peats.
The men in gold will not have to worry much about the release of Nathan Peats as he never really brought much to the side and Mitch Rein at the moment is the much better hooker.
The loss of Jai Arrow will hurt Gold Coast as if he were still there with those other great players in the pack around him, that pack would be even more deadly and nearly unstoppable.
But of course, for salary cap purposes, some players have to go. Tyrone Peachey will cover the utility role off the bench, which is a great spot for him as he brings spark into the game.
However, Peachey and Rein should share the role around a bit at the start of the season just to see who fits the starting hooker role as Peachey apparently can play hooker.
Origin star AJ Brimson will be targeting a Round 1 start after suffering a Lisfranc injury in Origin. Cameron Smith will play for the Gold Coast, which will push Mitch Rein to the bench or out of the side completely.
If Smith plays, I could possibly see the Titans somewhere around the top four at the end of year. But for now, seventh is the highest they can finish.
6. Canberra Raiders (last year fifth)
After another great year for the Canberra Raiders – they made it to preliminary finals – here is my take on how their season will pan out.
It has been a particularly quiet off-season for the Raiders as not many notable signings have arrived, with the only noteworthy additions being Ryan James and Caleb Aekins.
The only big-name losses will be Nick Cotric, as he was signed with the Bulldogs, and John Bateman, who departed Canberra to play in the English Super League in 2021.
Skipper Jarrod Croker will almost certainly miss the first few rounds due to shoulder surgery.
Matt Timoko or Harley Smith-Shields is likely to fill the breach. With Josh Hodgson pushing to return from a knee reconstruction as early as Round 1, 2020 break-out star Tom Starling will be hard to leave off the bench.
With the number of high-calibre Raiders forwards all vying for spots, it will most likely be Corey Horsburgh and new recruit Corey Harawira-Naera to miss the cut. Corey Horsburgh was a breakout player last season as he was a great force in the Raiders’ forward pack and was even played in the starting line-up for parts of the season.
Hudson Young will be the first in line to replace John Bateman in the second-row position. Hudson Young is another great young player on Ricky Stuart’s roster. The next step that the Raiders are looking to take in 2021 is making it past the prelim finals and have a chance for the second time in three years to have a crack at the title in the grand final.
Can they do it? Yes, there is a chance of redemption after the 2019 grand final. Canberra have the talent to do it and they have shown over the last few years that they can go a long way in this competition and when it comes to finals time they are as hot as any team.
But the reason why I do not have them in my top four is that the other teams I have above them are going to have a stronger regular season due to the Raiders having absent players in the first few rounds. Although wherever they finish, they will still be one of the biggest threats to take it all.