Following Part 1 about the bottom eight teams, my pre-season power rankings move on to the top eight sides.
When you look through their list of star power, it’s hard to believe that the Roosters won’t challenge for top spot this year. Rattle off the names: James Tedesco, Angus Crichton, Boyd Cordner, Luke Keary, Victor Radley and Jake Friend. The big test for them will be in the halves and who they pair with Keary. Look for Tedesco to begin the year as their second playmaker to allow time for a youngster to develop. They didn’t go all the way to the mountain top last year but will be as tough a team to beat as there is in 2021.
Just like Scottie Pippen in The Last Dance, no one likes to come off looking second best. These Panthers will be no different, relying on a bevy of superstar talent and a whole load of youngsters to propel them to the finish line this year. Look for Nathan Cleary to be even more mercurial as he continues to grow and develop from last year. Viliame Kikau is the wildcard here. When on form he looks like the most unstoppable force in the league. He just needs to make sure he keeps his head on straight.
Again, this is another squad loaded with talent that only got better adding in Jai Arrow and Josh Mansour. The spine of Damien Cook, Adam Reynolds and Latrell Mitchell looks to be one of the best in the competition. However, all eyes will be on Mitchell to see if he can translate all of his raw talent into a complete season.
There is Dally M buzz aplenty for the man who the world seems to love to hate. Watch for another big year for Cody Walker as he continues to thrive in the Bunnies’ system. Souths are also a sentimental favourite for every Kiwi as Benji Marshall gives it one last roll of the dice.
They are starting the off-season with some scandal, but the Raiders will be looking for some of their leaders to step up after a disappointing end to 2020. This team lives and dies by the play of Josh Hodgson, coming back from injury and sure to inspire the team. The impressive Hudson Young gets more opportunity with John Bateman having moved and there is a sneaky signing of Ryan James, who is a steal if he can get back to his best footy under Ricky Stuart. Look for this team to be boom or bust as we head into the year.
This is probably too low for the returning champs but the loss of the talismanic Cameron Smith will hurt. If Smith does return, the Storm would rocket up to one or two in these rankings based on how well he reads the game. All the signs point to Cameron Munster stepping up if Smith does retire. He is a pariah of a player. When on song he is a joy to watch. Harry Grant fills some of the hole left by Smith and the forward stocks as always are loaded. The question still remains, how do you move on from a legend?
On the outside looking in are the Eels. They have boatloads of talent and potential but they struggle in matches against the big clubs. Ryan Matterson and Mitchell Moses will be key to helping this squad keep their recent finals form. One big upside is the signing of Bryce Cartwright. The club will be hoping he can live up to his enormous potential. Blake Ferguson will be a sure-fire bet to improve on his output of four tries last year. There is a lot to like but also lots of questions, which leave this club on the fringes of the eight.
Talking about recruitment, this team must have had their HR department on speed dial all summer long. The blockbuster signing of David Fifita shows they are seriously intent on no longer being a laughing stock of a franchise. The signing of Tino Fa’asuamaleaui bulks out their forward pack. They have tremendous potential and the players to pull it off. Look for the Titans to make sure this is a season to remember.
I just couldn’t look at my power rankings without the eternal optimism of a Warriors top-eight finish. These boys are huge, with immense fire power across the park. The signings of Addin Fonua-Blake and Ben Murdoch-Masila ensure the Warriors have the most talented double-barrelled surname squad of all time, able to trot out five players in their starting 13. The loss of captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck at the end of the season will provide the emotional investment these boys need to keep firing up as the year continues. Perennially told ‘this is our year’, it really could be that this is our year.