It’s finally here, and after an off season full of morning news tsk tsk scandal, men behaving badly, players using different kinds of white lines than the ones on the field and the NRL announcing whatever rules changes that will last for the first three weeks, it’s good to actually have some football to talk about.
Not that the Auckland Nines and Indigenous All-Stars games weren’t tremendous, but it’s only a warm up for the good stuff that is about to start tonight.
The club most looking forward to the start of the season will be the Gold Coast Titans, who will endeavour to turn attention to their on field performances, instead of the off field dramas. The Sharks will also be keen to start a season away from the cloud of the ASADA mess and prove that the injections they took were less effective than the ASADA investigation itself with a strong 2015. Ben Barba, unwanted by the Broncos to allow the contractual Darius Boyd-Wayne Bennett alliance will be the litmus paper to their fightback.
Speaking of Boyd-Bennett-Broncos, it will be the biggest season in a while for Suncorp Stadium stalwarts. Free from Anthony Griffin, Ben Barba and Martin Kennedy, the excuses will be running low this year if the performances and ladder position doesn’t improve from recent seasons. Broncos also need to cement their fans with a looming second SEQ team on the horizon.
The perennial under achievers Cowboys and dangerous floaters NZ will promise much again, and for the sake of rugby league, we hope they go deep into the finals series.
Interesting will be to see how regular finalists Manly and Melbourne go this season, despite great players there could be a changing of the guard this year with the younger sides being a little more mature this season.
Down the bottom it looks a likely battle between Canberra, Gold Coast, St George and Wests Tigers for the spoon. Three of these four have a coach with less than a season under their belt at the club, so the usual path of sacking the boss for bad form may not be first choice this year. Which leaves Ricky Stuart and his special style believing everyone’s against him to be the favourite for first coach sacked.
So, who will win? Are there any surprises for the top eight like Penrith from last year? Who will disappoint? Who should we keep an eye on? All the questions and not a question more will be answered below, conveniently arranged in our prediction order for you to ignore our tips.
Of course there will be better and more professional previews elsewhere on the league, but you landed here which means your expectations are already low. We hope not to disappoint too much.
Prediction: 1st. Premiers.
PLAYER TO WATCH – GREG INGLIS
Brilliant as times last year, but not his greatest vintage, the addition of the captaincy will hopefully inspire him to more brilliant Inglis goodness this year.
Hard to argue against the preparation. Win the Auckland Nines. Win the World Club Challenge as easy as you like. OK, two trial draws aren’t wins, but also not losses.
With the noose of a premiership drought now off their necks, Souths may open up a little more this year and reward their fans for such loyalty with back to back titles in the NRL for the first time since Brisbane.
Off field incidents and the loss of Sam Burgess don’t look to have slowed the Rabbitohs juggernaut.
PLAYER TO WATCH – MORRIS BROTHERS
Reunited in blue and white this year, the Morris boys will provide some attacking sparkle to go with the monster pack.
Surprise grand finalists showed their and their coaches finals pedigree by making it to the big day, just falling short with the emotion of Souths big day out.
The side will be one more year wiser, and that may be all they need to make the top 4 and give the premiership a real go this year.
Prediction: 3rd. Grand Finalists.
PLAYER TO WATCH – JASON TAUMALOLO
Already talk of being poached after sparkling form last year, the human cannonball will hopefully deliver more of the same this year. The form at the Auckland Nines shows that is possible.
Hopefully the Cowboys will have learnt from the previous three seasons. 50-50 calls usually go the home teams. Finals can come down to 50-50 calls. Therefore the best way of avoiding an exit at the hands of contentious/awful officiating is to have as many home finals as possible. The best way of doing that is finishing in the Top 4. A feat they promise each year and never seem to deliver. The cycle of their winning squad is turning and like Souths need to capitalise before wondering what if for another generation.
Player to watch: GEORGE JENNINGS
Another of the up and coming Penrith young’uns who won the NYC comp in 2013 and which side made Penrith the surprise packet last year.
After defying bookies, neutrals, and experts last year to finish in the Top 4, Penrith will be hoping to build on their tremendous 2014 which fell a game short of the Grand Final. With more time under the belts of the young Panthers they should have enough to replicate last year’s finish.
PLAYER TO WATCH – BLAKE FERGUSON
Another similar risk by the Roosters after Todd Carney, but they will no doubt get the first good year out of him before the inevitable.
With most of the side from last year still in tact, and useful additions, the Roosters should be strong again this year. Interest will be in if their finals dismissal will have any hangover into this year.
PLAYER TO WATCH: MANU VATUVEI
His gives so much and asks for so little. An excitement machine you watch in awe of his big runs and try scoring feats and in horro as a fan if he’s under the high ball.
The enigma that is the New Zealand Warriors will roll on through 2015 with hopefully a better start than usual to ensure they play finals football, as no finals series would be complete without their style of league. The second best team to watch for a neutral after the PNG Hunters in Rugby League, their halfback Shaun Johnson looks in form that will make him the players of the season.
PLAYER TO WATCH: WILL HOPOATE
Replacing the Hayne Plane/Train at fullback will show the full range of skills of Hoppa junior this year.
On the back of plenty of Channel 9 broadcasts the Eels will hopefully go one step further than their mini choke at losing the last two games to miss out on the finals.
No Jarryd Hayne who is off to play in the big time of NFL, the pressure will be on Chris Sandow and Corey Norman to come up with enough of a substitute to propel the Eels into the finals this year.
PLAYER TO WATCH: BEN BARBA
The highlight amongst some excellent recruitment by the Sharks, he will be very keen to prove that he wasn’t the Broncos main problem last year.
After a few seasons under the shadow of the lightning quick ASADA investigation, the Sharks may feel like the Chief from One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and feel free to give the NRL a real go this year.
Ben Barba aside, Michael Ennis and Gerard Beale look like good acquisitions to go with an already strong side that good opinion has as the Penrith Panthers of 2015.
PLAYER TO WATCH: ANTHONY MILFORD
The big signing who has been coming for two years finally gets his chance at the Broncos, and in the famous number 6 jersey. Brisbane’s season will hinge on whether he can provide enough spark alongside their best player from last year – Ben Hunt.
The big news leading into 2015 is the rehiring of Wayne Bennett, instantly increasing expectations of the Brisbane faithful. The recruitment of Milford seems wise, however the jury is out on Adam Blair, and will be interesting to see if the Bennett polish rubs off on some of the more underperforming players of the previous season.
With some of the stars a year older, and a new coach who is a proven winner at the club, the excuses will be thin at the end of the year if they finish lower than fourth, let alone 8th.
PLAYER TO WATCH: BILLY SLATER
It may be a case or “durr” but the Storms hopes for success are pinned on Slater staying Injury, Suspension, and Origin-fatigue free this year. You get consistency from Cronk/Smith as you’d expect, but Slater will be the difference between finals or not.
PLAYER TO WATCH: DALY CHERRY-EVANS/KIERAN FORAN
For off the field reasons as well as on, these two will be key throughout 2015. If they both stay Manly look in good shape in the future, if not, future years and this season may mean Manly’s off field drama has finally caught up with them.
Surely with the stars that have left, the players who are looking to move, the angriest coach in the NRL (some achievement with Ricky Stuart still employed) and the usual stuff in the board room, the off field dramas will probably take a hand throughout 2015. We predict a final-less season for the first time in a while for the Sea Eagles, replicating their local member and Prime Minister’s fortunes for the year.
PLAYER TO WATCH: DANE GAGAI
A part of a tremendous backline when at full strength, he is the marker of which Newcastle can be measured this year.
Newcastle should be happy to start the year without Nathan Tinkler’s involvement this year, and need only to look to their A League cousins to see what a tremendous effect he can have on a club.
Will there be any hangover from the departure of Wayne Bennett or will the back to the future feel about Rick Stone’s reinstatement bring a finals return this season. Kurt Gidley’s injury status looms as the key as per most seasons.
PLAYER TO WATCH: LUKE BROOKS
With a coach like Taylor in your corner it will be interesting to see how the up and coming halfback fares this year. Will he confirm his promise or disappear like a Joe Williams.
After finally removing Mick Potter after what seemed inevitable for most of last year, it doesn’t bode that well that the prospective coaches awere Jason Taylor, Anthony Griffin and Nathan Brown.
Whether Jason Taylor can mould the young team into winners remains a mystery. They’ll be a better chance if he doesn’t make it all about himself this year.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Josh Dugan/Benji Marshall
After redeeming themselves in the latter half of last season, it will be interesting to see if the progress is maintained and one of the two can stay out of trouble.
Probably a little harsh to predict them as low as 14th, but it all depends on our players to watch as well as Gareth Widdop to prove us wrong. Another factor is another of those situations with a player announcing a new club for next year before this year has started. A situation hopefully the NRL can sort out for the future, and just adopt what the AFL does, like most of the decision process at NRL headquarters.
PLAYER TO WATCH: GREG BIRD/DAVE TAYLOR & Co.
With court cases looming and presumption of innocence still in place, it will be the most important thing to keep an eye on for Rugby League in the first few weeks.
As much as they will say the opposite, the financial and recreational off-field dramas will have had an effect on this season, and the size of it remains to be seen. Without the big names caught up in the white lines fever, the Titans look like a bottom four team this year.
PLAYER TO WATCH: MITCH CORNISH
Another young gun who could learn a thing or two from their halfback coach this season.
It’s hard for Canberra to attract players to their club, just as it is hard for the neutral to be that enthused by the Raiders. Usually condemned to the late night or Sunday/Monday timeslots on Fox, the Raiders will be their usual invisible self for the average NRL fan until their usual pity Origin affected TV game.