SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 03: The Dragons team look dejected after a Bulldogs try during the round 26 NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Canterbury Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium on September 3, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

5. Penrith Panthers

Though the Panthers had a good season in 2017, they will be expecting more in the coming season. The team finished on 30 points, with 13 wins and 11 losses, which was enough for them to reach seventh position on the ladder.

There is no doubt that the club was hoping for a better finish as their side featured a mix of exciting young talent and experienced match winners. Penrith’s season was plagued by off-field drama including issues surrounding Bryce Cartwright and Matt Moylan.

Both those players are no longer at the club and instead, James Maloney will feature in the number six jersey. Maloney is an Australian and New South Wales player that has delivered premierships at multiple clubs.

Maloney will no doubt add a lot of experience to the Panthers side, and most likely push them higher up the ladder than last season. His combination with Nathan Cleary could take the team deep into the finals.

4. St George Illawarra Dragons

2017 ended in disappointment for the Dragons, when they failed to qualify for the finals. Their loss to the Bulldogs in round 26 allowed the Cowboys to finish the regular season in eighth position.

The Dragons proved they were a strong side at the start of the season, with a dominant forward pack allowing Gareth Widdop to control games. However, St. George began to slip as the season progressed and threw away their finals opportunity.

The addition of Ben Hunt in 2018 will take pressure off Widdop, while James Graham will add more firepower to the forwards. These new players will likely provide the spark the Dragons need to become a consistent side.

Anything less than a finals finish would be a huge step backwards for St. George, who have their best squad in many years.

3. North Queensland Cowboys

Despite an excellent run to the grand final in 2017, the Cowboys barely made the finals. Had the Dragons won their round 26 game, North Queensland would not have played a part in the finals series.

Obviously, the Cowboys proved they were a quality side as Jason Taumalolo and Michael Morgan hit superb form. However, their results during the regular season left a lot to be desired.

The 13 wins and 11 losses the Cowboys recorded was enough for them to make the finals, but it is clear that injuries to Jonathan Thurston and Matt Scott seriously hurt the side.

With their captains set to return in 2018 North Queensland will be confident of winning the majority of their games.

Considering that Thurston will not be playing representative football in 2018, the club has lost few regular 2017 players and that the club has acquired Jordan McLean, the Cowboys look set for a big season.

2018 looks a good year for the men from up north, who will be expecting a top four finish and perhaps even their second premiership.

2. Wests Tigers

Ivan Cleary has already made an impact at the Tigers, recruiting strongly in a push to revamp his team. Josh Reynolds, Russell Packer, Ben Matulino, Chris McQueen and more have been brought in to bolster the side.

After a tough few years, which have included many coaching coaches, the loss of the club captain and young talent like Mitchell Moses, the Tigers look like they are recovering.

Though it will be a challenge for the Tigers to make the finals, they will at the very least be a competitive and challenging team to beat.

Should players like Reynolds and Luke Brooks fire, the team could even be a chance to play in the finals.

1.Newcastle Knights

2018 looks to the season the Newcastle Knights shake the wooden spoon. The club and its fans have endured years of hardship since Wayne Bennett left but look as though they are finally recovering.

Nathan Brown has spent time building young players up and has now added recruited many excellent players to his roster.

The likes of Mitchell Pearce, Kalyn Ponga, Aiden Guerra and Connor Watson are just a few of the players that will turn out for the Knights in 2018. These recruits have everyone interested to see how Newcastle will perform in the coming season.

One thing that is for certain is that the Knights will no longer be the easy beats of the competition. It is unlikely the team will finish in 16th position, and some Knights fans may feel they have recruited well enough to push for the finals.

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