Stephen’s NRL Countdown Pt 3 & 4

8th: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
Hello: James Graham (ST Helens-ESL), Des Hasler (Sea Eagles)
Goodbye: Jamal Idris (Titans), Ben Roberts (Eels)
A family club with family values which have a lost a whole heap of their 2011 squad. The controversy over Des Hasler has paid in the Bulldogs favour, as the premiership winning coach now joins what could be many years of a dynasty at this young club. With some big props running around in their ranks, the solid platform up front will give them a huge boost this season.
THUMBS DOWN:
It could be a slow start for the Bulldogs, with a lot of personnel missing from last year it might take some tinkering before the right team is there every week.
THUMBS UP:
A new coach means a fresh breath – To me this is what the Bulldogs definitely needed.
7th: Cronulla Sharks
Hello: Todd Carney (Roosters), Ben Ross (Rabbitohs)
Goodbye: Kade Snowden (Knights), Luke Douglas (Titans)
Sporting an improvement last year – things can only go up for the boys from the Shire. Fielding one of the most physical forward packs in the NRL this season, if they can get a decent roll on they will upset a few sides and string a few wins together. Carney’s influence will be a massive bonus too. Through Cronulla is definitely not the safest place for him, as the culture of drinking at the Sharks has been publicised before.
THUMBS DOWN:
Are slow starters. They need to hit the ground running in 2012 to make teams take a look at this dangerous side.
THUMBS UP:
Lost two of their best props and replaced them with two good props. There is nothing lacking about this forward pack whatsoever.
6th: St George Illawarra Dragons
Hello: Chase Stanley (Storm), Jeremy Latimore (Warriors)
Goodbye: Wayne Bennett (Knights), Darius Boyd (Knights)
The second half of their 2011 season left a lot to be desired for this club. Now with a fresh faced coach, and a new crop of players this will be a massive test for the Dragons. Will they be able to produce consistent, threatening performances of years gone by? Or has Uncle Wayne’s departure left a huge hole which could take years to repair.
THUMBS DOWN:
A loss of experience to retirement and other clubs has left the Dragons extremely vulnerable.
THUMBS UP:
A stable halves combination which has proven themselves time after time.
5th: North Queensland Cowboys

Hello: Kane Linnett (Roosters), Robert Lui (Wests Tigers)
Goodbye: Willie Tonga (Eels), Will Tupou (Rugby union)

The Cowboys had a solid, injury free 2011 which saw them leap in to the top eight for the first time in awhile, something built on the back of a healthy Johnathan Thurston. Now paired with a credible halves partner in Robert Lui, the Cowboys can say they are reaching an all round solid squad which will be able to compete all season long. Their youth will only have gotten bigger, stronger and more experienced and this is going to play very much in their court.

THUMBS DOWN:
They have not yet proven themselves as a consistent side, and consistency is a major key to success in the NRL.
THUMBS UP:
A very similar squad from last year which is only going to build up their success.
Here it is, your top four this season predicted by myself!
4th: Newcastle Knights

Hello: Wayne Bennett (Dragons), Danny Buderus (Leeds-ESL)
Goodbye: Adam MacDougall (Retirement), Steve Southern (Wakefield-ESL)
A club being built from the ground up. There is a lot of great things happening at Newcastle. A solid looking squad coached by Wayne Bennett, with Paul Harrigan and Matt Gidley involved on the official side of things – everything is shaping up for a good year for the Hunter boys. Everything is really taking shape off the field, it’s now down to what they can do on it.
THUMBS DOWN:
For a brand new team, it always takes awhile to glue together. This means we might not get the best Knights performances for awhile.
THUMBS UP:
It’s a desirable club. If they get the right results this season only more and more will want to join them.

3rd: Melbourne Storm

Hello: Ryan Hoffman (Wigan-ESL), Jason Ryles (Roosters)
Goodbye: Adam Blair (Wests Tigers), Beau Champion (Titans)
A team which can overcome adversity, and have proven themselves as premiership contenders consistently for years really, are bound for another successful season. A well disciplined and well coached side, have boosted their forward pack despite the loss of Adam Blair with Ryan Hoffman and Jason Ryles. A team strong all over the park will always be hard to beat.
THUMBS DOWN:
Lose so many players to Origin that they are heavily affected, in order to become true contenders they will have to battle harder.
THUMBS UP:
A team which looks very tough and wise. Ominous for other clubs.

2nd: New Zealand Warriors
Hello: Nathan Friend (Titans), Brian McClennan
Goodbye: Shaun Berrigan (Raiders), Aaron Heremaia (Hull-ESL)
Last year the Warriors fell short in the big one. This year they will go close again. A new coach which has the team fizzing, the youthful Warriors have a good thing going in Auckland and a lot of the other clubs always fear the match against the Warriors. If they can harness the talent and experience the club obviously has, it could be a season to remember.
THUMBS DOWN:
A big loss of personnel has left a lot on the shoulders of some young players.

THUMBS UP:
Young, strong and talented. Three characteristics which can see them win a game from anywhere on the park.

1st: Wests Tigers
Hello: Adam Blair (Storm), Joel Reddy (Eels)
Goodbye: Bryce Gibbs (Sharks), Robert Lui (Cowboys)

This year is the year of the Tiger. Tim Sheens is a great coach, they have a team which on paper looks to be the best in the competition by far. A club with a lot to prove this season. They need to change from “there or there abouts” to front-runners. The mind boggles at the prospects of the Wests Tigers this season. They really do look the goods.

THUMBS DOWN: Pressure. They need to step up and be counted. Seasons gone by they have gone by the way side when it counts.

THUMBS UP: They are just so strong in every position. The Tigers are my Minor Premiers and Premiers for 2012.

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