Ricky’s 2018 NRL Previews Pt 1: Brisbane Broncos

Pre-season can be a long tough slog for the NRL faithful so here we are, hoping to lighten the mood somewhat.
We kick-start our NRL previews with the Brisbane Broncos, a side that everyone loves to hate – for their own reasons. 

Any side coached by Wayne Bennett is going to provide stiff competition for their opponents.
In 2018, though, with the surprising upheaval that has taken place, are they primed for a premiership assault?
With a good core of reliable players at the helm, plenty lies on them to guide the new recruits and turn the Broncos into a genuine premiership force once again.

All Quiet on the Western Hunt

The biggest talking point for the Broncos ahead of the 2018 season is quite simple; how to cope with the loss of Ben Hunt.
A crucial figure for the club in recent years – although equally inconsistent at times – the pressure is on for his replacement to perform at a decent level.

The pressure will be eased somewhat knowing the quality that already exists in the halves in Anthony Milford but is that enough?
With some doubts and insecurities as to whether Milford is the man to guide the side’s attack on his own, just who can step up and aid him in the Broncos quest for glory?

The most obvious choice for many is Kodi Nikorima. Prior to last season, his chances were rather sporadic but when given a chance, he proved that he has the goods to be given the first opportunity. A small, nuggety but nimble player, Nikorima has had plenty of exposure to the NRL standard across numerous positions, an aspect that could aid him.

Other than Nikorima, lesser known options such as Sam Scarlett or Todd Murphy are chances but with little to no first-grade experience between them, playing either can be a risk. Additionally, new recruit Jack Bird looms as a potential option but the consensus seems to be that he will front up as a centre for the Broncos side.

Bird is the Word

A remarkably gifted and versatile player, Jack Bird, when in form, can be a damaging ball-runner on the edges of the back-line. With the likelihood that he plays centre for his new club in 2018, his potential link-up play with either Corey Oates or Jordan Kahu is sure to have Broncos fans excited.

Bursting onto the scene a few seasons ago playing at five-eighth, he made the eventual shift into the centres and was a catalyst in the Cronulla Sharks 2016 premiership success.
Depending on who you ask, his time at centre was either largely successful, mildly inconsistent or steady without being great. Either way, his attributes, experience and general skillset should be enough to have Broncos fans excited about what he can bring to the table.

To Lodge or not to Lodge?

Time to enter some contentious terrain as the subject of Matthew Lodge has a large number of fans across the NRL livid. His previous actions and exploits were well documented and publicised, prompting many to request he be banned from the game altogether.

Fast-forward to the 2018 season and after working his way back through the Intrust Super Cup recently, the Broncos have taken a punt on him.
This comes much to the aghast of the NRL faithful who strongly believe that he does not deserve a spot at the Broncos yet alone in the NRL based on his previous indiscretions.

Ability wise, Lodge is full of promise but has failed to live up to potential, mostly due to his indiscretions getting in the way.
After stints at numerous NRL clubs, Lodge let his silliness and off-field endeavours overshadow his ability, costing him several years to make a name for himself in the NRL.

In 2018, with a new start and what Broncos fans hope will be a clean slate, Lodge has a chance to finally prove what we have all known. That his ability is not just an afterthought but instead, a reality.
Given a huge confidence boost amid reports that he is set to replace the departed Adam Blair as starting prop, he will have no better chance to grab the bull by the horns and let his footy do the talking.

Gains and Losses

2018 Gains: Jack Bird & Sam Tagataese (both Cronulla Sharks), Jake Turpin (Melbourne Storm), Patrick Mago (North Queensland Cowboys), Troy Dargan (Parramatta Eels), Shaun Nona (St George Illawarra Dragons), Andrew Savelio (Warrington Wolves) & Matthew Lodge.

2018 Losses: Jai Arrow, Adam Blair, Herman Ese’ese, Keegan Hipgrave, Ben Hunt, Matiu Love-Henry, Benji Marshall, David Mead, Tautau Moga & Francis Molo.

Player to Watch

Young guns are the cornerstone of the game, for they grow it, develop it and form the next generation of stars.
At the Broncos, one particular young gun that has caught our eye and is destined for bigger things is forward Jaydn Su’A. Immediately impressing Broncos fans who had previously seen him play, they have high hopes for Su’A at the highest level when he gets further opportunities.

Billed as a key young player by the club’s fans and a long-term project by the club themselves, there is a lot to like about Su’A.
Predominantly a hard-running back-rower, the 21-year old is expected to add to his four NRL games to date at some point over the course of the season.

Su’A broke a record even before he ran onto the field in his debut game when he became the youngest forward to start in an NRL match in the club’s history. From there and based on his success as a junior across all levels, his skillset, ability and range of other attributes have Broncos fans confident that they have a ready-made player to step in when needed.

Predicted 2018 line-up

Here is our educated guess at what we believe is the Broncos’ best line-up for 2018:

  1. Darius Boyd (C)
  2. Corey Oates
  3. James Roberts
  4. Jack Bird
  5. Jordan Kahu
  6. Anthony Milford
  7. Kodi Nikorima
  8. Matthew Lodge
  9. Andrew McCullough
  10. Korbin Sims
  11. Matt Gillett
  12. Alex Glenn
  13. Josh McGuire

14. Joe Ofahengaue
15. Andre Savelio
16. Sam Thaiday
17. Tevita Pangai Jr.

Coach: Wayne Bennett.

 

 

Train and trial pays dividends as Wigan centre signs with the Warriors

Anthony Gelling

Once upon a time, Anthony Gelling fell under the New Zealand Warriors brand when he was a player with then feeder side, the Auckland Vulcans. 

From there, however, he opted for a successful move to Super League side the Wigan Warriors.

In that time, he won a grand final and a World Club Challenge with the Wigan side.

In the end, it was variables away from rugby league that brought about his return to New Zealand and ultimately the Warriors.

The veteran centre is looking forward to the opportunity presented to him and grateful to be around his family again.

“Rugby league wasn’t the reason I came home,” Gelling said.

“I’d had six seasons in England and I really wanted to be back in New Zealand around my family. I’m grateful for everything Wigan did for me and for allowing me to head home early.

“I wasn’t sure what would happen with my career but the opportunity came up to train with the Vodafone Warriors this week and now I’m excited about signing for the club.”

Gelling has represented the Cook Islands and scored 52 times for Wigan, adding experience to a stacked back-line for 2018.

“It’s a stroke of luck for us that Anthony has come back,” said Vodafone Warriors head coach Stephen Kearney.

“He proved himself in the Super League and has immediately impressed us at training this week.

“We’re thrilled we’ve been able to add him to our squad.

He brings size and some special skills, providing further depth and increasing competition among our outside backs.”

New Widnes recruit Kato Ottio tragically passes away

Kato Ottio

It is the news that no rugby league fan wants to hear, that a passionate player who we all saw only just very recently has passed away but tragically, the rugby league world and communities have lost Papua New Guinean international Kato Ottio who passed away this morning. 

Reports initially filtered through via Instagram posts from two of his former Canberra Raiders team-mates (Elliott Whitehead and Jordan Turner) before his PNG Kumul team-mate David Mead followed suit.

Soon after, it was the news that many had feared that was confirmed by Ottio’s new club, the Widnes Vikings. The news was confirmed and it was official, Ottio had tragically passed away.

A young, budding player with a bright future, the recent PNG Kumul looked set to take his career to new levels, as Widnes CEO James Rule was left shocked by the news.

“We are devastated to learn that Kato Ottio has passed away this afternoon,” said Rule.

“Kato was an incredibly talented player, with a bright future ahead of him in Rugby League.

This news is all the more tragic, because Kato was due to travel to the UK this week to fulfil his dream of playing first-grade Rugby League.

We had been in regular contact with Kato and were excited to welcome a bright, excited and passionate young man, who had genuine potential for the future.”

Although the cause of his passing is unconfirmed, Rule makes mention of a possible health issue that arose in training as a potential cause.

“Having only learned this morning that Kato had developed a sudden health issue whilst training yesterday, we are in absolute shock to now receive this tragic news,” continued the Widnes CEO.

“We will be liaising closely with his loved ones to offer them our condolences and support at this difficult time. Widnes Vikings will, of course, be looking to celebrate Kato’s life and pay our sincere respects to someone who we believe would have become a hero at our Club.

Whilst we are coming to terms with this news, and still learning the full facts of this situation, we are unable to comment further at this time.”

Widnes coach Denis Betts also offered his deepest condolences and is disappointed that Ottio will not be able to play out of his dream of continuing as a rugby league player.

“To receive this tragic news is heart-breaking,” said Betts.

“All of us saw at the World Cup the incredible gifts that Kato had, and his potential to forge a great career in Rugby League.

Moreover, in all of our interactions with him, we found Kato to be a person of great character, who was excited to be following his dreams.

On behalf of the coaching team, staff and players at Widnes Vikings, I would like to offer our sincere condolences to Kato’s loved ones.”

The rise of the Pacific nations and how to capitalise on their RLWC success

International rugby league is currently a hot topic in rugby league circles, particularly on the back of the success of the Pacific nations at the 2018 Rugby League World Cup. As you delve deeper, however, just how much recognition are they set to receive moving forward and how often can we expect them to play? 

Brad Boucher has put forth his view on the rise of the Pacific nations and stresses that they cannot be cast asunder anymore. Instead, it is their turn to shine and the international rugby league powers that be must act and give those teams and their fans what they want; more regular international fixtures. Here is Brad’s view:

In the 1995 Rugby League World Cup, Kiwi Mathew Ridge kicked a field goal to defeat a heroic Tongan side by one point.

A nation outside those readily associated with the sport during the previous century really stood up to one of Rugby League’s big three and gave our game an opportunity to push our international boundaries, and create a much-needed new national team which could compete with our first tier nations.

Did the rugby league administrators see and grasp this opportunity by adding Tonga and other Pacific nations to regular international competitions or Test series against top tier nations? No. Tonga did not play another game against a member of the big three until a warm-up to the 2000 world cup five years later when the momentum was long gone.

If Rugby League was a surfer, he would be known as the guy who constantly misses the big perfect wave to ride and show his skills at their peak.

We have just had an amazing RLWC with each Pacific nation competing reaching the quarterfinals. Two of those sides – Fiji and Tonga – went onto the semi-finals. Both beat New Zealand to do so and Tonga – depending on your point of view – could have easily been playing in the final against Australia instead of England had a certain “no try” ruling gone to the video referee.

We have had kings show up to the games and American rock stars fly back on their own money to sing the anthem. We have had crowds in their thousands show up to airports to greet the players or line the streets in protest and support for their national team. Attendance records have been broken at sporting stadiums, crowd support for international teams has never been more passionate and media hype has never been more positive. Our game was rewarded with some of the greatest sporting drama anyone can remember and games of the highest possible standard.

And yet here we are the start of 2018 and only the one game for the Pacific nations has been set in concrete – a mid-season Test with a possible extra game for Tonga in Hawaii at the end of the year. Those games that are planned; are they being played in New Zealand to take advantage of the supporters there vying for more? No. They are a triple-header in a Sydney suburb shared amongst fans obsessed more with State of Origin and their NRL clubs than underdog Pacific teams.

How is this a reward for those Pacific Nations that brought so much to our World Cup? How is this an incentive to the players who knocked back huge match payments from Australia and New Zealand to honour their heritage and play so passionately for the Pacific Nations underdogs? How is this good for our international game?

The answer as to how to ride the RLWC momentum is quite obvious. These nations need a regular competition. A trophy they can hold up if victorious, a set of games that can reward the players each year as a decent respectable representative career and a tournament that can bring back the fans and give them something to look forward to. Reward them for their passionate support. They need an annual Pacific Cup to ride the World Cup momentum.

Played in New Zealand against New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa and Fiji,  a Pacific Cup could easily become New Zealand’s – and the Pacific’s own – State of Origin.

NRL players eligible for each team of the standard of Jason Taumalolo, Andrew Fifita, Michael Jennings, Jarryd Hayne, Suliasi Vunivalu, Akuila Uate, Josh Papalii, Anthony Milford, Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – not to mention guys who missed the trend who might be tempted to make the switch, such as Reagan Cambell-Gillard, Felise Kaufusi and Josh McGuire. They could add the superstar factor that builds great competitions for future generations.

Already some of the New Zealand All Blacks have asked and been denied a switch to the Pacific nations for rugby union’s international game. Think what a consistent tournament of this standard might do for young players in New Zealand wondering which rugby path to choose for their adult careers. A Pacific Cup could help rugby league challenge union, not only in the Pacific but in New Zealand as well.

The Kiwis might take a small step backwards when some of their players make themselves available for Tonga or Samoa at the start but they will take two steps forward when the game revenue starts flowing into their bank accounts and young players in Australia and New Zealand playing both rugby league and union starts deciding they want to be apart of the atmosphere and passion this tournament is sure to create.

But New Zealand are already committed to touring England in 2018 and can’t possibly take part in a Pacific Cup this year I hear you say? Well, it just so happens rugby league has another tool in its shed that can help kick-start this tournament until 2019 when the Kiwis are available and it’s not just any tool, it’s a bloody big sledgehammer.

I’m not talking about Australia, though they would be a great option. The other team I’m talking about for 2018, I’d bet would draw massive crowds and TV ratings because those games would be the last games played by one of the games most popular and best players of all time. Because who wouldn’t want to watch a Johnathan Thurston lead a full-strength Indigenous Dream Team around the field for the last time in his testimonial year? The script has written itself.

So come on rugby league administrators. These gifts to our game are right in front of us to hand out. Reward the players and fans of the Pacific Nations for their work in the RLWC and reward one of our games greatest players with a send-off he truly deserves. Don’t be the surfer who misses the perfect wave for our game to ride to success.

Dragons back-rower granted release to join Manly

Joel Thompson

In a move that has left St George Illawarra Dragons fans bitter, their previous fan favourite back-rower Joel Thompson will head to Manly next season, after signing a 2-year deal.

With 174 NRL games to his name so far for both the Canberra Raiders and the Dragons, his signing is one that has been very welcomed by the Manly faithful.

“Joel is a player I have admired for a long time. I coached him in the Country team a couple of years ago,’’ Barrett said.

“Not only is Joel a terrific bloke and a terrific leader but he is extremely competitive and very tough. He is a professional.”

HIs first-grade experience is a timely boost for the Manly pack as they look to strengthen their squad for 2018.

“Joel has played plenty of first-grade and his experience is something I thought our squad needed,” continued Barrett.

Not only will the team benefit from it but also a lot of our young individuals will benefit too from having someone like Joel around.”

With Thompson revered for his on-field professionalism and off-field heart, the Manly club is pleased to have him on board.

“Joel brings a strong passion and commitment through not just his on-field performances but also his off-field contribution to the community,” Manly Sea Eagles CEO Lyall Gorman said.

“His dedication to adding value across the community is an area to which our Club is genuinely committed and one for which Joel was recently recognised through being the well-served recipient of the NRL Ken Stephen Medal for Community Service.”

In the end, although Thompson admits that it was a tough decision to leave, he had to do what was best for his family.

“It’s an emotional day leaving this great club but with three girls and a young family, I had to make that decision [to request a release],” Thompson said.

“It’s going to be really tough leaving the staff, the players and the fans.

Everyone has been unbelievable to me and I can’t thank them enough.”

Although he is leaving, Thompson praised the Dragons club, community and fans for the way they treated him and respected him.

“I’ve not only grown as a footballer but as a person at the Dragons,” he continued.

“Everyone has helped me so much and I couldn’t be more grateful and thankful for what they’ve done for me.

“Thank you to the Red V Members and fans for all the support you’ve given me over the years.”

In the end, with the Dragons having plentiful depth within their tea, Thompson leaves knowing that young crop of players are ready to play.

I encourage you to get behind this great team. They have plenty of potential and are going to play some really good football.

 “That was another part of my decision, I believe the young guys coming through now will step up, make that role their own and take this club to where it deserves to be.”

Hulking back-rower re-signs with the Dragons

Luciano Leilua

After much conjecture as to whether or not he would stay with the club, the St George Illawarra Dragons have announced the re-signing of hulking back-rower Luciano Leilua for a further two seasons.

Off-contract at the end of the 2018 season, the local Hurstville United junior will look to add to his first-grade tally after making his debut in 2016.

Earning Illawarra RLFC’s Intrust Super Premiership Player of the Year Award, Leilua did not add to his first-grade games tally in 2017.

The club, however, is thrilled to have Leilua retained as they continue to push him and train him to become adept to the NRL standard.

“Luciano is a player who has come through all of our junior ranks and we believe he’s one of the most skilful players in our Top 30,” Dragons Director of Rugby League Pathways Ian Millward said.

“Luciano is very important to us with his size and athleticism.”

“2017 has been a real education year for Luciano. He was in a position where he had to learn the demands of playing outside the Under-20s and full-time training, and we really believe he’s grown as a person as a result.”

The club and Millward are confident that 2018 is set to be a big year for the promising talent.

“His training this pre-season has been outstanding,” continued Millward.

“There’s been a complete physical and mental change about the way he goes about his business.

We really believe 2018 is going to be a super year for Luciano.”

In the end, the decision was an easy one for Leilua who is proud to don the Red V jersey.

“I’m very excited to remain with my junior club. I’m really stoked to be here and it means the world to re-sign,” Leilua said.

“2017 was a rollercoaster year for me. I learnt a lot off the big boys while I continued learning my trade in the ISP.

I wanted to return to pre-season training in good shape so I could give myself the best opportunity to play in the NRL in 2018.”

Centurions continue signing spree as they add PNG hooker

Kurt Baptiste

They mean business in their quest to return to the Super League and the Leigh Centurions have further bolstered their roster with the signing of Canberra Raiders hooker Kurt Baptiste. 

The Papua New Guinean international who most recently played at the Rugby League World Cup has signed a 1-year deal with Leigh.

WIth 60 NRL games to his name for both the Brisbane Broncos and the Canberra Raiders, Leigh head coach Neil Jukes sees the signing as a coup for the club.

“On and off the field, he will add great leadership values and bring the quality trends he has developed from two elite environments in the Broncos and the Raiders,” said Jukes.

“His energy, control and running game will be infectious for the players around him and with the staff look forward to enhancing those skills further.

“He’ll join up with the boys after the New Year and jump straight into our preparations for 2018.”

Leigh owner Derek Beaumont also praised the signing as well as the other additions the club has made on and off the field.

“Kurt’s capture is a further statement of our intention to regain our Super League place at the first opportunity and with the quality backroom additions of Adam (Seymour) as head physio, Scott (Hill) as nutritionist and Bubble (Chris Baron) as head conditioner alongside Kez and Jukesy and the rest of the staff we have a fantastic off-field team to help us achieve that,” Beaumont said.

Papua New Guinean speedster flies the coop to Perpignan

David Mead

On the back of what was a successful individual Rugby League World Cup campaign, David Mead has opted to sign for Super League side, the Catalan Dragons.

Mead has signed a three-year deal with the Perpignan-based club, a move that has come as a shock to some given that he could have continued to play NRL.

Despite that, Mead opted to sign for Catalans and is grateful for the new opportunity presented to him.

“My family and I are grateful for the opportunity given to us by the Dragons,” said Mead.

“I enjoyed my time at the Broncos under the command of Wayne Bennett but I am now eager to discover France and its culture and meet my new teammates and staff in a few weeks. ”

Playing in more than 150 NRL games for the Gold Coast Titans and the Brisbane Broncos, as well as in more than 10 internationals for Papua New Guinea, the club is excited at the prospect of seeing Mead play in their colours.

“He is a superb rookie not only for our club but also for the competition in general,” Catalans coach Steve McNamara said.

“His exceptional speed and offensive assets have been recognized in NRL for several years, qualities that he further improved during his recent performances with Papua New Guinea during the World Cup.

I am convinced that he will quickly become one of the favorite players of the Catalan fans who will love to see him in action. ”

Leadership is such a key aspect for many senior players in today’s day of rugby league and Catalans hope that Mead can build on his experiences as Papua New Guinea captain at the World Cup.

“To have been named the captain of his country was the perfect opportunity for him to show his leadership qualities and we are looking forward to seeing him further develop this aspect of his game at Dragons,” McNamara continued.

“We had to work very hard, particularly with Christophe Jouffret, to make this agreement and the transfer happen. To sign a foreign player of this calibre becomes more and more difficult and we strike a big blow with this player who will be an added value for us but also for the competition of Super League as a whole. “

Talented Roosters half cites ‘a new home’ behind decision to stay

Luke Keary

With all the focus on the big-name recruits that the Sydney Roosters have signed for the 2018 season, other names fell by the wayside somewhat. 

With players to re-sign and recommit, the Roosters had their work cut out in retaining their stars but have held onto Luke Keary, who has committed to the club for a further three seasons until the end of 2021.

The 25-year old half was already contracted for the 2018 season and played in every game for the Tricolours in 2017.

In his eyes, the Roosters club is his new home and he is excited to continue playing for the foundation club.

“I’ve found a home here at the Roosters, and each day I come in, I’m learning something new, so I’m really glad to extend my time here,” Keary said.

With Keary a focal point of the Roosters spine alongside new halfback Cooper Cronk, the club are pleased to retain him.

“Luke is a quality person who loves his footy and is always working on his game,” Robinson said.

“As I said a few months ago, barring the nine minutes he spent in the sin bin, Luke didn’t miss a moment of game time for us in 2017, and that’s a testament to how hard he works.”

“On and off the field, Luke has become a big contributor in all aspects of Club life, so its great news for the Roosters to have him on board for a further three years.”

Veteran fullback makes the jump North and signs with Titans

Michael Gordon

In desperate need of both some experience and some back-line versatility, when the opportunity arose to sign Michael Gordon, the Gold Coast Titans pounced. 

After just one year at the Sydney Roosters, Gordon is moving on but he quickly became a fan favourite at the club and admits that his time there, albeit short, was special to him.

“I might have only been with the Roosters for a year, but the impact of the Club on me and my family has been huge,” Gordon said.

This definitely hasn’t been an easy decision, but I feel that it’s in the best interests of my family by allowing us to move back home,” said Gordon.

Gordon received the blessing from the Roosters to pursue the new opportunity and it allows him to move closer to his family who are based on the Tweed Coast where Gordon is from.

“It’s with reluctance that the Club has granted this release, but first and foremost, Michael is a husband and father, and we respect the reason for his request,” Roosters recruitment manager Adam Hartigan said.

“While his leadership and experience will be missed, we didn’t want to prevent Michael taking up the opportunity to secure his future for the next two years.”

Gordon continued with praise of his own for the Roosters and for the way he was treated by the fans and the club.

“I can’t speak highly enough about the Roosters,” continued Gordon.

“From Robbo and the coaches to my teammates and all the staff, everyone at the Club has been like family, and while I might be moving on, I’ll always be grateful for my time at the Club and to have represented the Roosters.”

Since debuting for the Penrith Panthers, Gordon has played in 225 NRL games with the Panthers, the Parramatta Eels, the Sydney Roosters and is expected to add to that at the Gold Coast Titans.

The man himself is excited about joining the club and working alongside Garth Brennan.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to return home and to play for the Titans,” Gordon said.

“I had a good conversation with Garth and the future looks bright.

“I hope I can contribute and be part of a successful club here on the Gold Coast.”

With young talent always coming through on the Gold Coast, Brennan sees Gordon as the perfect man to help guide them and their transition into the top-flight.

“Michael is a player that everyone loves playing with and is the ultimate professional in every aspect of the game,” Brennan said.

“We have a number of young players in the squad and Michael will help them with their development as well as be a leader amongst the group.”

“His experience, as well as his ability as a goal kicker, will make him a valuable commodity here at the Titans.”

 

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