2020 NRL Grand Final - Panthers v Storm
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 25: Cameron Smith of the Storm holds aloft the Premiership trophy and celebrates with team mates after winning the 2020 NRL Grand Final match between the Penrith Panthers and the Melbourne Storm at ANZ Stadium on October 25, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Every year we see changes to the top eight, new recruits see some teams rise while retirements and injuries can cause many to plummet down the ladder, but it’s incredibly rare we see the same eight play finals footy two years running.

And while the changes to the eight mightn’t be massive in 2021, the order they fall in will. Who predicted Brisbane to win the spoon? And Penrith to win the Minor Premiership?

We say it every year but this may be the closest year we’ve had to date with a real logjam of teams on the up, and only a handful on the decline. Here’s how the ladder will fall in the 2021 NRL season.

1. Melbourne Storm

Not awfully bold, but losing Cameron Smith and gaining Harry Grant isn’t too shabby. Stacked with young guns like Papenhuyzen, Grant, Brandon Smith and more – the Storm will fly through the regular season like they always do. But they will feel the pinch come finals time without Cam Smith leading them around, and no Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Suliasi Vunivalu doesn’t help either.

2. Penrith Panthers

They say you’ve got to lose one to win one, right? The Panthers will be right up there again this year, but they have become the hunted, on and off the field. The loss of James Tamou and Zane Tetevano will hurt badly, they’ve got Spencer Leniu to come in and fill one spot, but their middle third is weakened. And while the club appears happy to release Josh Mansour to give Charlie Staines a spot, they’ll miss ‘Sauce’s metres out of dummy half.

3. South Sydney Rabbitohs

They missed `the top four last year, but if Adam Reynolds lands THAT 40/20, they would have been in the Grand Final. They’ve only lost Bailey Sironen from their preliminary final side, and regain Campbell Graham, Braidon Burns and Latrell Mitchell, as well as bring in Origin forward Jai Arrow. The most potent attacking side, they’ll be pushing for a title in Wayne’s last year.

4. Canberra Raiders

Managed to blood a lot of young talent in 2020 which will have them primed for a big season. They know they can survive without their most influential player in Josh Hodgson, and have some great competition for spots all through the squad. They are the dark horses for 2021.

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA – OCTOBER 03: George Williams of the Raiders celebrates with team mates after scoring a try during the NRL Elimination Final match between the Canberra Raiders and the Cronulla Sharks at GIO Stadium on October 03, 2020 in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

 

5. Sydney Roosters

It’ll be just the second time the Roosters will miss the top four in what will be Trent Robinson’s ninth year in Bondi, but it’s somewhat of a rebuild for the Chooks. They’re without a recognised top-grade halfback and it’s likely to be the final year for the Morris brothers and Jake Friend at the club, with the likes of Billy Smith, Joseph Suaalii, Sam Verrils and Freddy Lussick at the club. They’ll be competitive, but an inbetween year for the tricolours.

6. Parramatta Eels

For the second time in four years, the Eels have finished top four only to go out in straight sets. They’ve got a great squad but lack consistency in some key areas, and with their outside backs except Gutherson suffering indifferent form in 2020, there’s too much quality ahead of them to finish in the four. Can’t see them reaching the Preliminary Final.

7. Newcastle Knights

Finally broke their finals dry spell in 2020 but are under big pressure this year. While they’ve gained Tyson Frizell, they do have some major drama unfolding, with Mitchell Pearce set to lose the captaincy. The pressure is on and their window may be closing, they’ll beat the teams they’re supposed to but they’ll struggle against the elite sides, expect them to lose some close ones.

8. Gold Coast Titans

The only team to feature in the eight that didn’t make it in 2020, the Titans are on a very sharp incline. AJ Brimson took massive leaps in the last month of the regular season before his Origin debut, as well as the club recruiting David Fifita, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, and Herman Ese’ese. The recruits are top notch but it’s the existing players like Jamal Fogarty, Brian Kelly, Phillip Sami Moe Fotuaika… Even Ash Taylor, they’re the ones that will see the Gold Coast shine. Still a quality hooker away from being contenders. Brandon Smith, anyone?

NRL Rd 20 - Titans v Knights
GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA – SEPTEMBER 25: Jarrod Wallace and AJ Brimson of the Titans celebrate Brimson scoring a tr during the round 20 NRL match between the Gold Coast Titans and the Newcastle Knights at Cbus Super Stadium on September 25, 2020 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

 

9. Manly Sea Eagles

We’ve all got our fingers and toes crossed for injury-free seasons for Tom Trbojevic and Kieran Foran, and if they can both manage 20+ games alongside a fit DCE and Jake Trbojevic, they may very well prove me wrong. But Addin Fonua-Blake is a monumental loss, and Josh Aloiai isn’t at a level yet where he can fill that void on his own. Whispers are that Foran will play hooker, with no recognised nine in the squad after Danny Levi was released. It’ll be a year of close but not close enough for the Sea Eagles.

10. New Zealand Warriors

Many will say ‘well they finished 9th and recruited well, how do they go backwards?’. It’s simply a case of the teams close to them will go another level. Their pack stood tall in 2020 with Tohu Harris a standout and rookie Eli Katoa, and add Addin Fonua-Blake, Ben Murdoch-Masilla and Bailey Sironen. The problem is their spine, RTS will light it up but big question marks over Wayde Egan as an 80 minute hooker, and whether Kodi Nikorima can make the jump. Stability will help.

11. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs

If Matt Burton can get an early release, they could finish as high as 8th. But like the Warriors, their spine may hurt them. They’ve got some wonderful additions in Nick Cotric, Jack Hetherington and Kyle Flanagan, with Burton and Addo-Carr landing in Belmore in 2022. Flanagan gives them a handy goal kicker, and while he came under fire at the Roosters, the half is yet to play 30 NRL games, and was made a scapegoat of the club’s late season flop. He’ll fire early, and with Barrett getting their attack going alongside some aggressive props, there’ll be some signs of the Dogs of War in 2021.

12. St George Illawarra Dragons

Anthony Griffin has been slugged with the tag of a ‘rebuilding coach’ for a while, and whether he likes it or not, that’s what the Red V need. The club has some great youngsters coming through with many blooded late in 2020, but stars not living up to their pay packet have become a real issue. Corey Norman was dropped during the season and Ben Hunt was shunted from his natural position, despite being the highest paid halfback in the NRL. Jack Bird is a welcome inclusion, but who knows where he’ll be played. Another year of ‘oh what could have been’ for the Dragons.

NRL Rd 18 - Dragons v Raiders
WOLLONGONG, AUSTRALIA – SEPTEMBER 12: Cody Ramsey of the Dragons celebrates with team mates after scoring a try during the round 18 NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Canberra Raiders at WIN Stadium on September 12, 2020 in Wollongong, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

 

13. Cronulla Sharks

A massive fall from the finals to the bottom four, but it isn’t looking bright for Cronulla in 2021. Aiden Tolman is their biggest recruit, and their biggest star in Shaun Johnson will be out of action for a while with a busted achilles.  There’s massive pressure on John Morris as Paul Green circles the role, and with the likes of Josh Dugan, Andrew Fifita and Matt Moylan another year older, it’s hard to see the Sharks toppling many sides above them.

14. Brisbane Broncos

I mean, it’s improvement, right? The club has lost Origin players David Fifita, Joe Ofahengaue and Jack Bird as well as their most capped player in Darius Boyd, and only welcomed John Asiata and Dale Copley. Kevin Walters has a massive task rebuilding a club that’s never really needed a rebuild before, and more importantly, bring the pride back into the Brisbane jersey. There’ll be some signs of life, but the roster simply needs more.

15. North Queensland Cowboys

I thought the Cowboys would bounce back so much last year I tipped them for a top four spot – how wrong I was. Michael Morgan just can’t find that 2017 form we’ve been waiting for, Valentine Holmes if anything proved he’s more suited to a wing than fullback, and Jason Taumalolo can only do so much. They’ve starting calibre players in Gavin Cooper and John Asiata and haven’t gained anyone of note, new coach Todd Payten has a big job on his hands if this side is to escape bottom four, let alone finals footy.

16. Wests Tigers

Again, they have fallen into the same trap they do every year. The club is crying for consistency, and while they will get a dose in James Tamou, they have a real problem of recruiting players with massive gaps between their best and worst performances. Take James Roberts and Joey Leilua for example, on their day both can light it up, but there are many rocks to accompany the diamonds. Luke Brooks is coming into his 9th year of first-grade, and is yet to play a finals game. Once they get Moses Mbye and Russell Packer’s mammoth salary off their books they’ll improve, but it’s going to be bleak in Tiger Town in 2021, unless Michael Maguire can work a miracle.

Wests Tigers Training Session
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – MAY 25: Tigers head coach Michael Maguire looks on during a Wests Tigers NRL training session at St. Luke’s Park North on May 25, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

 

FINAL LADDER FOR THE 2021 NRL SEASON

1. Melbourne Storm
2. Penrith Panthers
3. South Sydney Rabbitohs
4. Canberra Raiders
5. Sydney Roosters
6. Parramatta Eels
7. Newcastle Knights
8. Gold Coast Titans
9. Manly Sea Eagles
10. New Zealand Warriors
11. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
12. St George Illawarra Dragons
13. Cronulla Sharks
14. Brisbane Broncos
15. North Queensland Cowboys
16. Wests Tigers

1 COMMENT

  1. Hey Blythy!
    Perhaps Penrith may miss Mansour’s yards out of dummy half .
    If Charlie Staines is a little more muscular, after another pre season & doesn’t suffer any hamstring injuries. What’s his express pace & elusiveness worth on the wing? Nothing better than pace on the wing. Give him the ball in the open & watch him go!

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