Today marks five weeks until the NRL officially kicks off, with the Perth Nines just a week away. As the silly season comes to a close and rosters become finalised, it’s time to predict which teams will burst onto the scene in 2020… And which teams begin their slide.
The Top 8
1. Melbourne Storm
Finals Week 3 Loss
People are predicting Melbourne to slide once again in 2020, but with names like Munster, Smith, Smith, Addo-Carr, Vunivalu, Bromwich (x 2), Kaufusi, Papehuyzen, Asofa-Solomona, Finucane… You get the picture. They’re still choc full of class and x-factor, and will stand up once again this year.
2. Sydney Roosters
Finals Week 3 Loss
Similar to Melbourne, don’t judge the club by who’ve they’ve lost, but rather who they still have. The late loss of Mitchell will cost them the Minor Premiership, with goal kicking the unspoken fear for the Chooks. Will come down to whether they can recover from Billy Smith’s injury.
3. South Sydney Rabbitohs
The Rabbitohs have the most exciting backline in the competition. However, after seemingly failing to lure Jai Arrow for this season, they seem a forward or two short this season. If Latrell hits the ground running at fullback, they could win it all. Need huge seasons from underrated prop duo Liam Knight and Junior Tatola.
4. Parramatta Eels
They’ve finally got the squad to contend, now it’s time for them to prove it. With Andrew Johns on board as halves coach, look for some huge improvement in Dylan Brown and particularly Mitchell Moses, a Dally M bolter. Probably the second-best backline in the comp, provided the club has a good run with injuries, this could be the year the drought breaks.
5. Brisbane Broncos
Finals Week 2 Loss
Don’t underestimate the arrival of Brodie Croft. Not only will he provide class, but his organisation will help Milford and newfound fullback Jamayne Isaako play off the back of the halfback, and focus on their own game. Haas will have another huge year but they’re really missing experience in their pack outside captain Alex Glenn.
6. Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
Finals Week 1 Loss
If Tom Trbojevic stays on the park all year, Manly are a definite dark horse in this competition. Though with Manase Fainu stood down and Dylan Walker set to play five-eighth, their spine seems lacking and it’ll put immense pressure on Turbo and DCE to create.
7. North Queensland Cowboys
Finals Week 2 Loss
It’ll be a big comeback year for the Cowboys, with the arrival of superstar Valentine Homes and youngsters Esan Marsters and Reece Robson. The make or break will be Michael Morgan, who hasn’t reached top form since his bicep tear midway through 2018. With Scott Drinkwater set to partner Morgan at the scrumbase, the future looks bright for the Cowboys, especially with a new stadium set to be christened in the opening round.
8. Cronulla Sharks
Finals Week 1 Loss
This is a side dancing on a knife’s edge, they could click and win the premiership, or they could crash, burn and miss the finals. Their biggest issue is their spine. Moylan, Townsend and Johnson are all fantastic playmakers, problem is they all want to be the dominant one. Johnson must be moved back to halfback and be allowed to take control, and have Moylan and Townsend play off the back of it. They’ll sneak in.
9. Wests Tigers
Deja vu, groundhog day, say what you want, it’s happening again. Wests have made some nifty signings with the Leilua brothers and Doueihi, but there’s simply too many quality teams in front of them. They’re on the right track, but they’ll need to get rid of some of the awful contracts Ivan Cleary left them with. Give it another season or two until Maguire has the roster he’s built, and then we’ll see what they can do.
10. Canberra Raiders
Now this is the one that will surprise. Canberra will drop from a Grand Final appearance in 2019 – to missing the finals a year later. Releasing Aidan Sezer will bite them, with George Williams a much more similar half to Jack Wighton in terms of running game, but that will hinder them. And to boot, about five or six Canberra players enjoyed ‘career best’ year’s in 2019, and it’s incredibly hard to back those years and produce the same two years running. Not to mention losing Curtis Scott hours after releasing Joseph Leilua.
11. Newcastle Knights
Another club who’s roster has improved, but simply has too many good sides ahead of them. Brailey will plug their middle third defence, but this will be a year of introducing the likes of Starford To’a, Bradman Best and Phoenix Crossland to regular first-grade, and as tough as it sounds for debutant coach Adam O’Brien, this year will be spent preparing for a serious crack in 2021.
12. St. George Illawarra Dragons
The loss of Gareth Widdop is going to hurt this club. A lot. His class on and off the field will be missed, and with veterans Isaac Luke and Trent Merrin their big signings, there isn’t a lot of promise for the Red V except for having Shane Flanagan involved with the side. Paul McGregor will do well to finish the season still at the reins.
13. Penrith Panthers
Penrith debuted a stack of players in 2019, with the likes of Brian To’o, Brent Naden, Mitch Kenny and Liam Martin certain to be better for the run. Add in the signatures of Api Koroisau, Kurt Capewell and Zane Tetevano, you’d think they’d be better.
But don’t underestimate the influence of James Maloney and the calm he brings to a side. Nathan Cleary simply doesn’t seem ready to take control, and need more guidance than Jarome Luai can offer. Will be a year of building combinations.
14. Gold Coast Titans
Now here’s another shock – the Titans aren’t last as so many predict. The introduction of Justin Holbrook will really do wonders for the side, and AJ Brimson being guaranteed the fullback role all year will see him really develop, potentially into the Queensland 14. They need to get more of the big names on their roster, Ash Taylor especially, but they won’t finish last.
15. New Zealand Warriors
Something needs to give. The problem with the Warriors lies within their pride. It’s a similar predicament to Newcastle a few years ago, their overreliance on their junior system. They are proud of the nursery they have at their disposal but you must recruit stars. RTS is a Dally M winner but he can’t do it alone.
It’s the only New Zealand club so of course you’d want to display pride in your nation and have a predominantly Kiwi side, but imagine what players like a Dave Klemmer, an Aidan Sezer, a Jayden Brailey could do for that side. Until they look at recruiting the elite instead of focusing on juniors, they’ll stay a bottom four side.
16. Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
The ‘Dogs of War’ will struggle once again in 2020. The unveiling of Luke Thompson’s signature for 2021 is massive, and can’t be understated, but for 2020… It’s not looking good.
Fans are up in arms because, according the most comment sections ‘it’s unfair that South’s get compensation for Inglis and Burgess but the Bulldogs don’t with Foran’. It’s a completely different scenario – Inglis and Burgess retired, Foran is just hurt.
A spine featuring Lachlan Lewis, Brandon Wakeham/Jack Cogger and Jeremy Marshall-King isn’t exactly a scary thought for opposition teams. It’ll be a bleak year in Belmore.