The Bunnies will head into 2019 keen to take that one step further than their 2018 counterparts.
Can Wayne Bennett inspire them to a Premiership or has the bubble burst at Redfern?
Corey Allan (2021), Cory Denniss (Newcastle Knights, 2020), Kurt Dillon (Cronulla Sharks, 2020), Rhys Kennedy (2019), Liam Knight (Canberra Raiders, 2020), Matt McIlwrick (Wests Tigers, 2019), Bayley Sironen (Wests Tigers, 2019)
Jesse Arthars (Gold Coast Titans), Jason Clark (Warrington Wolves), Angus Crichton (Sydney Roosters), Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers), Tyrell Fuimaono (Penrith Panthers), Hymel Hunt (Newcastle Knights), Zane Musgrove (Wests Tigers)
The Bunnies had an incredible 2018 season falling one game short of a Grand Final appearance. The loss to bitter rivals the Roosters aside, Bunnies fans can be very happy with their side’s efforts last year.
Damien Cook was the break out star of the competition. He went from fringe reserve grader to the game’s number one number nine under the watch of Anthony Seibold.
Ultimately the rookie coach made his way north to Brisbane but in Wayne Bennett, the Bunnies have signed a fairly handy replacement.
John Sutton turned back the clock, as did Greg Inglis. Star signing Dane Gagai made a good start to his Bunnies tenure. Robert Jennings scored a mountain of tries out of nowhere.
The Burgess Brothers looked much like their premiership-winning selves while Cam Murray emerged in a big way.
Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds have become of the game’s elite halves partnerships. Under Bennett, they should be perfectly placed to lead their side in 2019.
Best Recruit: Corey Allan
The 20-year-old is at long odds to feature in round one but the addition of Corey Allan looks a clever move with tremendous upside.
The former Broncos NYC star represented the Junior Kangaroos in 2017 and has played for the Queensland under 18s and under 20s sides. Fair to say the potential is there.
A fullback/outside back, Allen will add depth, and from all accounts speed to the Bunnies back line. With a cloud over the future of likely first choice fullback Alex Johnson, who knows what may happen.
Allen was picked for the emerging Maroons squad in 2018 which again confirms the potential better judges than myself see in him. One to watch if injuries hit early on.
Star Player: Damien Cook
Few players had a 2018 like the Bunnies and now New South Wales and Kangaroos number nine. To say he had a breakout season would be a huge understatement.
Cook started the season on fire, and although he played all three Origin games, didn’t really slow down for the rest of the season.
He was in New South Wales best two (with Tedesco) across the three games, and was the Bunnies best all season. He won the Dally M hooker of the year. For anyone other than Cam Smith to win that award is massive.
With lightning speed and a brilliant tackling technique, Cook stars in both attack and defence. He’s become the game’s most electric number nine and shapes as the Bunnies number one weapon for 2019.
Young Gun/One To Watch: Cameron Murray
Typically these young gun spots are allocated to fringe reserve graders or young kids likely to burst onto the scene. Murray obviously does not fit that mould.
That said, I expect 21-year-old Murray to be the break out star of 2019 both for the Bunnies and the competition as a whole.
He will move either into the second row to directly replace the departed Angus Crichton or will shift to lock with Burgess moving into the second row.
Having played the majority of his 24 career games from the bench, Murray will become a regular first-grader in 2019. He is a monster in both attack and defence and should improve yet again with another full off-season under his belt.
Recruitment Grade: C
Truth be told the Bunnies didn’t need to recruit too many players given the strength of their 2018 squad. They’ve managed to maintain the majority of the side that took them to the qualifying final but has failed to replace Angus Crichton.
Kurt Dillon is probably the only player who will come into contention for round one but they’ve added some depth with Knight, Sironen, McIlwrick, Allan and Denniss.
Previously I said they’ve not replaced Chrichton. In terms of recruitment, that is true but Cam Murray will move from the bench straight into the run on side.
Dillon may join the bench in Murray’s place, however, will obviously be used in a very different role.
A few of these recruits will see some game time in 2019 but it won’t be in a game-breaking capacity.
The Bunnies have a side capable of going one step further in 2019 than they did in 2018. They have undoubted quality all across the park and Bennett’s arrival sees them armed with a premiership-winning coach.
They’ve got one of the top few halves combinations, an all-star forward pack, Origin quality centres and the best number nine in the game.
The only big change from 2018 is Crichton out for Cam Murray, which does weaken the bench slightly, but with the addition of Bennett, I think the Bunnies are a better side in 2019.
Alex Johnson will start the season under pressure with Greg Inglis openly offered the number one jumper by Bennett if he wants it.
This is a side with no obvious weakness. Their bench perhaps lacks the punch of the likes of the Roosters or Sharks, but elsewhere they’re absolutely elite.
Anything less than a top-four finish in 2019 could only be soon as a big disappointment. There is a genuine title challenge coming out of Redfern this year.