Thuga?s Thoughts on 2006

After the unpredictability of the 2005 National Rugby League season the question remains, can 2006 be even better then the previous year? Here?s my preview to how each team shapes up for the new season, which includes their strengths, weaknesses and my final verdict on the team.

Brisbane Broncos

Likely Team

1. Karmichael Hunt
2. Brent Tate
3. Justin Hodges
4. Shaun Berrigan
5. Leon Bott
6. Darren Lockyer (c)
7. Brett Seymour
8. Shane Webcke
9. Barry Berrigan
10. Petro Civoniceva
11. Brad Thorn
12. David Stagg
13. Tonie Carroll

14. Sam Thaiday
15. Corey Parker
16. Neville Costigan
17. Michael Ennis

Obviously Darren Lockyer is still their main attacking weapon. Had a form slump towards the end of last season but will be back better then ever in 2006. They still have strong power in their pack with Shane Webcke, Petro Civoniceva, Corey Parker, Brad Thorn and Tonie Carroll.
Two of their big problems over the past year or two have been their hooker position, and their goal kicking. With Michael Ennis into the squad he makes those problems into a strength with his sharp dummy-half skills and his pinpoint goal kicking. The forwards on the bench are solid as well, with Thaiday, Parker and Costigan all capable of doing the job. Attacking flare on the wings and a strong centre combination has the Broncos in good stead for 2006.

Again Darren Lockyer is the key here. Lockyer must stay fit and fresh from burnout, as Brisbane still heavily rely on him and rightfully so. Brett Seymour still hasn?t been as consistent as you would like a halfback to be and must realise his potential. The Broncos suffer more than anyone from representative football, and can continue to put major dents into their end of season form.

Gains: Michael Ennis, Ben Hannant
Losses: Tom Learoyd-Lars, Darren Mapp, Stuart Kelly, Berrick Barnes.

Definitely a top 8 team and I like the inclusion of Michael Ennis to the team. If they can survive the burnout stage then they will be big premiership contenders. Consistency over 26 rounds is what they need and is what they will strive for.

4th Position

Canterbury Bulldogs

Likely Team

1. Luke Patten
2. Hazem El Masri
3. Reni Maitua
4. Willie Tonga
5. Matt Utai
6. Daniel Holdsworth
7. Brent Sherwin
8. Mark O'Meley
9. Adam Perry
10. Roy Asotasi
11. Willie Mason
12. Andrew Ryan (c)
13. Tony Grimaldi

14. Nate Myles
15. Corey Hughes
16. Chris Armit
17. Sonny Bill Williams

One of the strongest forward packs going around today. O?Meley, Asotasi, Mason, Ryan and Sonny Bill Williams are all international forwards, then throw in the veteran Grimaldi, the young blood in Nate Myles and that?s one hell of a forward pack. Great strike power out wide with El Masri, Utai and the forgotten man in Willie Tonga and to add to all that they have the best goal kicker in the game.

The loss of Braith Anasta to the Sydney Roosters is a big loss, and will have to give the number 6 jersey to the inexperienced Daniel Holdsworth. He is well capable of doing a great job, the question is can he and Sherwin form the combination that Anasta and Sherwin did in the 2002-2004 stage. Injuries hit them hard last season, and they?ll need their fair share of good luck this year to stay in touch with the top teams in the competition.

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 Frizzo.

If injuries are good to them this year they could go a long way in this competition. A lot depends on the halves and how fit the forward pack can stay. They posses one of the best centers in the game in Willie Tonga, and the best goal kicker in the game. Will be a force in season 2006.

7th Position

Canberra Raiders

Likely Team

1. Clinton Schifcofske (c)
2. Marshall Chalk
3. Phil Graham
4. Adam Mogg
5. Craig Frawley
6. Jason Smith
7. Todd Carney
8. Josh Miller
9. Simon Woolford
10. Michael Weyman
11. Dane Tilse
12. Tom Learoyd-Lahrs
13. Jason Croker

14. Alan Tongue
15. Andrew Lomu
16. Troy Thompson
17. Lincoln Withers

Clinton Schifcofske is one of the most dependable fullbacks in the game, and is a solid goal kicker to boot. The veteran five-eighth Jason Smith proved last year that he can still match it with the best in the NRL and his organisational skills last year guided the Raiders to many victories. A young forward pack that has potential, and could lay a good platform for the likes of Withers, Woolford, Smith and Schifcofske to take advantage of. Josh Miller impressed last year, and Michael Weyman when fit has the potential to be anything. While it wasn?t a strong point of their game last year, teams still fear to head down to play in the nations capital. The Raiders always seem to lift a gear or two at home and will have to bring back that ?graveyard? philosophy when playing at home.

Lost a fair share of experience with the likes of Matt Adamson, Ian Hindmarsh and Ryan O?Hara, and don?t appear to have the ?x-factor? in their team. Don?t have that consistency you need to be a top team in the competition and have an inexperience forward pack. Their halfback Todd Carney is getting better with every match he plays but hasn?t shown us his true potential as a halfback.

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.

Are going through a rebuilding phase and will fight for one of those lower positions in the top 8. I like the buys of Learoyd-Lahs and Dane Tilse, they will add that young fire power into the team. Will go well at the start of the season then will tumble down the ladder.

11th Position

Cronulla Sharks

Likely Team

1. David Simmons
2. Darren Albert
3. Nigel Vagana
4. Beau Scott
5. Luke Covell
6. Adam Dykes
7. Brett Kimmorley (c)
8. Ben Ross
9. Kevin Kingston
10. Hutch Maiava
11. Matt Hilder
12. Lance Thompson
13. Paul Gallen

14. Reece Williams
15. Greg Bird
16. Phil Bailey
17. Phillip Leuluai

The number 7 and captain is still the strongest part of the team, and will again need to have a big year. Kimmorley can worry any team on the back of some quick play the balls and along with Adam Dykes formed a strong combination at the start of last season. The Albert ? Vagana combination has the ingredients to become one of the deadliest in the game. Ben Ross adds that star power in the front row, and they have a workaholic back-row with the new inclusion of Lance Thompson.

The loss of Danny Nutley, Jason Stevens and David Peachey are a big blow to the team. A lot of experience lost with their departure, particularly in the front row. Nigel Vagana seems to be getting starved of attacking opportunities, and needs more ball for the attack to be more dangerous. Sometimes have the habit of conceding too many penalties in a match, which in today?s game needs to be sorted out.

Gains: Ben Ross, Ben Pomeroy, Lance Thompson, Darren Mapp, Darren Albert, Tevita Latu, Brett Kearney.

Losses: Jason Stevens, David Peachey, Danny Nutley, Michael Sullivan, Nathan Merritt, Paul Mellor, Keith Galloway, Bryson Goodwin, Jon green, Russell Aitken, Ryan McGoldrick, Vince Mellars.

With the tragedy of Steve Rogers passing away, the Sharks have a big motive to win their first premiership this year. They definitely have the line up, but the question remains can they be consistent enough to make it to the finals. Could be a dark horse come the back end of the season.

10th Position

Manly Sea Eagles

Likely Team

1. Brett Stewart
2. Michael Robertson
3. Steven Bell
4. Ashley Alberts
5. Chris Hicks
6. Michael Witt
7. Matt Orford
8. Jason King
9. Michael Monaghan
10. Brent Kite
11. Steve Menzies
12. Anthony Watmough
13. Ben Kennedy

14. Luke Williamson
15. Shane Dunley
16. Mark Bryant
17. Kylie Leuluai

The back-row is one of the best going around, with all 3 having represented New South Wales last year. Ben Kennedy was in career best form last year and if he fires again this year Manly will be a thorn in the side of many teams. Picked up some big buys in Matt Orford and Steven Bell and they will add that flare they need in the backline. Michael Monaghan in my view plays better at hooker then he would in the halves, and him being played at hooker would suit the Eagles game more in my view. A great attacking fullback and solid outside backs has the Eagles in good stead for next year.

I don?t see toomuch strike power in their bench to be honest. Luke Williamson and Shane Dunley are both solid players, but nothing spectacular. The halves/hooker combo is yet to be seen, and the Eagles have proven over the years to be a little ill-disciplined and inconsistent. A better defence work ethic is required as well, as that proved to be one of their down points towards the end of season 2005.

Gains: Matt Orford, Steve Bell, Michael Robertson, George Rose.
Losses: Terry Hill, Chad Randall, Scott Donald, Sam Harris, Jye Mullane, Nathan Hollingsworth.

The Sea-Eagles look very strong this year, with that superb back-row and great halfback they could be anything. Brett Stewart is improving with every year he has in the top grade, and could play a Billy Slater type role with Matty Orford. A team that should perform well with the line up they have, question is can they meet their potential?

8th Position

Melbourne Storm

Likely Team

1. Billy Slater
2. Matt Geyer
3. Greg Inglis
4. Matt King
5. Jake Webster
6. Scott Hill
7. Cooper Cronk
8. Ben Cross
9. Cameron Smith
10. Brett White
11. David Kidwell
12. Michael Crocker
13. Dallas Johnson

14. Antonio Kaufusi
15. Garrett Crossman
16. Dennis Scott
17. Ryan Hoffman

They have an exciting backline filled with speed and attacking brilliance. Billy Slater and Matt Geyer have both had represented their states, and Matt King and Jake Webster have done the same for their countries. Young exciting rookie Greg Inglis looks to have found a permanent first grade spot in the centres, and they have the experienced head of Scott Hill in the number 6. They have a very smart dummy half in Cameron Smith and a hard tough back-row.

The Storm has lost a great deal of experience and quality in Matt Orford, Steven Bell, Robbie Kearns and Alex Chan. The loss of Matt Orford is the biggest, with him being their best player for a number of years now. Depth and experience in the forwards is skinnier than in previous years particularly in the front row. There is a lot of pressure on young Cooper Cronk, who has huge boots to fill and needs to guide this team around the paddock.

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.

Have lost a lot of good talent and it?s hard to see them making the finals. A lot will rely on how young Cooper Cronk adapts to the number 7 jersey and how good of a combination he can form with Scott Hill. The front row lacks experience but their back row is extremely strong. I can?t see the Melbourne Storm being a huge threat this year.

13th Position

Newcastle Knights

Likely Team

1. Milton Thaiday
2. Brian Carney
3. Matt Gidley
4. Brad Tighe
5. Anthony Quinn
6. Kurt Gidley
7. Andrew Johns (c)
8. Josh Perry
9. Danny Buderus
10. Craig Smith
11. Steve Simpson
12. Clint Newton
13. Daniel Abraham

14. Kirk Reynoldson
15. Adam Woolnough
16. Luke Davico
17. Dustin Cooper

The worlds best halfback in Johns, the best hooker in Buderus and one of the best wingers in the world in Brian Carney. They have bought experience in the front-row with Luke Davico and retained the services of Craig Smith for this year. An ever improving back row and a solid bench have the Knights engine room looking bright. Brad Tighe proved to Knights fans that he is the future of the backline, and Milton Thaiday showed his attacking brilliance many times last year.

Injuries have played a major part in the Knights seasons of late. The key to the team is Andrew Johns and it seems as if he can?t play a full season without an injury coming along. Danny Buderus suffering from burnout is a concern for the Knights as no player has endured the physical workload he has in the past 3 seasons.

Gains: Brian Carney, Luke Davico, Luke Hession, Chris Bailey.
Losses: Mark Hughes, Dane Tilse, Craig Hall, Andrew Price, Blake Mueller.

It will come down to injuries like it has in the past. If they can keep the nucleus of their players on the field they?ll be a big contender for the title, if they lose big name players like Johns and Buderus throughout the season they will be fighting for a spot in the finals. With the financial troubles behind the Knights, all they have to concentrate on is their football.

5th Position

North Queensland Cowboys

Likely Team

1. Matt Bowen
2. Ty Williams
3. Josh Hannay
4. Paul Bowman
5. Matt Sing
6. Jonathon Thurston
7. Brett Firman
8. Carl Webb
9. Aaron Payne
10. Shane Tronc
11. Luke O?Donnell
12. Steve Southern
13. Travis Norton (c)

14. Mitchell Sargent
15. David Faiumu
16. Justin Smith
17. Ray Cashmere

Everyone in the backline (except Brett Firman) have played for Queensland. The back 3 are phenomenal in scoring tries, and all have a good understanding of each others game. Add to that they have two great defensive centres and a high-quality five-eighth, the Cowboys backline looks very strong. A strong pack upfront with Webb and Tronc leading the way, along with Steve Southern, Travis Norton and Luke O?Donnell who represented Australia last season.
Good rotation in the hooker position with Payne and Faiumu, and a fine bench which included Sargent, Justin Smith and the large Ray Cashmere.

The loss of Paul Rauhihi leaves a dent in their forward pack, and more players are being picked to play rep footy. Graham Murray has been given the coaching job for NSW, which will put a speed bump in the premiership road of the Cowboys. Not many weaknesses along the board at the Cowboys, and they are looking good to go one better this year.

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.

With the team they have they can win this thing. Matty Bowen is my early tip for player of the year, and Jonathon Thurston will only get better the more footy he plays. I like the buy of Ray Cashmere and believe he could become a real weapon off the bench if they use him that way. Their backline is pure class and I like the look of the back row.

1st Position

Parramatta Eels

Likely Team

1. Wade McKinnon
2. Luke Burt
3. Ben Smith
4. Timana Tahu
5. Eric Grothe
6. John Morris
7. Tim Smith
8. Nathan Cayless
9. Mark Riddell
10. Paul Stringer
11. Nathan Hindmarsh
12. Glen Morrison
13. Chad Robinson

14. PJ Marsh
15. Dean Widders
16. Michael Vella
17. Fui Fui Moimoi

Their bench is the best in the competition. They have the dynamic hooker in PJ Marsh, then hard front-rowers in Vella and Moimoi and a blockbusting second-rower out on the flanks in Dead Widders. Great pace and attacking venom out wide with Ben Smith, Timana Tahu, Luke Burt and the much improved Eric Grothe has their backline looking like one of the most deadly in the competition.

Not many physically, but mentally there seems to be that problem. They fell just short again last year and were dominated by the Cowboys. A couple years before they were favorites in the Grand Final against Newcastle, but again just weren?t switched on mentally. This situation has been addressed by the Eels, the question is can they make amends in 2006?

Gains: Nil.

Losses: Brett Anderson (Cowboys), Chris Muckert (Toowoomba).

The Eels will finish in the top eight, they?ve got the class and their forwards at full strength are up there with the best of them. I don?t think the coaching dramas will faze them too much and a top 6 finish should be their minimum expectation. With them being able to field the same team as last year the combinations will already be there, which is a huge plus.

6th Position

Penrith Panthers

Likely Team

1. Rhys Wesser
2. Brett Howland
3. Luke Lewis
4. Mark O'Halloran
5. Luke Rooney
6. Preston Campbell
7. Craig Gower
8. Joel Clinton
9. Luke Priddis
10. Bryan Norrie
11. Trent Waterhouse
12. Tony Puletua (c)
13. Shane Rodney

14. Frank Puletua
15. Matthew Cross
16. Frank Pritchard
17. Danny Galea

The halves are very strong with Preston Campbell and former captain Craig Gower. Great speed on the flanks with Howland and Rooney and an electric fullback in Rhys Wesser. They have one of the best hookers in the game in Luke Priddis and a very solid back row. Ended last season on a high and will be looking to continue that form into the new season.

All of the drama surrounding their playmaker Craig Gower doesn?t help them kick off the new season too well. They have lost some young players that could have been the future of the club in Rogers, Pomeroy and Crossman, and lost the representative players like Ben Ross and Joe Galuvao. Their start to the season reminds me of the Newcastle Knights from the previous year, with off field dramas and them having lost a great deal of talent and we all know how the Knights finished last year.

Gains: Bryan Norrie, Nick Youngquet, Mark O'Halloran, Bob Blair, Matt Bell, Wayne Bond, Liam Georgetown, Chris Newton

Losses: Ben Ross, Joe Galuvao, Ben Rogers, Ben Pomeroy, Garrett Crossman, Shannon Donato, Trent Clayton, Paul Franze.

They lost so many players who had great potential and that could have been the foundation for the club. The off field dramas in the off season always puts that dent in the clubs new season and with them having so many away games early in the draw might rock their confidence around. I?m going to have to tip the Panthers to come last, but bear in mind I tipped them to come last in 2003 and look what happened.

15th Position

South Sydney Rabbitohs

Likely Team

1. Todd Polglase
2. Luke MacDougall
3. Adam MacDougall
4. Yileen Gordon
5. Shannon Hegarty
6. John Sutton
7. Ben Walker
8. Peter Cusack (c)
9. Stuart Webb
10.Scott Geddes
11.Joe Gulavao
12.Luke Stuart
13.Mark Minichiello

14.David Fa'alogo
15.Manase Manoukafoa
16.Jaiman Lowe
17.Beau Champion

A strong and enthusiastic forward pack, mixed with Ben Walker who really steadied the Bunnies ship at the end of last season. They have a wonder kid in John Sutton, who showed last year that he has what it takes to become one of the games best players. They have lethal attacking weapons out wide with the McDougall Brothers, Buddy Gordon and former Queensland winger Shannon Hegarty all capable of scoring tries. They possess a smart coach who is heading the team in the right direction. They have bought well for the new season as well.

The Bunnies lost two of their best players in the off season with Ashley Harrison and Bryan Fletcher packing their bags. They can never seem to find that winning formula enough throughout the season. The Bunnies don?t have that great of depth particularly in the forwards, which has to be a concern to Shaun McRae. South?s simply don?t have the players to cover for injuries in most positions.

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, Brett Kearney, Garth Wood, Lee Hookey.

The Rabbitohs will definitely fight for one of those top 8 spots, but I just can?t see them making it to the finals. A lot depends how their halves combine this year, and if they can keep the same team on for most of the season. Souths have the team to chalk up their best season yet since making their return, it?s just a matter of can they play to their potential. They have a good mix of young talent but with that youth comes inexperience.

12th Position

St George Illawarra Dragons

Likely Team

1. Ben Hornby
2. Colin Best
3. Mark Gasnier
4. Matt Cooper
5. Wes Naiqama
6. Trent Barrett
7. Matt Head
8. Luke Bailey
9. Dean Young
10. Jason Ryles
11. Ben Creagh
12. Ashton Sims
13. Shaun Timmins

14. Justin Poore
15. Michael Henderson
16. Corey Payne
17. Clint Greenshields

Star power mixed with youth is an ingredient for success. Ben Hornby is one of the best fullbacks going around, and Gasnier and Cooper are the Australian centre combination. Trent Barrett has improved his game and they have the two big boppers up front with Jason Ryles and Luke Bailey, who will play his final year for the Dragons. The young blood like Ben Creagh, Ashton Simms, Justin Poore and Michael Henderson are improving with every game they play and they have Matt Head coming back into the team after that knee injury last season.

They seem to struggle with the pressure of finals football. Last season they had an unconvincing win over the Sharks and a loss to the Tigers and the year before they let the Panthers get a huge lead and they weren?t able to recover in time and were eliminated. The Dragons are a top contender every year with the squad they have, they just never seem to perform the way they should in September.

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 Marteene.

They?ve been thereabouts for long enough without going on with it in the finals and it?s time for that to change if you?re a Dragons fan. Breathtaking strike power out wide and rock-hard defence, it is clear that the Dragons time has to come sooner of later. Question is, will that time be in 2006?

2nd Position

Sydney Roosters

Likely Team

1. Anthony Minichiello
2. Amos Roberts
3. Iosia Soliola
4. Ryan Cross
5. Joel Monaghan
6. Braith Anasta
7. Brett Finch
8. David Shillington
9. Craig Wing
10. Adrian Morley
11. Craig Fitzgibbon (c)
12. Chris Flannery
13. Ashley Harrison

14. Charlie Tonga
15. Anthony Tupou
16. Mark Edmondson
17. John Doyle

They have finally found a suitable replacement for Brad Fittler with Braith Anasta heading to Bondi. They boast the meanest defence in the competition, have the best fullback in the competition in Anthony Minichiello and great attacking flare out wide with Ryan Cross and Amos Roberts. They bought hardworking lock forward Ashley Harrison to add to their impressive list of forwards. Fitzgibbion and Morley are world class players and will lay a solid platform for the playmakers.

They have lost some big players with the likes of Ricketson, Crocker and Cayless all moving on. Forward pack doesn?t look as intimidating as it has in the past and will need to re-gain that aggression that they missed last year. The halves are yet to prove themselves as a combination, and Brett Finch must take a stand this year and lead this team around the paddock.

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?oso

Roosters ended last year on a high note and have bought well and would want to continue that end of season form into the new season. They are the benchmark in the NRL in the way they train and go about their football, but it doesn?t look as if they have that forward aggression they once had. Will miss the top 8 by a kitten?s whisker.

9th Position

New Zealand Warriors

Likely Team

1. Brent Webb
2. Manu Vatuvei
3. Tony Martin
4. Clinton Toopi
5. Todd Byrne
6. Sione Faumuina
7. Nathan Fien
8. Ruben Wiki
9. Lance Hohaia
10. Steve Price (c)
11. Wairangi Koopu
12. Awen Guttenbeil
13. Louis Anderson

14. Richard Villasanti
15. Micheal Luck
16. Sonny Fa'i
17. Jerome Ropati

They have a strong and experienced front-row with Ruben Wiki and Steve Price, and a good back-row with the improving Wairangi Koopu and Louis Anderson. Nathan Fien moves to his more preferred position at halfback and Brent Webb and Manu Vatuvei will look to continue their superb Tri-nations form into the new season.

The Warriors really struggle mentally more then anything. When their confidence is down they seem to fall into a heap and the discipline goes out the window. The loss of Stacy Jones and Iafeta Palea?aesina are big blows, with both men performing at a consistent level last year. They are a club that has so much potential, but just never fulfill that potential.

Gains: Michael Luck, Grant Rovelli, George Gatis.

Losses: Stacey Jones, Monty Betham, Tevita Latu, Frances Meli, Karl Temata, Iafeta Paleaasina.

Strong enough to make the 8, but the way we have come to know the Warriors they will slip up short and be towards the bottom. Nathan Fien has a great kicking game and could become a star in the number 7 jersey, and they have two of the best front rowers in the competition. They will end up towards the bottom of the table though, with them not having a strong enough mindset to be consistent.

14th Position

Wests Tigers

Likely Team

1. Brett Hodgson
2. Daniel Fitzhenry
3. Shane Elford
4. Paul Whatuira
5. Jamaal Lolesi
6. Benji Marshall
7. Scott Prince (c)
8. Ryan O'Hara
9. Robbie Farah
10. John Skandalis
11. Ben Galea
12. Sam Harris
13. Dene Halatau

14. Liam Fulton
15. Anthony Laffranchi
16. Bryce Gibbs
17. Todd Payten

Their team is young and they have great enthusiasm and skill around the park. Brett Hodgson and Scott Prince both hit career best form last year and will be looking to back that up with another great year. The whiz kid Benji Marshall, the dynamic hooker Robbie Farah and strong backline have them in good shape for 2006. Have bought well in the off-season with Jamaal Lolesi, Keith Galloway and Ryan O?Hara joining the premiers and will be looking to go back to back in ?06.

A young team defending the premiership can put huge pressure on your players; the Tigers will have to overcome that to be successful this year. It?s never easy when your playmaker is off-contract mid season and the Tigers are looking down that barrel with Scott Prince. Prince will wait to see what the open market can offer him and that can sometimes distract a player from his football which can cause heavy defeats. Not too many weaknesses in their team, with them proving last year that they are scintillating in attack and rock solid in defence.

Gains: Sam Harris, Keith Galloway, Jamaal Lolesi, Ryan O'Hara, Filinga Filiga.

Losses: Pat Richards, John Wilson, Mark O'Neill, Matthew Rieck, Ray Cashmere.

Will be up there again this year, and have the squad to go back to back. Whether they can handle the pressure is yet to be seen, but these young enthusiastic Tigers can do anything they put their minds to. Many of their players will now come into rep calculations, and that may put a big speed bump in their season (ala Penrith in 2004).

3rd Position