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Opinion

Just how good is your side's spine?

Roar Guru
4th March, 2023
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Roar Guru
4th March, 2023
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We all know that having a good spine is critical to a team’s ability to score enough points to win their fair share of games, and it’s no surprise that the premiership winners over that past 10 years have generally had the strongest spine in the competition.

So, what does that mean for season 2023? Which teams have the spines capable to taking them all the way to a victory lap on October 1 this year? Here are my ratings of every club’s spine, and I reckon that any club rating less than 16 can forget about premiership glory this year.

Melbourne Storm – 18

Nick Meaney (3), Cameron Munster (5), Jahrome Hughes (5), Harry Grant (5)

The Storm may have lost a few players in recent times but they always seem to have an impressive spine, and they’ve still got the best in the business. It may look even stronger if and when Ryan Papenhuyzen returns from injury.

Penrith Panthers – 17

Dylan Edwards (5), Jarome Luai (4), Nathan Cleary (5), Mitch Kenny (3)

You don’t win back-to-back premierships without a top-class spine and the Panthers still have a great quartet, even allowing for the loss of Apisai Koroisau. Jarome Luai still has room for improvement and the battle between Mitch Kenny and Soni Luke for the 9 jersey will be interesting, as they’ll need more from their dummy half if they want to win their third premiership in as many years.

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Sydney Roosters – 17

James Tedesco (5), Luke Keary (4), Sam Walker (3), Brandon Smith (5)

The Roosters have certainly moved up the pecking order with the addition of Brandon Smith this season. Expect Sam Walker to further improve his game and ranking this year and don’t be surprised to see Joey Manu in the 6 jersey at some stage during the season.

South Sydney Rabbitohs – 16

Latrell Mitchell (5), Cody Walker (4), Lachlan Ilias (3), Damien Cook (4)

Cody Walker holds the key for Souths, and if he can feed the ball to Mitchell at the right time and place, the opposition will struggle to keep up. Mitchell has averaged just 16 games per season for Souths over the last three years, and he’ll have to increase that substantially this year if Souths are to challenge for the title.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 25: Cody Walker of the Rabbitohs celebrates with Latrell Mitchell, Keaon Koloamatangi and Lachlan Ilias of the Rabbitohs after scoring a try during the round three NRL match between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Sydney Roosters at Accor Stadium, on March 25, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Cody Walker celebrates with Latrell Mitchell, Keaon Koloamatangi and Lachlan Ilias. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

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Parramatta Eels – 16

Clint Gutherson (4), Dylan Brown (4), Mitchell Moses (4), Josh Hodgson (4)

The Eels have a very good spine, and if they can stay on the park for most of the year they’ll win the large majority of their games. They’d be an even bigger threat if either Dylan Brown or Mitch Moses could consistently take their games to the next level.

North Queensland Cowboys – 16

Scott Drinkwater (4), Tom Dearden (4), Chad Townsend (4), Reece Robson (4)

Another very solid spine that can get the job done if they can repeat the best of last year’s form. Dearden and Robson could be the big improvers for the Cowboys this year and could move to the elite level.

Manly Sea Eagles – 15

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Tom Trbojevic (5), Josh Schuster (2), Daly Cherry-Evans (5), Lachlan Croker (3).

It seems that no other club is so dependent upon one player for its success as Manly are on Tommy T. If he can stay on the field, then anything’s possible. I’m yet to be convinced that Schuster has what it takes for the five-eighth role or will be able to match the efforts of Kieran Foran.

Cronulla Sharks – 15

Will Kennedy (3), Matt Moylan (4), Nicho Hynes (5), Blayke Brailey (3)

The Sharks’ spine, Hynes aside, looks more consistent than outstanding, and the loss of Kade Dykes to injury for the season is a blow to the club as he looked to be a special talent.

Canberra Raiders – 14

Xavier Savage (3), Jack Wighton (5), Jamal Fogarty (3), Danny Levi (3)

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A lot will once again fall on Jack Wighton’s shoulders and it will be interesting to see whether Jamal Fogarty can recapture his best form in 2023. The Raiders certainly need him to fire from Round 1. The sky’s the limit with Savage, if he can stay injury-free, and there will be a three-way tussle for the 9 jersey between Levi, Tom Starling and Zac Woolford throughout the season.

Brisbane Broncos – 14

Reece Walsh (4), Ezra Mam (3), Adam Reynolds (4), Billy Walters (3)

Another middle of the road spine with five-eighth Mam still to prove himself, while Billy Walters is just bog average and prone to some poor decision-making. A lot will depend upon Adam Reynolds’ ability to create space for Reece Walsh, and on the subject of Walsh, will he be able to withstand the challenge for the No.1 jersey from Selwyn Cobbo?

Gold Coast Titans – 14

AJ Brimson (4), Kieran Foran (4), Tanah Boyd (3), Sam Verrills (3)

Foran and Verrills will certainly steady the ship this year and hopefully create something for the likes of Brimson and the other exciting outside backs. Don’t be surprised to see Foran in 7, Brimson in 6 and Jayden Campbell in the 1 jersey before too long.

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Wests Tigers – 14

Daine Laurie (3), Adam Doueihi (3), Luke Brooks (3), Apisai Koroisau (5)

Koroisau aside, it’s really hard to get excited about the Tigers’ spine. Doueihi could step up to another level if given room to move this year, Brooks is a perennial disappointment, and Laurie will fight out the 1 jersey with Charlie Staines.

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Canterbury Bulldogs – 13

Hayze Perham (2), Matt Burton (4), Kyle Flanagan (3), Reed Mahoney (4)

Despite more recent recruitment than the Russian army, the Bulldogs spine is average at best, with a big gap between the abilities of Burton and Mahoney when compared to Flanagan and Perham. Coach Cameron Ciraldo will no doubt experiment with other options in both the 1 and 7 jerseys before settling on his best combination.

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New Zealand Warriors – 12

Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (3), Te Maire Martin (3), Shaun Johnson (3), Wayde Egan (3)

Nothing to get excited about here, just four very average players. Both Martin and Johnson are capable of so much more, and the Warriors’ fate will depend on whether or not they can go up a gear and stay there.

St George Illawarra Dragons – 12

Tyrell Sloan (2), Jayden Sullivan (2), Ben Hunt (5), Jacob Liddle (3)

Ben Hunt’s going to have a very busy year if the Dragons are going to find enough points to be competitive. Both Sullivan and Sloan could blossom with more game time but they’re both a year off demanding a first grade start.

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Newcastle Knights – 11

Lachlan Miller (2), Kalyn Ponga (3), Jackson Hastings (3), Jayden Brailey (3)

An untested fullback in Miller, and Kalyn Ponga beginning a new role at five-eighth may not give the Knights the start to the season they need. Expect to see Ponga back in the 1 jersey in five or six weeks.

Dolphins – 10

Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow (2), Isayia Katoa (2), Sean O’Sullivan (3), Jeremy Marshall-King (3)

This line-up isn’t going to threaten too many teams, with Marshall-King looming as their most accomplished member of the spine. A lot will depend on whether Tabuai-Fidow can make a decent fist of the fullback spot and whether Isayia Katoa can fulfill his undoubted potential in a very big hurry.

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