PENRITH will enter the 2005 season with a quiet confidence after two consecutive years in which the club has enjoyed sustained success. After their rapid rise from also rans to NRL premiers in 2003, the Panthers were always going to struggle a little as defending premiers in 2004. Injuries to key players and the unfamiliar distraction of representative commitments contributed to some erratic form but the mountain men were still good enough to finish in the top four. The nine match suspension of interchange prop Ben Ross and injury to centre Luke Lewis were telling when they were beaten by the Bulldogs 30-14 in the 1st Preliminary Final at Aussie Stadium.
SINCE ?he? arrived at Bondi in 1996, the Roosters have qualified for every finals series since, they?ve won their first grand final since 1975 and established a reputation as one of rugby league?s ?benchmarks?. But now at 33, he?s decided to hang up the boots and enjoy life after football. ?He? is of course the champion five eighth and captain Brad Fittler. ?Freddy? is the common denominator in most of the Sydney Roosters impressive seasons over the past decade. 2005 represents a new chapter in the Roosters history, ?The post Fittler era?.
SEASON 2004 promised so much for the Brisbane Broncos. They silenced their critics by beginning the year strongly after their disastrous finish to 2003 (when they lost their final eight matches), and unearthed one of the game?s next superstars in teenage fullback Karmichael Hunt. The world?s best player Darren Lockyer made the switch from fullback to five eighth with consummate ease and the Broncos were right in contention for the minor premiership. But then the post origin curse struck again.
THE Bulldogs will be looking forward to a bright new era in 2005. As reigning champions they don?t need to change much on the field, but they would like to avoid another year of dramas off it.
THE Broncos once again returned to the pacesetters group in 2004, but once again they fell by the wayside when the business end of the season came along.
FOR nine years the Cowboys of the far north were sound asleep. Now after a fairytale 2004 season, they?ve finally awoken.
THE Sydney Roosters were renowned as the benchmark in 2004 in so many ways. They continued to set the standard in defence, with their fast moving defensive structure helping them concede the fewest points in the NRL. They were the benchmark off the field as well, setting the standard in astute recruitment of players and coaching staff. They also enhanced their reputation as a club opposition fans love to hate. Their record breaking Jersey Flegg side went through 2004 unbeaten and the Roosters also won the Premier League competition.
2004 was a completely new challenge for 2003 premiers Penrith. After riding on a wave of confidence and unstoppable momentum to win last season?s Minor premiership and Grand Final, the Panthers were marked men in 2004 as each club tried to knock the premiers off.
THE Melbourne Storm faced another year of having to put up with critics questioning their existence. The long term viability of a team in ?AFL mad? Melbourne remains doubtful, their low home crowds are mocked on a fortnightly basis and the lack of media interest in Melbourne makes you wonder if anyone cares.
THE fact that the Raiders qualified for the finals for the third consecutive season shouldn?t disguise the reality that season 2004 was a failure for the ?Green Machine?.