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NRL 2016 season preview

Last season could not have finished any better; Jonathan Thurston kicking the winning field goal in extra time to beat Queensland rivals, Brisbane Broncos, 17-16 to give North Queensland Cowboys their first Premiership. But can they achieve back-to-back Premierships? A feat that has not been achieved since 1993 – Peter Dunmore assesses each team’s chances.

North Queensland Cowboys:

After collecting the World Club Challenge in a stupendous second half performance against Super League champions, Leeds Rhinos in a 38-4 victory they should be high in spirits. But as mentioned earlier, no team have successfully defended their crown since 1993. Yet when you have the best player in the world, Jonathan Thurston and a forward pack including Matt Scott, James Tamou and Jason Taumalolo they could go very close.

Prediction: 2nd

Ins: Shaun Hudson (Gold Coast Titans), Jahrome Hughes (Townsville Blackhawks)

Outs: Viliame Kikau (Penrith Panthers), Cameron King (Parramatta Eels), Glenn Hall (retirement), Robert Lui (Salford Red Devils), Kelepi Tanginoa (Parramatta Eels), Scott Schulte (Parramatta Eels)

Brisbane Broncos:

The favourites. Simple. When Wayne Bennett is your coach you will always be in the thick of it. The Broncos were seconds away, one play away from winning the Grand Final until the Cowboys took the game to extra time in dramatic fashion.

They have signed James Roberts from Gold Coast Titans to replace Justin Hodges and they should not be any weaker for it; replacing one quality centre for another.

Prediction: 1st

Ins: Carlin Anderson (Ipswich Jets), Caleb Timu (Mormon mission), Salesi Funaki (Wests Tigers), James Roberts (Gold Coast Titans), Sam Scarlett (Penrith Panthers)

Outs: Justin Hodges (retirement), Dale Copley (Sydney Roosters), Todd Lowrie (Newcastle Knights), Ashley Taylor (Gold Coast Titans), Mitch Garbutt (Leeds Rhinos), Matt Parcell (Manly Sea Eagles), Mitchell Dodds (Warrington), Jayden Nikorima (Roosters), David Stagg (retirement), Jordan Drew (Cronulla Sharks), Daniel Vidot (Salford)

Sydney Roosters:

Changes have been made and it has made the Roosters weaker. Rookie halves Jackson Hastings and Jayden Nikorima have not played a single NRL fixture together so seeing the Roosters gain a fourth consecutive minor Premiership is a long way off. Not only do they have rookie halves but the loss of fullback superstar, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will be a huge loss even if the replacement is Blake Ferguson who has little to no experience in the number one shirt.

Nonetheless, the Roosters still have a strong roster and should still find themselves in a playoff spot but not quite at the heights of first.

Prediction: 7th

Ins: Joe Burgess (Wigan Warriors), Dale Copley (Brisbane Broncos), Mitchell Frei (Wynnum Manly Seagulls), Ian Henderson (Catalan Dragons), Ryan Matterson (Parramatta Eels), Jayden Nikorima (Broncos), Paki Afu (Mormon Mission)

Outs: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (New Zealand Warriors), James Maloney (Cronulla Sharks), Michael Jennings (Parramatta Eels), Nene Macdonald (Gold Coast Titans), Nathan Stapleton (London Broncos), Scott Drinkwater (Melbourne Storm), Taane Milne (St George Illawarra Dragons), Suaia Matagi (Penrith Panthers), Matt McIlwrick (Cronulla Sharks)

Melbourne Storm:

When you have Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater in your side you can never be written off yet those three are all ageing and it takes more than three to win a Premiership. A strongly weekly round finish is expected but they will come up short in the playoffs.

Cronk could still be on his way with a move to a Sydney club looking to join his partner, Tara Rushton and there will be no lack of interest from the Sydney based clubs.

Prediction: 6th

Ins: Matthew White (Gold Coast Titans), Mark Nicholls (Canberra Raiders), Scott Drinkwater (Sydney Roosters), Curtis Scott (Cronulla Sharks), Cheyse Blair (Manly Sea Eagles), Jeremy Hawkins (Canberra Raiders)

Outs: Kurt Mann (St George Illawarra Dragons), Ryan Hinchcliffe (Huddersfield Giants), Mahe Fonua (Hull FC), Dayne Weston (Leigh Centurions), Matt Duffie (rugby union), Tom Learoyd-Lahrs (retirement), Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (Warriors), Hymel Hunt (South Sydney Rabbitohs)

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs:

The calming influence of half, Trent Hodkinson is a big loss yet with the huge forward pack Canterbury possess they can compete with anyone. The new interchange rule reducing interchanges from 10 to eight may be crucial to see if the pack can cope.

A playoff finish is expected but only just. If they were to just miss out, it would not come as too much of a surprise.

Prediction: 9th

Ins: Bradley Abbey (New Zealand Warriors), Kerrod Holland (Newcastle Knights), Craig Garvey (St George Illawarra Dragons), Will Hopoate (Parramatta Eels)

Outs: Trent Hodkinson (Newcastle Knights), Frank Pritchard (Hull FC), Corey Thompson
(Widnes Vikings), Damien Cook (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Tim Lafai (St George Illawarra Dragons)

Brisbane Broncos are the favourites to win this year. Photo by:

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks:

Making the playoffs last year was a strong showing from Cronulla and they could well improve on that finish. They have a stable roster and a strong pair of halves. James Maloney is a top signing and his experience and kicking game should help steer Cronulla to a playoff finish.

Prediction: 8th

Ins: James Maloney (Sydney Roosters), Chad Townsend (New Zealand Warriors), Jesse Sene Lefao (Manly Sea Eagles), Jordan Drew (Brisbane Broncos), Josh Cleeland (Ipswich Jets), Joseph Paulo (Paramatta Eels), Kurt Capewell (Ipswich Jets), Matt McIlwrick (Sydney

Outs: Michael Gordon (Parramatta Eels), Blake Ayshford (New Zealand Warriors), Josh Addo-Carr (Wests Tigers), Jeff Robson (New Zealand Warriors), Kyle Stanley (retirement), Curtis
Scott (Melbourne Storm)

South Sydney Rabbitohs:

All the take is on the return of Sam Burgess yet the departure of star hooker, Isaac Luke will be a big loss. A strong start to the campaign could see a strong season for the Rabbitohs and with a forward pack containing Tom, George and Sam Burgess and a backline with Adam Reynolds, Greg Inglis and Alex Johnston anything is possible.

Predictions: 4th

Ins: Michael Oldfield (Catalans Dragons), Damien Cook (Canterbury Bulldogs), Sam Burgess (Bath RU), Hymel Hunt (Melbourne Storm)

Outs: Issac Luke (New Zealand Warriors), Ben Lowe (retirement), Glenn Stewart (Catalans
Dragons), Chris McQueen (Gold Coast Titans), Dylan Walker (Manly Sea Eagles)

St. George-Illawara Dragons:

Last year was a strong year as the Dragons surprised getting into the places. Unfortunately for St. George their first eight games are against the teams that finished in last year’s playoffs. The depth of the squad will be crucial and will surely help the Dragons to a strong finish but it won’t be enough to get into the playoffs.

Predictions: 11th

Ins: Kurt Mann (Melbourne Storm), Siliva Havili (New Zealand Warriors), Mose Masoe (St Helens RLFC), Dunamis Lui (Manly Sea Eagles), Tyrone McCarthy (Hull Kingston Rovers), Sebastine Ikahihifo (New Zealand Warriors), Kalifa Faifai Loa (Gold Coast Titans), Josh McCrone (Canberra Raiders), Taane Milne (Sydney Roosters), Adam Quinlan (St Helens), Tim Lafai (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs)

Outs: Trent Merrin (Penrith Panthers), Dan Hunt (retirement), Charly Runciman (Widnes Vikings), Nathan Green (Manly Sea Eagles) Rory O’Brien (Parramatta Eels), Eto Nabuli (rugby union), Justin Hunt (Wests Tigers), Heath L’estrange (retirement), Adam Tuimavave-Gerard (released), Jack Kavanagh (released), Mark Ioane (London Broncos), Craig Garvey (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs)

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles:

The Sea Eagles have a new coach in Trent Berrett and has been dealt a very strong squad. New recruit, New Zealand international, Martin Taupau from Wests is a tremendous signing and keeping hold of Daly Cherry-Evans from the Titans is a big boost yet the loss of Kieran Foran is a big loss.

Prediction: 5th

Ins: Dylan Walker (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Nate Myles (Gold Coast Titans), Martin Taupau (Wests Tigers), Lewis Brown (Penrith Panthers), Apisai Koroisau (Penrith Panthers), Darcy Lussick (Parramatta Eels), Tim Moltzen (Wests Tigers), Matt Parcell (Brisbane Broncos), Nathan Green (St George Illawarra Dragons), John Walker (rugby union), Tom Wright (schoolboy rugby union), Fabian Goodall (Parramatta Eels)

Outs: Kieran Foran (Parramatta Eels), Matt Ballin (Wests Tigers), James Hasson (Parramatta Eels), Justin Horo (Catalan Dragons), Jack Littlejohn (Wests Tigers), Ligi Sao (New Zealand Warriors), Michael Chee-Kam (Wests Tigers), Willie Mason (released), Dunamis Lui (St George Illawarra Dragons), Cheyse Blair (Melbourne Storm), Jesse Sene Lefao (Cronulla Sharks), Will Pearsall (Newcastle Knights), Clinton Gutherson (Parramatta Eels), Peta Hiku (Penrith Panthers)

Canberra Raiders:

Canberra have never really managed to get very far into the NRL season and despite a youthful squad there is enough experience to charge a challenge for a playoff spot. They have not made the playoffs since 2012 but this year could end that. A halfback partnership of Aidan Sezer and Blake Austin could take the Raiders to the playoffs yet even though they are not bad, there are others who are better.

Prediction: 12th

Ins: Aidan Sezer (Gold Coast Titans), Elliott Whitehead (Catalan Dragons), Adam Clydsdale (Newcastle Knights), Jeff Lima (Catalan Dragons), Zac Santo (Cowboys), Joseph Tapine (Newcastle Knights)

Outs: David Shillington (Gold Coast Titans), Andrew Heffernan (Penrith Panthers), Mark Nicholls (Melbourne Storm), Joel Edwards (Wests Tigers), Mitch Cornish (Parramatta Eels), Josh McCrone (St George Illawarra Dragons), Jeremy Hawkins (Melbourne Storm), Bill Tupou (Wakefield Trinity Wildcats), Jeff Lynch (Gold Coast Titans)

Penrith Panthers:

If the Panthers can stay injury free a strong season is capable. Jamie Soward needs a strong season to give the Panthers a chance of reaching the playoffs. They have the capabilities of making the top 8 for sure yet it still seems a long shot.

Prediction: 13th

Ins: Trent Merrin (St George Illawarra Dragons), Zach Dockar-Clay (Parramatta Eels), Benjamin Garcia (Catalan Dragons), Andrew Heffernan (Canberra Raiders), Viliame Kikau (North Queensland Cowboys), Te Maire Martin (Wests Tigers), Sitaleki Akauola (Wests Tigers), Suaia Matagi (Sydney Roosters), Peta Hiku (Manly Sea Eagles)

Outs: Lewis Brown (Manly Sea Eagles), Brent Kite (retirement), Apisai Koroisau (Manly Sea Eagles), Nigel Plum (retirement), Kieran Moss (Parramatta Eels), Sika Manu (Hull), David Simmons (retirement), Shaun Spence (retirement), Ben Murdoch-Masila (Salford), Isaac John (released), Sam Anderson (released), Adam Docker (retirement), Jamal Idris (released)

Parramatta Eels:

Could this be the season that ends the 30 year wait for a Premiership? Of course it could, but probably not. They have issues off the pitch that has caused many a problem and they have not finished in the top 8 since 2009.

Signing Kieran Foran is a positive sign and they have a magnificent winger in Fijian international Semi Radradra but it still most likely will not be enough.

Prediction: 10th

Ins: Kieran Foran (Manly Sea Eagles), Michael Jennings (Sydney Roosters), Beau Scott (Newcastle Knights), Michael Gordon (Cronulla Sharks), James Hasson (Manly Sea Eagles), Cameron King (North Queensland Cowboys), Kieran Moss (Penrith Panthers), Rory O’Brien (St George Illawarra Dragons), Mitch Cornish (Canberra Raiders), Kelepi Tanginoa (North Queensland Cowboys), Scott Schulte (North Queensland Cowboys), Clinton Gutherson (Manly Sea Eagles), Matthew Woods (Wests Tigers), Honeti Tuha (Newcastle Knights)

Outs: Darcy Lussick (Manly Sea Eagles), Ryan Matterson (Sydney Roosters), Ben Crooks (Castleford Tigers), Zach Dockar-Clay (Penrith Panthers), Chris Sandow (Warrington Wolves), Beau Champion (retirement), Fabian Goodall (Sea Eagles), Richie Fa’aoso (retirement), Reece Robinson (rugby union), Joseph Paulo (Cronulla Sharks), Josh Aloai (Wests Tigers), Will Hopoate (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Pauli Pauli (Newcastle Knights)

Photo by:

New Zealand Warriors:

This season is looking very promising for the Warriors having signed Tuivasa-Sheck and Isaac Luke. The loss of Tomkins will not be felt with the signing of RTS and as long as they can keep half, Shaun Johnson fit then a playoff spot if well within their capabilities.

Prediction: 4th

Ins: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Sydney Roosters), Issac Luke (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Ligi Sao (Manly Sea Eagles), Blake Ayshford (Cronulla Sharks), Henare Wells (Burleigh Bears), Jeff Robson (Cronulla Sharks), Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (Melbourne Storm), Ali Lauitiiti (Wakefield Trinity Wildcats)

Outs: Nathan Friend (Gold Coast Titans), Siliva Havili (St George Illawarra Dragons), Nathaniel Peteru (Gold Coast Titans), Dominique Peyroux (St Helens RLFC), Sam Rapira (Huddersfield Giants), Sam Tomkins (Wigan Warriors), Chad Townsend (Cronulla Sharks), Sebastine Ikahihifo (St George Illawarra Dragons), Bradley Abbey (Canterbury Bulldogs), Glen Fisiiahi (rugby union), David Bhana (Newcastle Knights), Ngani Laumape (rugby union)

Gold Coast Titans:

This will be a very tough year for the Titans losing Sezer and not getting Cherry-Evans in to replace; a hole in the halves is now what they are left with. They have little quality in the halves and out wide. Kane Elgey out all season and losing James Roberts and Nate Myles just makes matters worse for Gold Coast.

Prediction: 16th

Ins: David Shillington (Canberra Raiders), Nathan Friend (New Zealand Warriors), Zeb Taia (Catalan Dragons), Ashley Taylor (Brisbane Broncos), Tyrone Roberts (Newcastle Knights), Leivaha Pulu (Wyong Kangaroos), Chris McQueen (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Cameron Cullen (Burleigh Bears)

Outs: Nate Myles (Manly Sea Eagles), Aidan Sezer (Canberra Raiders), Dave Taylor (Catalan Dragons), Shaun Hudson (North Queensland Cowboys), Ben Ridge (retirement), Matthew White (Melbourne Storm), Brad Tighe (retirement), Kalifa Faifai Loa (St George Illawarra Dragons), Beau Falloon (Leeds Rhinos), James Roberts (Brisbane Broncos)

Wests Tigers:

The Tigers should expect another tough campaign and have been in the headlines for the reasons you would not want to be. Aarons Woods and Robbie Farah are two fine players that will give Wests some class yet not enough to get anywhere near the playoffs.

Predictions: 14th

Ins: Matt Ballin (Manly Sea Eagles), Jack Littlejohn (Manly Sea Eagles), Michael Chee-Kam (Manly Sea Eagles), Jesse Parahi (rugby union), Justin Hunt (St George Illawarra Dragons), Jordan Rankin (Hull FC), Josh Addo-Carr (Cronulla Sharks), Joel Edwards (Canberra Raiders), Rod Griffin (Ipswich Jets), William McConnachie (Ipswich Jets), Josh Aloai (Parramatta Eels)

Outs: Martin Taupau (Manly Sea Eagles), Pat Richards (Catalan Dragons), Keith Galloway (Leeds Rhinos), Shannon McDonnell (St Helens), Te Maire Martin (Penrith Panthers), Tim Moltzen (Manly Sea Eagles), Matthew Woods (Parramatta Eels), Salesi Funaki (Brisbane Broncos), Delouise Hoeter (Townsville Blackhawks)

Newcastle Knights:

Losing Mr Knights, Kurt Gidley to Warrington Wolves while a big rebuild is being taken place from coach, Nathan Brown means a tough season lays ahead. A young team sees only players over 30 so the future is bright but this season is perhaps too soon. Trent Hodkinson is a good signing for the Knights while Beau Scott is a player that shall be missed.

Prediction: 15th

Ins: Trent Hodkinson (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Mickey Paea (Hull FC), Will Pearsall (Manly Sea Eagles), David Bhana (Warriors), Pauli Pauli (Parramatta Eels)

Outs: Kurt Gidley (Warrington Wolves), Beau Scott (Parramatta Eels), Clint Newton (retirement), David Fa’alogo (retirement), Carlos Tuimavave (Hull FC), Tyrone Roberts (Gold Coast Titans), Adam Clydsdale (Canberra Raiders), Kerrod Holland (Canterbury Bulldogs), Todd Lowrie (retirement), Honeti Tuha (Parramatta Eels), Chris Houston (Widnes Vikings), Joseph Tapine (Canberra Raiders).


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