Fantasy Coach Killers: The Bucks Weekend

The Sports Fantasy Pro Wizard is back with yet another installment in his fantasy coach killers series. This time, the Bucks Weekend. That time when you head off with your mates for a celebration before the big one and find your team potentially hijacked or sabotaged.

A night/weekend away with the boys during the footy season may seem like a great idea but it can (and has) led to the mass sabotage or complete derailment of myriad fantasy seasons….

COMMON CAUSES

Coaching through adversity is part and parcel of being a head coach, but coaching through a Bucks weekend is like actively attempting to navigate into the Bermuda Triangle.

Due to the fact that majority of such celebrations occur or at least begin on a Friday, the first casualty of a Bucks doo is invariably a fantasy footy team.

Countless coaches have awoken Monday morning to find their so-called mates have taken liberties with their team across the weekend.

It can happen easily, particularly if your logins are saved on your phone.

Forget about prank calling ex-girlfriends the new game for bored best mates to play while you are passed out duck-taped to a telegraph pole at 4 in the morning is ‘what absolute numpty can we trade into his team’.

Indeed, the number of coaches who have returned from a Bucks weekend to find the armband has been given to some 17 year old non-playing rookie is frightening.

The reason so many Bucks (or even friends of Bucks) find themselves in fantasy hot water post stag doo is a combination of the innate trust they have in their best and closest friends, and the excitement and anticipation of the fun and frivolity ahead.

This sense of trust and excitement places a coach in a vulnerable head space which – more often than not – is exploited mercilessly by their mates.

DIAGNOSIS

The tough thing about the Bucks Night/Weekend is that at some stage during the weekend, most bucks will invariably check or update their fantasy team.

We here at Sports Fantasy Pro would never advocate that coaches turn away from their coaching responsibilities for even one weekend in season.

But in extreme circumstances like a bucks weekend – particularly if you are the buck – we would recommend that you plan WHERE and WHEN you coach very carefully.

Do not make it known you are about to login to your team – be circumspect, be stealthy and most of all, be quick.

But most importantly – tell NO ONE your login details.

For if even one of your mates catch you trading or shuffling your side, the next thing you know your team colours will be bright pink, your star players will vanish from your roster and your team name will be changed to Ya Mumma, Spoony Spoonicus or some other equally stupid phrase that sounds hilarious at 4am in the morning.

Even the most devoted coach will find it hard to pick up the pieces after that.

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 14: Sydney Roosters

Questions, questions and more questions. There are many that must be asked of the Sydney Roosters side heading into 2016. Still boasting some talented players, recent losses and current injuries are set to have them naming a very different side to the one that we have been used to in recent years. Who will step up in the absence of these important players? Can they handled the added pressure? Are the Roosters still a premiership threat despite having lost Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Michael Jennings and James Maloney to rival clubs, and with Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Boyd Cordner injured to start the year? And what of their young halves? Are they ready for first-grade and can they make the impact required to help lead the side around the park? Or are they still raw as players, needing more time to fine-tune their skills to succeed?

Young halves. At times, they come onto the scene and blitz the opposition in just their first year, given they have no weight on the shoulders, a la Tim Smith for the Eels in 2005. But with one young half let alone the prospect of two starting, comes a ton of inexperience and a lack of exposure to the true nature of the NRL. Although he is back in the country after a soul-searching rehabilitation period, it remains to be seen just how long it is before Mitch Pearce returns to the fold, obviously pending further rehabilitation and potential sanction for his prior incident.
In the most likely scenario, Pearce does not return for a few rounds. That means that the Roosters will have little choice but to blood two young halves in Jayden Nikorima and Jackson Hastings. In their own right, both are tremendous young players and have enjoyed solid trial form. But the nature of the NRL and the physicality of it pales in comparison to what you will see in trials. Are the duo good enough to succeed as a halves pairing for the first few rounds, or will one or even both struggle to adapt to the weekly grind? That is ultimately the biggest question facing the Roosters as fans will believe in their ability to get the club off to a good start but many others may not see it that way.

Further to that point, the short-term loss of Pearce is nothing compared to the loss of key trio Tuivasa-Sheck, Maloney and Jennings, as well lengthy lay-offs for injured duo Cordner and Waerea-Hargreaves. The make-up of the Roosters side will be very different in 2016 and there may be some faces that Roosters fans are unfamiliar with. There may yet be more disruption before Rd 1 for them, as Roosters fans eagerly await the outcome of the Shaun Kenny Dowall’s court case for alleged domestic violence.
But putting the off-field aspect behind for a minute, it is on the field where the Roosters will be tested the most. There is a lot of expectation on the experienced players among the back-line in Daniel Tupou and Blake Ferguson, to help guide some of the younger backs coming through the ranks like boom rookie Latrell Mitchell or recently signed Super League product, Joe Burgess. With the specific make-up of the Roosters back-line still unknown, there are supporters of Ferguson at fullback. But after the recent trial form of Latrell Mitchell, who is destined for big things, the call for him to start is real and it looks likely that he will do so. But again, is he ready for the step up?

There are just as many questions in the forward pack as the back-line. A fair few forwards to choose from but key injuries to your two most crucial forwards – arguably, in the eyes of many – means a re-shuffle will have to take place and fast. The likes of Kane Evans and Dylan Napa have shown that they can provide enthusiasm and impact from the bench, but there is a big difference between playing from the bench compared to being the go-to forward from the first minute. Dealing with that is a big burden and some players manage it better than others. Evans and Napa may not have a choice, though, given the likelihood that they are both thrust into the side.
Furthermore, the two key forward injuries opens up a spot for a potential youngster to come in and make his mark. The talk around the town is that Vincent Leuluai is a handy utility forward option, and many Roosters fans have raved about his talents and abilities. But he, too, is untested at NRL level, and so the risk of playing so many youngsters could end up being a hindrance, rather than a help.

Ultimately, there is still enough talent on the park for the Roosters to at the very least, scrape into the eight. The going may be tough to begin with as youngsters adapt, new combinations form and as cohesion becomes a common occurrence for a largely new Roosters side, but the crux of important players is still around to solidify the team until Cordner and Waerea-Hargreaves return. The onus will most certainly be on the likes of Jake Friend, Mitch Aubusson and Aidan Guerra to take the bull by the horns and lead the Roosters side on a path of success, as collectively, they are the most experienced active trio the Roosters have at their disposal to start the season.

Best buy: Not overly active in the player recruitment market, there will be one player to keep an eye out for should he start for the Roosters. That player is Englishman Joe Burgess. Not a big, hulking winger like we see so many of these days, Burgess – no relation to the trio of Burgess brothers at Souths by the way – is more of an old-fashioned quite of winger. What he lacks in size, he makes up for with speed, acceleration and endurance. He knows how to find the try-line and is a fantastic finisher, often scoring tries for fun after being on the end of many back-line movements at the Wigan Warriors. Though like many Super League players, coming into the NRL is no easy task as many have found out. You either have it or you don’t, but with a spot up for grabs, if Burgess does get it, he has to take it with both hands. Otherwise, there may well be another player breathing down his neck, eager to take that vacant spot off him.

Most Promising Talent: This one is really a no-brainer, given the immense hype surrounding him through the junior ranks and through the trials earlier this year. Of course, that is a reference to none other than Latrell Mitchell. A tall and sort of lanky fullback, he also has blinding speed but possesses deceptive strength. Often compared to Greg Inglis at the same age and even to the present day at some stage, the likelihood that he starts at fullback increases by the minute. As far as trial form goes, Mitchell was impressive but trial form, as previously stated, is always very different to doing it in the NRL. Very rarely does a player come into first-grade and immediately perform but Mitchell is one player who has the potential to do just that. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, Mitchell has a chance to hold down a spot at fullback for the Roosters for numerous years to come.

Our predicted line-up (note, we will put the full-strength side, with replacements for currently injured players in brackets):

1. Latrell Mitchell
2. Daniel Tupou
3. Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Joseph Manu if Kenny-Dowall is suspended)
4. Blake Ferguson
5. Dale Copley
6. Jayden Nikorima
7. Jackson Hastings
8. Dylan Napa (Jared Waerea-Hargreaves when he returns)
9. Jake Friend
10. Sam Moa
11. Mitch Aubusson (Boyd Corner when he returns)
12. Aidan Guerra
13. Sio Siua Taukeiaho

14. Isaac Liu
15. Kane Evans
16. Ian Henderson
17. Vincent Leuluai

2016 Gains: Joe Burgess (Wigan Warriors), Dale Copley (Brisbane Broncos), Mitchell Frei (Wynnum Manly Seagulls), Ian Henderson (Catalan Dragons), Ryan Matterson (Parramatta Eels), Jayden Nikorima (Broncos), Paki Afu (Mormon mission)

Fantasy Coach Killers: The Long Lunch

It is quite possibly the single greatest danger period of a coaches week.

You know the time im talking about, that period between midday and 8pm Friday when coaching ones fantasy team is all that is really going through a coaches mind.

But what happens when, distracted and left vulnerable by thoughts of trades, selection strategies and team tactics, a fantasy coach is hijacked by a generous employer and/or co-worker with a penchant for extending a lunchtime chicken parmy into past Race 7 at the Valley???

COMMON CAUSES

More so than the Brain Snap, the Long Lunch can leave a sour aftertaste in a coach’s mouth.

That feeling that somehow it was not entirely the teams fault that they failed at the weekend can be a bitter pill for some coaches to swallow.

Most victims of the Long Friday Lunch spend several days after their impromptu booze-up lamenting the fact their fantasy team was unprepared, cursing the footy gods and muttering ‘if only’ under their breath as they rock themselves to sleep.

There is a school of fantasy thought that says the Long Lunch and Brain Snap are one in the same, with the snap being the act of forgetting ones team completely, however we at Sports Fantasy Pro recognise how powerless coaches can become when confronted with free beer and cheese-covered crumbed chicken.

Thus the two remain apart on this list.

DIAGNOSIS

Despite the age of technology in which we live, it is not enough to simply say ‘buy a smart phone’, for Telstra is a long way short of everywhere and phones can be misplaced or broken at the best of times let alone when your six beers down and violently whipping home a roughie in race five at the Valley to recoup your losses.

No, the best practise is to get all your proverbial ducks in a row on Thursday afternoon, then again on Friday morning.

Sure you will miss out on the odd bit of Friday Late Mail but your team will be far better off than the ‘I’ll do my bulk research Friday arvo’ coaches.

A coach that goes into Friday lunch prepared and ready to play is one that can be happily hijacked for the afternoon.

Fantasy Coach Killers: The Security Breach by the SFP Wizard

You go on holiday, expecting to have fun and enjoy yourself. But for the fantasy diehards, did you remember your team or forget about it? Just how are you going to access it if you do not have appropriate internet. The Sports Fantasy Pro Wizard looks over that very notion today – the holiday during fantasy season.

Leaving your home town for more than one night during the footy season can be tantamount to fantasy team murder.

And often is….

COMMON CAUSES

For some coaches The Holiday is the most insidious Coach Killer of them all.

Rarely does a coach even assume that leaving the comfort of their regular routine will be a problem let alone cope with the aftermath of a broken team and the realisation it is essentially all their own fault.

Obviously, some trips are safer for a coach to take than others but even the shortest sea change or country escape can lead to complacency and inadequacy on the fantasy footy field.

Majority of time this is due to a combination of various lesser Coach Killers such as the Dodgy Connections or an Angry Missus, but sometimes a coach can simply be lulled into inaction by the very nature The Holiday.

It is after all a time when one relaxes, unwinds and unplugs from the cut and thrust of the real world.

Such is the state of mind of many coaches on holidays that they often find they do not even care about making trades or whether their team evens wins or loses.

And herein lies the real danger of The Holiday.

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Any garden variety Coach Killer can cause a coach to struggle through a week of fantasy footy but only The Holiday has the capacity to completely erode a coaches desire to coach.

It’s basically all the worst parts of the bible.

DIAGNOSIS

Due to its diverse and ambiguous nature, there is no known foolproof remedy to combat The Holiday.

A good rule of thumb is whenever you find yourself packing more than one pair of undies during the season proper you should stop, think and plan accordingly.

Checking that your destination has fast, reliable internet as well as massage parlours or shopping precincts to calm/distract your partner are always best practise, but even the most prepared coach can trip up when on holidays.

Leaving the team mid-season to head overseas for a spot of torso-sunning and banana boat falling-off is one of the worst moves a coach can make.

The only way to avoid becoming just another fantasy statistic is to remember three simple words – March to September!

These are the months in which a fantasy footy coach should never holiday.

Ever.

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 13: St George Illawarra Dragons

Their fans are among some of the most passionate in the NRL but they are also among some of the harshest when it comes to their own team. The St George Illawarra faithful are a proud, loud and vocal bunch on and off the field, and have nothing but the highest expectations of their team. Not much as changed in terms of the playing roster in 2016 but questions do remain. Can Paul McGregor get the best out of the team across the season and avoid the inconsistencies? Is he the right man for the job to begin with? What of Benji Marshall, who is likely to be in his last year with the club? How will he play and react? Will that affect Gareth Widdop’s form? And just what will the composition of their back-line be, with so many talented players vying for spots?

For quite some time, the Dragons have – by their own admission – failed to achieve any constant level of consistency and it has cost them in the past. Losing games they should have won, losing games they led in, and so on.
Never easy to coach in the NRL, the above is one of the big reasons why the pressure is on coach Paul McGregor. Not as much as some other coaches but enough to have him looking over his shoulder, particularly if the Dragons have a poor start to the year.
So whilst the tactical nous and decisions rest with McGregor and what he believes is best for the club, the on-field result will depend largely on the cohesion of the side, who looked good in a recent trial match against the New Zealand Warriors.
But many will say, ‘that was just a trial match, it means nothing.’ To some extent, that is true, but trial games are all about re-forming combinations and getting the match fitness up.

And with that point, comes the next one. An important one. Just what will the final make-up of the Dragons back-line be?
Different Dragosn fans will have different views but with so few spots for so many players, decisions are not easy or straightforward for anyone. His strong trial form has many Dragons fans crying out for Euan Aitken to play somewhere in the side, even if it means he plays on the wing. His strength and power especially coupled with a sturdy fend, has many Dragons fans believing he is a player that they must keep at the club long-term and in the side on a regular basis.
But with the rollercoaster ride of a life-time when it comes to deciding whether Josh Dugan will play fullback or not, that decision is made even harder. A lot of talk has the veteran utility back set to play in the centre role to ease the pressure on his body but will he? And if he does, is Kurt Mann the answer to play fullback?

Many believe that Mann can shine in the role given the responsibility, which allows Dugan to exploit his natural attacking instincts in the centres, a position he is not foreign to. But in doing so, remains the chance that Aitken misses out, particularly with the arrival of Tim Lafai to the club. By the reckoning of some fans, Lafai should be in the side somewhere, just not at the expense of Aitken. Again, it was only trial form, but Aitken looked solid, more so than Lafai, which had many Dragons fans asking questions.
Ultimately, the key is to pick your best possible side and for the Dragons, that definitely includes both Lafai and Aitken. Where to play them, however, is a different story entirely.

And that brings us to the halves, particularly Benji Marshall. Knowing that he will not be at the club after this season, what can Dragons fans expect from him? Will he still perform well and at a consistent level for the betterment of the club, or will the fact this is his last year with the Dragons dwell on his mind and affect his form? A very talented player with a particular skill-set, the pressure is on Marshall in many ways, to see just what he can do and how consistent he can be.

The Dragons chances in 2016 will hinge on just that, consistency. On their day, they are capable of defeating any side that is up against them. But their ebbs and flows, ups and downs, may well cost them in the long-run if they cannot string some wins together. They have the team to challenge and go toe-to-toe with top sides but they need to come together as a unit and all perform. For their own sakes, but also for the sake of Paul McGregor.

Best buy: Some believe he should still away from the game for what he did but you can tell that he is a changed man. His incident was well documented that saw him serve jail-time but Russell Packer has put the past behind him and is focused on the present. A hulking forward, he will be a key player in the Dragons forward pack, given the likelihood that he may even start for the club. With a lot to prove to himself, the Dragons club and their fans for giving him the opportunity to return to the game he loves, the onus is on him to perform and get the best out of himself. He can perform well and has done in the past – at one point, he was one of the best props in the game a few years ago. He will be out to make amends for the past and prove to everyone that he can still play in the NRL and do so well.

Most Promising Talent: Breaking into the current Dragons back-line will be no easy task but if there is one player that can do it, it is Matt Dufty. A small but live-wire and nippy fullback, Dufty has shown over the last couple of seasons that he can perform well and go head-to-head with bigger players. Performing strongly for the club at both Holden Cup and NSW Cup level, he is a player that many Dragons fans rate and one that some want to see given a crack over the course of the season. Also a crafty player, he has some blinding speed that has seen him score numerous long-range tries over the last couple of seasons. Though with the back-line as experienced as it is, Dufty will have to knuckle down, stay consistent and impress the coaching staff.

2016 player gains: Kurt Mann (Melbourne Storm), Siliva Havili (New Zealand Warriors), Mose Masoe (St Helens RLFC), Dunamis Lui (Manly Sea Eagles), Tyrone McCarthy (Hull Kingston Rovers), Sebastine Ikahihifo (New Zealand Warriors), Kalifa Faifai Loa (Gold Coast Titans), Josh McCrone (Canberra Raiders), Taane Milne (Sydney Roosters), Adam Quinlan (St Helens), Tim Lafai (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs).

Our predicted line-up:

1. Kurt Mann
2. Jason Nightingale
3. Josh Dugan
4. Tim Lafai
5. Euan Aitken
6. Gareth Widdop (C)
7. Benji Marshall
8. Russell Packer
9. Mitch Rein
10. Leeson Ah Mau
11. Joel Thompson
12. Tyson Frizell
13. Mike Cooper.

14. Siliva Havili
15. Ben Creagh
16. Jack de Belin
17. Sebastine Ikahihifo

Raiders sign promising Papua New Guinean

Kato Ottio

Having to work hard for a contract and earn it, the road was not an easy one for Kato Ottio. But he has done it, with the Canberra Raiders pleased with his efforts and signing him for two seasons.

Ottio, who hails from Papua New Guinea, started the year on a train and trial deal. But after impressive performances at the Auckland Nines, at Raiders training and in other trials, the Raiders saw enough to grant him a contract.

Formerly a PNG Hunters player, Ottio is excited at what lies ahead for him in his young career.

“I’m very grateful that the Raiders have given me the chance to train with them and to have a two year contract is a dream come true for me,” Ottio said.

“The pre-season has shown me how hard you have to work if you want to make it in the NRL and I will make sure I keep training hard so one day I can live my dream of playing in the NRL.”

Ottio’s work-ethic, determination and attitude, are what brought about his contract with the club.

We’re really excited for Kato. From the minute he arrived, he put in a determined effort and met all of our expectations and we believe he has great potential for growth,” said Raiders Football Manager, John Bonaseera.

“Over the past few seasons, the club has worked on establishing a strong culture and Kato displays a strong set of values and a willingness to work hard in order to succeed. We look forward to seeing Kato continue this progression over the next two years.”

Young Eels trio sign new deal with the club

Daniel Alvaro

It’s all about retaining the youngsters and your juniors, and the Parramatta Eels have acted
swiftly in that department to re-sign three core, young players.

That trio are Daniel Alvaro and Kaysa Pritchard (both re-signed until the end of 2018) and Alex Twal (until the end of 2017).

Alvaro, a young forward who made an impression on fans and on coach Brad Arthur in 2015, will get a chance to cement a first-grade spot moving forward.

Pritchard, predominantly a hooker, has had his issues with injury in recent years but in the time he has played, has proven his worth as a player.

Kaysa Pritchard

As for Twal, the youngest of the trio, he is yet to play an NRL game but has impressed in the Holden Cup in recent years.

“The thing you notice immediately about Daniel, Alex and Kaysa is their attitude and dedication to their training and preparation,” Head Coach Brad Arthur said.

“They’re talented footballers, but they’re also quality people to have around the club, and that’s what we’re looking for. I’m looking forward to seeing them continue to learn from the leaders in the team and progress this season.”

Alex Twal

Fantasy Coach Killers: The Security Breach by the SFP Wizard

You think your team is safe from it but when you least expect it…bang! Somehow, your team is hacked or compromised. For whatever reason, someone accesses your team and deliberately hijacks your chances. It does happen and can be the difference between a win or a loss. Always remember – if in doubt, change your password.

It is a dark day indeed when your team is hacked, changed or otherwise tampered with without your knowledge…friendships can be lost over such things.

COMMON CAUSES

There are several ways in which a Security Breach can occur and often it is the very last person you suspect.

Leaving your team open on a mobile or computer – particularly during times when you have friends over or vengeful siblings/spouses snooping around – is just asking to be sabotaged.

Equally, Security Breach can occur during those most desperate of times throughout the season when you enter your login details on a friends computer and forget to log out or worse, tell them your passwords!

If you think getting hacked is fun, talk to a coach who has checked their team after Thursday Night Footy to find Tedesco traded out for Zillman or the armband shifted from Smith to Mortimer!

More than most Coach Killers, the Security Breach can have a devastating impact on your club.

DIAGNOSIS

Good common sense and a healthy mistrust for people in general are the most effective ways to combat the Security Breach.

Particularly in this Daily Fantasy era, rival coaches will risk much to get access to your list for even a couple of minutes.

The easiest way to avoid being hacked is to never (ever) supply a so-called friend with your login details – but if you do, for Joey’s sake, change them as soon as you can so that your rival coach cannot access your team after your gone.

Best practice is to always log out of your team no matter how quickly you will be back checking on it.

Even if your friend or family member is not in your league, nowadays people know enough about fantasy sport for them to wreck your team just for the fun of it.

A good coach will train themselves to assume the worst in their fellow coaches – and their friends and family for that matter.

Always assume your team is at risk, and it seldom will be. ….write that down.

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Worst kept secret confirmed as Tapine joins the Raiders

Joseph Tapine

It took a long time, went down numerous paths but it finally has a resolution, with the Canberra Raiders confirming the signing of Joseph Tapine. After a tumultuous period that saw the potential threat of legal action, a breakdown in communication and ultimately a departure, all involved can now put it behind them.

Tapine, still only 21 and regarded as a bright prospect, had his first day at Raiders headquarters today and is ready for the challenge ahead to force his way into the line-up.

“I’m really excited to be here. It’s a new chapter in my life and I’m just looking forward to getting out there with the boys,” Tapine said.

“I saw the team play last week and it’s a deadly team. I saw the skills and fitness and I’m looking forward to being a part of it.”

The move was made easier knowing that he would play under the guidance of coach Ricky Stuart and alongside two former team-mates in Adam Clydsdale and Joey Leilua.

“I’m definitely keen to work with Ricky. I’ve heard good things about him and I have a couple of mates who play here who have given him big raps,” he said.

“Adam Clydsdale is my former roommate and I’m good friends with Joey Leilua, so it will be great for me to have some players I know well here.”

He is also excited to be a part of the club and to be on the receiving end of good support by Raiders fans.

“I remember coming down to play in Canberra and it’s a hard game, the members and fans always come out in force even on a cold day. I can’t wait to be a part of that.”

With circumstances changing, Raiders CEO David Furner said the opportunity to get Tapine on board at the club one year earlier was too good to pass up.

“We’ve identified Joseph as a player we believe can be a really important part of our squad over the next few seasons and we’re looking forward to seeing him continue his development into a top class NRL Player,” he said.

“We had originally signed him on a deal commencing in 2017, but circumstances have given us the opportunity to secure him this season and he’ll boost what we believe is a very strong squad.”

Tipping Points View: Pre-Season Overview Pt 2

You may have seen part 1 of his pre-season overview tipping a few days ago and the Tipping Guru Tipping Point is back again, with part 2. Some teams are always easier to tip than others and the question always remains, do your tip with your heart or with your head.

North Queensland Cowboys

2015 record: Won 17, lost 7, finished 3rd (premiers); 8/12 at 1300SMILES Stadium in regular season [1/1 at 1300SMILES Stadium in finals]

The reigning premiers will be hoping to become the first side since Brisbane in 1992-93 to win consecutive titles. They head into 2016 with the luxury of fielding a virtually identical roster, and are certainties for the top four. From a tipping perspective, the Cowboys are close to unstoppable once they hit their stride; they dropped just one game between rounds four and 21 last season which included impressive wins during the Origin period including away victories minus their rep players against the Tigers and Dragons. They are however noted for their sluggish starts to seasons, and they’ll need their wits about them early on as they take on the Sharks (H), Eels (A), Roosters (H) and Broncos (A) in the opening four rounds. And unlike previous years, every side will be gunning for them, and looking to knock the champions off their pedestal.

Parramatta Eels

2015 record: Won 9, lost 15, finished 12th; 3/9 at Pirtek Stadium, 0/2 at ANZ Stadium (as home team) and 1/1 at Darwin.

With a new-look roster the Eels head into 2016 full of confidence. With Michael Jennings, Michael Gordon, Beau Scott and new skipper Kieran Foran now donning the blue and gold, a top eight finish looms as a distinct possibility. The draw does them no favours though, pitting them against last year’s grand finalists in rounds one and two, followed by their arch-rivals Canterbury in round three. Tipping-wise the Eels are traditionally known for playing out-of-their-skins at Pirtek, but being prone to second-half fadeouts and golden point losses. If you’ve tipped them, don’t bank on the two points until the final whistle.

Penrith Panthers

2015 record: Won 9, lost 15, finished 11th; 6/11 at Pepper Stadium; 1/1 at Bathurst.
Such was their injury toll last season, you must take Penrith’s mediocre 2015 results with a grain of salt. It’s easy to forget that this side was just a game away from the grand final in 2014, so they are a vastly better side than their nine wins in 2015 would have you believe. With some quality signings (Trent Merrin, Peta Hiku) bolstering an already strong roster, the Panthers should be among the big improvers in 2016. They’re tough to beat at Pepper Stadium and they always aim up, especially in big games. Upset wins are always a chance with the Panthers, but they are prone to a few blow-outs on the road.

St George-Illawarra Dragons

2015 record: Won 11, lost 13, finished 8th (semi-finalists); 3/4 at Jubilee; 3/4 at WIN Stadium; 2/2 at ANZ; 0/1 at SCG; 0/1 at Allianz Stadium.

The Dragons were another side that ruined my tipping last year. By the time I jumped on their winning bandwagon and started backing them in 2015, they started their epic seven-game losing streak – I just could not get on their wavelength. With only a few noted signings (Tim Lafai, Dunamis Lui, Kalifa Faifai Loa), the Dragons are friendless in pre-season betting – and with good reason. They have arguably the toughest draw with two fixtures against all of last season’s top eight sides, and they’ll also be without Trent Merrin. I can’t see them faring as well as last season, but I’ll always give them hope when they’re playing at home. When it comes to playing bottom-four sides, they do tend to get the job done which is testament to their steady, consistent play and tough defence.

South Sydney Rabbitohs

2015 record: Won 13, lost 11, finished 7th (quarter finalists); 7/9 at ANZ Stadium [1/2 at ANZ as away team and 0/1 in finals]; 1/1 at Perth; 0/1 at Cains; 1/1 at SCG.

The Bunnies’ premiership defence was a tale of two halves with the Bunnies blitzing the field in the first half of the season, only to fall away badly with just five wins from round 14 onwards. They welcome back prodigal son Sam Burgess, but they’ve shed some talent to afford him, with premiership players Issac Luke, Dylan Walker and Chris McQueen joining Glenn Stewart, Ben Lowe and Joel Reddy in the departure lounge. They’ll be in the mix for the top eight, but the days of competing for the minor premiership might be over. Tipping wise they’re a pretty safe bet when playing at home, but they do tend to struggle without Greg Inglis and Adam Reynolds on deck.

Sydney Roosters

2015 record: Won 18, lost 6, finished 1st (preliminary finalists); 9/11 at Allianz Stadium, 1/1 at Central Coast; 1/1 at Allianz Stadium as away team and 1/2 in finals.

The tri-colours head into season 2016 in an unfamiliar position: complete disarray. Used to coasting through the pre-season as warm premiership favorites, the Roosters have their work cut out for them just making the eight this season. Not only have they lost James Maloney, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Michael Jennings, but Jared Warea-Hargreaves and Boyd Cordner are expected to miss the first half of the season, and there’s no word on Mitchell Pearce’s return. By my count, that’s six premiership players missing, and no marquee recruits to speak of. With such a depleted roster I can see them dropping their first four matches, and it could be a long road back to finals footy for the chooks.

New Zealand Warriors

2015 record: Won 9, lost 15, finished 13th; 5/11 at Mount Smart Stadium, 0/1 at Wellington.
You have to love the Warriors. Year-in year-out they are rated among premiership heavyweights, but every year they disappoint. I suspect this year will be different, as I can confidently say they have the best roster ever assembled for a Warriors side – heads will roll if they don’t make the eight. As a tipster, the Warriors are your worst nightmare due to their enigmatic nature; they can beat anyone on their day, and get demolished by anyone on their day. Historically though the Warriors start seasons poorly (almost guaranteed to lose their opening round fixture), end seasons poorly (they didn’t win a game after round 18 last year), but deliver a blitz in the middle of the season. Good luck.

Wests Tigers

2015 record: Won 8, lost 16, finished 15th; 1/4 at Leichhardt Oval; 2/4 at Campbelltown Stadium; 1/4 at ANZ (2/3 at ANZ as away team).

With an off-season packed with controversy and a departure lounge packed with talent and experience, things do not bode well for the joint venture in 2016. The Tigers have finished in the bottom four for the past three seasons, and with their roster showing no signs of improvement it shapes as a long year. This will be the season that makes or breaks their maligned halves combination of Luke Brooks and Mitchell Moses, and it could be the making or breaking of Jason Taylor’s coaching career. That said, when their halves and forwards turn up, the class of James Tedesco is enough to deliver a few victories – but I think my default setting will be to tip against them in 2016.
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