All posts by ricky

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 6: Manly Sea Eagles

NRL Previews part six now as we dissect the Manly Sea Eagles. So much has happened for them, much of it not good, but can they bounce back and put things in the past?

Coaching struggles, the return of an old coach, players in trouble, players surprisingly leaving but still some talented players.

Can Manly put all the negativity behind them and perform on the field when it matters?

The Return of Des

In late 2011, Des Hasler’s time at Manly ended abruptly. Very abruptly.

Despite his previous success with the club and building a consistently good team, Hasler was sacked.

That sacking came as a result of the club accusing Hasler of contract breaches pertaining to convincing Manly players to join the Bulldogs.

However, that was then and this is now. All is forgiven and Des is back! What does it mean for Manly, though?

Although Hasler is a favourite son of many, will his return lead to success at Manly or contract issues and dilemmas?

With the need to address several positions and particularly in light of Dylan Walker’s alleged domestic violence charges, the make-up of their team remains largely unknown.

As they look to enter a bit of a rebuilding phase, they will have to work doubly hard to keep up with some of the more elite teams.

Though with Hasler at the helm, they will dig deep and grind out as long as possible in games.

Manly Sea Eagles halfback and captain Daly Cherry-Evans

The halves merry-go-round

Since the departure of Kieran Foran from the club, finding a stable halves partner for Daly Cherry-Evans has not been easy.

Without going out to actively sign one, the club has tried to rely from those from within.

Whether that be natural halves in the ranks or utilising other players with utility value.

That approach has seen the likes of Apisai Koroisau, Lewis Brown, Dylan Walker, Blake Green, Tom Wright and others tried but with no success.

Some players ultimately moved on early, and perhaps we will never know what could have been had they stayed.

More recently, although he was at times consistent, Lachlan Croker proved a decent foil for Cherry-Evans at Manly.

His injury late in the season nipped any consistency among the two halves, however, forcing a reshuffle.

Halves, their combinations, their partnership and how they work together, is such a crucial aspect in the game today.

Former Gold Coast Titans now Manly Sea Eagles half Kane Elgey

Cherry-Evans is a good halfback but has been criticised previously for not taking control when needed.

With the right half alongside him that can take some pressure off – a genuine half – it could be the key pump up this Manly side.

A side still smarting from all the recent off-field turmoil embroiling their club.

Bouncing back from off-field turmoil

Manly are a club that prides themselves on success, both on and off the field, as well as maintaining a good culture.

With a litany of success in recent years to back that up and plenty of consistency over the years, the trend would seemingly continue.

As the inconsistency crept into their overall game, however, as players were in and out of form, things slowly began to change.

The relationship between coach and the powerbrokers became stagnated and bitter, to the point where immediate change was made for 2019.

Under Trent Barrett, although results were not where they could have been, things seemed ok.

However, as time went on, the situation become almost untenable and the heavy hitters at Manly reacted.

Barrett was given the flick as head coach, though he would still be paid for the role in accordance with his existing contract.

Manly Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler

Entering is Hasler, who Manly fans will hope can reinvigorate the club again and bring back the culture so many fans have come to know.

Doing so will be no easy feat, however, as he wrestles with the ongoing saga surrounding Dylan Walker and his alleged domestic violence dispute.

Among other things, Hasler will have to coach a side that is perhaps not as strong in the eyes of many and work with what he has to achieve success.

If Manly want anything to go their way in 2019, they have to fix the culture first and Hasler may just be the man to do that.

Gains and Losses

Gains: Jade Anderson (2019), Cade Cust (2019), Albert Hopoate (2019), Sean Keppie (2019), Semisi Kioa (2019), Luke Metcalf (2019), Haumole Olakau’atu (2019), Brendan Elliott (Gold Coast Titans, 2019), Reubenn Garrick (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2019), Trent Hodkinson (Cronulla Sharks, 2019), Corey Waddell (Penrtih Panthers, 2019) and Kane Elgey (Gold Coast Titans, 2020).

Losses: Lewis Brown (released), Jackson Hastings and Joey Lussick (both Salford Red Devils), Brian Kelly (Gold Coast Titans), Shaun Lane (Parramatta Eels), Darcy Lussick (Toronto Wolfpack), Akuila Uate (Huddersfield Giants), Tom Wright (rugby union) and Jonathan Wright (retired).

Player to Watch: His father is synonymous with the Manly club and his brother also donned the Manly colours but Albert Hopoate will look to forge his own path in rugby league.

Regarded by some as the best of the Hopoate brothers to have played rugby league, he took the Harold Matthews landscape by storm with some dominant displays.

Still only a young buck at 17, however, Hopoate will be unable to play first-grade but he does appear to be in the overall squad to gain that exposure and experience.

As his development continues and as his overall game expands and grows, the Manly faithful will be hoping that Albert can be around long-term.

NRL News predicted line-up

  1. Tom Trbojevic
  2. Jorge Taufua
  3. Dylan Walker
  4. Moses Suli
  5. Albert Hopoate
  6. Kane Elgey
  7. Daly Cherry-Evans (C)
  8. Addin Fonua-Blake
  9. Apisai Koroisau
  10. Martin Taupau
  11. Joel Thompson
  12. Curtis Sironen
  13. Jake Trbojevic

14. Frank Winterstein
15. Jack Gosiewski
16. Lloyd Perrett
17. Taniela Paseka

Coach: Des Hasler.

 

New home for Robert Jennings in 2019 as he heads West to the Tigers

Former South Sydney Rabbitohs now Wests Tigers winger Robert Jennings

Despite what was a breakout year for Robert Jennings at the South Sydney Rabbitohs, he will start 2019 in new colours; those of the Wests Tigers.

Jennings, who made 34 appearances for the Bunnies and scored 23 tries in the process impressed many fans who expected him to stay.

Despite Souths’ best efforts, though, that was not to be and Jennings has now departed to the Tigers.

“We tried everything we could to keep Robert at the Rabbitohs but unfortunately, we aren’t in a position to be able to keep him as part of our squad due to salary cap constraints,” said Shane Richardson, the Rabbitohs General Manager of Football.

“He had a break out season last year, and he worked very hard to earn a spot in our NRL squad, performing strongly on the left wing outside of Greg Inglis.

“Robert is a quality person. We wish him and his young family the very best of luck at his new club.”

Jennings is no stranger to new Tigers coach Michael Maguire, who looks forward to working with him once more.

“Robert is a quality young man who I’ve worked with before and seen develop in to the talented rugby league player he is,” said Maguire.

“He adds size, power and speed to our edges and is an excellent addition to our squad.

“Off the back of a strong season, I have no doubt he is going to fit extremely well in to our systems and I looking forward to watching him take the next steps in his career at this club.”

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 5: Gold Coast Titans

Success has been hard to come by for the Gold Coast Titans but as they continue to rebuild, is 2019 their year? All this and more in part five of the NRL previews.

Although the Titans have had some high profile recruits in the past, the inconsistency and player upheaval has left them high and dry.

Under coach Garth Brennan who has worked hard to get the team he wants, can the Titans buck the trend and make a deeper run into the finals?

What to do with Cartwright?

Bursting onto the scene with the Penrith Panthers, the sky was the limit for Bryce Cartwright.

Very nearly reaching that limit, many wondered just how far he could go in the rugby league world.

Just when all seemed well and good, however, his Earth soon came crashing down from a personal perspective.

Attacked and criticised by an ex-partner across the media on numerous levels, it all bubbled up to the surface.

In the end, he decided to leave and so his Titans journey began.

Joining with much fanfare, it was a chance for a new start, a new opportunity, all away from the pains of home.

It proved anything but smooth sailing, however, as his form was heavily criticised by the media and by the club coach.

As 2019 rolls around, Cartwright has a chance to make amends. His ability is known, he just needs the consistency.

He needs the chance to prove that he can perform at the highest level well-enough to keep a spot.

Whether he can do that remains to be seen but if he digs deep and works hard, it may just be a goer.

Gold Coast Titans utility Bryce Cartwright

The Peachey conundrum

Tyrone Peachey. A talented player, a versatile player, but just which position is his best in the NRL?

Versatility is nothing new in rugby league players; most players nowadays are more than capable of covering dual positions.

When you look at Tyrone Peachey, however, there is a lot of spread across all positions without one particular standout.

In the eyes of many, the lack of a true position damages his overall ability.

To some extent, being too versatile can mean you need more time to readjust when a positional change occurs.

Though Peachey must be doing something right seeing as he has been selected for Origin.

But back to the original point of where he fits in. The likely option would be the backline  given the departure of several centres.

Though if the need for a back-rower arose, Peachey could very much fill that void.

For the Titans fans, where does he fit in for you?

Former Penrith Panthers utility Tyrone Peachey

Breaking the finals hoodoo

For some years, the Titans have had rather good rosters. Good enough to challenge for top eight spots.

When push has come to shove, however, those sides have fallen at the wayside, unable to cope with expectation.

The talent was there, the experience was there, but the execution was not and as a result, finals appearances have been few and far between.

With just three finals appearances in twelve years, you could say that the Titans are due and they have no better chance to strike.

With some astute signings, promising youngsters showing their class and existing players proving their mettle, the bull is ready to be taken by the horns.

As the culture builds under Garth Brennan who enters his second year with the club, time will tell for the Titans as to whether this can be the year they rejoin the finals.

Gains and Losses

Gains: Jesse Arthars (South Sydney Rabbitohs, 2019), Ryley Jacks (Melbourne Storm, 2019), Brian Kelly (Manly Sea Eagles, 2021), Tyrone Roberts (Warrington Wolves), Tyrone Peachey (Penrith Panthers, 2021) & Shannon Boyd (Canberra Raiders, 2022).

Losses: Kane Elgey and Brendan Elliott (both Manly Sea Eagles), Joe Greenwood (Wigan Warriors), Konrad Hurrell (Leeds Rhinos) & Ryan Simpkins (retired).

Player to Watch

As potential spots in the Gold Coast Titans forward pack, one player on the cusp of regular selection is Jai Whitbread.

With just the one appearance to his name to date at the club, the hulking young prop made his impact felt with impressive runs.

As 2019 comes around, opportunity will be rife for Whitbread and with the club rating him highly, it may not be too long before he is a regular.

Another local junior to come through the club’s system, the young prop has impressed many with his work-ethic and approach in the Intrust Super Cup.

They have served him well as he fights for a spot in 2019.

NRL News Predicted Team

  1. Michael Gordon
  2. Philip Sami
  3. Tyrone Peachey
  4. Dale Copley
  5. Anthony Don
  6. AJ Brimson
  7. Ashley Taylor
  8. Jarrod Wallace
  9. Nathan Peats
  10. Ryan James (C)
  11. Kevin Proctor
  12. Keegan Hipgrave
  13. Jai Arrow

14. Tyrone Roberts
15. Shannon Boyd
16. Moeaki Fotuaika
17. Bryce Cartwright

Coach: Garth Brennan.

Cowboys rising star Hola signs new long-term deal

Since joining the North Queensland Cowboys in 2017, Peter Hola has slowly become an elite rising star. 

On the back of his good form in the lower grades, Hola has been awarded both a top 30 spot and a new long-term deal at the Cowboys.

The new deal will see Hola remain at the Cowboys until the 2022 season.

Performing strongly for the Northern Pride U20’s side, Hola is held in high regard by the club.

“We think Pete is one of the better young forwards in the game,” Cowboys Director of Football Peter Parr said.

“To be able to play Queensland Cup last year and hold his own at such a young age in the middle of the field, showed us we had a special talent on our hands.

“Even though we had him on contract for another two years, we thought it was the right time to extend him, which shows how excited we are about his future at our club.”

Setting him with goals and challenges as he gets older and more mature, Cowboys coach Paul Green has been pleased with Hola’s development.

“Pete is progressing really nicely and we think his development is heading in the right direction,” Green said.

“He has met every challenge we’ve set so far and we’re really excited to have him in our top squad for at least the next four seasons.”

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 4: Cronulla Sharks

Paul Gallen’s last year, the signing of Shaun Johnson and a possible coaching change. Drama for the Cronulla Sharks and it is still only 2018.

Just how will all of that affect their chances in 2019 and can they overcome the adversity they face?

Since flying high following their maiden premiership success, inconsistency has crept into the Sharks overall game, as we dissect the issues plaguing their team.

Johnson changes the dynamics

The signing is confirmed! Shaun Johnson will join the Sharks from 2019. Is he the man and player they need to propel them even further, though?

A gifted player and ball-runner on any day, Johnson is a player that can make a difference for your team but who also needs a stabiliser alongside him.

If Townsend can step up to the plate and allow Johnson to just focus on his running game – his strength – the combination could work.

This would ideally be the combination for the Sharks, given Johnson and Matt Moylan are similar players when it comes to their style of play.

From a different perspective, the other answer in the halves could be Kyle Flanagan.

Many Sharks fans see him as a potential star but with the signing of Johnson, there are really just two options out there.

Cronulla Sharks halfback Shaun Johnson

The first; he is a surprise selection in the halves alongside Johnson, seeing as he is also a stabiliser and can control games when needed.

The second – and perhaps the least popular of the two – is that he is not named, grows impatient with no opportunity and opts to leave.

Signing Johnson unfortunately makes that a very real possibility and so weighing up when and how to appropriately blood Flanagan is crucial.

If he is indeed set for stardom in the NRL, he will want the opportunity to shine sooner rather than later.

And, in many ways, he has a great mentor and leader in Johnson alongside him to bring up to NRL speed.

Cronulla Sharks back-rower Wade Graham

Replacing Graham

When fit, he would be the first back-rower selected in the Sharks side. Unfortunately, Wade Graham’s injury means he will miss a decent chunk of the 2019 season.

That is perhaps the biggest blow and downside for the Sharks heading into the new season in more ways than one.

A hard-runner on the edges, the dynamic that Graham brings to any club or team he might play for is very unique.

Traditionally, back-rowers run set lines,  hit gaps and feed off their halves.

For Graham, he can just set those plays up himself given his ability to steer the ship and control the ball.

Having previously played 5/8, Graham utilises those skills to provide the Sharks with an extra dynamic out wide.

Whether it is a draw and pass to suck a defender in, whether it is a deft kick behind the line for a repeat set or a crafty pass, Graham has that ability.

With his injury, the team dynamics shift significantly and they are left with one less play-making option in case the going gets tough.

Cronulla Sharks utility back Josh Dugan

No Holmes, no fanfare?

Valentine Holmes. What a season he had in 2018. When many thought he would take a while to transition to fullback full-time, he excelled.

Putting on a show and carving up individual defences on his own, Holmes’ loss is perhaps bigger than many might realise.

Although the Sharks do have two experienced players that can play fullback in Josh Dugan and Matt Moylan, the two are very different players.

Holmes excels at carting the ball back from a kick and can single-handedly produce a play or a moment to spark the Sharks attack.

Moylan and Dugan do have game-breaking abilities of their own but not to the extent that Holmes does, which could be costly.

Moylan’s strengths lie in his ball-playing ability. Having played plenty of five-eighth in his career, he is comfortable when it comes to assisting and setting tries up.

For Dugan, who has recently transitioned into more of a centre, he was, at one point, close to being an elite fullback.

Injuries struck him down, however, and he has not been able to recapture that same sort of magic or form.

His very own style is not too dissimilar from that of Holmes’; the difference being his age and the injuries that have recently held him back.

Of course, an option from left-field that we do not yet know about could emerge and surprise us all.

When push comes to shove, though, the loss of Holmes may just be larger than many people think.

Cronulla Sharks utility back Matt Moylan

Gains and Losses

Gains: Josh Morris (Canterbury Bulldogs, 2020), Braydon Trindall (2020), Shaun Johnson (New Zealand Warriors, 2021) and Aaron Woods (Canterbury Bulldogs, 2021).

Losses: Kurt Dillon (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Edrick Lee and Jesse Ramien (both Newcastle Knights), Trent Hodkinson (Manly Sea Eagles), Ricky Leutele (Toronto Wolfpack), Joseph Paulo (St Helens), James Roumanos (Canterbury Bulldogs) and Luke Lewis (retired).

Player to Watch

Although all the focus might just be on Kyle Flanagan, there is another young Shark that has many fans excited.

His name is Bronson Xerri. Now at the club until at least 2021, he has successfully come through the club ranks.

A strong performer, a talented player and still only 18, Xerri’s ability has been raved about by Sharks fans in the past.

With a potential NRL spot up for grabs in the centres, it remains to be seen whether the club believe Xerri is up for that opportunity.

When it arises, however, the U18’s and U20’s NSW Origin player is sure to impress and get people’s attention.

NRL News Predicted Line-up

1. Matt Moylan
2. Sosaia Feki
3. Josh Morris
4. Josh Dugan
5. Bronson Xerri
6. Shaun Johnson
7. Chad Townsend
8. Andrew Fifita
9. Jayden Brailey
10. Matt Prior
11. Wade Graham (when fit)
12. Kurt Capewell
13. Paul Gallen (C)

14. Aaron Woods
15. Scott Sorenson
16. Jayson Bukuya
17. Ava Seumanufagai

Coach: John Morris

New contract extension for Dufty at Dragons

St George Illawarra Dragons fullback Matt Dufty

Despite some speculation of his spot being in jeopardy, Matt Dufty has signed a contract extension with the St George Illawarra Dragons.

The extension is for a further two seasons with Dufty already signed on at the Dragons for the 2019 season.

A local Penshurst junior, the live-wire fullback is ready for the challenge of competing for spots.

“I’m very happy about re-signing for another two years. It wasn’t a difficult decision,” Dufty said.

“The Dragons is somewhere where I think I could play my best footy and where I wanted to stay.”

“I feel like a weight has been lifted. I’ve had it over my head for a while now.

“I’m glad the positive discussions I’ve had with the club has ended this way.”

Despite no certainty to play given off-season moves, Dufty is excited at what lies ahead for the club and the jostling for spots.

“I’m really excited for this year to come. I’m not sure where I’ll play but it’s a good headache for Mary (coach Paul McGregor) to have,” he continued.

“We have all been playing different positions, trying to get our different combinations sorted and with the strike force we have, it’s exciting to see how we all play.”

Just as pleased with Dufty re-signing are the club, who always relish the chance to retain a local junior.

“He’s a local junior who has gone through our pathway system, and we know he’s a person we want here long-term at this club,” Dragons Director of Rugby League Pathways and List Management Ian Millward said.

“He’s a passionate Dragons player who brings a real skill set to the team.

“We have been in deep discussions and negotiating with Matt and his agent since last year.

“He was aware of our discussions with Corey Norman at all times and he knew where his future lied at our club at all times.”

 

Last-gasp try and goal gives Raiders trial win over Eels

Canberra Raiders halfback Sam Williams

In the end, trials often mean very little but the Canberra Raiders have prevailed over the Parramatta Eels 22-20. 

Playing at St Marys Stadium out in the West, the two sides were very different in terms of playing personnel.

The Eels had several top-line first-graders laced with youth and Wenty players, the Raiders had a mostly young side.

After some early tit-for-tat and lack of execution, it was the Eels who would strike first in the thirteenth minute.

Moses and Eels captain Clint Gutherson combined for young gun Ethan Parry to score his first try.

Soon after, Moses was at it again; this time, he took the line on on the last, bamboozled the Raiders and chipped ahead for Parry to score a second.

Seemingly with a point to prove this season, Moses was again in the thick of the Eels tries.

A grubber ricocheted off a Raider, Moses regathered, ran into open territory, banana kicked resulting in a Raiders error.

Parramatta Eels halfback Mitchell Moses

All of which then led to Moses once again regathering before he flicked a pass to Jaeman Salmon to score.

The Raiders would soon hit back, however, with a try of their own.

It came from Tom Starling whose darting dummy-half runs finally culminated in a try and the Raiders first points.

Coming out of the sheds with a 20-6 break, the Eels could have very nearly extended their lead further.

Unfortunately for the Eels, George Jennings was unable to hold onto the final pass.

A bit of controversy made itself known with the Raiders second try.

JJ Collins made a bee-line for the try-line and it was given, although replays suggested that he lost the ball in the attempt of scoring.

Canberra Raiders forward JJ Collins

At this point, Brad Arthur had seen enough from his first-graders and brought on a host of lower grade players to finish the match.

From there, the Raiders took control as Sam Williams dummied and scored a try.

Before Andre Niko scored a near length of the field try with a Raiders goal from Williams then sealing the win for the Green Machine.

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 3: Canterbury Bulldogs

Here we are with part three of Ricky’s NRL Previews, as we look at the Canterbury Bulldogs and the issues that await them! 

It has been some season and off-season for the Bulldogs! Salary cap issues, players coming and going, a new board; it is all happening!

But as 2019 gets closer and closer, the club has been doing its best to rebuild both on and off the field.

What does 2019 have in store them and what issues await them? Let us delve right in!

A rudderless ship

With so much of today’s game now firmly based around the halves at your disposal and their play, the Bulldogs have had little luck in this area.

Last season, the Bulldogs tried combinations galore with seemingly little success. Matt Frawley was given a chance, many labelling him as a player far too good for reserve grade.

Lo and behold, when first-grade came knocking, many fans felt as if he was not up to the standard required for this level. That feeling also resonated with Jeremy Marshall-King.

A surprise selection early on to start the year, he seemed to look the goods but then fell by the wayside in terms of halves selection.

He would, however, later return to the side as a hooker, much to the surprise of many. But that is neither here nor there.

Next came Moses Mbye. One of the staple figures for the Bulldogs  in recent years, rumour and innuendo kick-started. Oh, and that thing called the salary cap breach as well.

Despite making a shift to fullback that seemed to work out ok for a while, the former half was eventually allowed to leave due to the cap issues the club faced.

That leaves us with one man. Kieran Foran. A premiership winner, a proven performer….though the struggles have been clear since he left the Manly Sea Eagles.

Those struggles continued in 2018 and left many Bulldogs fans scratching their heads with dismay and disappointment.

But with a new year comes renewed optimism. A chance to build around Lachlan Lewis, the soul shining light of the Bulldogs halves pool.

Get the right guy around him and he can succeed but the question is; who is that guy and is he available?

Canterbury Bulldogs halfback Lachlan Lewis

The Power and the Passion

The Bulldogs faithful are a passionate, determined and loyal bunch, though the recent years have not been as kind as they would like.

Their passion is resolute, undying and not going anywhere; that much, we know. What will perhaps be lacking to some extent in 2019, is the power.

In what has been a crazy off-season for recruitment, David Klemmer has left and Dylan Napa has come in.

On the outside looking in, the Bulldogs ability to sign a rep forward after losing a rep forward is astute business. A signing to take in your stride.

Many Bulldogs fans, though, are reserving judgment until they see Napa in action. Not because he is a bad replacement, but simply because they are not sure if he is consistent enough.

Klemmer, with all his rep honours and achievements, was, at times, an unsung hero of the Bulldogs forward pack. He ran hard, played hard and tackled hard.

With consistency to boot as his numbers often showed. On the flip side, Napa is an aggressor in the defensive slog but has been criticised for inconsistency when it comes to attacking output.

As we have seen in the past, though, a new team can bring new fortunes and knowing that he has to prove himself, could bring out even better form from Napa.

Either way, it is a handy addition for the Dogs, as their forward pack would have looked rather skinny with no big bopper addition.

Former Sydney Roosters prop Dylan Napa

Hook, line and sinker

Hooker. Arguably, the most important position in the game and yet for the Bulldogs, uncertainty reigns supreme in the position.

Realistically, there are three potential candidates. Michael Lichaa, Jeremy Marshall-King or Kerrod Holland.

Lichaa, although producing flashes of brilliance, is a much-maligned and heavily criticised player by the fans. Struggling under Des Hasler but coming to life under Dean Pay, he at least has the experience.

Marshall-King, whose foray in the halves did not quite go according to the script, is apparently being transformed into a hooker at the NRL level.

He transitioned to the role towards the back-end of the season and did alright, even if Bulldogs fans would rather someone a bit flashier and more suited to the role.

With both Lichaa and Marshall-King, size will always be a factor, particularly when it comes to the defensive side of things. However, that has not stopped them from becoming mainstays.

 

The third option – and this is the left-field one – is Kerrod Holland. Surprisingly, he did play some hooker in 2018 with surprising success but you would have to question whether he can maintain that level of consistency over a season.

Nevertheless, that option is there, as the Bulldogs fans cry out for a rake that can sweep the leaves.

Player to Watch

Passion, loyalty, love and a budding future star. Jayden Okunbor has everything at his disposal to succeed and loves the Bulldogs.

The hulking back-rower has come through the club ranks and so far impressed at every level he has played in.

From the Holden Cup to the Intrust Super Premiership, his exploits on the edges have contributed to many Bulldogs wins.

Part of the Bulldogs side that won the ISP in 2018, Okunbor’s sights are now firmly on first-grade.

At 21, he still has the world at his feet but may be a chance to snag a spot given the uncertainty of the make-up of the Bulldogs forward pack.

Should he snag a bench spot, it will certainly have Bulldogs fans chomping at the bit.

Gains and Losses

Gains: Morgan Harper and Tui Katoa (both 2019), Jack Cogger (Newcastle Knights, 2020), Chris Smith (Sydney Roosters, 2020), Sauaso Sue (Wests Tigers, 2020), Christian Crichton (Penrith Panthers, 2021), Nick Meaney (Newcastle Knights, 2021), James Roumanos (Cronulla Sharks, 2021), Dylan Napa (Sydney Roosters, 2021) and Corey Harawira-Naera (Penrith Panthers, 2022).

Losses: Lachlan Burr (New Zealand Warriors), Matt Frawley (Huddersfield Giants), Moses Mbye (Wests Tigers), Brett Morris (Sydney Roosters), Josh Morris and Aaron Woods (both Cronulla Sharks) and Zac Woolford (Newcastle Knights). Greg Eastwood, Asipeli Fine and Clay Priest (all released).

NRL News Predicted Line-up

  1. Nick Meaney
  2. Reimis Smith
  3. Will Hopoate
  4. Kerrod Holland
  5. Christian Crichton
  6. Kieran Foran
  7. Lachlan Lewis
  8. Aiden Tolman
  9. Michael Lichaa
  10. Dylan Napa
  11. Josh Jackson (C)
  12. Corey Harawira-Naera
  13. Rhyse Martin

14. Raymond Faitala-Mariner
15. Sauaso Sue
16. Adam Elliott
17. Danny Fualalo

Coach: Dean Pay

 

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 15: Sydney Roosters

Just two more NRL previews to go, as part 15 looks at the Sydney Roosters and their 2019 chances. 

As the reigning champs, all the pressure is on to perform at that same level.

In the modern NRL era, going back-to-back is an anomaly, a feat that just does not happen. Not yet anyway.

If you were going to back any side to do it, though, the Roosters would be strong favourites given the strength of their side.

The pressure of going back-to-back

The reason why as to teams cannot go back-to-back is like an enigma of some sort. Almost like it cannot be explained.

Teams have gone close in the past – very close at that – yet fallen at the final hurdle.

Although there is no finite way to prove how or why they did not go on with it, there can be some assertions made as to why.

The pressure that comes with the game, with consistency, with constant performance and continuity, simply increases every year.

Teams that win a premiership are often scouted more so than others, as teams look at ways to stop them from performing at a high level for a second season.

For the Roosters, if they are to buck this trend, their new signings need to gel quickly, for starters.

Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson

In addition to that, the premiership winning players from last season need to emulate their 2018 form.

Doing so is never easy as the weight of expectation becomes greater and greater.

They have the ability to do so but it makes it that much harder when you strive for successive premierships.

Can they do it? It will be a wait and see as they look to achieve what no team has this modern NRL era.

Crichton Time

Changing clubs and being able to replicate your form immediately is a tall order but that is the challenge facing Angus Crichton.

Bursting onto the scene with the South Sydney Rabbitohs, Crichton quickly established himself in the NRL.

As an effective, reliable, talented hole-runner, his try-scoring feats soared on the Rabbitohs edge.

But with a new team, some uncertainty as to how he will fit in and whether he can gel, has some expecting that time is needed.

Time to find his home in the Roosters line-up, even if other elite players are around him to make his life easier.

Sydney Roosters back-rower Angus Crichton

The opportunity to play alongside Cooper Cronk on your inside does not come around every day but Crichton will need to develop a new understanding.

It will be one thing to run a good line, making it look effortless; it will be another be to in sync with Cronk and his thoughts to produce maximum effectiveness.

Getting that combination going is one of the keys for the Roosters in going back-to-back, a rarely achieved feat in recent NRL history.

Both are quality players and so you will back them both to succeed but new team-mates need time to mesh.

Emergence of the new blood

Often criticised for being unable to produce quality juniors, three of the Roosters strongest performers in 2018 were their own.

Latrell Mitchell, Joseph Manu and Victor Radley all shone across the season in different ways.

All three played crucial roles in the premiership winning season but all three are very different players.

Mitchell, who is perhaps the brightest emerging player in the game, took the NRL by storm in 2018.

Although he might lack the speed, he makes up for it with pure strength and a deadly fend that wreaked havoc.

Sydney Roosters centre Joseph Manu

Many-an-opponent found themselves on the end of the fend, with it often leading to tries, breaks or opportunities.

Joseph Manu is of a similar build and although all the attention may have gone towards Mitchell, Manu just went about his own business.

Impressing Roosters fans with his consistent performances, Manu’s stocks are rising as he looks to make an even bigger impression in 2019.

With such potency on the right and left side at centre, the Roosters are blessed with strong, powerful players who are good to watch in full flight.

As for Victor Radley, he was perhaps the surprise packet in many ways. Although his ability was not in question, where and how he would fit was.

Sydney Roosters utility Victor Radley

Playing as a utility man off the bench, his versatility across hooker, back-row and lock served him well.

His stocks rose, his form rose, and he earned the trust of coach Trent Robinson as Mr Reliable across the park.

As 2019 looms, Radley has a chance to cement a spot in the starting pack with the departure of Ryan Matterson.

But with forwards galore and plenty of minutes to go around, can he hold down a starting spot or will he become Mr Fix-It yet again?

2019 Gains and Losses

Gains: Egan Butcher (2019), Craig Garvey (Canberra Raiders, 2019), Brock Lamb (Newcastle Knights, 2019), Ryan Hall (Leeds Rhinos, 2020), Brett Morris (Canterbury Bulldogs, 2020) and Angus Crichton (South Sydney Rabbitohs, 2021).

Losses: Kurt Baptiste (North Queensland Cowboys), Blake Ferguson (Parramatta Eels), Ryan Matterson and Paul Momirovski (both Wests Tigers), Sean O’Sullivan (Brisbane Broncos) and Dylan Napa and Chris Smith (both Canterbury Bulldogs). Mitch Cornish, Eloni Vunakece and Frank-Paul Nuuausala (all retired). Dean Matterson (released).

Player to Watch

As their middle forwards unfortunately do not get any younger, the Sydney Roosters are always a team to keep an eye on the future.

That future in the front row goes by the name of Poasa Faamausili, a hulking young Kiwi prop, ready to take the NRL world by storm.

Lauded for his work-ethic and strong approach to the game, his one start saw him impress in a sign of things to come.

With Origin likely to hit the Roosters hard along with any unfortunate injuries they may face, Faamausili is a name that could be heard more often in 2019.

A strong performer through the club ranks, the young Kiwi prop is primed for a big season in 2019. He just needs the opportunity.

NRL News Predicted Line-Up

  1. James Tedesco
  2. Daniel Tupou
  3. Latrell Mitchell
  4. Joseph Manu
  5. Brett Morris
  6. Luke Keary
  7. Cooper Cronk
  8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
  9. Jake Friend
  10. Sio Siua Taukeiaho
  11. Boyd Cordner (C)
  12. Angus Crichton
  13. Isaac Liu

14. Mitch Aubusson
15. Zane Tetevano
16. Victor Radley
17. Nat Butcher

Coach: Trent Robinson.

Ricky’s 2019 NRL Previews Pt 2: Canberra Raiders

It is now time for part two of Ricky’s NRL previews, the Canberra Raiders! 

For a number of seasons now, the Raiders have gone into it confident and chomping at the bit to impress.
By the end of it, they have been left scratching their head and ruing missed opportunities.

As 2019 rolls around, are the fortunes of the Raiders set to change with some astute signings? Or will it be much of the same?

A superbly talented side capable of beating anyone on their day, yet mired with inconsistency over the course of a 25-round season.

Let us jump in and delve deeper into the key areas for the Raiders.

The halves conundrum

The Raiders have had nightmares for years about a lack of quality halves play and cohesion. When one performs, the other does not.
When there are injuries, the backups just are not up to standard.

And therein lies the issue the Raiders have in the halves. Although it takes 17 players to achieve true greatness, it is the halves who see the ball the most.

At crucial times, the Raiders have struggled; unable to get repeat pressure and unable to put the opposition on the back foot.

This inability, due to a lack of consistency in the halves, has cost them. Many have come and gone and tried but unfortunately, not succeeded.

Blake Austin, Mitch Cornish, Sam Williams and Aidan Sezer just to name a few. Williams and Sezer are still with the club and should nothing change, both might end up playing in the halves come 2019.

But that is something that Raiders fans do not want. They want a star in the halves. Someone to create, someone to lead, someone with pedigree.

Is that man out there? Or will the halves conundrum continue in the nation’s capital?

Canberra Raiders utility Elliott Whitehead

The English Invasion

Canberra is quickly becoming the home away from home for English players, as the Raiders bring their tally up to 4 in 2019.

With both Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead already proving themselves in the league, the Raiders will be hopeful that their two new English recruits can do the same.

John Bateman and Ryan Sutton both join to add some starch and punch to the Raiders team but can they enjoy similar success to their counterparts?

Hodgson made an impact almost from the get-go and was a player that many regarded as one of the elite hookers in the game.
Showing that on an almost weekly basis, his work-rate and crafty play have had Raiders fans pleased for several years.

Former Wigan Warriors now Canberra Raiders utility John Bateman

Whitehead has been much the same. Covering at back-row, centre and even five-eighth when needed, he has shored up his side and provided the Raiders with some mettle.

The success of those two bodes well for Bateman and Sutton but as we have seen in the past, not all English recruits make a splash or even play at all.

For Bateman and Sutton, however, both are coming off rather successful stints with the Wigan Warrriors and they will want to emulate that form for the Raiders.

How do you solve a problem like no Rapana?

Perhaps the biggest talking point for the Raiders heading into 2019 is Jordan Rapana.

One of the elite wingers in the modern era, the news that Rapana will miss close to half the season is a huge blow for a Raiders side who relies so heavily on him.

Over the years, he has formed a lethal combination with Joey Leilua and on his day – which is basically most weeks – he can change a game on his own, single-handedly.

Not having that game-breaking ability out wide leaves a yawning gap in the Raiders attack and it is one that they can only hope to patch up.

Rapana’s ability to create, break tackles, make space for himself and produce either tries, breaks or assists, particularly for a winger, is often uncanny.

It is his consistency and his try-scoring feats that have many in awe of how he plays and how he manages to produce such stellar performances.

With his injury ruling him out until at least halfway through the year, the Raiders will have some tough decisions to make in terms of who replaces him during that time.

Is Michael Oldfield the man to step up? A reliable, hard-working winger, who had a decent 2018 for the Raiders.
Or is it someone else? Another youngster to burst onto the scene like Nick Cotric perhaps? Or even Brad Abbey to make a name for himself?

Canberra Raiders winger Jordan Rapana

Player to Watch

Many talented kids have made a name for themselves at the Raiders and Mascot junior Emre Guler will want to do the same.

The strapping prop got a taste of first-grade towards the back end of the season and with spots in the forward pack up for grabs, he looms as a handy option.

Coach Ricky Stuart will have his hands full when it comes to selecting his forward pack but he cannot go wrong if Guler gets the nod.

A key player in the Raiders 2017 Holden Cup side, Guler also has accolades for NSW and the junior Kangaroos to his name.

As he made his way through the ranks at Mounties, his impressive form continued as he laid the foundation for the feeder club.

Those performances were enough to get him noticed and banging on the door for consistent first-grade. If the Raiders need another young gun to call on, Guler may well be their man.

2019 Gains and Losses

Gains: Andre Niko, Brendan O’Hagan, Hudson Young and Kyle Paterson (all 2019), JJ Felise (Newcastle Knights, 2020), Ryan Sutton (Wigan Warriors, 2020) and John Bateman (Wigan Warriors, 2021).

Losses: Blake Austin (Warrington Wolves), Shannon Boyd (Gold Coast Titans), Charlie Gubb (Widnes Vikings), Junior Paulo (Parramatta Eels), Mikaele Ravalawa (St George Illawarra Dragons), Makavesi Dakuwaqa and Craig Garvey (both released).

NRL News Predicted Line-up

1. Jack Wighton
2. Nick Cotric
3. Jarrod Croker (C)
4. Joey Leilua
5. Michael Oldfield
6. Aidan Sezer
7. Sam Williams
8. Iosia Soliola
9. Josh Hodgson
10. Ryan Sutton
11. Josh Papalii
12. Elliot Whitehead
13. John Bateman

14. Siliva Havili
15. Joseph Tapine
16. Emre Guler
17. Luke Bateman

Coach: Ricky Stuart