As we get ready to farewell 2020, we begin to look forward on the horizon to next year, and all the ups and downs that are tied to it.
We prepare for some normality in and outside rugby league, and while even Nostradamus couldn’t have predicted what 2020 would deliver, I’ll give 2021 it a crack.
From the winner to last place, the highs and lows and everything between, here’s Blythy’s 50 Fearless Predictions ahead of the 2021 NRL season.
30. Rebuilding Roosters slip from four
You know your club is going well when a rebuilding year sees you finish 5th. They’re without a recognised halfback, and we’ll see the end of Jake Friend and the Morris brothers at the tricolours. The Morris brothers will retire together with over 600 combined NRL games, while Jake Friend will make way and move to the Super League to allow Sam Verrills and Freddy Lussick to be retained.
29. Origin star stuck in reserve grade
He’s an incumbent Maroon who featured in the winning decider for Queensland, but fullback Corey Allan will spend early 2021 stuck in NSW Cup. Latrell Mitchell is back to unrestricted training, and will slot into the number one jersey in Redfern. With Allan lacking the size and speed to play on the wing, he’ll be languishing as a back-up until a return to Brisbane sees him gain an early release.
28. New position, new Foran
He’s known as a hardnosed five-eighth, but a move to hooker will reinvigorate Kieran Foran as Manly begin to slot into place. After releasing Danny Levi to the Super League and Manase Fainu still stood down pending his court case, Foran will don the nine and add some grit to the middle third.
27. French of Steel
After narrowly missing out in 2020, Bevan French will get his hands on the Super League’s Dally M equivalent, the Man of Steel. French set the league alight with some dazzling displays before a massive blunder in the Grand Final cost his side a premiership. He’ll be back in sizzling form this year, but not enough to carry Wigan to a premiership.
26. Dally M Coach of the Year
Justin Holbrook will pick up the coveted gong after steering the Titans from the wooden spoon to a finals appearance less than two years after taking the reins. Names like Fa’asuamaleaui, Fifita and Brimson will steal the headlines, but make no mistake, Holbrook is the club’s most integral recent recruit.
25. Captain Clint
Clinton Gutherson will win the Dally M Captain of the Year award after another season of ‘never say die’ attitude in the blue and gold. Melbourne, Penrith and Newcastle will all unveil new skippers, while Gutherson will once again lead the charge for the Eels, despite missing the top four.
We all know it but we’re waiting for confirmation – Cameron Smith will officially announce his career is finished within weeks. And while the possibilities of his next career path are endless, expect Cam to step away from the game completely in 2021 and potentially 2022 in order to spend some time with family, relocated in Queensland. 2023, though? He’ll be the assistant coach of the new Queensland club.
23. No Wayne, no gain for Queensland
Wayne Bennett, despite a stunning series win, won’t be retained for the 2021 Origin series as he focuses on ending his South Sydney stint on a high. While their spine is phenomenal, the Blues will be hurting after losing what many deemed an un-losable series. And with a host of spots in the Kangaroos side up for grabs, expect Cook and Cleary to lead the way as the Blues regain the shield with a 2-1 victory.
22. Freddy ignores critics, and it works
Brad Fittler came under fire for playing players out of position last series, notably Jack Wighton and Clint Gutherson in the centres. While Wighton will be moved to six, Fittler will again choose two non-centres as the three-quarters – and they’ll kill it. Fullbacks Latrell Mitchell and Tom Trbojevic will wear the three and the four jersey while Kotoni Staggs will earn a debut as a utility.
21. Best and worst recruit
There’s some options for both categories this year, but it’s hard to go past Tino Fa’asuamaleaui for the buy of the year. Some will be screaming for David Fifita, but Tino will do a lot more to justify his $700,000 price tag than Fifita will at $1.25 million. And for worst recruit? Josh Aloiai is not a $700,000 prop, and the gap between him and Addin Fonua-Blake is bigger than many suggest. Manly have tried hard but it’s just not a like-for-like replacement, which is what they need.