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.