With 2021 underway, it won’t be long before NRL teams recommence their pre-season.
It will be a matter of stepping on the scales, working off whatever excess weight was gained over the Christmas festivities, and beginning the arduous run into the 2021 season.
It’s also a time when new recruits join the squad and begin to understand their role within their new team.
Despite 2022 being arguably a bigger season for recruitment, there are plenty of team changes for this year.
With that in mind, we have looked at each team’s recruitment and come up with the 2021 recruitment podium.
But, first things first, we will let you know who just missed out.
With Trent Barrett starting as head coach, there has been plenty of talk around the Bulldogs’ recruitment in recent weeks.
Josh Addo-Carr and Matt Burton are both good signings, but neither start in 2021.
For the coming season, Canterbury has picked up Nick Cotric, Jack Hetherington, Corey Waddell, and Kyle Flanagan.
Will they strengthen the team? Undoubtedly.
Will they transform them into top 8 contenders?
I don’t think they will. Canterbury’s Achilles heel in recent years has been attack and Kyle Flanagan is not the half to ignite that. Dogs fans will unfortunately need to wait another year.
I’ve given my bronze medal to the Wests Tigers, although this does need to be balanced against the long list of players leaving, including the return of Harry Grant to the Storm.
Michael Maguire is in the process of creating his own Tigers roster and key recruits include James Roberts, Stefano Utoikamanu, James Tamou, and Joe Ofahengaue.
There is a real mix of promising youth and experience in these acquisitions, although Maguire will have his hands full guiding the centre pairing of James Roberts and Joey Leilua to their full potential.
2021 will be a big season for Luke Brooks, as he will need to take full control of this team with both Benji Marshall and Josh Reynolds not returning.
The recruitment silver medal goes to the New Zealand Warriors.
With COVID restrictions still in place between Australia and New Zealand, it is increasingly likely that Nathan Brown’s Warriors will need to again set up camp in Australia.
They will do it with an impressive list of recruits headlined by Addin Fonua-Blake, Kane Evans, Euan Aitken, Bayley Sironen, Marcelo Montoya, and Sean O’Sullivan.
The Warriors do have a lengthy list of player losses and retirements.
But, there is little doubt that the 2021 version will be stronger. They just missed out on the semi-finals in 2020. They will be playing in September in 2021.
And, drumroll please, the gold medal goes to the Gold Coast Titans.
Proving that quality reigns over quantity, the Titans key signings are Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Herman Ese’ese, Patrick Herbert, and David Fifita.
Justin Holbrook had the Titans roar home in 2020.
Whilst the NRL is littered with teams that string wins together when the season is done, only to start poorly again the next season, you sense that the Titans will be different.
Fifita and Fa’asuamaleaui are amongst the best young players in the NRL.
With Ash Taylor starting to justify his price tag alongside Jamal Fogarty, and AJ Brimson fast becoming an elite fullback, the go-forward create by these two will create plenty of headaches for opposition teams.
The Titans shouldn’t book their end of season holidays just yet. They too will be playing finals football in September.
It’s probably unlikely that any of these teams will feature in the 2021 grand final.
However, they will all improve and teams on the fringe of the 8 will be rightfully looking over their shoulders.