In Rugby League, much like other avenues of life, sometimes taking a big risk can lead to an even bigger reward. That is the thinking undertaken by four of the NRL’s Premiership Heavyweights as we head into the 2018 season.
While the North Queensland Cowboys will take a very similar side into the new season, four other title-contenders have opted to take huge risks in order to launch a title assault.
Obviously, every recruitment or retention decision carries some deal of risk but the four sides below have really monumental risks that with help either make or break their upcoming campaigns.
Signing Cooper Cronk
That felt ridiculous to type as how could there be any risk in signing one of the game’s top two halfbacks of the modern generation?
In reality, the Roosters have taken a monster gamble in signing a player who is 34 years of age at the expense of a club legend who had already delivered a premiership title who was only 28 years old.
Although there were suggestions that Cronk and Pearce could play in the same side, that was surely never going to happen. Pearce was never going to allow himself to be relegated to a bench position and you have to believe the Roosters brass knew this.
The Roosters really need to win a title in the next two years to justify their decision. If the Roosters come up short then fans will be lining up to ask why Pearce was pushed aside for a man who has never played in a side without Cameron Smith and Billy Slater.
Ultimately I can’t see how Cooper Cronk can do anything other than achieve at Bondi such is his talents but if the Roosters don’t lift the Provan-Summons trophy in early October questions will be asked.
Have the Roosters sacrificed six to eight years of success with Pearce at the helm for a shot at a title or two? Only time will tell whether this massive punt pays off.
Gambling on rookie halfback
Cooper Cronk announced that he would be leaving the Melbourne Storm back in April 2017. That allowed Craig Bellamy and co literally six months to find a ready-made replacement if they saw fit. Although the Storm was occasionally linked in the media to experienced halfbacks, the Storm has chosen to go with 20-year-old Brodie Croft in 2018.
Croft has only played the five NRL games, mainly during the Origin period when Cronk was representing the Queensland state side. He has impressed in those outings but considering his halves partner, Cameron Munster, at 23 has only played 65 NRL games the risk is very real.
To be honest you’d be silly to doubt any decision made by Craig Bellamy due to his incredible track record. This is a man who let Marika Koroibete change codes only to replace him with a Tigers reserve grader who went on to score 19 regular season tries and light up the competition. He also handed a debut to a QLD cup grade hooker by the name of Cameron Smith. That also turned out pretty well.
That said, this could be his biggest gamble yet. The Storm very easily could have used their recent success and Bellamy’s unmatched track record to attract a more experienced playmaker. They chose not to.
That faith, along with arguably the best outside backs in the competition, will arm young Croft with extreme confidence from the get-go.
The Storm starts as third favourites to win the competition despite the loss of Cronk (and also Jordan McLean) showing that the wider Rugby League community has confidence in Bellamy’s decision.
On paper, the Sharks have perhaps taken the biggest gamble of all. They allowed a multiple time Premiership winning five-eighth and current Kangaroo squad member James Maloney to leave the club to be replaced by someone who has played 98% of his career in the fullback position.
Although in reality Maloney wanted out and Moylan’s talents are far more suited to playing in the halves, the risk is still a big one, to say the least.
The Sharks entire title charge in 2018 is dependent on Moylan’s ability to adapt to the play-making role quickly. If he fails to shine then the club’s other options are only a rookie and a Newcastle reserve grader.
The upside here is very high with all reports indicating Moylan is shining in his new role but you never know until the premiership rounds kick off.
This was a gamble that the Sharks really needed to take following their sad exit from the 2017 finals series.
Allowing Moylan and Cartwright to leave the side
The other team involved in the Moylan/Maloney swap was the Panthers. Penrith themselves have taken a big gamble in that they allowed their 26-year-old skipper to leave in return for a 31-year-old.
Ultimately the deal looks a good one for the Panthers as they needed a mentor of sorts to take the pressure off Nathan Cleary. Maloney brings with him a history of great success but ultimately time waits for no man, and Jimmy is now the ‘wrong’ side of 30.
Maloney didn’t have a great 2017 and gave away a mass of penalties. The Panthers will be hoping a change of scenery will help the two-time title-winning number six return to his top form.
The Panthers also allowed ridiculously talented Bryce Cartwright to take up a deal with the Titans. Cartwright who had a break out 2016 season struggled with distractions in 2017 and didn’t perform to the levels expected.
Have the Panthers let a short-term problem cloud their long-term judgement or will the distraction-free Panthers fire in 2018?