MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 14: Ryan Papenhuyzen of the Storm passes the ball during the NRL Qualifying Final match between the Melbourne Storm and the Canberra Raiders at AAMI Park on September 14, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

We are just weeks away from the start of the 2021 NRL season. Supporters of all 16 teams will be hopeful that their side can have a positive campaign and finish the year with some silverware.

Preparations are now coming to a close for the new campaign, so we have taken a look at what some of the big talking points are ahead of the season.

Can Penrith Bounce Back from Grand Final Disappointment?

Losing an NRL Grand Final is never easy to digest. Penrith Panthers came so close to the trophy last season as they went down 26-20 to Melbourne Storm. They begin the new campaign as the bookmakers’ favourites at 5.0 in the rugby league betting on the NRL.

Nathan Cleary was the standout player for the Panthers in 2020 and the 23-year-old could be the key to Penrith going one step further this year. Their halfback missed out on the Dally M Medal by just two votes last season. He will feel he has a point to prove in the new campaign so expect to see him try and elevate his game even further.

Penrith have made four signings in the offseason. Robert Jennings and Matt Eisenhurth both arrive from Wests Tigers, Jaeman Salmon has joined from Parramatta Eels, while Scott Sorensen is now with the club after moving from the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks. Those players help freshen the squad and give head coach Ivan Cleary extra options in their bid for glory in 2021.

Exciting Prospects Arrive from Super League

Five players are set to make the leap from the Super League to the NRL this year and it will be interesting to see how they perform in the best club competition in rugby league.

One of those transfers who knows all about the NRL is Ben Murdoch-Masila. The Tonga international played in the league between 2010 and 2015 for the West Tigers and Penrith Panthers respectively. Since then he has had successful spells with Salford Red Devils and Warrington Wolves.

Murdoch-Masila is back in the NRL now with New Zealand Warriors. The 29-year-old will be keen to make his mark on the league this season, especially ahead of the World Cup later this year where he will be a huge part of the Tonga team.

Ryan Papenhuyzen Could Become Biggest Star in the NRL

Melbourne Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen has been a star since making his debut in the NRL in 2019. He was awarded the Clive Churchill Medal in the Grand Final last October for his excellent performance in Storm’s victory over the Panthers.

Papenhuyzen is just 22 years old, therefore, his best years are well ahead of him. 2021 could be the year where he establishes himself as the biggest star in the NRL. His confidence is sky-high at the moment and he looks motivated to carry on improving.

With Cameron Smith set to retire, Papenhuyzen is even being considered to take over the captaincy armband, despite his young age. That says a lot about how highly Melbourne think of their fullback and the leadership qualities he also possesses.

This year’s NRL campaign is the 24th in history and it is set to begin on March 11 when defending champions Melbourne Storm begin their season against South Sydney Rabbitohs.