LIKELY squad: Brett Stewart, Michael Robertson, Steven Bell, Ashley Alberts, Chris Hicks, Travis Burns, Matt Orford, Brent Kite, Michael Monaghan, Jason King, Anthony Watmough, Steve Menzies, Ben KennedyInterchange: Shayne Dunley, Kylie Leuluai, George Rose, Luke WilliamsonStrengths:Manly?s forwards are strong and versatile, meaning that they will be mobile in attack and defence. This is a great attribute to have in a forward pack. With experienced campaigners like Kennedy and Menzies along with exciting talent like Anthony Watmough, the Manly forward pack is one to be feared in the NRL.Matt Orford is an obvious strength for the Manly club. Not since Geoff Toovey has the Manly club had a halfback that is good enough to lead them to a premiership.Brett Stewart is one of the most exciting fullbacks in the game. He possesses electrifying pace and can score a try from anywhere on the field. Only his poor defensive errors prevent him from being the complete fullback package.Matt Orford?s combination with Steven Bell will be crucial for Manly?s success this season. Bell was one of the leading line breakers in the NRL in 2005 and Manly will be hoping that continues in 2006. Orford has a great combination with Bell and if that continues, Manly will score plenty of points in 2006 on the back of it.Weaknesses:Manly?s backline apart from Bell and Stewart still looks rather fragile. Chris Hicks, Michael Robertson and Ashley Alberts are not exactly the type of players to strike fear into the hearts of their opposition numbers. For Manly to succeed they will need for Ashley Alberts to finally realise his potential as a player or hope of securing Jamie Lyon in 2007.Manly may have two of their key positions covered for 2006 in their fullback and halfback, but they do not have stable options for five-eighth and hooker. Travis Burns may be an exciting young talent but he is untried at NRL level and Michael Monaghan is a player that could be low on confidence in a new position. This could be a problem for Manly in 2006.Des Hasler is not the best coach going around in NRL circles, but even he has to recognise the lack of depth currently at Manly. If Orford was to become injured, they do have the options available to counter that. However, Manly may lack available options to effectively replace key players in other key positions.One to Watch:Travis Burns is a product of Texas in Qld. The light footed five-eighth/halfback will be looking to link up in a halves combination with Matt Orford this season as the opportunity to shine now presents itself. With Michael Witt seemingly looking like he?ll never play First Grade again due to defensive lapses, the opportunity for young Travis to cement a First Grade spot has heightened. The talented playmaker made a couple of appearances in 2005 which set him up to be one of the better prospects to come out of Manly in recent years. In his few appearances he was cool under pressure and had a good kicking game. He still has room to develop his game a lot more and I?m sure with a good halfback at his side in Matt Orford we will see the best of Travis Burns in 2006. Gains and Losses:Gains: Matt Orford, Steve Bell, Michael Robertson, George Rose.Losses: Terry Hill, Chad Randall, Scott Donald, Sam Harris, Jye Mullane, Nathan Hollingsworth.Assessment:I believe Manly have the halfback, fullback and forward pack in order to win the competition, but I don?t believe they can do it with the existing players in the #6 and #9 jerseys. Manly will be competitive in 2006 and will more than likely repeat their top 8 effort this season, however I don?t believe they have the required strike power or creativity in key positions to take out the 2006 NRL Premiership.My Prediction ? 6th-10th.
LIKELY squad Anthony Minichello, Lelea Paea, Ryan Cross, Isolia Soliola, Amos Roberts, Braith Anasta, Brett Finch, Craig Fitzgibbon, John Doyle, Adrian Morley, Chris Flannery, Anthony Tupou, Ashley HarrisonInterchange: David Shillington, Mark Edmondson, Lopeni Paea, Craig WingStrengths:The Roosters have one of the better backlines in the competition. While it may not be the best, they have a tremendous amount of skill. Amos Roberts and Anthony Minichello spearhead the backline and if both men fire on their day, the Roosters will run riot over anyone.The starting forward pack is also very strong. Despite the losses of Jason Cayless, Luke Ricketson and Michael Crocker the Roosters still field a very strong starting pack. Tupou and Morley are intimidating figures in the side while new recruit Ashley Harrison will prove to be what many believe as the buy of the season. The rangy lock is one of the best in the game and will finally get a chance to prove that he is Origin standard.The use of Craig Wing off the bench will be vital for the Roosters. His impact can break a game wide open and set up wins for the Roosters. If he isn?t on his game when he is put into the attack it could spell dramas for the Roosters.Weaknesses:The Roosters? bench is not the strongest in the competition and apart from Craig Wing, none of the other players would be the type of player to strike fear into the hearts of opposition teams. While the three guys have potential, they do not have that ?fear factor? in order to give a team an edge when the game is in the balance after 20-30 minutes. This is a problem for the Roosters.The Roosters? depth seems a bit shaky at the moment. While they have quality players in Premier League, they neglect to have the adequate first grade experience to be an instant success and compare to the depths of the likes of the Tigers or Eels. This could be a problem for the Roosters should the inevitable injuries occur.Brett Finch is a weakness to this team. He would possibly have to be the most one-dimensional halfback in the competition. He lacks the adequate creativity to win the competition for the Roosters. Last year showed why the Roosters were so reliant on Brad Fittler and this season they will be relying on Anasta. The Roosters have the better solution in Jamie Soward in Reserve Grade, but that would mean the administration would have to swallow their pride and put a form player in, instead of someone who they pay big dollars.One to Watch:Adam Schubert is the player to watch for the Roosters this season. The 94kg, 182cm workhorse second row has built up reputation as being a damaging and tenacious defender. He got a real taste of First Grade in 2005 when the Roosters had injury dramas and Origin duties and he didn?t disappoint.In his debut against Manly in an epic battle which eventually Manly won, Adam was one of the best on field making crucial tackles and much needed metres. His best assets are of course his defence and also his working ethic. With the Roosters losing many forwards in the off-season, you?d have to think Adam would be foremost in the mind of Ricky Stuart and rightly so. He definitely has a future in the game.Gains and Losses:Gains: Ashley Harrison, Braith Anasta, John Doyle, Charlie Tonga, Mitchell Pearce, Glen Hall, Mark Edmonson.Losses: Michael Crocker, Luke Ricketson, Chris Walker, Jason Cayless, Ben Hannant, Stuart Webb, George Rose, Ned Catic, Grant Rovelli, James Aubusson, Jack Rampling. Richard Fa?osoAssessment:The Roosters have the team to make the top 8 if they can keep the same 17 on the park every week. If they get injuries however, particularly in the forwards, they will struggle to remain consistent enough to threaten for any title. They have lost aggression and inspiration in the off-season along with valuable depth, something that hasn?t been adequately replaced. I see the Roosters finishing between 7th and 10th.
LIKELY squad: Rhys Wesser, Nick Youngquest, Luke Lewis, Danny Galea, Luke Rooney, Preston Campbell, Craig Gower, Joel Clinton, Luke Priddis, Bryan Norrie, Trent Waterhouse, Tony Puletua, Shane RodneyInterchange: Frank Puletua, Matthew Cross, Frank Pritchard, Junior MoorsStrengths:The Penrith forward pack once again remains intimidating. They have purchased young prop Bryan Norrie from the Dragons and he comes to the club with big raps from many. Trent Waterhouse will hopefully go back to his best position in the second row to reap havoc at the fringes with his brilliant running and offloading ability, while 80 minute player Shane Rodney will be in his destined position.The Penrith bench is once again strong. Frank Puletua really reached his potential as a player last season, while Matthew Cross?s emergence in the closing part of the season really showed what potential he has as a player. Frank Pritchard is back on the bench and will provide that valuable impact boost the Panthers craved last season while youngster Junior Moors will hopefully get a shot to show he is First Grade material.The halves at Penrith would have to rate amongst the best in the competition. The toughness of Craig Gower with the creative genius and elusiveness of Preston Campbell is a vital combination for Penrith to succeed in the competition this year.Penrith, like South Sydney, have purchased in numbers and potential rather than names for the upcoming season. Penrith signed journeymen Craig Stapleton and David Thompson to play reserve grade and bolster their forward depth. They also signed a plethora of outside backs to cover the shortfall that existed all last season. This will only aid in the Penrith rebuilding phase.Weaknesses:The Penrith backline is once again going to be their downfall this season. Unless new purchases really kick into gear, then there will be grave fears for Penrith fans as we will once again be the butt of all jokes. While Rhys Wesser, Luke Lewis and Luke Rooney will provide great resistance, it is really up to the younger guys who will fill the 2 and 4 to get the team to a position of respect once again.The whole Craig Gower ?will he or won?t he? saga has to be affecting the players. While Gower?s first indiscretion was enough to harm the reputation of Penrith, the turmoil surrounding whether he wants to stay at the club or not has to be affecting the playing group.One to Watch:Junior Moors would have to rate amongst the best second row prospects in the game today. The parochial talent has a great bloodline as well. His cousin is New Zealand representative and Panther Tony Puletua and when you watch Junior play, you can definitely see the similarity.A NSW Under 19?s representative, he was the only shining light in a team that got belted by Queensland. He is a hard ball runner and has a handy offload. While he still has work to do on his defence he has been known to cream a few players and they know they?ve been hit. At 19 years of age, he still has some growing to do, which makes his 108kg, 192cm frame all the more impressive.Junior will look to feature on the bench this season for Penrith as the club rebuilds and losing the likes of Joe Galuvao and Ben Ross has paved the way for some young forwards to be given a shot. I have no doubt John Lang will be thinking of the name Junior Moors by the end of the season.Gains and Losses:Gains: Bryan Norrie, Nick Youngquet, Mark O'Halloran, Bob Blair, Matt Bell, Wayne Bond, Liam Georgetown, Chris NewtonLosses: Ben Ross, Joe Galuvao, Ben Rogers, Ben Pomeroy, Garrett Crossman, Shannon Donato, Trent Clayton, Paul FranzeAssessment:If Penrith can manage to get it together as a team before the season starts then I believe they have the potential to make the top 8. If this whole Gower saga affects the mental status of the team then they could be looking at the wooden spoon. Also with the recent change in coach and the way the management handled it with regards to John Lang, it may affect the team?s attitude on the field. Many people have tipped Penrith for the spoon this season, but the reality is that there are just too many good players in this team to finish with the spoon. I think Penrith will finish mid table, as high as 6th and as low as 11th.
LIKELY squad: Brent Webb, Manu Vatuvai, Clinton Toopi, Tony Martin, Todd Byrne, Jerome Roparti, Nathan Fien, Steve Price, Lance Hohaia, Richard Villasanti, Ruben Wiki, Warraingi Koopu, Sione FaumuinaInterchange: Sonny Fai, Awen Guttenbeil, Louis Anderson, Michael LuckStrengths:The Warriors have the uncanny knack of developing some of the most ferocious forwards in the game. They have developed the likes of Joe Galuvao and Ali Lauitiiti and there is no doubt they will unearth two or three brand new prospects that we will just be awestruck by.The appointment of Ivan Cleary to the head job at the Warriors will do wonders for them. He is a clever operator and a coach that will get his team into peak physical condition for the battles that lay ahead.The Warriors forward pack is lethal to say the least. Spearheaded by Steve Price and Ruben Wiki, the Warriors pack has the ability to defeat anyone on any given day, if only they applied their natural abilities.Weaknesses:Well, starting the season on -4 points is going to be a huge challenge to overcome. The whole salary cap issues surrounding the Warriors recently will have an enormous affect the player?s morale and the team?s cohesion in training.The inability of these players to remain consistent is quite ridiculous. With the talent at the Warriors, they should have the ability to compete at the highest level; however inconsistency and the inability to close a game when they grab a lead will need to be rectified for the Warriors to improve on last season.The Warriors also are going through a transition period. They lost their inspiration and halfback in Stacey Jones, without buying an adequate replacement. Nathan Fien can only take them so far, and it?s not to a premiership.The Warriors may have a lot of young talent at their disposal but they have a distinct lack of depth with regards to players with NRL experience. This could provide a distinct weakness for them and their progression in the competition this season.The Warriors backline is not one to be feared. The lack of form at club level for Clinton Toopi and the injury-prone Tony Martin do not pose much of a threat to any opposition backline defences. However the departure of Francis Meli and the arrival of exciting talent Manu Vatuvai into the winger?s position will be of great benefit to the Warriors chances.One to Watch:Junior Kiwi and New Zealand Residents representative Sonny Fai is the young player to watch for the Warriors in 2006. Rated by Warriors coach Ivan Cleary as their top junior prospect, the super talented Fai is looking to make his debut in first grade in 2006. He has been touted by many as the Warriors Sonny Bill Williams, something that could be very exciting for NRL to see.Remarkably Sonny Fai is still at the tender age of 17, but stands at 192cm tall and is 105kg. Many would think with his size he?d be slow, but while this young man possesses a massive frame, he is also very quick, with the ability to play centre, which he did on a number of occasions in Bartercard Cup last season. Fai is extremely versatile, being able to play the game-breaking centre, or the powerful ball-playing backrower. This is what sets him apart from other juniors in the Warriors? organisation.Fai?s greatest attributes are his size and skill, but along with that he is very quick and has an incredible football brain. On a number of occasions in Bartercard Cup playing centre, he was able to sniff out game breaking opportunities, such as a crucial intercept, when to press in the defence or which line to run. He looks like he will have a massive future in the NRL and it will be a privilege to watch his progressionGains and Losses:Gains: Michael Luck, Grant Rovelli, George Gatis.Losses: Stacey Jones, Monty Betham, Tevita Latu, Frances Meli, Karl Temata, Iafeta PaleaasinaAssessment:I don?t believe the Warriors have what it takes to make the top 8 this year. Starting on -4 points for this season is a big hurdle to overcome in the early stages of the competition.I also believe their recruitment was lacklustre for the calibre of players that left the club the loss of a New Zealand great will really affect their style of play this year. Stacey was a superb player for New Zealand and was responsible for big wins in big game situations. Something I feel that the Warriors lack this season. My prediction is for the Warriors to finish between 13-15th this season and to recruit heavily for 07?.
LIKELY squad: Luke Patten, Hazem El Masri, Reni Matuia, Willie Tonga, Matt Utai, Daniel Holdsworth, Brent Sherwin, Mark O?Meley, Adam Perry, Roy Asotasi, Andrew Ryan, Willie Mason, Tony GrimaldiInterchange: Chris Armit, Nate Myles, Sonny Bill Williams, Billy NgawiniStrengths:The team still has a solid nucleus. They have a strong backline capable of making big line breaks and scoring tries. I?ve placed Reni Matuia at centres because I believe he has a big future there if he maintains it.The Bulldogs have one of the best forward packs in the competition. They have great mobile forwards capable of ripping a game apart in a heartbeat. This will be where the Bulldogs will have to win their games. If their forwards don?t dominant, the Dogs will struggle.Any team that contains Sonny Bill Williams has to note him as strength. Coming off the bench Sonny will be looking to hopefully play the full season for once. If he does that, then the opposition had better watch out because Sonny has the capability of putting any team to sleep within a short period of time.Malcom Noad?s appointment as CEO of the club was a bit of a hurried process. However, he has handled the job with distinction and he is attempting to create a better culture in his club.Weaknesses:The Bulldogs currently have out of form halves. While at his best he is a brilliant halfback, Brent ?Shifty? Sherwin just didn?t cut the mustard in 2005. His play was lacklustre, his kicking was woeful and he just didn?t dominate oppositions like he used to. He needs to pick up his game dramatically for the Dogs to have a chance. If he can recapture his form of the past, the Dogs really have a chance of getting in the 8. If he doesn?t, then the Dogs will be looking at a mid table finish at best.Sonny Bill Williams is also a weakness to the Bulldogs. While he is one of the most brilliantly gifted individuals in the game, his body is prone to injuries with his style of play. Unfortunately this same style has forced him to another delay to get onto the field with a new injury surfacing. Sonny needs to change his style a little bit this season if he is any chance to lead the Bulldogs, because without him in the team, the Bulldogs seem a different team. The kid just needs a massive change of luck.Braith Anasta?s departure could possibly affect the mental state of the players this season. At crucial times in matches Braith used to take control, and they will really miss that. I believe Daniel Holdsworth is a great player and he is quality, but I don?t believe he will be as vital to the Dogs as Anasta was.One to Watch:Billy Ngawini was signed by the Bulldogs from North Sydney for this season. He was a relative unknown until a star performance in the New Zealand A game in Sydney late last year against a Australian Invitational side containing the likes of Trent Barrett and Scott Prince. Ngawini is expected to feature heavily this season as word spreads of his brilliant speed, strength and ability to put players through a gap. The talented Ngawini was once a product of the Waikato Chiefs in the Super 12, but after a conversation with Gary Freeman, switched codes and now that he has signed with the Dogs he is looking to make his mark on the NRL. He will be vital to the Bulldogs who have really lacked a good hooker at the club for a long time. Ngawini could replace Corey Hughes on the bench and be an impact player for the 2006 season.Gains and Losses:Gains: Daniel Holdsworth, Namila Davui, Jon Green, Chris Tuatara, Nick Kouparitsas, Billy Ngawini, Ben Roberts, Jamie Small.Losses: Braith Anasta, Charlie Tonga, Trevor Thurling, Jamaal Lolesi, Filinga Filiga, Jamie FrizzoAssessment:I believe the Bulldogs have a great team with some of the best forwards going around in the game at the moment, but I don?t believe they have the creative halves to win a competition. I believe on the back of their forwards they have the great ability to win matches, but when it comes down to the business end of the season, it?s your halves that win matches and the Bulldogs just don?t have that attribute yet. I believe the Dogs will finish between 7th and 11th, remaining competitive the whole season. However, they might not have the adequate skill level to win the crucial games that matter the most.
LIKELY squad: Todd Polglase, Luke MacDougall, Buddy Gordon, Adam MacDougall, Shannon Hegarty, John Sutton, Ben Walker, Peter Cusack, Stuart Webb, Scott Geedes, Joe Galuvao, Luke Stuart, Ben RogersInterchange: Jaimain Lowe, David Fa?alogo, Manese Manukafua, Beau ChampionStrengths:The greatest strength for the Rabbitohs this season is depth. While it may not be ?quality? depth, they do have depth in numbers with players who have the ability to make the grade. Guys like Nathan Merritt, Todd Polglase, Paul Mellor, Ben Walker and Trent Young have all proven they are up to the task in first grade. This will prove a great advantage for the Rabbitohs push for a season revival.John Sutton is one of the best young talents in the game at the moment and a lot of South?s success will be put on this young man?s shoulders. Will he be able to withstand the pressure and lead his team to victory? Only time will tell.South Sydney?s junior development is really shining through now. Young players like Champion, Gordon, Sutton, Fa?alogo and Manukafua are all starting to come on in leaps and bounds and it should be exciting to see the new breed flow into first grade like promising players Ricardo Young, Troy Boston and Shannon McPherson.South?s bench is one of the most underrated in the competition. It contains a lot of impact and with Joe Galuvao mentoring the likes of Fa?alogo and Manukafua, it will only bode well for the South Sydney confidence. This bench will make or break the Rabbitohs? season. They have the starting 13 to mix it up with any team in the competition, but their bench needs to stand up and be counted.Weaknesses:The turmoil surrounding the acquisition of the South Sydney club has to be affecting the psychology of the players. The players would have to feel like they are concentrating too much on the acquisition and not enough on football.The Bunnies still lack one really great prop to complete their team along with a great centre. While Jaimain Lowe has potential and Adam MacDougall is a stalwart, they are not massive game breakers. The Bunnies have Michael Greenfield in reserve grade who in time will be that game breaker or Ricardo Young, but this is an issue they?ll have to address to be premiership contenders. Ben Walker is at halfback in this team because of the way he finished off last season and he has earned the right to retain his spot. While there has been speculation Joe Williams will get first crack due to his much improved attitude at training, Ben Walker does deserve the first chance to lead this team. Unfortunately, Joe Williams has an Owen Craigie style history in that he is a great talent but we rarely see it on the field. If he can get his act together, he can be the great playmaker the Bunnies need to win matches. If he doesn?t, then that?s something the Bunnies will struggle with, because Ben Walker isn?t a premiership winning halfback. One to Watch:South Sydney flyer Troy Boston is my player to watch from the Bunnies. The 19 year old, 180cm and 87kg winger was regarded as one of the most talented and naturally gifted players in the junior ranks for some time until injury hindered his progression to the top grade. Prior to last season he was tipped to be the first of the young brigade to make the progression to First Grade. Unfortunately, two season-ending injuries in a row has made him one of the last should he make his debut this season.Troy is held in high esteem within the rugby league community as one of the better young wingers in the ranks and definitely South Sydney rate him very highly. He is finally tipped to make his debut this year despite South?s buying depth in bulk. He will more than likely start the year in Premier League and will be made to earn his stripes by South?s coach Shaun McRae. There is no doubt that Troy will be a star of the future and a representative player once he gets a cemented place in the South Sydney line up. He is certainly a bright spark in what is a promising future for both himself and the club in general. Gains and Losses:Gains: Joe Galuvao, Jaiman Lowe, Stuart Webb, Nathan Merritt, Ben Rogers, Paul Mellor, Balin Cupples, Jack Rampling. Losses: Ashley Harrison, Scott Logan, Bryan Fletcher, Glen Hall, Garth Wood, Lee Hookey.Assessment:I am going to go out on a limb here that could get cut off at any second. I believe the Bunnies will push the 8 and may get even deeper than that. I seriously think that the Bunnies have a solid foundation in place this season, something they have lacked for a long time. They have a solid backline with a couple of solid game breakers. Good solid halves with a decent forward pack to get on top of a match with. Also if they reach their potential, they?ll have a bench with amazing impact. I believe the Bunnies can finish between 6th ? 11th this season?.no better and no worse than that.
LIKELY squad: Clinton Schifcofske, Marshall Chalk, Craig Frawley, Jermaine Ale, Phil Graham, Jason Smith, Todd Carney, Michael Weyman, Simon Woolford, Troy Thompson, Alan Tongue, Josh Miller, Jason Croker, Interchange: Dane Tilse, Tom Learoyd-Lars, Andrew Lomu, Lincoln WithersStrengths:Despite Canberra not having the best team in the competition on paper they still have quality players in key positions. Schifcofske, Smith, Woolford and rising star Todd Carney all provide a solid nucleus for the Raiders to work with and if they can work with the speed in the backline it could push the Raiders.They have a young forward pack. Michael Weyman is one of the better junior props going around and while being injury-plagued, has the talent to do anything. Dane Tilse has taken Canberra?s lifeline and the once Australian Schoolboy will be looking to put his name in the press for positive reasons. New recruit Learoyd-Lars comes to the club with huge raps and hopefully will realise his unlimited potential.Canberra possesses a speedy backline which could turn it on against any backline in the competition. Former Roosters junior Jermaine Ale debuted this year for the Green Machine however was dropped soon after. Hopefully this season he gets his chance. Chalk and Graham on the wings top off the backline as both are genuine speedsters. Weaknesses:Relying on Jason Smith. He is as vital to Canberra as Johns is to Newcastle. Without him Canberra can go nowhere. Todd Carney is potentially a great organiser, but so far in his short career he has not shown these skills. If Smith was to suffer an injury, it would put immense pressure on the young man.The Raiders? defence in the backline is looking shaky. Craig Frawley and Jermaine Ale aren?t noted defenders while Chalk and Graham aren?t big on tackling either. Luckily they have one of the better defensive fullbacks in the game. However, he?s probably going to have to work overtime this season. Matthew Elliot?s coaching strategy is also a weakness. His inability to pick the correct players and promote younger players with promise really hinders the club?s development. It took only till the end of last season for Carney to have a permanent place in the team. He was ready in 2004, but Elliot?s refusal to play him put Carney back 2 years in his progression. Hopefully he doesn?t do the same with promising youngsters Willie Raston, Alan Rothery and also William Zillman.The Raiders also have a lack of depth in their playing ranks. A lot of that is due to players not getting the opportunity to play first grade and being stuck in premier league. The Raiders, however, were forced to blood a lot of players in 2005 and only a handful seemed up to the task. One to Watch:Queensland under 19?s representative William Zillman is one to watch out for in the Raiders? ranks this season. The 20-year-old starred in Premier League in 2005 both through scoring tries and goal kicking at a high percentage. His efforts were rewarded with a Queensland birth, where the super talented five-eighth was up against team-mate Todd Carney, selected for NSW. Zillman was a shining light in the match. His pairing with Rugby Union convert Berrick Barnes was the great feature of the game. Something that will go a long way for Zillman?s progression in first grade is his versatility. Whether he is playing halfback, five-eighth, centre or fullback, he has the ability to star and the switch will not hinder his impact on the game. While Zillman may have to wait in line for injuries to occur to the Raiders? ranks, when he gets his opportunity he will succeed and prove to us all what a quality player he is. Gains and Losses:Gains: Tom Learoyd-Lars, Trevor Thurling, Dane Tilse.Losses: Matt Adamson, Ian Hindmarsh, Michael Robertson, Ben Cross, Ryan O'Hara, Michael Howell, Damon Alley-Tovio.Assessment:I don?t believe the Raiders have what it takes to challenge for the title this season. I believe, however, if Jason Smith remains fit and healthy, then they may be able to sneak into the 8. However, one injury to Jason Smith and it will be spoon territory for the Green Machine. Their young forwards need to step up and set a platform and their young backs need to remain fit and use their agility and speed if they are to have any success in 2006.My tip ? Between 8th-15th ? I think 13th
LIKELY squad: Milton Thaiday, Brian Carney, Kurt Gidley, Matt Gidley, Brad Tighe, Jarrod Mullen, Andrew Johns, Craig Smith, Danny Buderus, Josh Perry, Steve Simpson, Clint Newton, Daniel Abraham.Interchange: Luke Davico, Adam Woolnough, Reegan Tanner, Kirk Reynoldson.Strengths:Andrew Johns. I don?t believe any more explanation is required after mentioning the name of one of this era?s greatest players. If Johns remains fit, and that is a big IF for Andrew, then there is no telling what the Knights are capable of.I believe if Michael Hagan went with the starting line up above he?d have great success. Jarrod Mullen is one of the best prospects to come through Newcastle and he needs to play an entire season under Johns to make him reach that extra level. He is a talented young man with a huge future and the move to centres for Kurt Gidley will do him and Newcastle the most amount of good.The Knights last season went through a tough time, but in doing so blooded a lot of young players. Hence one of their strengths this season will be their depth, with players like Dustin Cooper and David Seage not getting a run.The Knights have a solid 1,6,7,9 combination. They have two of the worlds best at 7 and 9, and two young exciting players at 1 and 6 who showed their potential last season. With these players on the field at the conclusion of last season, it was showed that they can compete at the top level and they will be needed so much this season.The recruitment of Brian Carney, rated by good judges to be the best winger in the world, is a critical one for the Knights. While injury prone, he has the ability to finish off a try from anywhere on the field and his ability will be shown once he has Andrew Johns feeding him the ball. Weaknesses:The Knights don?t have a great coach in the engine room. While Michael Hagan may have been a QLD coach, I don?t believe he is the best tactician in the NRL and his gameplans are rather easy to figure out. His lack of creativity does not bode well for Newcastle this season and may cost them a premiership.The Knights? injury problems are a concern. Hopefully with the recruitment of medical staff, in 2006 we may finally see an injury free Knights. The key players of Johns, Carney, Buderus and Simpson cannot be injured for great portions of the season, otherwise the Knights will struggle. One to Watch:When you ask Newcastle supporters who they feel one of the best prospects is, there is one name that keeps cropping up. That is 19 year old Kade Snowden. A rangy backrower weighing in at 106kg, he is a second rower the Knights supporters feel can finally fill the gap left by Ben Kennedy?s departure. All through the grades Snowden has been impressive, only a couple of years ago winning Newcastle the SG Ball competition and touring with Australian Schoolboys. He is highly respected in the Newcastle camp and widely regarded as a second rower with a lot of ability and potential to lead the Knights into the future. His best attributes are his never-say-die attitude, his ball skills and his strong defence, including a shoulder charge that would make Sonny Bill Williams proud. While he got a taste of First Grade last season when the Knights injury crisis was at its worse, he?ll be looking for another opportunity this season to show what he?s got. Gains and Losses:Gains: Brian Carney, Luke Davico, Luke Hession, Chris BaileyLosses: Mark Hughes, Dane Tilse, Craig Hall, Andrew Price, Blake MuellerAssessment:I tried hard to find weaknesses in the line up of Newcastle. People can doubt the players? ages, their skill level, etc, but when I look at Newcastle?s team I see balance. I see a well-balanced forward pack capable of matching it with anyone in the NRL. I see a well-balanced backline, one that may not be the most creative, but can finish off a try. I see a well-balanced halves combination with the mix of greatness and potential and I see a well- balanced bench. However, while I see balance, I don?t see the ability to win the competition. I believe the Knights will make the 8 and I believe they will be well inside it. However, should the Knights suffer an injury to Andrew Johns, balance becomes no commodity any team wants. Every team needs a strike man. Unfortunately for Newcastle, they only have one that has the ability to win them a premiership. My prediction is Johns to play two-thirds of the season and guide Newcastle to between fifth and ninth.
THE date ? 5th October, 2003, the time 8:47pm. Time and history stood still. The rugby league world was stunned that such a feat could occur. This feat was the massive underdogs Penrith, defeating the reigning premiers, the Sydney Roosters.