Category Archives: NRL Editorials

Editorials on the big issues in NRL Rugby League

Ricky’s Team of the Week Rd 3

Jordan Rapana

A round of surprises and upsets, there were equally surprising performances as some players bounced back whilst others failed to perform. Focusing on those that excelled, the Team of the Week will throw up some interesting names! Also, just note, players may appear slightly out of position based on the points system that we utilise. For example, if there is no centre to have accumulated points but three wingers have done so, we will move a winger into the centre position.

So without further adieu, here you go. Ricky’s Team of the Week for Rd 3:

  1. Tom Trbojevic – Taking over the fullback role from the retiring Brett Stewart, Trbojevic had a slow start to the season but is kicking on and making inroads into opposition defences. A remarkably talented player, he shapes as a genuine elite fullback in years to come.

2. Michael Gordon – An early surprise packet form wise, Gordon has been a breath of fresh air for the Roosters. Calm, composed and experienced at the back, he has made his presence felt as he guides the Roosters towards wins and potential success.

3. Josh Morris – With several young guns in the Bulldogs backline, Morris and his brother Brett are needed to step up and guide them and the veteran centre did that with an impressive display in Rd 3.

4. Jordan Rapana – A phenomenal game from Rapana against the Tigers as he made breaks for fun and was quite literally unstoppable against a poor Tigers defence. His statistics from this game were remarkable.

5. Alex Johnston – Under tough scrutiny from many Souths fans, Johnston has so far made a good transition to fullback in 2017 and performed well for the club since Inglis’ injury. Consistency is the key, however.

6. Shaun Johnson – Enjoying perhaps one of his best starts to the season individually, the Warriors overall performances might make it seem as if they are struggling but that is through no fault of Johnson who is making the most of what is presented to him.

7. Mitch Pearce – Some want him back in Origin, others do not. However, his form continues and his partnership with Keary develops further, Origin selection may be a mere formality.

8. Jordan McLean – Talk about consistency and McLean is one of the first names on the list this season. Tremendously talented, he is a huge reason as to why the Storm is able to control a game and make efficient meterage in the opposition defensive line.

9. Tyrone Roberts – Switched around somewhat throughout his career and in the Rd 3 clash, Roberts move to fullback was perhaps the winning formula even though he started the game at hooker. He was in everything and proved his worth and value to the Titans side.

10. Tim Mannah – An unsung hero of the Eels forward pack despite their recruits coming in. A hard worker, a tireless player and a genuine leader, Mannah sets the bar for his fellow Eels props with commitment, determination and will power.

11. Josh Papalii – At present, he is the form back-rower of the competition. Just when you think he cannot do anymore, he has another spectacular game. His partnership on the edges with his inside and outside men is a big reason behind his success.

12. Josh Jackson – Another elite back-rower in the game, Jackson is highly rated by Dogs fans and is a consistent performer in their forward pack. A hard worker in his own right, his form on the edge is a key for the Bulldogs.

13. Jamie Buhrer – One of Knights key recruits ahead of 2017, Buhrer has so far lived up to the expectation and helped guide the younger forward pack around. Playing big minutes himself and leading from the front, his leadership and his resolve playing a part in a rejuvenated Knights outfit.

14. Brenton Lawrence – Having overcome his back injury, Lawrence is turning heads and impressing Manly fans once more with strong carries and hard running, producing the goods with big metres and opportunistic tries as a result.

15. Junior Paulo – A bullocking man mountain, Junior hits the line as hard as you will see from any prop and his presence his felt in attack. An enforcer of the Raiders forward pack, his metres set the tone for the rest of the forwards.

16. Chris McQueen – Another versatile player, McQueen had a shift to the centres in Rd 3 and was a strong performer as he scored two tries and made several breaks. Whilst not a noted try-scorer, when he has the chance to score, he makes the most of it.

17. John Asiata – A surprising selection perhaps but with much of the focus on other forwards in the Cowboys side, the work-rate and commitment of Asiata can often go unnoticed. His efforts off the bench give a boost to the Cowboys at any point in the game.

Player of the Week: Jordan Rapana.

Ricky’s Team of the Week Rd 2

Cody Walker

Back again for another week with our team of the week put together by key contributor Ricky. It was a round of upsets, strong performances and interesting games but just who cut the mustard to make it this week in our top team.

Once again, as we will do every week with this, we stress that our selections are based on the respective points that we give out to the respective players after each individual game.

  1. Tom Trbojevic – Ater a quiet Rd 1 game, Trbojevic came to the fore with a strong performance for his Manly side despite their Rd 2 loss. The tall, lanky fullback has the potential to become an elite player and Manly fans will be hoping that is just the case.

2. Nathan Ross – A fan favourite at the Knights, Ross is a key figure in their solid start to 2017. He loves scoring tries and the club’s Rd 2 win over the Titans was no different. He works hard, plays hard and is loved and revered by fans, the club and his team-mates.

3. Tyrone Peachey – Not traditionally a centre, Peachey has made the position his own and he produced a stellar performance in the position in a comfortable win over the Tigers. Whether it was making metres, breaking tackles or making line-breaks, he was doing it all.

4. Cameron Munster – Thrust into the vacant fullback role in the absence of Billy Slater, Munster has taken the role in his stride and performed brilliantly. Rd 2 was no exception as his crafty play and link-up from the back echoed the very same effect of Slater in back-line movements.

5. Semi Radradra – Although the weight of his pending court case might be on his mind, Semi did not show it at all. He scored a remarkable four tries in the club’s romp of the Dragons and seemed to be enjoying his footy again.

6. Cody Walker – Needing someone to step up in the absence of Inglis who is out for the season, it was a masterclass by Walker playing at 5/8 who was the catalyst behind Souths impressive win. One of the craftiest players you will see, his running game is perhaps the most impressive aspect to his game.

7. Corey Norman – With big expectations to meet – both set by himself and the outside rugby league landscape – Norman has started the season impressively with two tremendous displays. The focal point of the Eels attack, he is leading from the front and taking it upon himself to guide the side.

8. Viliame Kikau – Better late than never to make a debut but Kikau was just as impressive as everyone knew he would be. A hard-runner, a spirited player and a committed worker, Kikau’s efforts will not have gone unnoticed.

9. Jayden Brailey – With much hype surrounding his entry into first-grade, Brailey has not disappointed to date. Size is no issue as he puts his body on the line in defence, trying to emulate the success of Michael Ennis in the role. Scoring a debut try was a handy sweetener for him.

10. Jack Stockwell – A surprise packet of the Knights side and the NRL in general, Stockwell is producing the form that many believed he was capable of during his Dragons days. The fact he comes off the bench to achieve such good form is even more impressive.

11. Boyd Cordner – One of the game’s elite back-rowers, Cordner’s play on the edge has always been remarkable and as the Roosters find their mojo, there will only be more opportunities for him to excel. One of the best line-runners you will see on the edge, Cordner thrusts himself into his work and comes out on top.

12. Wade Graham – A rare hat-trick for Graham this week and a much deserved one. Biding his time patiently for Origin duties, he is a quality player in his own right on the flanks and is the man touted for future captaincy honours once Paul Gallen retires.

13. Jason Taumalolo – Without question, he is the man of the moment right now. Amassing more than 500m in just two games, there is seemingly no-one that can stop Taumalolo in his tracks. A hulking figure in the Cowboys pack, he leads from the front and sets the tone.

14. Coen Hess – The young buck of the Cowboys go-forward has so much promise and looks the goods to reach the promised land. With more opportunity likely to come now after some injuries, he is the sort of player that you would expect to make the most of it.

15. Brock Lamb – One of the under-rated figures in some ways at the Knights club, the young half has performed well in the opening two rounds since being thrust into the 5/8 role after Mullen’s departure due to drug issues. Linking well with Hodkinson, the two are forming a nice combination.

16. Brenko Lee – Yet another surprise packet to start the season. Not many thought he would start in the centres for the Bulldogs this year but he has grabbed the opportunity with both hands with nice touches and nice plays.

17. Suaia Matagi – An early contender in the eyes of some for buy of the year, Matagi runs as hard as a mack truck on every carry, a trait that Eels fans have been crying out for. Complementing the other Eels forwards well, Matagi runs hard and hits just as hard as well.

Player of the Round: Cody Walker

Tim Simona and the betting saga

Everyone has their views and opinions on betting, the place it has in our game and how the governing bodies should act when players are involved with it whether in truth via evidence or linked to it. 

With the huge emphasis often placed upon the role that betting and gambling plays in our game from a sponsorship and fan perspective, it is easy to see how it can trickle into the world of the players and lead to this, the Tim Simona saga.

It reached a head for the NRL in the end when they decreed that the use of mobile phones prior to the start of games in the dressing sheds was not allowed, in an attempt to avoid similar instances from occurring. That in of itself is a bit extreme in the eyes of some but others believe it is necessary or justified. The question is, though, does it have to go further?

Can the NRL impose any further restriction that relates to the no mobile phone use or is this the strictest they can get? And what sort of precedent will the Tim Simona saga set for future instances of this nature, should any arise?

We thought we would devise a poll on the issue itself to determine whether people think Simona deserves a second chance or whether the fact that he was involved in betting to such a magnitude means that he should be immediately de-registered from the NRL.

In a move that will not surprise many, the NRL have opted to de-register the contract of Tim Simona with no guarantee that he will return to the game in a playing capacity. When you flout the rules to such a magnitude that Simona did, one’s hands are tied and the NRL had no decision but to act harshly.

So cast your vote, share your view either via a comment or via Twitter and let us know what you think.

What should Tim Simona's suspension be in light of his involvement with betting?

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Ricky’s Team of the Week: Rd 1

Luke Keary

You may have seen it around previously and we have decided to bring it back, Ricky’s Team of the Week! So sit back, relax and enjoy our team of the week.
Just note, it is based upon the points we dish out Dally M style each week based on what we view as the best players every game so it may differ from other teams of the weeks. Also note, players may be picked slightly out of position based on the players we chose to accrue their respective points. 

So here it is, Ricky’s Team of the Week for Rd 1:

  1. James Tedesco – Many would argue that he is the best fullback in the game at present and their views would not be far off the mark. A tremendously talented player, Tedesco is a crucial player for the Tigers and showed just how good he is with a dominant display in the side’s win against Souths.

2. Moses Suli – A rookie out to impress, Suli did just that and put many fans on notice with a display that would have impressed the most veteran player. If Suli continues such form, being named rookie of the year might be a mere formality.

3. Corey Oates – A versatile player, Oates is often one of the more under-rated players in the Broncos setup, he performs strongly on the wing with big carries, big runs and more often than not, scoring tries for fun. His presence on the wing gives the Broncos a big advantage.

4. David Fusitu’a – Not a household name at the Warriors, the utility back does not have to be as he goes about his business with pride, heart and ability. A hat-trick to boot in the game against the Knights, that sort of form will see him retain his spot for games to come.

5. Josh Addo-Carr – Making a huge impact in just his first game for the Storm, his form has many of them excited. His first touch led to a very good break and he continued those good touches throughout. He could be the x-factor in the Storm side to replace Marika Koroibete.

6.  Anthony Milford – One of the most exciting players to watch in open play, many thought Milford would fail to emulate his success in recent years or start out slow but he showed that he is still quality and ready to make an impact in 2017 with a very strong performance.

7. Shaun Johnson – Yet another exciting player in the game, Johnson is one of the few players that can win a match on his own either with a run or a pass and that actively excites the Warriors fans. Fans across the NRL love him and enjoy watching his game-breaking ability which he showed against the Knights.

8. Matt Scott (C) – An elite prop in the game, Scott is as consistent as they come and sets the tone for the Cowboys in every game he plays in, their win against the Raiders included. A powerful runner, he teaches the younger brigade how to perform as a forward.

9. Luke Keary – Making a strong early impression for the Roosters – one that surprised many – Keary performed brilliantly in an easy win for the Roosters, easily the club’s best on ground in that clash. Form like that and linking with halves partner Pearce puts the Roosters in a great position.

10. Suaia Matagi – One of the surprising performers of the round, Matagi’s runs, efforts and performance was a huge catalyst in the Eels win. Perhaps surprising many fans with just how good he was, his selection in the team of the week is justified.

11. Joel Thompson – A surprising candidate for many in a list such as this, it is deserved. A hard-worker with determination, his good work is a testament to that as he ran good lines and ended up with three tries in the process, a first for Thompson.

12. Josh Papalii – Another elite back-rower, Papalii goes from strength to strength each season and despite the loss to the Cowboys, it was no different. Whether it is breaking the line or assisting a play, Papalii simply continues to impress as his status as an elite forward grows.

13. Jason Taumalolo – The reigning Dally M medallist of the year picked up where he left off with another blistering display. Amassing over 200m, he just seems to do no wrong on the field, nor can anyone seem to stop he and his powerful carries. Keep it up, he might win another Dally M.

14. Corey Norman – With 2016 behind him, Norman is keen to make amends and perform well for the Eels and he did that, guiding the side in attack and producing a sound performance to record the club’s first win of the season to kick-start their campaign. He looms as the predominant figure in the Eels side.

15. Jordan McLean – Forced to step up in the absence of Bromwich who left the field, McLean did so and guided the Storm forwards towards a hard-fought win. A highly-rated player, his form is crucial alongside Bromwich’s in the Storm’s season.

16. Ava Seumanufagai – Another surprise performer, Ava’s game has gone from strength to strength as he cements a permanent spot in the Tigers team. Scoring a surprising try, his carries set the bar for the rest of the Tigers forward pack and should continue as the season goes on.

17. Jack Stockwell – An interesting selection perhaps but a deserved one in the eyes of the author, for his impact off the bench in very nearly producing a Knights win. Much of the focus shifted to other forwards but it was Stockwell who stood up and made his presence known.

Our Player of the Week: Luke Keary.

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 10: Melbourne Storm

A perennial powerhouse of the NRL for the better part of a decade, many have made the argument that the Melbourne Storm are the most consistent side during that period. As we look to 2017, however, there are some question marks around the team and the make-up of it. Will it affect them for better or for worse? Will their players adapt to shifting positions? 

Perhaps the major question on everyone’s lips is whether or not Billy Slater will actually start the season. The last 18 months for the entertaining fullback has been dogged with shoulder injuries and surgeries, obviously limiting both his time on the field and his time at training.
To the untrained eye, one might believe that because he is yet to feature in a trial game for the Storm, that it might mean he will miss the start of the season as he continues to recover. The NRL is a funny game, though, and if he and coach Craig Bellamy believe he can handle the rigours of the game once more, he may yet return for Rd 1. To find out, we will have to wait until team lists are released for Rd 1 which is a couple of weeks yet. Should he not play, you would expect that Cam Munster will continue in the role that he performed so well in last year.

With that in mind, though – and this brings us to the next point on the Storm – is that Cam Munster has been slated with a move to 5/8 for the 2016 season. A gifted runner and playmaker in his own right, many believe that Munster would make a seamless transition into the role and support elite halfback, Cooper Cronk. Of course, he is not the only option that is available to the club or coach Craig Bellamy. Gaining traction is young gun Brodie Croft who has impressed many with the effortless nature to which he has come into the first-grade arena via trials and the Auckland Nines.
Looking comfortable in the roles given to him, Croft has been slated as a starter for a while now and if he gets the nod, there will be no better halfback to play alongside to develop his game and nurture than Cooper Cronk.

Another interesting aspect of the Storm setup in the 2017 season is finding the direct replacement in the back-row for Kevin Proctor. The first name that springs to mind is Kenny Bromwich. Playing as the impact back-rower off the bench, he has made himself known as a solid player that runs hard and provides punch and power. With a chance now ahead of him to start and increase his minutes, he looms as the favourite to move into the role and based on his first-grade experience, you would expect him to get the nod.
One other surprising candidate whose name has emerged is Joe Stimson. Having come through the Storm ranks, he knows the expectations of the club and how he has to perform and to date, he has done that well. A key player in every team he has so far played in, he is a tremendous line-runner and is even a smokey for a bench role. Should his opportunity not come at the start of the season, it is just a matter of time before Stimson does get one and in the eyes of Storm fans, it will be just desserts.

In the end, you would expect, as usual, that the Storm will have a solid season and end up in the top four. Such is the nature of their side with the likes of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Jesse Bromwich, as well as the emergence of Cam Munster and other players, the Storm side is well equipped to deal with whatever might be thrown their way. With coach Craig Bellamy’s ability to extract the best out of his players, their consistency levels remain at a high and more often than not, they always find a way to win and perform.

Best buy: Signing mostly depth players, the one signing that stands out is that of Josh Addo-Carr. A tremendously pacey winger, Addo Carr is nicknamed ‘the Fox’ and has a chance to not only get an opportunity but to hold down the fort and retain that wing spot for many games to come. Tigers fans were disappointed to see him go and it was the Storm who acted the swiftest, knowing that they needed a winger to replace the equally impressive Marika Koroibete. Whilst a different player from the Fijian, they both have their own spark and x-factor that can help the Storm side moving forward and do something that they do well in rugby league – scoring points.

Best Young Talent: Patiently waiting his turn to make an impact in first-grade, Joe Stimson has a great opportunity to get a start at some point in 2017. Everywhere he has played, whether it is for the Storm’s Holden Cup side or for their feeder teams, he has performed consistently and the head honchos at the Storm have noticed.
There has been some talk that he might start the season but given the form and faith in Kenny Bromwich, Stimson may have to bide his time. A great line-runner, Stimson knows how to hit the gap and how to create the break to lead to a sound attacking play. Storm fans know how good he is and very soon, the entire NRL will as well.

2017 gains: Josh Addo-Carr, Jahrome Hughes, Ryley Jacks, Vincent Leuluai, Justin Olam & Brandon Smith.

Our predicted Storm line-up at full strength:

  1. Billy Slater
  2. Josh Addo-Carr
  3. Curtis Scott
  4. Will Chambers
  5. Suliasi Vunivalu
  6. Cam Munster
  7. Cooper Cronk
  8. Jesse Bromwich
  9. Cam Smith (C)
  10. Jordan McLean
  11. Kenny Bromwich
  12. Tohu Harris
  13. Dale Finucane

14. Nelson Asofa-Solomona
15. Tim Glasby
16. Christian Welch
17. Felise Kaufusi

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 9: Newcastle Knights

A team mired with off-field turmoil and poor results on the field – not from a lack of trying or being committed, though – the Newcastle Knights are well and truly a team rebuilding at present. In the eyes of many, however, they are slated to win a second successive wooden spoon.

The question must be asked, though, are they really that bad? Whilst they may not have the overall team to make the top eight, they do have heart, spirit and determination, due to the nature of coaching employed by Nathan Brown. A coach who enjoys rebuilding a team to get them up to his standards, a lot of the older, veteran players have departed, replaced by talented, upcoming youngsters. Whilst some of the youngsters have proved themselves more than others, the investment in them is the best part as they look to develop for the future.  Furthermore, is it a technique that usually works or does a team need enough experience to balance out their youth and to help them grow and develop.

The make-up of their halves will look different in light of the positive drug test by Jarrod Mullen. Whilst his experienced will be sorely missed, many Knights fans believe it could be a blessing in disguise as it will give one of their younger halves a chance to enjoy a prolonged period in the first-grade line-up. That likely player is Brock Lamb, a young half who is highly rated by Knights fans and has an astute knowledge of the game. Whilst Trent Hodkinson will steer the ship, Lamb’s role will be to control his side of the field and produce solid link-up play to his outside centres and wingers.

With a team that possesses so much youth, the key is to help bring them all together and produce methods to draw out their talents for the betterment of the team. Whilst they may take time to both gel and come into their own as young players, their own individual belief in their abilities and the way the coach perceives them and nurtures them will be the big challenge for the Knights young guns this season.
In the end, many are writing off the Knights and perhaps on form and their roster, part of that is justified. However, if rugby league has taught fans anything, it is that the game is unpredictable and the mix of the youth and experience plus a coach that has high expectations of his players, they will work hard, play hard and remain competitive.

Best buy: Needing experience and versatility desperate, an astute addition for the Knights will be Jamie Buhrer. A versatile second-row forward that can cover hooker and centre if need be, his style of play and solid defensive efforts are just what the doctor ordered for an inexperienced Knights forward pack. Impressive during his time at Manly, Knights fans will be hoping that he can emulate that type of success. He looms as a key player on the fringes for the club, as they look to rebuild and get themselves off the bottom of the ladder – by the expectations of many, at least.

Best Young Talent: With a spot in the halves up for grabs, one of the Knights talents that has a chance to prove his mettle and hold down a spot is young gun, Brock Lamb. A talented half that has had Knights fans raving for a few seasons now, he has excelled in the Holden Cup for the club. With a steeled half in Hodkinson by his side, Lamb has all the tools to provide the perfect foil for him and carve out his own path. If he performs strongly enough, the Knights may have found the half that they can build their side around moving forward.

2017 gains: Jamie Buhrer, Mitch Barnett, Jacob Gagan, Rory Kostjaysn, Ken Sio, Josh Starling & Joe Wardle.

Our predicted Knights line-up at full strength:

  1. Peter Mata’utia
  2. Ken Sio
  3. Dane Gagai
  4. Joe Wardle
  5. Nathan RossSa
  6. Brock Lamb
  7. Trent Hodkinson
  8. Daniel Saifiti
  9. Danny Levi
  10. Josh Starling
  11. Sione Mata’utia
  12. Jamie Buhrer
  13. Mitch Barnett

14. Rory Kostjaysn
15. Jacob Saifiti
16. Anthony Tupou
17. Sam Mataora

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 7: Parramatta Eels

Layered with turmoil on and off the field in 2016, the Eels will be looking to put that behind them and will be hoping for a change in fortunes in 2017. With star players out and about getting into trouble, the mass salary cap saga that implicated several administration employees and so much more, it was a year to forget for the Parramatta Eels, a club with a rich history and a proud brand. 

Whilst things may seem on the up and up in 2017, there are still some questions that remain over the make-up of their side as well as whether they can put the past behind them and focus on the goal that all clubs chase – premiership success.
As a club, the Eels have had their ups and downs in recent years and whilst they have possessed talent sides, many players have failed to live up to the expectations placed upon them and as a result, the Eels have missed out on finals footy for quite a number of seasons now.
As the 2017 season nears closer, fans are quietly optimistic that a top eight spot is within their reach. With Brad Arthur at the helm, a fair yet imposing presence as a coach, who wants the best out of his players and helps them achieve their on-field and off-field goals, the Eels are in a good position and fans have full faith in Arthur to deliver consistency, potential success and hopefully a finals berth.

A major talking point by many Eels fans and even rival fans is the make-up of their halves. Some believe that the Eels should have made a play for an elite halfback to play alongside Corey Norman but the Eels and coach Arthur had other ideas. Impressed with the performances of Clint Gutherson at five-eighth towards the back end of 2016, Arthur has made a decision to continue with him in the role with the aim to form a sound combination alongside Norman. Shifted around somewhat as a player in his Eels career, Gutherson found his home first at centre and then at five-eighth, and Eels fans will be hopeful that he can continue to perform in that role.

To follow on from that point is Corey Norman himself. Forced to take on the dominant half role after Kieran Foran was injured and had his off-field issues resulting in his departure, up until he himself was suspended for an off-field incident, he seemed to perform relatively well and control the game.
Though 2017 will be made tougher for him given that there is added pressure to perform. As the dominant half for the Eels in their setup, he will have to dictate terms, call the shots and become the focal point of the club’s attack on virtually every play, much like Thurston or Cronk are for their respective clubs. Dealing with such a burden is not something all players respond to but if Norman can harness that pressure and turn it into confidence and consistency, it could be just what the doctor ordered for the Eels.
Brad Arthur has put the faith in the duo to perform, the question is – can the duo of Gutherson and Norman justify their coaches faith in the halves.

Perhaps the player that is under the most pressure at the Eels in season 2017 is Bevan French. A technically gifted player, French as the finesse, the speed and the agile nature, that complements his individual style of play so well. As he prepares for a permanent move to fullback, though, how will the added expectation of playing there week in and week out and having the fans counting on you to perform affect his overall performance? Whilst he performed strongly in the final two games of the 2016 season at fullback, there was little pressure there. Fast forward to Rd 1, 2017, and there will be high hopes of him that he can perform and do so consistently.

With a new season in tow, the expectation on the Eels team as a whole is high. With a side that represents that in which coach Arthur wants and one that fans believe can go places, their form on the field is crucial if they are to challenge the top sides. In their own right, they have the personnel to perform well and coupled with their new signings and the existing players, they will be expected to be consistent and get the best out of each other.
Overcoming the numerous factors that stand in their way will be no easy feat but with Brad Arthur at the helm to draw the very best out of his players, you can bank on the Eels being competitive in games and pushing teams all the way.

Best buy: If his form at the Nines was anything to go by, the Eels and their fans will look forward to having Suaia Matagi at their disposal. Finishing up in the Auckland Nines team of the tournament, Matagi is a power runner in the forwards and constantly gets over the advantage line. Hard to stop on the frontline, he powers ahead and makes strong metres with each carry. Just the sort of forward that the Eels need, Matagi can be the perfect foil for metre-eating forwards such as Mannah and Moeroa.
Matagi’s style will punch inroads in the defence and create quicker play the balls and more opportunities for the attacking players to do their jobs. Eels fans expect a lot of Matagi and his form, at this stage, is exactly what they are expecting of him.

Best Young Talent: Compared to Tim Mannah by many, the Eels have a young prop that could make an impression if given opportunity in 2017 – Alex Twal. Whilst the club have strengthened their forward pack, the youngster is highly rated by coach Brad Arthur. Tall and lanky, he has the heart of a lion and a motor to boot, throwing himself at the defence in search of as many metres as possible. Whilst he might be a touch down the pecking order given the signings the Eels have made in the forwards, he will be closely watched by Arthur and his coaching staff as an option to consider if things get tough or if there  is nothing to play for in the season. For now, he bides his time with the Eels feeder club, Wentworthville. Though Eels fans will be watching him closely to see if he can perform well there as a prelude to what might see him earn a first-grade spot.

2017 gains: Kirisome Auva’a, Nathan Brown, Jamal Fogarty, Josh Hoffman, George Jennings, Suaia Matagi, Marata Niukore, Frank Pritchard, Will Smith & Siosaia Vave.

Our predicted Eels line-up at full-strength:

  1. Bevan French
  2. Semi Radradra
  3. Michael Jennings
  4. Brad Takairangi
  5. Josh Hoffman
  6. Clint Gutherson
  7. Corey Norman (C)
  8. Suaia Matagi
  9. Issac De Gois
  10. Tim Mannah
  11. Beau Scott
  12. Manu Ma’u
  13. Tepai Moeroa

14. Nathan Brown
15. Kenny Edwards
16. Siosaia Vave
17. Frank Pritchard

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 6: Penrith Panthers

The Panthers are that team that many believe can go far, even if they are not regarded as an elite team. With a big fanbase, able players and a smart system in place, every year, their profile grows as does their confidence. 2017 shapes as a season whereby the Panthers can emerge as a genuine threat in the game and compete with those teams regarded as elite. 

With that, though, comes added pressure. With somewhat of a youthful playing roster, their experienced players will have to step up and act as mentors to guide both the young players and the team itself forward. Their youthful exuberance is a result of the club blooding the youngsters that they believe are capable and knowing that mixing it with experienced players is the way to achieve a perfect balance.

One of the most important players for the club is halfback Nathan Cleary. With the dreaded second year syndrome a real thing in the rugby league landscape, there is genuine pressure on Cleary to continue to perform at the level that he did in his debut season. A talented half blessed with an astute kicking and passing game, his individual success is instrumental to the Panthers chances in 2017. As a half, it will be up to him to lead the side around the park, dictate the terms and then taking advantage of the groundwork laid out by the forwards.

The next interesting point is who will partner Cleary in the halves. Cartwright or Martin? Both are equally adept at playing in the five-eighth role but they are also very different types of players. Cartwright, as we saw late on in 2016, is a genuine runner of the ball blessed with a knack of offloading the footy in easy or difficult situations. That ability comes from his upbringing through the junior ranks and the start of his NRL career, where he played almost exclusively as a back-rower. Whilst his defence might be a bit suspect in the eyes of some, he is seen as an x-factor in the Penrith side and if they want an adlib player capable of producing a moment of brilliance, in the middle of the field for a hard-running forward or the club’s fullback, then Cartwright’s offloading ability might just be able to create those opportunities.
As for Te Maire Martin, he is coming off a long-term injury, which may prevent his play at the start. He is gifted, however, and highly rated by the fans, which does work in his favour. With a tendency to pick players that can play within the confines of his system, Martin is a player with something to prove and if his transition back into the first-grade proves successful, he and Cleary could become the mainstays of the club’s halves for years to come.

Enjoying some success last year as a team, the 2017 season presents a dynamic of a different kind for the club, its fans and coach Anthony Griffin. 2017 sees the return of both Peta Hiku and Dean Whare, both talented players in their own right and capable of producing solid, consistent form.
The different dynamic in this instance is the form that fill-in centre Tyrone Peachey showed just how good he is in the role, forming a strong partnership with the winger on his outside. Which then begs the question – do you retain Peachey in that role based on how he performed in 2016 or does he revert back to his original position as the bench utility?
Whilst he is not a natural centre, his form in the role in 2016 might be enough to see him retain it. With the looming threat of more genuine centres in Whare and Hiku, though, is it worthwhile retaining him there or utilising the proper centre options at your disposal. In addition to that, many still believe that Peachey’s best position is as that utility off the bench, given the array of spots he can cover in a pinch and maintaining consistency.

All in all, many Penrith fans have high hopes and expectations of the team and with the players they have both produced and bought in recent years to strengthen their side, you would think that they are on the precipice of elite status as a footballing team. With that, though, comes the expectation which for some teams and players, they can often struggle to cope with and deal with. Therein lies the challenge for not only the Penrith players but also coach Anthony Griffin. In order to get the very best out of his players and have them challenging the top sides, they will need to work together as a unit, remain consistent and perhaps most importantly, establish a sense of unison and cohesion between all the players on the park.

Best Buy: Making a surprise move from former club, the North Queensland Cowboys, the Penrith pack became even bigger and stronger, with James Tamou signing. Whilst in the eyes of some, he can be inconsistent, he has proven that he can perform consistently at the club level and he has the representative appearances to justify that consistency. A hulking prop, more often than not, he gets over the advantage line and helps set the platform for the Penrith team who then have the players to capitalise on the good metres. Working in tandem with the likes of Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Trent Merrin, the trio – among their other forwards – will be expected to lay a solid foundation and make the hard yards that the club needs. Penrith fans are excited about the signing of Tamou and believe he can contribute greatly to the overall nature of what the club wants to achieve.

Best Young Talent: Penrith have always been blessed with a litany of talented juniors and this year is no exception. The potential for a first-grade spot beckons for Dylan Edwards who is perhaps one or two injuries away from making his mark. A technically gifted player, Edwards has shone at both the Holden Cup and NSW Cup level and has Penrith fans excited about what he can produce at the top level. Some may see him as a touch small in stature but he showed enough versatility in his sole first-grade appearance to suggest that it will not be an issue. A hard-worker and a player that prides himself on performing well, Edwards has every chance to become a mainstay of the side if the cards fall into place and Penrith fans will be hopeful that he can make the most of it and perform well to help propel their side towards potential success.

Our predicted Penrith line-up at full strength for the 2017 season is:

  1. Matt Moylan (C)
  2. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
  3. Dean Whare
  4. Peta Hiku
  5. Josh Mansour
  6. Te Maire Martin
  7. Nathan Cleary
  8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard
  9. Peter Wallace
  10. James Tamou
  11. Isaah Yeo
  12. Bryce Cartwright
  13. Trent Merrin

14. Mitch Rein
15. Tyrone Peachey
16. Leilani Latu
17. James Fisher-Harris

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 5: South Sydney Rabbitohs

A foundation team with one of the richest histories in the game, the cardinal and myrtle of the South Sydney Rabbitohs resonates with Australian rugby league. Blessed with numerous legendary players and premierships, 2017 shapes as an important year for both the team and coach Michael Maguire. Since their premiership win in 2014, Souths fans will tell you that their side has struggled since then and been unable to perform consistently. Is 2017 the year for them to turn things around?

A key factor for the Bunnies will be the dynamics between their halves. In their own right, Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker are gifted players but there has been some collusion when it comes to who takes more ownership. Traditionally, Souths setup is one built upon defence, hard work and execution, areas that have been lacking in the past. The halves play a big role in the execution stakes and Reynolds and Walker have two very distinct styles of play.
Walker, as a runner, takes the line on with acceleration and often comes out the other side to make the breaks. Therein lies his major strength in the game, a strength that sees him among the top when it comes to breaks made by halves. Conversely, for Reynolds, whilst he can also be a runner of the football, he is at times a bit hesitant to do so – Souths fans will know this well – due to prior injuries to his knee.
What he lacks in running less, however, Reynolds makes up for with a pinpoint kicking game – long and short. Often regarded as one of the best general kickers in the game, Reynolds gives his side the advantage and metres required with the boot, a valuable asset in the world of rugby league. If the two of them can gel and mesh together whilst excelling at their unique halves skills, they can lay the killer blow in the attacking zone for Souths when it matters.

The forward pack is also an interesting proposition for Souths. With many disappointed in the form of the Burgess twins in recent years, they have to step up their game or risk losing their spots in the side. As to which one starts, some believe Thomas should get the nod whilst others believe George should get it, hoping he gets back to his 2014 form. There is plenty of pressure on he and other Bunnies forwards to perform with the emergence of players such as Zane Musgrove, Cameron Murray and Angus Crichton, all of whom are stating their claims for regular first-grade spots and opportunities. The pressure is on the Burgess brothers and should they not perform, they may find their spots in jeopardy for both the short and long-term.

The final point to take out of the Bunnies 2017 roster is their back-line. It’s safe to say that Greg Inglis and most likely Alex Johnston are certainties to be picked. The other positions are somewhat up for grabs, even more so with the injury sustained by Aaron Gray. Bryson Goodwin, you would imagine, gets the nod somewhere given his experience and leadership but the overall make-up of the back-line would be quite iffy. With several youngsters patiently waiting including the trio of recruits George Jennings, Tyrell Fuimaono and Braidon Burns, they all have a chance to stake their claim for a vacant spot. The question is, though, are they ready for that level and can they perform consistently to hold down a spot?

If the Bunnies can recapture their 2014 form, gel with their new recruits and perform well, anything is possible. They have an able roster to challenge the top sides but they will need all their key plaeyrs to step up at the crucial moments if they are going to emulate that 2014 success. Easier said than done due to the nature of the competition itself and the strength of their opponents, the young and the old, and the new and the veterans, all need to make their mark. If even one aspect is lacking, it may serve as a detriment to their team and thus their success. In the end, the man that looms as their key is half Adam Reynolds.

Best Buy: Becoming more of a front-rower in recent times, Robbie Rochow is a handy addition for a Souths forward pack that needed a bit of defensive prowess. Whilst not as flashy in attack as some Knights fans wanted him to be, Rochow, now at the Bunnies, as the defensive starch needed to hold down the middle of the field alongside the likes of Sam Burgess. His versatility may end up proving handy if injuries strike but it will be his leadership that will also be an important factor. With many young forwards at the club and coming through the ranks, by leading from the front and setting an example for them, his guidance will be crucial. He may not be a superstar but his presence and performances are important for the younger brigade.

Best Young Talent: Whilst he may not start in first-grade from the get-go, one player that Souths fans rate highly is lock forward Cam Murray. Rated highly by Souths fans, Murray has performed well at both the Holden Cup level and the NSW Cup level, staking his claims for a regular first-grade spot. With players currently in front of him, he might be just an injury or two away from getting an opportunity. A hard-working, hard-running and hard-hitting forward, Murray is a player that can set the tone and make consistent impact in the attacking department. Often a handle to bring down and tackle, he looms as a genuine attacking depth option if the club need to call upon someone to step up to the plate.

2016 gains: Braidon Burns, Anthony Cherrington, Robbie Farah, Tyrell Fuimaono, Robert Jennings, Luke Kelly, Robbie Rochow & Connor Tracey.

Our predicted Souths line-up at full strength is:

1. Greg Inglis
2. Alex Johnston
3. Hymel Hunt
4. Bryson Goodwin
5. Aaron Gray
6. Cody Walker
7. Adam Reynolds
8. George Burgess
9. Robbie Farah
10. Robbie Rochow
11. Angus Crichton
12. John Sutton
13. Sam Burgess

14. Zane Musgrove
15. Thomas Burgess
16. Damien Cook
17. Jason Clark

Ricky’s NRL Previews Pt 4: St George Illawarra Dragons

Their fans are perhaps some of the most passionate and vocal in regards to their team’s performance and they have high expectations all the time. For the St George Illawarra Dragons, having missed out on finals in recent years, 2017 shapes as a big year for the coach and the players. Desperate for some sort of success, many would say that they have their work cut out but that is not to say that they do not have talented players at their disposal.

In the past and even in the present, many fans have been vocal of Paul McGregor as coach and the perceived inability to get the best out of the players to perform regularly. By extension, that criticism has also been dished out to CEO Peter Doust, as fans struggle to understand the inaction taken by the club at times. Whilst McGregor was a good player in his own right during his time with the club, many fans believe that he is the wrong fit for the club as a coach given the lack of success the Dragons have had over the last few years. McGregor is under just as much pressure as coach as the players are and if the Dragons are to have a successful season, it is up to him to utilise all his experience and knowledge and get the very best out of his roster.

As we move onto the field itself, the one major talking point is the Dragons halves conundrum. For several years now, the Dragons have tried to find the right player to partner Gareth Widdop in the halves. Widdop, a talented five-eighth, has often had to carry the play-making burden in both a running and kicking sense, heaping more pressure on him that has lead to some inconsistency in the last 18 months.
The Dragons plan was set to be Drew Hutchinson to partner Widdop but that plan backfired when the halfback injured his ACL and was effectively ruled out for the season. As they look for another player to replace him in the halves, Dragons fans have differing views on who that player should be.
A very small minority would like to see Josh McCrone get the nod. The most experienced of the trio vying for the role, McCrone’s utility value could also serve as a useful proposition on the bench. Though many believe that he is not the right player for the role and thus they want two other possible options in the role.

One of those options and perhaps the most exciting of the lot is young halfback Jai Field. Blessed with natural ability and pure speed, that was on show at the recent Nines tournament where Field blitzed the field with speed, agility and a fantastic show of in-game awareness for a player of his age. Although with those strong performances also comes uncertainty. How would he perform at the top level and could he do so consistently? A further point to consider is how does the impending arrival of Ben Hunt for 2018 affect Field’s mindset and play? Does he perform consistently or does it weigh on his mind and thus affect his form?
The final option is Shaun Nona who is also a talented player in his own right but perhaps one that many Dragons fans see as more of a depth option than anything else. With the battle waging on as to just who will get the nod, it remains to be seen who McGregor chooses to go with, how well they can link up with Gareth Widdop and how well they fit into the team dynamics.

Many are likely to write off the Dragons for the 2017 season including some of their own fans but on their day, if they perform well and consistently, they might just be capable of good results. That will hinge on player relationships on the field and how well the selected half alongside Widdop performs both in partnership with him and in partnership with the rest of the team. Equally important for the Dragons chances is consistency of Josh Dugan. If Dugan can fire and perform consistently and stay on the field and avoid injury, he can provide additional link-up play by the Dragons and take some of the pressure off Widdop in attack.

Best Buy: Dragons fans have been crying out for a hard-running, hard-working prop and they may just have found their man in Paul Vaughan. With limited opportunity in the end at the Raiders, the barnstorming forward is a perfect foil for the likes of Russell Packer and Jack de Belin, who can also run hard and provide genuine impact. Vaughan’s hard work never goes unnoticed, with fans of many rival clubs fans of twhat he does and the way in which he carries himself on the field. Whilst it is unclear as to whether he will start or come off the bench, he will certainly provided an extra dimension in attack for the Dragons to help propel them forward and to get them on the front foot both early on in games and when they are under the pump.

Best Young Talent: There are two primary options here and narrowing it down to one given the success of both is not easy, so we decided to mention both. As previously mentioned in this editorial, the performances of Jai Field both in Holden Cup last year and the NRL Nines this year, have many Dragons fans salivating at the thought of Field playing in the halves in first-grade. With genuine speed and ability, he could become the crucial x-factor that the Dragons have perhaps lacked in the past.
Equally impressive is Matt Dufty who, much like Field, has genuine ability and speed. More of a fullback than anything else, he was also impressive in the Nines tournament and in the Holden Cup. As talented as he is, a downside is that some believe he might still be too small to play in first-grade. That argument has obviously been proven wrong in the past but some think that given the game has changed, so too must its players, which means Dufty would need to bulk up somewhat. Whether he does or not, he is on the cusp of a first-grade opportunity and he is more than likely to take it when given one.

2016 gains: Levi Dodd, Jacob Hind, Josh Kerr, Nene Macdonald, Cameron McInnes & Paul Vaughan.

Our predicted Dragons line-up at full-strength is:

1. Josh Dugan
2. Jason Nightingale
3. Euan Aitken
4. Kurt Mann
5. Nene Macdonald
6. Gareth Widdop (C)
7. Jai Field
8. Leeson Ah Mau
9. Cameron McInnes
10. Tariq Sims
11. Joel Thompson
12. Tyson Frizell
13. Jack de Belin.

14. Russell Packer
15. Paul Vaughan
16. Luciano Leilua
17. Jake Marketo