LEAGUEUNLIMITED.COM guest writer Michael Treacy previews season 2008 for the Brisbane Broncos...
THE Penrith Panthers head into the 2007 with a new coach, a new attitude and renewed enthusiasm which is hoped will usher in a new era in Panthers history
TODAY we get Michael Treacy's thoughts on the Queensland side as they prepare for next Wednesday's big stoush with the Blues.---1. Matt BowenBowen was very harshly treated by Australian selectors for the Anzac Test but he will get his chance to shine in Origin. Criticism of his skill under the high ball has been somewhat unwarranted. However, I suspect that he will switch with Greg Inglis at some stage of the match to confuse the NSW kickers. I?d anticipate Bowen?s role during the match would be to use his speed against the big forwards and backs from NSW, searching for that inside ball off Lockyer or Thurston. This combination will be pivotal this series.2. Greg InglisGreg Inglis has lived up to the hype he received pre-season as the next big thing. He has speed, strength, agility and the brains of a veteran. He is the complete footballer. Even though he is on the wing, he will still in my opinion play fullback at some stage during the match. I?d expect Inglis to come searching for work at the back end of each half trying to exploit fatigued defenders from NSW. I can?t wait to see this kid play Origin. It should be something to behold as we have all seen how exciting he is. 3. Justin HodgesHodges has definitely resurrected his career since returning to Brisbane last year. His football just keeps improving and hopefully this time around we won?t see any passes in the in-goal. He has been dynamic at centre this year, breaking tackles at will and creating many opportunities for his winger. I believe the left side of Inglis and Hodges will see the majority of ball from Lockyer and Thurston due to the Brisbane connection and also due to the fact this is where most of the inroads for tries will present themselves against Grothe and Tahu.4. Brent TateI, like many others, believed that Tate and Steve Bell would be switched around in this side, however selectors thought differently. Tate has just recently returned from injury but no one can doubt his ability. He is a strong hole runner and solid defender and basically a back that was made to play origin football. 5. Steven BellSteve Bell is in my opinion the second best centre in the competition this season. Bell just quietly goes about his business leaving devastation in his wake. He is the NRL equal top try scorer and on top for line breaks this season. Bell?s selection for QLD is long overdue but he will finally get his chance to shine in the Origin arena. How he?ll go at winger is anyone?s guess. However, I?m of the opinion that he will play centre come game time and so he should. 6. Darren Lockyer (c)Lockyer?s form since the Test Match has just been magnificent, it seemed to really give him the boost of confidence he needed. He has a renewed vigour and bounce in his step and his vision during a game is as sharp as ever. The 6 and 7 for QLD has it all over NSW and this will be a determining factor in the result of this series. 7. Jonathon ThurstonThurston has been dominant figure in the NRL this season and the reason the Cowboys have fared so well. While last season Thurston first wore the QLD jersey, I believe he has improved substantially since that time. Last series, he looked nervous - as though he didn?t know if he could match it. He has now had experience in big games and big arenas. He now knows that he deserves to be in this quality of football. This will only help his football and the QLD side 8. Steve PriceSteve Price has been going well for the Warriors. While the team seems inconsistent, you can always be assured Price will be giving 110%. He loves this Maroon jersey and in big matches he always takes his game to another level and I expect the same thing this time around. He?ll be the pivotal go forward player and his experience will help the younger forwards playing their debut Origin series. 9. Cameron SmithCameron Smith has yet again taken his game to another level this year. Melbourne?s perennial rise over the last month and a half is predominately on the back of his and Inglis?s good work and vision during play. His in-field kicking will be a prominent feature of his game this series as well as his dummy half running and ability to sniff out a weakness. I believe this will be the series where Smith stamps his authority on Origin. 10. Petero CivoniceivaWhile Petero is the veteran of the team, it won?t be a tag that sits kindly with the giant from Brisbane. He had an indifferent start to the season but gradually he began to regain form. He, along with Webcke, has laid a solid foundation for Brisbane with tremendous go forward and tenacity in defence. Both Civoniceiva and Price will be crucial in leading the way and setting a good example for the younger players in the team. 11. Matthew ScottWhat a year it has been for Matthew Scott, not even the barnstorming prop himself could imagine the great start to the season he has had. Scott has proven he could not only fill the void left by Paul Rauhihi, but improve the team. His hard running, strong defence and great mental application to the game have paved the way for his debut in Origin.12. David StaggI was a firm believer Stagg should have been selected last season as I believe he was playing better football last season. When viewing his selection I thought maybe I would rather an impact player such as Canberra?s Tom Learoyd-Lars but then you have to think of the role the player will have in the game. QLD will most definitely use both Johnson and Stagg for the entire 80 minutes, allowing a solid rotation policy with the other three forwards. Stagg?s selection is overdue and I hope he can cement his spot for future Origin series. 13. Dallas JohnsonDo my eyes deceive me? Where is TBA! On a serious note, Dallas Johnson?s selection is a year overdue. The tenacious lock has once again been in brilliant form for Melbourne and finally he has been rewarded with selection. I?d expect Dallas to play the entire 80 minutes and be an integral part of Mal Meninga?s defensive structure to nullify the NSW big men. Interchange:14. Shaun BerriganWhile many may question Berrigan?s selection, he is a utility player of the highest order. He has the ability to cover centre, five-eighth, half and hooker with ease and his versatility will only be of benefit to QLD. He will rotate with Cameron Smith and later in the game possibly Johnson or Stagg should fatigue set in, allowing another dummy half runner. 15. Carl WebbI have always been of the belief Carl Webb is a great bench impact player. With O?Meley coming off the bench for NSW, you can be sure to expect fireworks when they clash. Webb v O?Meley will be one of the highlights of the series. 16. Sam ThaidayPlaying for Toowoomba early in the season, Thaiday emerged in round 5 and six rounds later has impressed enough to secure an Origin jersey. I?m hoping he has the same hard running attitude in origin that he has shown so far this season. 17. Nate MylesNate Myles?s selection may have come as a shock to some, but I have been a tremendous supporter of his. He is exactly the type of forward Origin needs and will provide great impact off the bench with penetrating runs and bone shattering defence.
LIKELY squad: Brett Hodgson, Daniel Fitzhenry, Shane Elford, Paul Whaitura, Jamaal Lolesi, Benji Marshall, Scott Prince, John Skandalis, Robbie Farah, Ryan O?Hara, Anthony Laffranchi, Ben Galea, Dene HalatauInterchange: Bryce Gibbs, Liam Fulton, Chris Heighington, Sam HarrisStrengths:The Tigers? great strengths are their skills level and athleticism. Those factors alone got them their premiership glory in 2005 and will enable them to continue that good form for the 2006 season.The Tigers? depth is something to be admired. Young guns like Shannon McDonnell and Dean Collis and key forwards Keith Galloway and Bronson Harrison are left out of the team above. The Tigers purchased very wisely in the off season and as such have improved their roster for the upcoming season, something that would strike fears into the hearts of other teams.The Tiger?s forward pack would rate among the most mobile yet underrated in the competition. Players like Fulton, Halatau and Heighington really shone a bright light for the Tigers in 2005 and will continue to do so for 2006.The halves pairing would rate amongst the best in the competition also. The steadiness of Scott Prince and the creative brilliance of Benji Marshall are so vital for the Tigers? success.Tim Sheens, one of the most experienced coaches in the NRL, is a great strength for the Tigers. He has the ability to turn dirt into gold and he will continue to do so as long as he remains coach.Brett Hodgson is a key player for the Tigers. In 2005 he played like a man possessed. He was magnificent in that everything he touched turned into points. He was the form player of the competition and will be out to make sure it stays that way.Weaknesses:The loss of Pat Richards will be immense for the Tigers. The big winger?s goal-line dropouts, defence and finishing ability was a real highlight for the Tigers in 2005. But now he has departed and leaves a huge hole in a depleted backline.Other teams will now be out to get the Tigers any way they can. This is a weakness for the Tigers whether they like it or not. Last season they slipped under the radar through to the Grand Final. This season teams will be better prepared, better drilled and mentally ready to take it to the Tigers. The Tigers need to be good enough to withstand such pressure.One to Watch:Shannon McDonnell is my player to watch for the Tigers. Shannon had a taste of First Grade in 2005 when he made his debut against Penrith. Unfortunately for Shannon it didn?t go as well as planned as he looked out of his depth and quite nervous in his first outing. He was brought into Tim Sheen?s squad for the WCC where he was again part of a losing side. Aside from only having two matches that resulted in losses, he remains the one to watch for the Tigers. He is an outstanding player with tremendous talent and electrifying speed.Tim Sheens has a huge rap on this kid and it?s no wonder why. He has speed that would be up there with competitors in the Commonwealth Games trials for the 100m and he can finish off a try as good as anyone when given the opportunity. I have no doubt that if Shannon had a consistent spot in the team in 2006 that he would definitely not disappoint Tigers? fans.Gains and Losses:Gains: Sam Harris, Keith Galloway, Jamaal Lolesi, Ryan O'Hara, Filinga Filiga.Losses: Pat Richards, John Wilson, Mark O'Neill, Matthew Rieck, Ray Cashmere.Assessment:I believe the Tigers have recruited brilliantly in the off-season. The acquisition of Harris, Galloway, Lolesi and O?Hara has really enhanced the Tigers? premiership prospects. It has given them valuable size, valuable experience and valuable depth in order to defend their title. If you look at the past 5 years, you?ll find the premiers have all haemorrhaged players after their title win, but not the Tigers. They have increased their playing stocks and have a better squad, which is why I?m predicting that they will finish in the Top 4 and be the most likely team since Brisbane in 1992/1993 to take back-to-back premierships.
LIKELY squad: Matt Bowen, Ty Williams, Josh Hannay, Paul Bowman, Matt Sing, Johnathan Thurston, Brett Firman, Carl Webb, Aaron Payne, Shane Tronc, Steve Southern, Luke O?Donnell, Travis NortonInterchange: Rod Jenson, Mitchell Sargeant, Justin Smith, David FaiumuStrengths:North Queensland?s line up remains pretty much unchanged for the 2006 season which means that the combinations that are currently in place will only improve as the players understanding of each other?s games improve. This will mean the Cowboys will be a better team in 2006.The Cowboys first ever Grand Final appearance will be a great boost for their club, their community and the players coming into the 2006 season. They now have the confidence and the belief that they can match it with any team at the highest level and put to bed critics who stated their finals run in 2004 was a fluke.Johnathan Thurston?s Dally M medal and an entire off-season for Brett Firman will only help the Cowboy?s halves combination become even stronger. Thurston?s ability to scoot through holes has made him one of the premier halves in the competition and hopefully he will continue his brilliant run of form in 2006.The Cowboys? forward pack is still as strong and aggressive as last season with the ability to dominate packs and move forward. The backline is also electrifying as well, with stable and sure centres and a brilliant back 3.Weaknesses:Losing Paul Rauhihi will definitely hurt the Cowboys. While he wasn?t a tremendous impact player last year, he was an influential figure to have in the team and did get away a lot of offloads. His presence on the field will be sorely missed by the entire team.The lack of size on the bench should be a concern for Graham Murray. Aside from Mitchell Sargeant, the Cowboys don?t have another big man on the bench with Justin Smith, David Faiumu and Rod Jenson not big enough to play prop, meaning one of Southern or O?Donnell will need to fill in at prop to give the two starters a rest. It will be a problem for Murray to organise this.Graham Murray being in charge of the NSW side will be a disruption for the Cowboys outfit. The travel associated and the lack of mentorship during the Origin period will put a dent in the Cowboys run in the middle of the season. Hopefully the caretaker coach can make sure the Cowboys don?t fall off the rails.One to Watch:Emerging Cowboys Prop Matthew Scott has been chosen as the Cowboys young gun for the 2006 season. A player who is held in high regard by Graham Murray at the Cowboys, he will be looking to become a regular feature in the Cowboys squad for 2006 with the departure of stalwart Paul Rauhihi to England.The 185cm, 104kg Scott made three appearances for the Cowboys in 2005 improving with each game he played. The Cowboys prop was vital in winning the North Queensland Young Guns the Qld Cup premiership last season and will be looking to impress Graham Murray in the trials in 2006 to make sure he will feature in the 2006 premiership push for the Cowboys. Gains and Losses:Gains: Ray Cashmere, Brett Anderson, Robert Tanielu, Leigh Coghill, Russell Aitken, Jamie Frizzo, Scott Smith, Mark Henry.Losses: Paul Rauhihi, David Myles, Leigh McWilliams, Jaiman Lowe, Michael Luck.Assessment:The Cowboys will finish from 5th to 8th this season as I believe they will do what the Broncos usually do - start strong, and then during Origin time will fall away suddenly and then come home with a wet sail.The lack of actual size on the bench will also mean they may not push for the premiership like they did last season. They will need to have another big man on the bench to ensure they push for the Grand Final.
LIKELY squad: Ben Hornby, Colin Best, Mark Gasnier, Matt Cooper, Wes Naiqama, Trent Barrett, Mathew Head, Jason Ryles, Dean Young, Luke Bailey, Ashton Sims, Ben Creagh, Shaun Timmins,Interchange: Michael Henderson, Justin Poore, Corey Payne, Matt BickerstaffStrengths:The Dragons once again have a top platform to build on. They have a strong balanced side which contains pace, strength and raw ability. The team has gone through a bit of a tough time at the moment but the starting side is still rather young and will continue to develop.The Dragons? backline is their most dangerous asset. Australian centres Matt Cooper and Mark Gasnier combine for the best centre partnership in the competition while their outside men possess enough strength and pace to finish off anything they set up. Colin Best?s try scoring tally last season was enough to signify this.Ben Hornby is one of the best talents in rugby league today. The reason is largely attributed to his versatility. He is equally accustomed to fullback as he is to five-eighth or halfback. He did a stellar job in the absence of Mathew Head last season, and one would expect to see him carry the ball in hand as often as possible to give the Dragons another dimension in attack.The forwards are once again strong with the inclusion of young guns Ashton Sims and Ben Creagh to the starting team. Ryles and Bailey are two of the best props in the game and the pack which is mixed with youthful exuberance and valuable experience will be one of the best in the competition.Weaknesses:The Dragons? bench is not as solid as it once was. It may be time to promote some younger blood that has the potential to have greater impact. The Dragons have tremendous forward depth and always have had the ability to produce great forwards, but its time for Nathan Brown to eliminate guys like Payne and Henderson and give guys like Habercecht a go, who have the potential to make an impact on a game.The Dragons? mental state is shaky to say the least. While they have had the talent to win the competition for the last five years, they just can?t put it together when it counts. They are labelled the perennial chokers and for good reason. They are once again the favourites for the competition, so could they choke?Physical fitness is also a concern for the Dragons. The Dragons always have a tendency to get injuries to big names at the worst times. This is a weakness for the Dragons, but something that is beyond their control. Hopefully their physios are amongst the best in the country, because they will need to be.One to Watch:2005 Dragons Jersey Flegg player of the year Tom Haberecht is the Dragon?s youngster to watch this season. The Dragons purchased Haberecht from the Bulldogs in 2005 and he made an instant impression on the Dragons, becoming a vital player in the premiership winning Jersey Flegg team.The 20 year old, 95kg and 185 cm Haberecht has made a huge impression on coach Nathan Brown in the pre-season, enough for him to be considered for First Grade this early in his career. While Haberecht only has modest goals to cement a place in Premier League this season before getting a shot at First Grade, it is definitely conceivable that with Lance Thompson?s departure from the Dragons that this young gun will get his shot to impress sooner rather than later. The Dragons have always managed to bring in great forwards into the club and this is just another example. Haberecht is a devastating ball runner and a hard defender. He is definitely one of those classy players that a team is usually built around and the Dragons will be looking for him to continue his progression through Premier League and eventually to take on a leadership role in the First Grade squad. Gains and Losses:Gains: Bryson Goodwin, Matt Bickerstaff, Damon Alley-Tovio, Sam Isemonger, Lagi Setu, Andrew Price.Losses: Lance Thompson, Michael Ennis, Albert Torrens, Daniel Holdsworth, Willie Manu, Bryan Norrie, Nick Youngquest, Shane MarteeneAssessment:The Dragons once again are in with a shot to take out the competition, but will they have the mental preparation to win it? Only time will tell. Based on their top 17 it?s hard to conceive they will be outside the top 8, but I don?t feel they will be minor premiers. I think they?ll push the top 4 but fall just short. I believe the Dragons will finish in between 3rd and 6th.
LIKELY squad: Wade McKinnon, Luke Burt, Ben Smith, Timana Tahu, Eric Grothe, Marcus Perenara, Tim Smith, Nathan Cayless, Mark Riddell, Paul Stringer, Nathan Hindmarsh, Glenn Morrison, Brett DelaneyInterchange: Fui Fui Moi Moi, Michael Vella, Dean Widders, PJ MarshStrengths:Parramatta?s great strength is depth. They have quality players right through their grades. In Premier League they have Joel Reddy, John Morris, Daniel Wagon and other players of first grade quality in Blake Green, Zab Taia and other quality players who will make the progression to first grade from their junior ranks.Parramatta?s backline is tremendous. The power and absolute force of Ben Smith, Eric Grothe Jr and John Williams combined with the speed and elusiveness of Wade McKinnon and Timana Tahu makes for a salivating backline.Finally the forward pack for Parramatta is set in place. They have a quality back row with a ball-playing lock-forward, something they have lacked since Jim Dymock?s playing days. Brett Delaney is a talented individual with silky skills and a good boot and will develop into one of the premier locks in the game.The Parramatta bench is something that a lot of teams desire. It contains speed, strength and tremendous impact. Moi Moi, who has a huge cult following, does have brute strength and impact to turn a game. Dean Widders had a tremendous season in 2005 while PJ Marsh had a great year in his first back in full flight since a tremendous run of bad luck. This bench has the ability to make a lasting impact on a match and the ability to take a team to a Grand Final.Weaknesses:Will Tim Smith have a case of second-year syndrome? Most of today?s ?great prodigies? come out and play the worst season of their careers after the high of the first. Will Tim Smith join the line? Or will he prove us all wrong and continue his flourishing development?The angst about changing coaches can?t be good for the club. While the certainty is now in place with Michael Hagan definitely coming to the club in 2007, what does it mean for the Eel?s 2006? Does Brian Smith care about this season or does he just think ?Bugger it, I?m not going to be here in 2007?? However, Brian Smith is too much of a professional to let this get to him. He will try his best to win his maiden premiership this year and prove to Parramatta they made the wrong choice, even though it was the right one.One to Watch:Marcus Perenara has the weight of the expectations of a nation on his shoulders. The heir apparent to Stacey Jones in the New Zealand national jersey, Marcus will be looking to gain valuable First Grade experience in 2006 to be picked for the country he loves. Brought to Parramatta last season, he didn?t fail to impress and the young 19 year old Kiwi was a standout for Parramatta?s Premier League and an integral part of their Premier League championship.His performances during last season earned him a spot in the New Zealand squad and a chance to play for New Zealand A against an Australian invitational side. In this match he lined up against Trent Barrett and Scott Prince, two of the best halves in the competition, and Marcus showed his class leading the New Zealand A team to a comfortable victory.That performance has put Marcus on the map now, and with Parramatta?s need for a great five-eighth to partner Tim Smith in the halves, Brian Smith would be crazy not to consider this future star.Gains and Losses:Gains: Nil.Losses: Brett Anderson (Cowboys), Chris Muckert (Toowoomba).Assessment:I tried hard again to find a weakness with Parramatta and the only thing I could think of was psychological. As a team they are brilliant. A great set of young halves, strong and fast backline and a great forward foundation. On top of that they have a great bench and to add a bit of icing to the team they have depth in all grades. If the Eels can get it together and get their heads in the game then there is only one outcome possible and that is top 4.
LIKELY squad: Billy Slater, Matt Geyer, Matt King, Greg Inglis, Jake Webster, Scott Hill, Cooper Cronk, Ben Cross, Cameron Smith, Garret Crossman, Michael Crocker, David Kidwell, Dallas Johnson,Interchange: Ryan Hoffman, Antonio Kaufusi, Brett White, Glen TurnerStrengths:Melbourne?s greatest strength would have to be their backline. They have tremendous players in that backline that can just bust a game wide open. Their speed, agility and all round athleticism can win the Storm matches. But in order to do that, they must have the ability to spread the ball, something that could be a problem for the Storm in 2006.Craig Bellamy is in the top 3 coaches in the NRL. He is a young coach with great ideas. He is considered by many to be the smartest coach in the NRL by far with his training techniques, his tactics and his ability to scout talent. For the past few years with the Storm he?s been ?almost there?. Now that he has lost his key player in the off-season, there is one thing guaranteed, Bellamy will re-invent himself and his team yet again, in order to get the same level of success.Billy Slater and Greg Inglis are two of the most exciting young players in the game and much of the Storm?s success this season will rest on these young men?s shoulders. If these two perform to their great potential, the Storm has many wins in store. If they play below their potential and crumble under the great strain of leading the team?s attack, then Melbourne will be in dire straights.Weaknesses:One vital weakness for Melbourne is their lack of depth in the halves and forwards. In the backs the Storm can call upon Roosters reject Chris Walker or injury ravaged fullback Steve Turner, enough to compensate. However in the halves, the Storm only have a young player in James Ausbusson, hardly enough to suggest enough depth in such a key position. In the forwards, they have lost stalwarts Robbie Kearns, Peter Robinson and Alex Chan, along with a couple of their talented prospects. The young players now brought in need to step up for the Storm to lay a solid platform.The Storm are going through a transition period at the moment. They have lost their main strike player, their halfback and their captain. That is enough to suggest that the Storm will struggle. In Kearn?s absence, the young forwards showed they were not up to task. How will young Cooper Cronk handle the responsibility of starting halfback? He is definitely a talented young man. However, in many people?s minds, this responsibility will be too great this season, but it will bode well for the Storm?s 2007 campaign.Much of the Storm?s attack will rely on Scott Hill and his distribution to his backs. Unfortunately for Melbourne, Scott Hill has a tendency to only play half a season, only re-enforcing the lack of depth in their halves.The Storm?s discipline will be a problem. They have one of the most ill-disciplined forward packs in the competition. Hot-heads like Cross, Crocker and Kidwell will cost the Storm a lot of ball, something that will need to be rectified by Bellamy. While he has the backs to succeed, he has the forwards to halter that progression if the opposition can get under their skin.One to Watch:Cooper Cronk is not a rookie by any means, but while he has already played more than 20 games in the NRL, he is yet to have the pressure of the playmaking role consistently, hence why I picked him as one to watch. The 22 year old, 178cm and 89kg halfback was a regular feature off the bench for Melbourne in 2005, gaining valuable experience and working out combinations with team-mates in preparation for his new role in 2006. This season Cronk will have a world of expectations on his shoulders as it is his duty to give his backs enough ball and set up play for his team. He is a strong player with a good kicking game, but he?ll need to learn quickly about how to handle being the main strike player. I feel he will thrive in this role and will prove that he is a NRL quality halfback. That?s why he?s my one to watch from Melbourne. Gains and Losses:Gains: Michael Crocker, Chris Walker Ben Cross, Garrett Crossman, James Aubusson.Losses: Matt Orford, Steven Bell, Robbie Kearns, Alex Chan, Peter Robinson, Josh Graham, Robert Tanielu.Assessment:Potentially the Storm can go far in the competition. However, I just don?t see it happening. They will show glimpses of brilliance as they usually do during a season, but I fear this transition period will be too hard for even the likes of Craig Bellamy to overcome. I think the Storm will struggle this year, but will come out bigger and better in 07? once the combinations start to form, the forwards start to gel and they get an injury-free season. My prediction is for the Storm to finish in the bottom half of the competition, between 10th and 13th.
LIKELY squad: Karmichal Hunt, Leon Bott, Brent Tate, Justin Hodges, Steve Michaels, Darren Lockyer, Brett Seymour, Shane Webcke, Michael Ennis, Petero Civoniceiva, David Stagg, Brad Thorn, Tonie Carroll,Interchange: Shaun Berrigan, Ben Hannant, Corey Parker, Casey McGuireStrengths:Brisbane has always had the knack of unearthing some brilliant juniors from their large nursery. The depth of talent that they can unleash on the NRL is unbelievable.Darren Lockyer. The world?s second best player outside Andrew Johns. Didn?t have his best end of season ever, but was suffering as a result of injuries.The Brisbane backline is very strong. It possesses speed and skill. With centres Tate and Hodges back to their best and speedsters Bott and Michaels finishing off set plays, the Brisbane backline is one of the most potent in the competition. They even have Shaun Berrigan on the bench for utility value.The addition of Michael Ennis provides them with a great hooker who is an accomplished goal kicker. His rotation with Berrigan will be vital for the Broncos? success this season and there will be great things coming from Ennis and in turn the Broncos as a result.Weaknesses:The overall age of this Broncos? outfit is a concern, particularly in the forwards. Forwards such as Webcke, Civoniceiva, Thorn and TBA are getting on in years and this weakness was exposed during the finals, when on more than one occasion the Broncos looked lacklustre and tired in attack and defence.The stubborn refusal of Bennett to promote players from Toowoomba is also a weakness. He has a pool of talent waiting for their shot in first grade at his disposal to only burn them down. Guys like Nick Kenny who proved his value in the one game he played are craving for shots. Instead he persists in using players like Dane Carlaw who are past their best.One to Watch:The younger brother of Vinnie and Louis Anderson, 21 year old Fraser Anderson, was recruited by the Broncos this year from the New Zealand Warriors development squad. Fraser is described as having ?power, pace and potential?. This explosive winger could be the something the Broncos have lacked since Wendell Sailor and Lote Tuqiri left the team for Rugby Union.Fraser will be looking to stamp himself in the NRL sooner rather than later. He is remarkably large for a winger, weighing at 104 kg, and standing at 190 cm he would be more suited to the back row. But his athleticism proves he is in fact a winger. In recent speed trials he even matched Leon Bott, the quickest in the Brisbane team. One thing for sure, when this massive winger explodes onto the NRL the Broncos could have another Tuqiri in their grasps.Gains and Losses:Gains: Michael Ennis, Ben HannantLosses: Tom Learoyd-Lars, Darren Mapp, Stuart Kelly, Berrick BarnesAssessment:Brisbane has the talent to win the competition. If Darren Lockyer fires, the backline gets good service and the forwards gain momentum, I don?t think there?s a team in the comp they can?t beat. However, the same goes the other direction. Will the Broncos do as they usually do and start well and then fade terribly with their tired legs and tactics? Or will they finally step up closer to finals time and claim yet another NRL premiership. My tip: Top 6 for the Broncos.
LIKELY squad: David Simmons, Luke Covell, Ben Pomeroy, Beau Scott, Darren Albert, Nigel Vagana, Brett Kimmorley, Ben Ross, Kevin Kingston, Lance Thompson, Reece Williams, Phil Bailey, Paul GallenInterchange: Hutch Maiva, Luke Douglas, Clifford Manua, Matt HilderStrengths:The Sharks have one of the best halfbacks in the competition directing them around the park. If Brett Kimmorley has an injury-free year and is able to handle the increased ball carrying, then the Sharks can push the top 8.They have purchased quite well for next season. They have replaced stalwarts Jason Stevens and Danny Nutley with Origin prop Ben Ross and former Dragon Lance Thompson.The Sharks also have a very formidable and mobile forward pack for next season. They do not have a large forward pack in size, but they have a very mobile pack that has a lot of skill. With the likes of rising stars Luke Douglas and Clifford Manua the Sharks have a solid forward foundation for 2006.They have purchased great depth for their junior ranks. They raided the Bartercard Cup and the Junior Kiwis? teams and managed to secure some of the most exciting talent in New Zealand. Some of which will be working their way to first grade very shortly.The move to play Nigel Vagana at five-eighth is a smart move by the Sharks. He is a very good ball runner and will create many opportunities for the Sharks to score points in 2006.Weaknesses:The pressure on Brett Kimmorley will be tremendous. Two years ago, before the Sharks acquired Adam Dykes, they relied heavily on Kimmorley for their creative playmaking. Kimmorley was touching the ball 3-4 times a set, something he has found in the past he is uncomfortable doing. With Vagana not being a creative ball player, rather a ball runner, Kimmorley will be under a lot more pressure with the ball in hand this season. This could mean the Sharks have too much of a one-dimensional attack.The Sharks have lost a lot of experience and their team has a massive new look. Clubmen David Peachey, Jason Stevens and Danny Nutley have gone and this will affect the environment and culture within the club.Their inexperienced backline could also be a problem for the Sharks. Aside from veteran Darren Albert, who is returning from the UK, the Sharks? three-quarters are very inexperienced.One to Watch:Pee Wee Moke is one of the most promising centre prospects in the game today. The 19 year old, 182cm and 89kg centre is looking to push for First Grade honours this season after a disappointing season with the Roosters. A member of the premiership winning and undefeated Roosters Jersey Flegg team, he was not getting the opportunities he was craving at the Roosters and has linked up with the Sharks for this season. In doing so the Sharks have secured a great centre talent and if he gets a chance in First Grade he will not go down without a fight. He is a well built and fast individual with great footwork, similar to Paul Whaitura. If Cronulla want to have their backs firing on all cylinders this season, they need to give this young man a shot. Gains and Losses:Gains: Ben Ross, Ben Pomeroy, Lance Thompson, Darren Mapp, Darren Albert, Tevita Latu, Brett Kearney, Ryan Borg.Losses: Jason Stevens, David Peachey, Danny Nutley, Michael Sullivan, Nathan Merritt, Paul Mellor, Keith Galloway, Bryson Goodwin, Jon Green, Russell Aitken, Ryan McGoldrick, Vince MellarsAssessment:The Cronulla Sharks have a team that can surprise a lot of people. They have a solid nucleus of forwards, but I believe the lack of experience in the backline aside from Darren Albert and the sole reliance on Brett Kimmorley in the playmaking role will mean the Sharks will struggle this year.The Sharks have no depth whatsoever in the halfback role losing back up Russel Aitken to the Cowboys. If Kimmorley gets injured, it will be curtains for the Sharks? chances and they will get the wooden spoon. If Kimmorley stays fit, then they are a chance to push the top 8. But the Sharks are a young team with potential and this season will set a good platform for things to come.My prediction ? 11th-15th.