The new season is only a few weeks away, and as is invariably the case at this time of year, the fans, tipsters, bookmakers and media all have their own opinions on which teams are going to dominate in the season ahead. Yet even the so-called experts end up with egg on their faces as often as not. Last year, everyone was talking up the Eels and the Cowboys, yet both teams spent most of the season in their own battles at the foot of the table.
This year, there are some teams that everyone expects to do well. The online bookmakers at Unibet Australia have the Roosters as hot favourites at 7/2 for Grand Final winner, while the Rabbitohs, Storm and Panthers are around the 8/1 and 10/1 mark. But while there are some teams that promise much only to falter, there are others who play well beyond all expectations. Who might be the surprise package for 2019?
Here’s a team that slipped below the radar to perform solidly in 2018. Eleventh might not look spectacular, but it was better than most were predicting and they were serious challengers for the majority of the season. Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce were two names who stood out in particular.
The team has made steady progress since the dark days of 2014 and there is every reason to expect them to continue their improvement in 2019, particularly with the addition of David Klemmer from New South Wales. Don’t be surprised to see the Knights mixing it at the very highest level in the season ahead. Bookies have them at 4/1 for a top four finish.
Here’s a team that is almost the diametric opposite of the Knights. On paper, the Raiders should be a match for everyone, but we all know what happened last year. Given their bottom-half finish to the 2018 season, nobody is talking them up this year, but that could work to their advantage.
The problem the Raiders always have is their ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Last year, they lost the first three games of the season by two points or fewer, and in both games against the Panthers, they had double-digit leads but somehow managed to come out on the losing side. You get the feeling that all they need is a little less expectation and a little more self belief and everything could snap into place.
New Zealand Warriors
The most frustrating team in the NRL will return to confound us all again in 2019. They might have made the finals for the first time last year, but it all went downhill from there, and their post-season performance was little short of embarrassing. Changes in personnel during the off season, with the departures of Shaun Johnson and Mason Lino have got the tipsters writing the Warriors off before the season even begins.
That could be a mistake, as there is depth of talent within the squad to beat anyone. The real question is whether the coaching staff can draw it all together into a competitive unit.