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NRL 2022 Radar: Best and worst case scenario for EVERY team

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Expert
24th December, 2021
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The 16 NRL teams are taking their off-season break, gearing up for the final stretch of training and trials before season 2022 kicks off.

They all have high hopes for the season ahead but there can only be one winner and someone has to come last.

Penrith will be the team to beat while Melbourne, the Roosters, Rabbitohs and Manly are rated the main contenders to knock the premiers off their throne.

Here’s the best and worst case scenarios for each team in 2022, ranked by last season’s finishing positions.

Penrith Panthers

Best-case scenario

The easiest thing for bookmakers every year is to post the premiers as competition favourites even though only the Roosters of 2019 have successfully defended their title in the NRL era. But the Panthers deserve to be the team to beat – they have retained their premiership-winning squad except for second-rower Kurt Capewell and centres Matt Burton and Paul Momirovski.

Worst-case scenario

They won’t miss the finals and it would take a few unforeseen events for them to miss the top four with this squad – star halfback Nathan Cleary is on the mend after shoulder surgery and with so much of their attack centred around his playmaking, their title defence would be severely affected if he has any setbacks.

South Sydney Rabbitohs

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Best-case scenario

They could go one better than last season – if, and it’s a big if, their three main playmakers remain injury free, and avoid a suspension like the one Latrell Mitchell received late last season. Their middles are arguably the strongest in the NRL and Cody Walker will again be a prominent contender for the Dally M Medal.

Worst-case scenario

One or two key injuries and the Bunnies could fall back into the pack pretty quickly. For a title contender, their roster is a curious mix of experience and newcomers at both ends of the spectrum.

Ryan Papenhuyzen of the Storm is tackled

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Melbourne Storm

Best-case scenario

They can again be the last team standing on grand final night – they’ve still got a classy spine, an imposing pack, strikepower in the outside backs and the best coach in the competition.

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Worst-case scenario

The impending departures of Brandon Smith and Felise Kaufusi, along with the contract speculation about Cameron Munster and Harry Grant could become a distraction. Also, their depth has been depleted in the off-season following the losses of Sharks recruits Nicho Hynes and Dale Finucane, Josh Addo-Carr and Max King to Canterbury and Brenko Lee to the Broncos.

Manly Sea Eagles

Best-case scenario

If you squint you could see Manly holding up the trophy on grand final night but for that to happen they would not only need Tom Trbojevic to replicate his Dally M season and Daly Cherry-Evans to continue his impressive late-career form, they’d need a rising star like Josh Schuster to take another leap and become an elite player in this competition.

Worst-case scenario
The obvious answer here is that Trbojevic is again hampered by hamstring injuries and recent history shows, when he is out of the line-up, Manly struggle. With a top-heavy salary cap with DCE and the Turbo brothers chewing up a large chunk, coach Des Hasler needs to keep getting value for money out of the lesser lights on this roster.

Sydney Roosters

Best-case scenario

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They can go all the way. There’s no doubt that if the Roosters avoid the wretched run of injuries that befell them in 2021 that they can be there on grand final night. Every team will claim at some stage this pre-season they’ve got ‘a good mix of youth and experience’ but this roster is the embodiment of it – a blend of hard-headed veterans, several stars in the prime of their careers, and a bumper crop of young talent rolling off the production line.

Worst-case scenario

Hopefully Luke Keary enjoys a successful return after tearing his ACL but if he is sidelined again or cannot recapture his superb form from 2019-20, the Roosters lack an experienced playmaker that is needed for any team to challenge for the title.

Maika Sivo gives the thumbs up

Maika Sivo (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Parramatta Eels

Best-case scenario

Even if all the cards fall their way, it’s hard to see this team lifting the premiership trophy in 2022. Parra don’t seem to have the player with wow factor like they did the last time they made a grand final a dozen years ago. A top-four berth is a possibility but may be the ceiling on their capabilities.

Worst-case scenario

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The Eels could slip and slide out of the finals equation relatively quickly if their recruitment issues continue to be a distraction and any of their impending departees try to get a mid-season switch to their next club.

Newcastle Knights

Best-case scenario

After making first-round finals exits the past two years, it’s hard to see the Knights going any higher next year unless Kalyn Ponga is healthy all season and produces quality performances pretty much every week. Their pack is one of the best in the NRL and Dane Gagai solves a problem area at centre.

Worst-case scenario

The halves are a problem area and with Mitchell Pearce finishing his career in France, it means Newcastle head into the season with Jake Clifford and Adam Clune as their likely starting playmakers. Generating points was a major issue for the Knights last season and these two aren’t renowned as attacking dynamos so they could drop out of the finals equation unless Ponga can conjure up plenty of line breaks.

Gold Coast Titans

Best-case scenario

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They can certainly get among the top-four equation if Fifita fires and they don’t have any injuries to their key players, particularly in the halves and hooker where their depth is not great.

Worst-case scenario

They’ve got talent in the spine but not a lot of experience so if Toby Sexton and Jayden Campbell suffer the dreaded second-year syndrome, the Titans could struggle to score points and drop out of the playoff picture.

Cronulla Sharks
Best-case scenario

They could rise to the fringe of the top four but probably lack the star power to take on the big dogs just yet. Their forward depth across the board is up there with the best packs in the NRL but they probably lack a dynamic scoring option or two out wide to be legitimate title contenders.

Worst-case scenario

They were unlucky to miss the finals in the last round of 2021 which ultimately came down to their inability to upset higher-ranked opponents. If that trend continues and they can’t settle on a halves combination, the Sharks could again be watching the playoffs from afar next year but they shouldn’t sink anywhere near wooden spoon territory.

Nick Cotric dives over

Nick Cotric. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Canberra Raiders

Best-case scenario

As it stands, the Raiders would need a helluva lot to go right for them to break back into the top four. If Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad can rediscover his best after injury ruined last season for the fullback, then that would go a long way towards Canberra being able to score enough points to compete with the top teams.

Worst-case scenario

They look likely candidates for the lower half of the top eight but as we saw last season, they can blow leads and sometimes struggle to get out of second gear so the Green Machine may miss the finals again for a second straight year despite having a strong roster in pretty much every position on the field.

St George Illawarra Dragons

Best-case scenario

If the Dragons can get the best of their oldies and their young guns fire, they could be a challenger for one of the last spots in the top eight. They need captain Ben Hunt injury free and to find him a complementary halves partner from the likes of Jayden Sullivan, Talatau Amone and Mbye, or perhaps Jack Bird.

Worst-case scenario

They get off to a slow start, the fed-up fans start raging about Anthony Griffin’s position – there’ll be some hashtag along the lines of #TimeToHookGriffin – and the gloomy atmosphere affects the younger players.

New Zealand Warriors

Best-case scenario

Their roster construction over the past couple of years has been strong with Addin Fonua-Blake and Reece Walsh coming on board while Shaun Johnson’s recent return gives them more attacking flair. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s switch to rugby is a body blow but the Warriors have genuine depth in all positions and could threaten for the top four if they click in 2022.

Worst-case scenario

They’re facing a third straight season playing away from home, basing themselves at Redcliffe and crossing their fingers they’ll be able to play some games in New Zealand. The fatigue of their unique circumstances could be a factor and despite showing plenty of resilience over the past two years, the Warriors still haven’t been able to crack the finals and could again finish in purgatory of the 10th to 14th range.

Wests Tigers

Best-case scenario

Probably ninth, as painful as that might sound to fans. It’s hard to see this roster making the finals but that shouldn’t matter. Even if the team isn’t in contention for a playoff berth for the majority of the season it’s not the end of the world as long as they’re improving and not taking on any more bad contracts.

Tigers head coach Michael Maguire

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Worst-case scenario

They could end up with the wooden spoon, particularly if the noise around Michael Maguire’s tenure starts up again and they make a mid-season switch of coaches. Their depth chart is littered with a lot of squad members with minimal NRL experience and after already starting the season with Adam Doueihi rehabbing his ACL tear, they can’t afford any more injuries to key players.

Brisbane Broncos

Best-case scenario
Adam Reynolds stays healthy, he gets a complementary halves partner from Tyson Gamble, Albert Kelly, Billy Walters or Kotoni Staggs, the young forwards keep developing and the white noise around Kevin Walters’s position as coach quickly dies down. If these things happen, the Broncos could be a contender for the finals but are highly unlikely to be a genuine title chance.

Worst-case scenario

The Broncos are super thin, especially if Adam Reynolds, Kotoni Staggs or Payne Haas get injured. Many of their squad members are still a couple of seasons away from hitting their prime while others like Jamayne Isaako, Tesi Niu and Thomas Flegler have been way too inconsistent to be considered sure things to support the three main stars in a playoff push.

North Queensland Cowboys

Best-case scenario

If they can make Townsville a fortress again, the Cowboys could be on the fringe of the top eight and potentially even break into the finals. But they need to settle on a halves combination quickly and for Jason Taumalolo and Valentine Holmes to live up to their price tags.

Worst-case scenario

They faded swiftly in the second half of last season when a few injuries struck – their depth is slightly improved in 2022 but still not enough to cover sustained absences from their better players. If Todd Payten’s approach doesn’t start to bear fruit in the first half of the season, they have the potential to again finish among the also-rans.

Canterbury Bulldogs
Best-case scenario

If all their new players strike up combinations quickly and the spine can finally become settled, this team on paper can challenge for a top-eight spot. After four straight years among the also-rans, Dogs fans will just be happy to move out of the cellar.

Worst-case scenario

Jack Hetherington, Tevita Pangai jnr and Luke Thompson need to avoid their regular judiciary dramas or the Dogs will again be shuffling their squad around on a weekly basis. It’s not easy to get instant success with so many new parts from different clubs on the same page so Trent Barrett will have his work cut out meshing his various recruits with his squad to form a functioning team.

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