Welcome Tigers tragic Hugh Rogan to the NRL News writing frame for this time, as he casts his eye over the respective chances of the teams in the NRL this year, ultimately choosing the Dogs as the winners in 2013. Do you agree with him?

With the turn of the year coupled with a cricket season that has attracted less than acceptable interest, a heightened appetite for the football codes to begin their respective seasons is whipping Australian sports fans into a frenzy.

For the eastern states inhabitants, the forthcoming rugby league season can’t come quick enough. Last years competition was one of the most competitive in recent times and hopes are held that the 2013 version will continue in the same fashion.

The best place to start, is to mull over the player movements that have occurred since last years nail (or should I say ear) biting decider. The Roosters, Rabbitohs, Sharks and to a lesser extent Broncos, Bulldogs and Titans, have all brought in players of a high caliber who could change a game or season for their respective clubs.

Sonny Bill Williams hitched a ride over the ditch with James Maloney bound for Bondi. The addition of a NSW Origin centre in Jennings has bookmakers assuring punters that the Chooks will make the 8. The Shire has seen the arrival of four very useful felines in the form of Luke Lewis, Michael Gordon (Panthers), Beau Ryan and Chris Heighington (Tigers). The men from Redfern have bolstered their fringes with the additions of Jeff Lima (Storm), Ben Te’o (Broncos) and Beau Champion (Titans).

Scott Prince’s short trip up the Pacific Motorway, T-Rex’s move towards his former coach and Dave Taylor’s migration to Cavill Avenue at Surfers will all have a bearing on their new team’s prospects in 2013.

It’s all well and good for new players to raise hopes of an improved season, but it’s the clubs that are able to keep a consistent squad that will prosper. While the two combatants of last years decider have added a sprinkling of talent to their squads, both the Storm and Bulldogs have kept the nucleus of their respective sides that had so much success last year. It is for this reason that these two teams will start the year favorites to contest the decider again.

For the suburban supporters, both Manly and South Sydney will be competitive again this year. The boys from Brookie have been able to hold on to the Stewart brothers and will prosper if both stay fit. Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans’ partnership will be better for another year of experience together. Heading south over the Harbour Bridge, we see that a few new additions have been added to the class of Greg Inglis, Issac Luke, Sam Burgess and last years Rookie of the Year Adam Reynolds. Both clubs will be sure things to make the top 4.

Heading further south, there is a quiet confidence in The Shire (definitely not a result of the TV show). And Sharks supporters have every right to be confident after last year’s finals appearance being sweetened by the signings mentioned above. A fit Paul Gallen and Todd Carney will go a long way to see Shark Park rocking again this year.
Casting an eye over the rest of the competition identifies up to seven clubs that will challenge for the remaining three spots in this years top 8. The aforementioned Roosters have not only brought in some big name players, they’ve recruited a much-lauded coach from the Northern Hemisphere. Trent Robinson will do well to tame the latte sippers after tension between players and coach derailed last years season.

The North Queensland Cowboys were able to hold on to Mr Thurston (at least for the start of 2013) and will welcome back Tariq Sims to a very dominant forward pack. Question marks cloud whether this squad will be contenders or pretenders away from the tropics.

Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall will need to be at their best this year if the Wests Tigers are to make a challenge for the title. The exit of workman like Englishman Gareth Ellis and the continual act of playing feeder club to Cronulla, will hurt the joint-venture club. However the promise of players like Tim Moltzen and Marika Koroibete will give fans from Tiger and Magpie land hope.

The feeling up the F3 in Newcastle is that Wayne Bennett is building towards something special. All of the hype from last years disappointment has been banished after the club made some solid additions and the news of improved fitness for Kurt Gidley. The resigning of aging stars Danny Buderus and Willie Mason will benefit the younger Knights.

The Broncos young brigade will again be tested this year, as the post-Lockyer and now post-Petro era takes hold of the organisation. Promising youngsters including Alex Glenn and Corey Norman will look to the experience of Prince, Sam Thaiday and Justin Hodges for guidance.

The big news out of the nations capital is that Terry Campese is fit again, which instills great confidence in all Raiders supporters. His partnership with impressive half Sam Williams together with the elusive trio of Reece Robinson, Blake Ferguson and Josh Dugan will go a long way to seeing the Green Machine to a top 8 berth. Look for boom young forwards Shaun Fensom and Josh Papalii to press for state selection this year.

The Warriors are the only other team that has a chance of sneaking into the top 8. The men from the land of the long white cloud will combine size with attacking flair, with the hope of erasing the disappointment of last year. Feleti Mateo and Shaun Johnson have been joined by Thomas Leuluai (Wigan) and Dane Nielsen (Storm). Whilst the core of their forward pack has hung around to hopefully thrive under the guidance of new coach Matt Elliot.

From here it’s hard to see the Titans, Eels, Panthers and Dragons troubling the top 8. Yes the Eels have stars littered across the park and have recruited a superior mentor in Ricky Stuart. However the loss of experience in Nathan Hindmarsh and Luke Burt and petulance of specific players, will contribute to a foreseeable disrupted season.

The loss of Prince and the inexperience of a questionable halves pairing will heavily outweigh the benefit of the Titans experienced forward pack. While the loss of Dean Young and Ben Hornby will severely hamper the Dragons season. Finally, the Panthers have lost too much experience in Lewis, and way too much strike power (Jennings and Gordon) to compete this year.

My Top 8:
1. Melbourne Storm
2. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
3. South Sydney Rabbitohs
4. Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
5. Cronulla Sharks
6. Sydney Roosters
7. Wests Tigers
8. North Queensland Cowboys

By ricky

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