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NRL season review and crystal ball Part 2: Warriors, Dragons, Raiders and Sharks

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Roar Guru
7th October, 2021
30
1826 Reads

On Thursday, Harry Ramage ran his eye over the bottom four teams of the 2021 NRL season, and predicted how they will fare in 2022. Today I’m charged with Part 2 of the four-part series that we’ll pick up early next week.

CLICK HERE TO READ OUR REORT ON THE BULLDOGS, COWBOYS, BRONCOS AND TIGERS

This time it’s the near misses – those four teams that harboured finals ambitions but fell short, placed ninth to 12th on the ladder.

New Zealand Warriors – 12th

While so much credit deservedly goes to Peter V’landys, Andrew Abdo and crew for keeping the competition going during the pandemic, we also owe a lot to the Warriors.

Without the many sacrifices they made, including relocating to Australia for the past two years, who knows what would have happened to the game. They became the second team for many because of what they did. So, on behalf of everyone, thank you.

Reece Walsh

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

What went right in 2021?
Despite their disastrous 44-0 thrashing at the hands of the Titans in their last game, the Warriors played pretty well this season and showed us the side they are capable of being. They have a good roster with the likes of Kodi Nikorima, Bunty Afoa and Chanel Harris-Tavita, and gaining Reece Walsh during the season made such an impact.

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The Warriors lost three games by a field goal, two games by only two points, and only missed the top eight by two points. If a few of their close losses went their way, it could have been a very different end to the season.

What went wrong in 2021?
Not being able to close out those tight games. Needing to ice a game became a catchphrase for many commentators this season. I don’t like that term, but I agree with the meaning of it.

Injuries and suspensions throughout the year also had the team feeling like they were one step forward, two steps back. The mid-season purchase of Chad Townsend also didn’t have the desired effect due to his injured shoulder.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck not being able to finish out the season was a big blow for the Warriors. Not just as a talent and a leader on the field, but as a mentor and motivator off it. With everyone missing home, you could tell losing RTS just took the wind out of their sails.

Oh yes, and having the dynamic duo of Matt Lodge and Kane Evans letting off brain explosions wherever they went didn’t help either.

Matthew Lodge of the Warriors is sent off

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

What do they need most in 2022?
They need a few things to go their way. To be based at home would be a huge advantage. I have everything crossed for the Warriors that enough happens in the off-season with COVID that they can be home.

Stability, structure, family, friends, and your own bed can make a huge difference. And I’m sure having the coach finally getting to spend time in the country his team is based in wouldn’t hurt either.

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They also need the return of favourite son Shaun Johnson to go to plan and for him to stay injury free. When he is at 100 per cent, he can make such a difference to the team, especially in those close games.

Walsh keeping his nose clean (pun intended) and a bit more discipline from the big boys will all help as well.

2022 crystal ball
The Warriors have the potential to be so much greater than 12th. They can be so frustrating to watch at times because of how good they should be.

If they can be based at home, get the little things right and stay fit and healthy, they could just nudge their way into the top eight.

St George Illawarra Dragons – 11th

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It was a year that the Dragons would like to quickly forget. Many had high expectations for them, but they turned out to be a big disappointment.

At the start of the season they were four wins from five games and things looked promising. But inconsistency crept in, and as we all know the wheels well and truly fell off in the middle of the year.

What went right in 2021?
Not a lot. Ben Hunt and Andrew McCullough had sensational seasons, led from the front and thankfully stayed out of trouble.

It was also exciting to see some of the younger boys like Cody Ramsey and Jayden Sullivan coming through and making their marks.

Cody Ramsey

(Photo by Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

What went wrong in 2021?
Go grab a cuppa, this could take a while. Obviously, BBQ-gate and the COVID 13 will be remembered as the catalyst for the Dragons’ 2021 season.

They thought they were untouchable, blatantly ignored directions from the coach, and embarrassingly got caught breaking COVID protocols. Paul Vaughan got sacked and the rest of the brains trust got varying fines and suspensions.

At one point Anthony Griffin was struggling to field a full team due to the number of stars on the sideline. Members and fans were disgusted and the NRL were left scrambling to keep the competition going after the COVID breaches. The club just imploded.

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Josh McGuire’s move to the club didn’t make a positive impact, Jack de Belin was almost named as captain and before the BBQ Matt Dufty wasn’t getting game time. The club looked like a shambles.

Losing captain Cameron McInnes for the year due to injury before the first game of the season hurt the Dragons.

Also, not losing Corey Norman for the year due to injury before the first game of the season probably hurt just as much.

What do they need most in 2022?
After farewelling the likes of Cameron McInnes, Matt Dufty, Paul Vaughan and Adam Clune, they really need their new signings to pay off.

Paul Vaughan of the Dragons plays up to the crowd

(Photo by Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

They have some great players joining the Red V next year in the likes of Moses Suli, Jaydn Su’A, George Burgess, Billy Burns, Francis Molo and Moses Mbye. If they can click with the existing talent then the Dragons will be on the right path.

2022 crystal ball
They will have a better season than 2021 (how could they not, right?) but I don’t see any miracles coming from the Dragons next year. They won’t make the top eight, but they will get some pride and respect back into the jersey.

And if hide and seek ever becomes an Olympic sport, Jack de Belin could look at that after his footy career finishes.

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Canberra Raiders – tenth

Hooley dooley. I’m sure Raiders fans will need to lay down on a lounge during one-hour sessions to discuss their season.

Many experts and tipsters had the Green Machine finishing in their top four, after being grand finalists in 2019 and falling one game short of the grand final last year.

But a lack of cohesion on the field, in-fighting, injuries, and a star getting the boot saw the Raiders finish tenth, with many pointing the finger at Ricky Stuart.

Ricky Stuart

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

What went right in 2021?
I was taught early on that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. The Viking Clap was still cool to watch, does that count as something that went right?

If I had to pick something, Jordan Rapana was a standout in a very average side. He was the team’s top try scorer and one of the best players week in, week out.

What went wrong in 2021?
Everything. The Raiders have been labelled as the biggest disappointment of the season. The pinnacle was the George Williams debacle.

Having a star playmaker sacked mid-season would hurt any team, but all the drama that surrounded it didn’t only have a ripple effect, it caused a tsunami. It showed many hidden cracks in what everyone thought was a tight-knit club.

Add to that an injury to Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, which saw him miss most of the season, the fact that Jack Wighton seemed to forget how to play footy, Joe Tapine’s wife adding her two bobs’ worth about where her husband should play, and most of the team seemed to play with no heart.

Then there were the constant rumours that Stuart had lost the respect of the playing group. It all just became too hard.

What do they need most in 2022?
Something! Anything! Most fans can accept a loss when they know their team tried their best. The Raiders were well below their best and many would run out onto the field looking like they would rather be anywhere else.

Jack Wighton of the Raiders offloads the ball

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

They may need to drop the milk sponsor and get a concrete company on board so they can have a glass of that instead.

2022 crystal ball
It doesn’t look good for the Raiders in 2022. The fact that they haven’t bought any new players to join the team is a concern.

Stuart will get shown the door during the season. A 28-year premiership drought, eight of those years with Ricky at the helm, as well as signs that the players have had enough of him – his time has come.

On a side note, I am wishing all the best to Sia Soliola in retirement. Absolute legend.

Cronulla Sharks – ninth

After the departure of John Morris early in the year, many were ready to right the Sharks off. Assistant coach Josh Hannay stood up and tried to steady the ship to get it back on track for the top eight.

And in all fairness, he did a good job. Once the dust settled, injured players started to come back and some of the young ones came through, they were well on their way.

But after losing a few games that they should have won, the Sharks found themselves having to rely on other teams to lose so they could play in the finals. They almost made it, but fell agonisingly short.

What went right in 2021?
There was a lot right with the Sharks this year. Players like William Kennedy, Ronaldo Mulitalo, Toby Rudolf, Blayke Brailey and Braydon Trindall really stepped up.

William Kennedy runs the ball

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

When Luke Metcalf was finally given the chance in the top grade, he grabbed it with both hands and was a breath of fresh air.

The recruitment team also get a big pat on the back. Finally getting the likes of Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson, Aaron Woods and Josh Dugan off their books has allowed a spending spree to take place.

With Dale Finucane, Nicho Hynes and Cameron McInnes all signing on for next season, along with new coach Craig Fitzgibbon, things are looking ‘up up’ for the Sharks. See what I did there?

What went wrong in 2021?
There is no denying that what happened to Morris had a negative effect on the team. Wondering if he could have taken them to the finals will always be one of those ‘what-ifs’ that will hang over their heads.

Not being able to play the full 80 minutes was another contributing factor. Towards the end of games, the Sharks would always look tired and out on their feet. That was the difference in some of their close losses.

Like many teams, injuries played a big factor in the season outcome. Losing their captain Wade Graham sporadically and then eventually for the remainder of the season due to numerous head knocks didn’t help the cause.

Add on top of that the horrific freak accident to Andrew Fifita and the ongoing injuries to Matt Moylan and Shaun Johnson, the Sharks were unable to have their best 17 on the field often and because of that couldn’t build a good rhythm.

What do they need most in 2022?
Consistency. An injury-free year and all new recruits gelling immediately into the team would be the dream.

Craig Fitzgibbon

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

There is a lot of pressure on Fitzgibbon and Finucane to come to the club and turn things around quickly, so they need to block out all of the outside noise and just do their jobs.

It will be interesting to see which halves combination Fitzgibbon goes with, having to pick from Moylan, Trindall, Metcalf, and Hynes.

And of course, they need to get their fitness levels up and be able to play for the full 80 minutes.

2022 crystal ball
I see good things for the Sharks. They will have a strong team on paper, and they should be able to carry that to the field.

Adding a mix of Roosters and Storm class will help the cause too. So will being back at their home ground of Shark Park.

I don’t think they will be there right at the end, but they will make the top eight.

I also see that Josh Hannay will never again not take the two points.

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