Having spent last week putting forward the argument that Brisbane are too good to come dead last again in 2021, perhaps it’s time to be a bit more positive in what is essentially a negative discussion.
Rather than who won’t claim the spoon, who will?
Since 2011, the three worst-performing teams have been the Eels, Titans and Knights, sharing eight of ten spoons, with the Sharks and Broncos claiming the other two.
However, looking at these historically poor-performing teams, you’d confidently say none will be the worst of the 2021 season.
The Titans are coming into the season on the back of one of the strongest recruitment drives in their history, bringing in David Fifita, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Herman Ese’ese. Add those three to the side that finished last year with a soaking-wet sail and you can confidently say that the Titans are not in contention to run last.
The Knights made the finals for the first time in, like, ever last year, despite having perhaps the worst list of injuries in the entire comp. There are whispers that Mitchell Pearce is unsettled but then there are also whispers he’s about to re-sign, so we shouldn’t read too much into it either way.
What fans in the Hunter can read into is the signing of Tyson Frizell and anyone who watched the red and blue trial games is more than a little excited about the potential of a man mountain coming out of Yorkshire named Dominic Young.
That kid is going to be a star.
In short, the Knights have well and truly finished their rebuild and now need to be talking about how wide their premiership window is. Last isn’t an option.
As for the Eels… They’re the only team that might run last of this terrible trio. Don’t get me wrong, they are a top-four side, as evidenced by their finishing third and fifth the last two years, and running fourth in 2017.
So why talk down a team that already features the likes of Dylan Brown, Nathan Brown, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and added exciting Kiwi Isaiah Papali’i? Because, as you may have noticed, the one year I’ve left out in their recent run is 2018, when a squad with top-four talent somehow managed to come last.
They have no business being in the conversation and I doubt it’ll happen but Parra have a way of making the impossible seem easy – just not in a way their fans would ever particularly enjoy.
I mean, does anyone else think it’s telling that the NRL have created a documentary called Eels 86: The story of Parramatta’s last premiership? Sure, ‘most recent premiership’ isn’t as succinct a title, but ‘last’ has a finality about it that makes me wonder if top brass know something the rest of us don’t.
A discussion for another time.
So with the three most likely teams of the last ten years pretty much out of the running, as well as the reasons I put forward last week removing Brisbane from the conversation, which clubs could come up holding the spoon?
I’m saying we’ll see history made, because the teams I’m predicting have never before collected the dreaded piece of timber-ware (well, sort of, but we’ll get to that).
First and foremost, the Dragons look like an absolute disaster. The way South Sydney rolled through them to claim the Charity Shield was embarrassing and highlighted the fact they really can’t afford to have both Jack de Belin and Cameron McInnes – their two best forwards, who would be taking up the lion’s share of $1 million in cap space – on their books but also on the sidelines.
Now St George Illawarra have never taken out the spoon, but if the club wants to say they won ten in a row as the Dragons back in the day, they also have to cop the three last places taken out by the Illawarra half of the joint venture as well.
Still, it would be the first time we’d seen red and white streamers on the spoon since 1989, so it’s been a while between drinks.
The Warriors are officially everyone’s second-favourite side for both the fact they sucked it up and made the NRL season possible last year, and because they played some enterprising and entertaining footy while they were at it. No one wants to see the Kiwi club claim a wooden spoon, which would actually be a first for them (got to admit, that surprised me, they have been terrible at times over their quarter-century or so of existence).
But having learnt over the weekend that they’ll be living on the Central Coast until at least June 21 of this year, due to that virus that we don’t need to mention any further, you have to wonder how much gas they’ve got in the tank.
I hope it doesn’t happen – that the ‘camp’ mentality holds and the Warriors give the 2021 a red-hot crack. But it just wouldn’t be a surprise to see the wheels come off and for them to crash and burn in a fashion that, to be fair, they’re basically entitled to do.
Also, not for nothing, they are being coached by a fella with two wooden spoons and a sacking from his most recent time as a head coach, which isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring.
My final prediction for the side that will run last is arguably the proudest of all the clubs, pride which emanates in no small way from the fact they have never, in more than 70 years of existence, I repeat never taken out the spoon.
The Sea Eagles may be the opposite to the Warriors – I believe the bumper sticker reads “I support two club, my team and whoever’s playing Manly” – but you have to respect a joint that has been in existence almost three-quarters of a century but has never run last.
Their recruitment has always been top notch and when your best players for the season ahead include Tom Trbojevic, Kieran Foran, Dylan Walker and Manase Fainu, you’d be confident of a finals appearance.
Yeah, about that quartet…
While Trbojevic and Foran are two of the best when they’re on the field, they sure do spend a lot of the year not on the field, with Trbojevic already ruled out of the opening rounds after having some sort of foot race in his shower (I may have misread the finer details), and Foran averaging 13 games a season since he left the Northern Beaches for supposedly greener pastures at the end of 2015.
As for Fainu, he hasn’t been sighted on a footy field since 2019, with a serious legal issue hanging over his career, while Walker is yet again in strife with the cops, facing assault charges from the offseason.
That’s a whole lot of talent with question marks over it and means in the short term Des Hasler will be starting his season without a recognised fullback or hooker, which makes a last-place finish not a completely ridiculous proposition.
Of course, injuries will have their say in the final make-up of the ladder, and you can never rule out a cheeky salary-cap issue popping up and redetermining things.
But at this early stage of the year, I’m saying the wooden spoon will go to one of the Dragons, Warriors or Sea Eagles.