Wests Tigers v Sea Eagles preview
3 hours ago | Tim Costello
Predicting where all sixteen NRL clubs will finish before a ball has been kicked serves as a great source of humour in hindsight.
Injuries, off-field dramas and players only the most die-hard of supporters have heard of all play a role in shaping the final standings. Yet for all the times experts and pundits alike have been proven wrong, season predictions provide fans with an annual sense of optimism that ‘this will be our year'.
In ranking where every team will finish at the end of 25 home-and-away rounds, I am basing my selections on purely subjective criteria - many will be incorrect. Feel free to share your own predictions, but please think with your ‘big head' and refute my claims with actual points (not just hurling insults).
Someone has to run last.
In looking at the roster the Sea Eagles are set to draw upon in 2019, with the notable exceptions of Daly Cherry-Evans, Martin Taupau and the Trbojevic brothers, the overall quality of talent is severely lacking. The return of Des Hasler will bring about positive results in the future, but for now it's going to be a long year on the northern beaches
Crystal Ball - Manase Fainu finishes the year as first-choice hooker.
Tough calls have to be made.
More than capable of qualifying for the top eight, the biggest issue facing new Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire will be having the retirement talk with two club legends. The feats produced by Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah will live forever in the club's DNA, but for the joint venture to be successful moving forward, Josh Reynolds and Jacob Liddle have to be given control of the team.
Crystal Ball - Mid-season injury crisis sees ex-Bulldogs Moses Mbye and Josh Reynolds reunite in the halves.
Inconsistency is their specialty.
The decision to release Shaun Johnson may be the correct one down the track, but with no recognised halfback to fill the void left by his departure, the Warriors are going to find things difficult. Surprising many to finish in the top eight after six years of mediocrity, coach Stephen Kearney has a solid team to work with, yet it's hard to imagine 2018 repeating given the club's record of inconsistency at best and complete incompetence at worst.
Crystal Ball - Tries dry up for David Fusitua.
The premiership window has closed.
After losing their coach and best player over the off-season, the Sharks are set to undergo a year of rebuilding. On paper the preliminary finalists appear to be in contention for another tilt at the premiership, but with so many off-field distractions, new coach John Morris will find things harder than first thought.
Crystal Ball - Shaun Johnson spends time at fullback.
No spoon, no finals.
The only way is up after last season's wooden spoon, however the top eight is still a while away for the Eels. Unlikely to repeat the catastrophic start that ended 2018 before it began, the introduction of highly-rated youngster Dylan Brown and veteran speedster Blake Ferguson will ensure the side avoids a consecutive 16th-placed finish. Managing a sole finals appearance over the past five years, Brad Arthur's time at Parramatta looks set to come to a close unless things improve dramatically.
Crystal Ball - Clinton Gutherson signs with another club for 2020.
Far from ‘Purr-fect'.
At their best Penrith are the complete rugby league team - fast, strong, tough. At their worst the same side has zero defensive fortitude. Being able to pull off a number of great escapes may work against lesser sides, but as evidenced by losing in the second week of the play-offs over the past three seasons, the Panthers have to improve their defence to maintain pace with the rest of the competition.
Crystal Ball - Key forward suffers season-ending injury before Easter.
Set to fall short with the game on the line.
The departure of Johnathan Thurston will take some time for the Cowboys to overcome, but of more immediate concern is their aging forward pack. While Jason Taumalolo, Jordan McLean, Coen Hess and marquee recruit Josh McGuire will keep the side in most matches, Matt Scott, Gavin Cooper and Scott Bolton are all on the wrong side of 30 and there appears to be a significant dearth of talent in between.
Crystal Ball - Kyle Feldt becomes only the second North Queensland player to score four tries in a match.
Final third to unravel once again.
Capable of winning the premiership, but coming up short too many times in the past, inconsistency will be the Dragons' undoing. Set to offer a new dimension to their attack with Gareth Widdop at fullback in his final season down under, if the side doesn't come into the finals in winning form, coach Paul McGregor could follow his skipper on the way out as well.
Crystal Ball - Matt Dufty scores 15+ tries on the wing.
Top eight bolters.
Finishing last season on a high note after a disastrous start, coach Dean Pay will be better prepared to deal with the weekly grind of first grade rugby league coaching. Despite the loss of David Klemmer, the Bulldogs look a formidable presence in the front row, while the outside backs are unassuming but potent. A fit-and-firing Kieran Foran will give opponent plenty of cause for concern.
Crystal Ball - Josh Jackson earns a New South Wales recall.
Narrow losses to become wins.
Had Josh Hodgson not missed the first half of 2018 through injury, the Raiders would have made the finals. With the influential English hooker fully fit and two of his fellow countrymen, John Bateman and Ryan Sutton, on board for good measure, the Green Machine will dominate teams with their monstrous forward pack. After a troubled year off the field, Jack Wighton's move to the halves will enable Aidan Sezer to enjoy a career-best campaign.
Crystal Ball - Nick Cotric finishes the year as leading try-scorer with 19.
The shock improvers of 2019.
Making several smart investments over the off-season, coach Garth Brennan has a squad capable of scoring points. Losing four matches last year by two points or less, a greater focus on defence will see the Titans capitalise upon a lot of teams expecting a guaranteed two points. Ashley Taylor is capable of playing representative football this year, but even if his form wanes, Tyrone Roberts and Ryley Jacks will prove to be quiet achievers for the Queensland outfit.
Crystal Ball - A high scoring win sees the Titans post 50 points for the first time in history.
Newcastle - the most dreaded away trip in the NRL.
If Mitchell Pearce stays fit, Newcastle have the talent to win the premiership. Adding David Klemmer and Jesse Ramien to a side already containing the best young player in the game, Kalyn Ponga, the major sticking point for the Knights will be their ability to improve upon last season's second worst defensive record. Set to draw home crowds in excess of 20,000 on a regular basis, opposition teams will know they're in a match against the Knights.
Crystal Ball - Daniel Saifiti evokes Fuifui Moimoi, circa 2009, as the most dominant prop over the final third of the season.
Solid, but beatable.
Cameron Smith may be the last man standing from Melbourne's ‘Big Three', but despite the changing of the guard, the Storm are too good not to be in contention for the premiership. Holding onto all bar two players from the team beaten by the Roosters last September, coach Craig Bellamy will be sure to turn another player on the rugby league scrap pile into treasure.
Crystal Ball - Will Chambers considers an early release after multi-year offer from overseas club.
Top four, yes. Premiers, unknown.
After knocking back an approach to join the Bunnies seven years ago, Wayne Bennett will maintain the platform laid by the man he swapped jobs with. Boasting one of the best spines in the competition - Inglis, Walker, Reynolds and Cook - the Rabbitohs will give themselves every opportunity of improving upon last season's top four finish.
Crystal Ball - Greg Inglis brings forward retirement plans and hang up the boots at season's end.
Young guns to make a mark.
With the coaching drama sorted, expect to see Anthony Seibold do for Brisbane what he did at South Sydney. Blessed with a destructive pack of young forwards eager to rip in, the much-maligned halves partnership of Kodi Nikorima and Anthony Milford will silence their critics in a big way.
Crystal Ball - David Fifita debuts for Queensland in Origin 3.
The team to beat.
When comparing the reigning premiers against the other 15 NRL clubs, it's hard to see where Trent Robinson's side falls short. Losing just three members of the Grand Final winning squad and adding NSW representative Angus Crichton and experienced finisher Brett Morris to an already strong roster, the Roosters look set to become the first team in over two decades to go back-to-back.
Crystal Ball - James Tedesco runs for 400 metres in a single game.