The 2022 NRL season is rapidly approaching, with pre-season training underway, trials just weeks away, and off-field discussions around contracts and COVID continuing.
What has become clear over the past couple of weeks is that it’s going to be a very different looking season.
COVID is already wreaking havoc on the pre-season with players and staff being forced into isolation, and with cases only picking up, that’s going to create an intriguing situation for the NRL and ARLC to deal with.
Nonetheless, the show must go on, as it has for the last two years in various bubbles and hubs, but this time around, it’ll be, at times, with different players who a vast majority will have never heard of.
In more directly on-field action, the Penrith Panthers will look to go back-to-back, the South Sydney Rabbitohs will aim to go a step better, and clubs at the bottom will look to rise to the top on the back of big off-season recruitment surges.
In the State of Origin arena, the New South Wales Blues will look to repeat their dose of 2021s medicine against the Queenslanders, who are now set to be coached by Billy Slater, while there is also the rather large matter of a Rugby League World Cup at the end of the year.
Off the field, the contract circus will continue, with the Dolphins likely to be in the news every other day as they attempt to build their squad out towards a full 30.
In no particular order, here are the ten headlines you’re going to read in 2022.
10. Bulldogs bark as late-season surge sees finals footy
Canterbury have brought in a long list of players for 2022, led by Matt Burton and Tevita Pangai Junior, but also including Matt Dufty, Josh Addo-Carr, Brent Naden, Joshua Cook, Paul Vaughan, Braidon Burns and Max King.
The complete roster overhaul has been well and truly designed to move the club on from a long stint of bottom-four finishes, something they have simply been able to avoid as they attempted to fix their salary cap mess.
Canterbury are going to take some time to gel - that is almost a given with so many new players.
That means it’s going to take a late-season surge, but so long as they can stay fit, they will do just that. They have an excellent squad and play the Knights, Cowboys, Warriors and Sharks during the last six rounds, which, on paper at least, seem winnable games.