As we get closer and closer to that first week in March where we can all once again enjoy the football that we so eagerly count down, it is the off-season that helps us to once again get into the mood of football. Whether it be by purchasing our season tickets, or whether it be by purchasing a large range of merchandise, we are always involved with supporting our club all year.
As the season gets closer and closer, we hope and pray that this year will be our teamâ€™s year. This is my analysis and predictions of how I think each team has recruited and how they will fare throughout the season as well as a player to watch out for from the team.
Brisbane Broncos â€“ Had a particularly quiet off-season in the recruiting department with the only major buy being former Warrior Denan Kemp. Theyâ€™ve already gotten off to a bad start with news that Australian and Origin centre, Justin Hodges is out for 6 months due to injury.
Touted as the favourite to begin in the now vacant fullback position following the departure of Karmichael Hunt to AFL, Hodges injury will pose some questions for Broncos coach Ivan Henjak. Does he move Darren Lockyer, an Origin and Australian 5/8 to fullback where he started his career, or does he put new acquisition Denan Kemp at fullback.
Many fans will be asking if the Broncos forward pack has enough brunt and brute force to compete with some of the stronger forward packs. With Joel Clintonâ€™s departure to England, many believe the Broncos forward pack looks a bit light with the likes of Nick Kenny, Ashton Sims and Sam Thaiday the only recognised forwards in the forward pack.
The Broncos have shown their resilience in the past when under the pump and they will do so again this year. I predict a finish around 8th. Injured for most of the back-end of last season, Israel Folau will be keen to make a mends and show the entire NRL universe why the Broncos paid good money to sign him.
Cantebury-Bankstown Bulldogs â€“ Once again, theyâ€™ve recruited particularly well with Dene Halutau and Steve Turner the pick of the bunch. The big question surrounding the Bulldogs however, is whether or not their new recruits can adapt in time to the Bulldogs style of play, as well as how the team will perform with the new recruits involved.
They finished just short of the minor premiership last year and weâ€™re eliminated in the game before the Grand Final to the Parramatta Eels. They have on paper, perhaps one of the best teams in the NRL with a great forward pack led by QLD Prop Ben Hannant, a playmaker in NSW halfback Brett Kimmorley and a sturdy and solid fullback in Luke Patten.
Will Steve Turner be able to adapt to life at the Bulldogs and re-claim his spot on the wing for NSW? Or will he be a dud signing and not get a look-in because players like Josh Morris and Bryson Goodwin are keeping him out of the team. Itâ€™s a selection headache for Coach Kevin Moore, but perhaps a good one to have at this stage in the season.
I predict a first place finish for the Bulldogs They are a well drilled bunch who play a great style of football and will no doubt be close to the top. Josh Morris will be keen to continue his rapid rise through the ranks as he looks to add more caps to his NSW and Australia career.
Canberra Raiders: Havenâ€™t recruited anyone new so far in the off-season, but they have re-signed a few of their key men which are essential to their premiership chances this year. The main problem with the Raiders over the last couple of years has been their inconsistency.
Theyâ€™ve been able to beat the higher ranked sides but lose the games that they were expected to win. In order to be a threat in this yearâ€™s premiership, they know that that cannot happen. They will know that they will have to perform better against the lower sides. The big questions surrounding the Raiders are, will Terry Campese be able to emulate his 2008 form that saw him rated one of the best 5/8â€™s in the league?
Will Josh Dugan continue to show his skills that saw him regarded as the best young fullback in the game? I predict a 10th place finish for the Raiders. I think they will do better than last year, but theyâ€™re still two or three years away from challenging the higher ranked teams. Josh Dugan will be the man to watch as he had a stellar 2009.
Unlucky to not win Rookie of the Year, many opposition defences found it hard to deal with his speed and strength. Could be a guaranteed starter in Origin in a few years time.
Cronulla Sharks â€“ Last year was definitely not a year to remember for the Sharks. They finished precariously close to the wooden spoon and had a few results gone in the other direction, they could have found themselves with the dreaded title of wooden spooners.
There were however some promising signs with halfback Scott Porter, showing that he has some talent as well as combining well with the other players. Trent Barrett, who missed most of the back-end of last season due to injury is the main man for the Sharks. If he is firing, then you can expect that the Sharks will be a force to be reckoned with.
If however, he is injured once again or if he is in any way flat or complacent with his football, then itâ€™ll be a year to forget once again for the Sharks. Theyâ€™ve recruited relatively well, but seem to have gotten into the habit of buying fringe players such as Paul Aiton, Adam Cuthbertson and others. They were linked with now Eels forward Justin Poore, but simply couldnâ€™t match the money on offer.
I predict a wooden spoon for the Sharks, as I donâ€™t think the Sharks have enough quality in the essential positions to challenge the stronger teams. Blake Ferguson had a stellar year last year, scoring perhaps the try of the season where he contorted his body around the corner post whilst in mid-air to ground the ball. He has shown what he can do the games he has played so far, but will it continue and will we see some more freakish tries.
Gold Coast Titans: The Titans have purchased a couple of new recruits in Ian Lacey and Greg Bird. The signing of Greg Bird upset a lot of Titans fans and many are divided as to their clubâ€™s chances this year because of his unpredictable ways. The big questions facing the Titans are mostly all to do with Greg Bird. Will he be able to control his alcoholic tendencies?
Will he be able to stay away from the booze on a regular basis? Will he be in the right state of mind to play week in week out? You can be assure that coach John Cartwright and CEO Michael Searle will be monitoring Bird and his behaviour very closely.
The Titans fell short of a great season, losing to the Eels in the finals. Perhaps the main problem for the Titans has been their defence over the past couple of years and that is something that the players and coaches will want to rectify so that they can challenge for the title once again.
I predict a 7th place finish for the Titans as they too are just a little bit off the pace with the higher ranked sides. The player to watch will be Kevin Gordon. He showed flashes of brilliance with his speed, and the Titans will be hoping to see much of the same out on his wing this year if they are to score some points.
Manly Sea Eagles: Theyâ€™ve recruited a couple of players that could help them this year but theyâ€™ve also let go of a few players that could seriously jeopardise their chances this year. The release of Matt Orford to England is the biggest one with many asking how Liam Foran will cope with the burden on him to produce match winning moments for the Sea Eagles.
Is he up to the task or will he falter when the club needs him most? Is he ready to take on such a role, or should he eased into the position gradually? Another big question facing Manly and their fans is their forward pack. Jason Perry and Brent Kiteâ€™s form has dropped over the last year or so, and Manly fans will really want to see an improved year from these two.
Theyâ€™ll be under the pump with new signings Joe Galuvao and Matt Cross breathing down their necks for a starting berth. If the Sea Eagles rely too much on Brett Stewart and Anthony Watmough, they could be looking at a long season. Can they cope if they both succumb to injury or are called up to Origin?
Do they have the team to compete with the higher ranked sides? Time will tell us the answer to that question, but when a kid is thrown into the halfback spot, if he doesnâ€™t play well, it rubs off on the team. I predict around a 14th place finish for the Sea Eagles.
Theyâ€™ll really miss Orford and his play-making abilities and itâ€™ll take Liam Foran at least 6-8 weeks to get used to the fast-paced nature of the game and to take on the responsibility of being the chief playmaker. My player to watch is Brett Stewart. Heâ€™ll be keen to make amends this year after missing out on most of the season last year, and will be a man on a mission.
Melbourne Storm â€“ Coming off the back of a grand final win, the pressure will be on the Storm to perform this year and back up their stellar 2009 season. It wonâ€™t be easy though with the departure of influential QLD forward Dallas Johnson, who along with Cameron Smith, were the rocks in defence for the Storm side.
With the pressure on the Storm to maintain their good results, theyâ€™ll have to do it without a quite a few first graders with halfback Cooper Cronk and other first-graders, not expected to make it out in time to the paddock. The Storm need a challenge and this may be it, with the younger players expected to stand up and perform.
The big questions surrounding the Storm are, just how will they cope with Dallas Johnson? What effect will his departure have? Can the Storm make the Grand Final yet again, or will this year be the year they come crashing back down to earth? Having retained the majority of their group in Greg Inglis, Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Ryan Hoffman, the Storm look set for a couple of years to come.
I predict a 3rd place finish this year, as I think without their chief playmaker in Cooper Cronk for the first couple of rounds, theyâ€™ll lack the creativity and leadership around the park. My player to watch is Ryan Tandy. Although he will be out for the first couple of rounds, the former Tiger came from obscurity and hardship at the Tigers to become a premiership winner with the Storm. Strong hard-running forward with a bright future.
New Zealand Warriors â€“ By their standards, they had a very poor year last year. It didnâ€™t start very well with the tragic news that upcoming star Sonny Fai had drowned at a beach in NZ.
They will be looking to make amends this year and have made quite a few buys, but it is yet to be seen if they will help elevate the Warriors into the top 8. Their main acquisition has been controversial former Broncos and Sharks halfback Brett Seymour.
The main questions coming out of the Warriors camp are, can they bounce back from a poor 2009? What effect will Seymourâ€™s arrival have on the team? Will it be positive or negative? With the one year anniversary of Sonny Faiâ€™s tragic death in the back of their mind, will that spur them on in honour of him?
I predict an 12th place finish. Just like a few other teams, theyâ€™re off the pace slightly but have a strong side of youngsters who will be stars in the NRL in a few years time. The player to watch is rising star Kevin Locke. Having played only a handful of first-grade games last year, he showed that he can match it with the best and that he will be one of the fullbacks of the future.
Newcastle Knights â€“ The Knights 2010 season has already gotten off to a rocky start with the news that forward Danny Wicks was involved with a drug syndicate. The possibility that other Knights players were also involved remains to be seen, but the Knights camp is unsettled at the news that their club-mate could be involved in such a thing.
Having just scraped into the finals in 7th position last year, the Knights will be looking to progress further in the finals. Unfortunately, it doesnâ€™t seem like they have the team to do so. The big questions surrounding the Knights are will Jarrod Mullen capture his Origin year form back? Or will he have an average season?
How will the players cope with the lingering drug rumours and murmurs around their camp? Will they ignore it or will it take itâ€™s toll on the teams performances throughout the season? I predict a 15th place finish for the Knights as I think theyâ€™ve had too much negativity already that will falter their season and they donâ€™t have the same quality in their side to match with the higher ranked teams.
The player to watch will be Junior Sau. After he struggled last year with a couple of niggling injuries, heâ€™ll be keen to bounce back and use his strength to bulldoze his way through defences.
North Queensland Cowboys â€“ Had a poor year last year and didnâ€™t live up to the expectations placed on them. With all the rumours surrounding Jonathon Thurston about whether or not he will stay with the Cowboys, move to another NRL team or to Rugby Union, the major questions surrounding the Cowboys include, how will Jonathon Thurston cope with all of the media watching his every move as he makes up his mind about the future?
How will the players cope with their team being watched closely as a result of Thurstonâ€™s indecisiveness. How will the team go with the news that coach Neil Henry has relinquished his duties as QLD assistant coach? Will it have a positive effect or will it not make much of a difference.
The Cowboys will be looking for a player to step up and support Jonathon Thurston in attack to give them extra go-forward this year. Matthew Bowen has been that man in the past, but with his injuries over the last few years, his speed has decreased significantly. The man who I think will be able to give Thurston support is hooker Aaron Payne.
Having missed out on the last bit of the season, the creative hooker is just the partner that Thurston is looking for in the halves. Whilst Thurston will control the leadership aspects of the game, Payne will use his skills from hooker and form a strong partnership with Thurston.
I predict an 13th place finish for the Cowboys, as they are still a while away from playing the footy that they are capable of, as well as perhaps relying on Thurston too much.
Parramatta Eels â€“ 2009 was the year of the fairytale for the Parramatta Eels. With two months left in the season, it looked as if the Eels were headed for the wooden spoon, but in a dramatic turn-around, they lost only one game on their charge to the Grand Final, which they later lost.
It goes to show that it was a masterstroke to bring former assistant Daniel Anderson back to the frame as his hard-line stance worked with the players. The Eels play better when they chance their arm and let their offloads do the talking. The Eels have already been listed as the bookmakers favourites and the major questions surrounding them will be, how will Jarryd Hayne perform this year?
Will he have another scintillating season, or will he have an average season? How will Daniel Mortimer cope with second year syndrome? Will the Eels live up to the bookmakers expectations? I predict a 2nd place finish (without the bias here however), as the Eels have perhaps one of the best sides on paper with one of the top fullbacks, a strong forward pack as well as up and coming halves who have shown that they can match it with the best despite their inexperience.
The player to watch for mine is upcoming hooker Anthony Mitchell. He set the NYC and NSW Cup world alight with his brilliant dummy-half play, and heâ€™ll be looking to do the same in the NRL this year if he is given a crack by Daniel Anderson.
Penrith Panthers â€“ The team from the West fell agonisingly short of a finals appearance last year and will be looking to make amends this year. Coach Matthew Elliot has stressed that Penrith is all about the younger brigade and his team selections show that. Whilst the Panthers will be keen to get off to a good start, there are several questions that must be asked about them.
Just who will start at fullback? Is Lachlan Coote the man for the job? Or is it one of the new recruits? How will they cope with promising junior, Junior Tia Kalifiâ€™s departure to the Bulldogs? Just how much petrol does Petero have left in the tank and can he be given one last hurrah? Will this be Matthew Elliotâ€™s last year?
The Panthers have been perhaps the most active in the market this season, and have made one of the buys of the season in Kevin Kingston who was forced out of the Eels due to salary cap restrictions.
Perhaps one of, if not the most under-rated hooker in the game, heâ€™ll give the Panthers the spark that they need, at a time when they need it most. I predict a 5th place finish for the Panthers, as I think with the new recruits and the players already at the club, theyâ€™ll be hungry for some finals success this year after falling just short of a finals berth in 2009.
The player to watch from Penrith is Travis Burns for mine. Seeking more action on the field in 2010, Burns is a dynamic player capable of playing several roles on the paddock. Heâ€™ll provide the Panthers with a renewed enthusiasm and will bring a determination to win to the Panthers side that is hungry.
South Sydney Rabbitohs â€“ The Bunnies will start the season with perhaps the biggest and strongest forward pack in recent years with Dave Taylor, Sam Burgess, Roy Asotasi and Michael Crocker all set to start this year.
Whilst the Bunnies may be strong in the forwards, it is their halves that have let them down at crucial times during the year. Following on from that, the key questions to ask about Souths are some intriguing ones.
Will Sam Burgess live up to the hype created by the media? Can Chris Sandow bounce back from a poor 2009? Will a change of coach bring a change of fortune? Will John Sutton be fit in time for the start of the season?
If not, do the Bunnies have someone who can step up to the plate? The Bunnies were very active in this yearâ€™s transfer market bulking up their forward pack. Whilst the pack looks like a tough, mobile group, the backs have remained generally the same, and many would ask if they should have made some new acquisitions there as well.
I predict a 9th place finish for the Rabbitohs as they may rely on their forwards too much, thus disbanding the notions of player and team unity that is needed in the modern game. The player to watch for mine is Nathan Merritt. Having always been the quiet achiever, with the spotlight now on him and a potential Origin spot up for grabs, will he grab it or will he falter under the pressure.
St George-Illawarra Dragons â€“ Was it a choke, or simply a case of running out of gas? After dominating for the first 20 or so weeks of the competition, the Dragons only just won the minor premiership before being knocked out early on in the finals.
Whilst many would deem the year as a failure, Coach Wayne Bennett may be thinking otherwise. He may have seen the year as a way to teach the team to deal with the pressure of being first for most of the season and the pressures that come with maintaining it. The major question one will ask about the Dragons is whether or not Jamie Soward can back up his strong 2009 with a solid 2010.
Having played out of his skin on many occasions in 2009, opposition teams will have studied him to prevent his skill from being shown. I predict a 6th place finish for the Dragons as I think theyâ€™ll miss Sailorâ€™s leadership on the wing, and I think Soward will have an indifferent year as heâ€™ll be under the pump from the get go as several players are breathing down his neck for a starting berth.
The player to watch for mine is Darius Boyd. Having had an average 2009, heâ€™ll be keen to make amends this year and solidify his place as one of the gameâ€™s top fullbacks.
Sydney Roosters â€“ Last year was definitely a year to forget for the Roosters as they won the wooden spoon and had several players in trouble with the law. Keen to make amends, new coach Brian Smith has cut the fat and gotten rid of any trouble players or players he thinks are void to his side.
With a new coach, a renewed attitude and new players, can the Roosters bounce back and be a force in the NRL once again? How long will Mini last back in League? Will it be game over for him if he is seriously injured once more?
How will Carneyâ€™s move to fullback go? Is it a wise decision or a bold move that could go horribly wrong? The Roosters have perhaps the most questions to be answered after some rather unfortunate player misdemeanours over the last 18 months or so that have threatened to derail their solid pre-season.
The Roosters will perhaps be the closest watched team by many fans to see how just what difference a new coach and new players will make. My prediction for the Roosters might surprise many, but I really think that they can do it with the team that they have.
Whilst I personally disagree with Carneyâ€™s move to fullback, Iâ€™m more than happy to be proven wrong, but I canâ€™t see it working. I see the Roosters finishing 4th for the reason that theyâ€™ll be keen to show that they are a force to be reckoned with after a poor 2009 and with a couple of shifts in positions making them stronger, theyâ€™ll be a better side for it and will thus challenge for the premiership.
The player to watch is Mitchell Aubusson for mine. Set to start in the second row, following Masonâ€™s departure, he is now the Roosters best defender and has shown that he deserves to have a spot in the starting line-up.
Wests Tigers â€“ Missed out on the finals and it put Coach Tim Sheens under a whole lot of pressure. If the same thing happens in 2010, we could see the end of Tim Sheens as coach of Wests Tigers. After an average year, they bowed out before the finals following a cracker with the Eels.
The likes of Marshall and Farah will need to take charge if the Tigers are to have any chance of making the finals. Whilst this is easier said than done, it is also up to the other players around them to give them more support, something which they failed to do in 2009.
Can Tim Sheens turn it around and lead the Tigers to a finals berth? Will Benji Marshall play consistently or have a good game once in a blue moon? Will their new recruits make a difference, or will they play the same brand of football that saw them miss out on the finals? Itâ€™s an interesting case with the Tigers as they have perhaps one of the best halves in the game in Benji Marshall, yet somehow, they always seem to miss out on the finals.
What reasons can you see for it? I think the Tigers will finish 11th this year and weâ€™ll see the end of Tim Sheens. I just canâ€™t see them beating the sides with better teams on paper, and their inconsistencies over the past few years will continue. The player to watch for mine is Tim Moltzen. The youngster can play several positions and has shown his talents with some great performances in his first grade games.