NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 03: Knights players celebrate a try from Aidan Guerra of the Knights during the round 21 NRL match between the Newcastle Knights and the Wests Tigers at McDonald Jones Stadium on August 3, 2018 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

The minds of eight NRL playing rosters will, as we speak, be drifting to a well-deserved break from the game and an end of season trip.

The grind of preparing physically and emotionally for one of the toughest sports on the planet takes its toll and there wouldn’t be a regular first-grade player free of pain and discomfort right now.

Looking at some of the mummified players, laden in tape and strapping as they take the field, is a timely reminder of just how brutal and debilitating the game can be.

The bottom eight clubs will start fresh in a few short months. Some young talent will have been blooded late in the year and planning for 2019 will be well and truly underway.

Ideally, there will have been indications that things will get better. New signings, improved late season form and players returning from long term injuries can add weight to the hope for better things to come.

As it stands, two clubs have that hope in spades whilst six others appear in danger of a deja vu defined 2019. I am finding it hard to mount a logical argument as to where those six will make their improvements.

Parramatta is one such example. From front office to on-field performance, the Eels were a rabble in 2018 and look certain to add another wooden spoon to their collection. It is hard to see the arrivals of Blake Ferguson and Junior Paulo providing a magic cure, with off-field issues still lingering around a club screaming for leadership and direction.

The Manly Sea Eagles also look somewhat dishevelled and frantic. Tension in off-field relationships and the inevitable parting of the ways with Trent Barrett, will set the club back further.

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Manly fans must be wondering when they will start to see the three steps forward that should follow the two steps back. Alarmingly, the squad is gifted but its seven wins to this point is well below par. The arrival of Kane Elgey is promising yet that won’t be enough to right the ship on its own.

Also sitting on seven wins, North Queensland farewells its legend Johnathan Thurston at seasons end. With the joint captain playing his final season, Matt Scott back from injury and Michael Morgan coming off a brilliant finals series in 2017, the Cowboys were favourites to many.

Now with an adjustment period ahead, that billing looks unlikely next season. Valentine Holmes would make waves if he does head north but the Cowboys will need far more than that in what looks to be a challenging year ahead.

Entertaining the idea of the Gold Coast Titans playing in the finals next season is a challenging state of mind to assume. There were, typically, moments of brilliance this season and others of absolute embarrassment.

Some considerable acquisitions are on the way in the form of Tyrone Peachey and Shannon Boyd yet Garth Brennan appears to have a side destined to battle around the fringes of the eight, at best.

Ricky Stuart has not been able to convert the employment of monster forwards and a somewhat improved defensive attitude into a consistent top eight team in Canberra and it is hard to see where the Raiders improve.

John Bateman and Ryan Sutton arrive from the Wigan Warriors once again, as the men from the nation’s capital will lack the half and five-eighth combination required to become a top level side. To me it looks a case of more of the same.

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The Wests Tigers have been re-energised by Ivan Cleary, however, if he was to depart it could buy the Tigers a ticket on the all too familiar, coaching merry-go-round. The black and gold cannot afford it. Moses Mbye has brought something new to the side yet they were again frustratingly inconsistent this season.

Personally, I don’t see Benji Marshall or Robbie Farah, as symbolic and loved as they are, igniting the spark required. With minimal new signings at this stage, Luke Brooks will continue to shoulder an unreasonable level of expectation in attack and despite an improved defence, their inability to put teams away on the scoreboard will continue to hold them back.

However, there are two clubs that buck the trend in terms of a potential upswing in 2019. Newcastle have been building under Nathan Brown and finally showed some much needed defensive intensity on their line. Despite a poor final month, nine wins is creditable in context and the arrivals of Jesse Ramien and Tim Glasby look shrewd buys.

Leading the pack in terms of a potentially vastly improved season is Canterbury-Bankstown. The Bulldogs swept the joint clean and by seasons end had a host of rookies performing superbly. They look to have found stars in Reimis Smith and Lachlan Lewis, and despite farewelling Brett and Josh Morris, Matt Frawley and Greg Eastwood, they look to have recruited well.

Christian Chrichton will claim one of the backline spots, with Jack Cogger and Nick Meaney fighting for positions in the spine.

For the Dogs and the Knights, things look bright. For the other six, it looks like more of the same.

31 COMMENTS

  1. The may be the dumbes article I’ve ever read…
    The dogs have lost way way way more then they are getting in return..
    Cogger can’t get a start at knights without injuries and when he does he’s useless..
    Crichton is a terrible winger..
    Meaney has potential but will need time, and also that means movin. Hoppa who has been dogs best player to a centre position..
    Loosing Morris twins is massive for dogs… they are few years away…
    Also knights have shown they are still 5 years away from making finals again…
    Whereas I would look at manly and eels who have off field drama to be big improvers if they get things sorted which they should…

    • Thanks for the feedback.
      I do have a couple things for you to think about. Firstly, if the Dogs have lost so much, why is the team now playing so efficiently? You seem to have forgotten that the losses have already occurred apart from the Morris twins.
      Secondly, your summations of Cogger and Crichton are well off the mark and you have made an enormous assumption in placing Hopoate in the centres. Something I never suggested.
      Suggesting the Knights will not play semi-finals within five years is folly. As for Manly, your moniker might explain your faith.

      • Just answering the first part of your reply Stuart.
        IMO, the reason they are playing better now is because there’s no pressure of needing to make or play in the finals. They can now afford to try different players, set plays, structures etc. It’s like the raiders. They were poor for most of the season in not holding out leads and winning games but come the end of the season, they’ve just beaten 2 top 4 sides in a row.

      • Ok where do I start??
        Firstly your reply makes no sense…
        I’ve only mentioned loosing the Morris twins and they are still there and actually playing really well, so yes they are a massive loss when they leave.. so now I haven’t forgotten anything there…
        Next…
        Cogger… can’t get a spot at a team just avoiding the spoon, has had a decent chance this year through injuries too knights halves and hasn’t looked once like he will improve a team.. solid at best ( like Lachlan Croker for manly)
        Crichton… you realise it’s not Angus right??? It’s the slow nuggety winger who can’t catch or run hard hat plays every now and then for panthers…
        Then there’s hoppa.. I didn’t mention you saying anything about him, but nick meanet from knights will be fullback next year and hoppa will take a centre position.. just fact, so now dogs replace a senior good fullback with a youngster looking for a shot who has some ability..
        Lastly knights…
        Everyone knows knights are at there best when they use local players and coaching staff, not the hack coach they have and buying roosters rejects…
        So think I have all your very odd points covered quite easily and Cleary for you

        • Dear Bob (really bad origin selector) Fulton
          You mentioned losses, I was merely pointing out to you that any reference to the losses the Dogs had experienced were slightly misguided, considering the fact that the players had already left, apart from the Morris boys, and the team looked a whole lot better over the back half of the season.
          Your allusion to Cogger being a member of a team just avoiding the spoon is inaccurate. The Knights never looked like winning the spoon this season and have improved considerably.
          I’ll pass on your assessment of Crichton’s skills to him personally when I do get the chance to interview him. Perhaps you could come along and say it to his face.
          I’ll also let Nick Meanet (sic) know your opinion of him. I’m sure he will take considerable interest.
          Your posts are hard to decipher and riddled with errors yet I respect and value your thoughts as a league fan. After all, that is what makes the game go round. Cheers.

        • Hey Stuart,

          You are correct in saying that Cogger hasn’t been playing for a team nearly avoiding the spoon. He’s been playing for a team that has ‘won’ the spoon – the Newcastle NSW Cup team.

        • Stuart,
          Please do odd on my thoughts to Crichton..and continue name dropping all you like…
          I actually think meaney is good potential as I said but he is young and will take time to eat going where as Hopoate has been there main attack focus this year ( surely someone who can interview Christian Crichton can understand that)
          Actually knights only few weeks back wee in danger of the spoon, but they have probably improved this year, but none. Not 1 bit of that has to do with Jack Cogger..
          But hey you think bringin in Crichton and cogger will be better then the Morris twins, we’ll your entitled to an opinion aren’t you…

      • With cogger in the halves and brown coaching they won’t make the 8. How many more seasons does brown have to have before he is gone? Knights have only won 4 more games than last year.

      • Obviously don’t watch much footy hey???
        Knights are buying everyone’s rejects and gone right away from what works for them, and that is promote juniors from within….so yep I’d take that bet.. do you need to sell a few more of those coles mini things first though??

        • You are flat out dum (spelling intended)

          Mitchell Pearce
          KP
          Jessie Ramien
          Tim Glasby
          Slade griffin just to name a few, defiantly everyone’s rejects

          And look at the Jnrs who’s they have blooded over the last few years because no one would even go near that club. So going away what works for them has worked out so well winning three consecutive spoons. 😂

        • Yeah bobfulton you actually have no idea, Knights have the best Halfback in the comp if they play him in the middle of the field. Ponga is amazing and a perfect compliment to Pearce. They have good outside backs (although they should try to spend more of their salary on forwards). A complimentary hooker and a decent coach. Pearce is the difference in this team, best half in the comp.

        • 39818
          You just lost some type of dare right???
          Pearce best half in comp!!!!! Dude cmon….
          Not even in top 5..
          And yep he is a roosters reject…
          So yep Pearce is ok, Ponga decent Ramien definetely goes good, bit they don’t have much more going… so yes 5 years before finals and that’s only if they sack brown now cause he won’t win anything for them ( spoons exempt)

        • 39818
          August 30, 2018 at 9:21 am
          ReportYeah bobfulton you actually have no idea, Knights have the best Halfback in the comp.

          Bobby has said some dumb things but if Pearce was the best halfback in the game, he would still be at the roosters.

  2. There’s always going to be a surprise. This year especially, with Parramatta, North Queensland and South Sydney should tell you that these sort of predictions are bound to fail.
    Plus, depth is what is keeping most of the bottom teams where they are. If Gold Coast has a year with few injuries like Melbourne or Canterbury usually have, I wouldn’t be surprised if they challenged for the top 4 again.

    • I agree with Lucas, this article is full of what if’s and maybes. Sorry Stuart but your grasping at straws here mate. The nrl has the ability to make you have egg on your face…these days I’m not game to write off any team, you’ve just written off 6 sides for next years season. I know it’s only personal opinion but jeez…

      • Yes, of course it is full of if’s and maybes. Kind of like the semi-finals. There is never a definite in rugby league and nothing wrong with getting people talking and discussing. Far better than bickering over video refs, decisions and salary cap problems. It struck me as we moved towards seasons end that fans of many of the teams outside the eight would struggle to find definitive reasons as to why their club would substantially improve next season. Yes, personal opinion indeed but hard to see the Roosters, Storm, Rabbitohs, Warriors, Brisbane etc being left out come next September, hence, I feel many in the bottom eight will be their again. Cheers.

        • Yeah and that’s fair enough, I see your point. But what if Milford gets injured in the 2nd round, out for the season. The Broncos are done…what if Smith decides to retire mid season? And Billy gets injured again? Storm…pretty much goners. All if’s and but’s my friend…it’s the nrl…if it was so predictable we wouldn’t watch it. I just think you should write about things when they actually do happen that’s all.

  3. If this year is anything to go by then trying to predict these bottom 8 teams fate for next year is a waste of time.
    Here’s a couple of reasons why, going by last seasons end of year predictions for 2018;

    1. Warriors – predicted to challenge for the wooden spoon.(currently 8 and finals bound)
    2. Cowboys – Grand Finalists (14)
    3. Eels – Grand Finalists (16)
    4. Tigers predicted to finish 12th but sit in 9th.

    After whats taken place so far this year I wouldn’t be suprised to see the bottom 8 teams suprise a few next year.
    If my Warriors can…hell, anyone can!! lol

    Take the time and effort to write about some potential up and coming talent within each club that no one has really heard of or has heard of, would be different and more positive then putting the boot in to already suffering clubs and fans.
    I’m not a Eels or Manly fan but i and many Warriors fans know exactly how they feel at this time of year.

    Go the Warriors!!

    • Hi Warriorz7,
      It appears you missed my feature on Roger Tuivasa-Sheck last week. Recent pieces have also featured Matt Dufty and Lachlan Lewis. Not putting the boot in at all. Was engaged in a conversation with a colleague over the weekend and we got to talking about which fans were feeling that their team was doing well late in the year and had reason for hope.
      For the record, I had the Warriors and the Cowboys in my eight. Certainly didn’t have Parramatta anywhere near it and the Tigers are, and will continue to be, well off the pace. Cheers.

      • Thanks for the response Stuart. Yes i think i did miss those pieces but will go back through a read them. Matt Dufty and Lachlan Lewis are both exciting young players to watch out for and as for RTS, well he’s come along in leaps and bounds this year as a leader.
        More articles like these would be great mate.
        Cheers bro!

    • I think the Warriors might threaten the crown this year. I’ve got them as a smokey to upset a lot of the other teams in the finals…but in order for them to do that, they have to lose this weekend 😉

  4. I honestly believe that you can make a case for any of the teams who didn’t make the 8 turning it around next year. Making the 8 in a comp of 16 isn’t an outrageous achievement.

    Interesting that you had Newcastle and Canterbury as your two teams that you believe will make the jump, for me they are the two teams least likely to do it.

    You lauded the Knights improved defence but they still have conceded the most points this year and they concede the most metres per game. Not sure Glasby will fix all that. Pomga is a freak though and will win them games on his own.

    The Dogs to me are the classic team that win some games at the end of the year when there’s no pressure on. With a whole off season, I feel a lot of teams will look for chinks in the armour of Lewis. Buying Cogger seems like a waste and they won’t have the Morris Twins defensive capabilities shutting down one side of the field.

    They will also be a very young, inexperienced team that may run out of gas having to play a full season with poor depth.

    • LB, I think you’re spot on with Dogs. They have some really good young guys coming through, but I’d still have them as hot favourites for the spoon next year.
      I think every other team is a chance (of making the 8 next year), although somewhat dependant on finalising recruitments, and as for Parra’s chances, I honestly don’t know. I still can’t put my finger on exactly what’s gone wrong his year.

      • Chin up eelsalmighty, rugby league is a relatively simple game, to compete you need a forward pack that can get over the top of the opposition pack. Hopefully Brown can stay healthy because he’s your heart and soul, without him you’re doomed. Bringing Paulo back will help, 1 or 2 more decent forward signings and you’ll be back pushing the eight.

  5. It’s impossible to say who else might make the top 8 next year.
    Just because teams win some games at the end of the year , when they can’t make the 8 & the pressure is off , means nothing.
    You kind of expect the ‘Third Party Deal Kings’ ( Brisbane , Roosters, Melbourne ) to be there again. However, none of the others are certainties .
    Cronulla look slower next year & would be sweating on keeping Holmes. Penrith could slide way down next year, as could St.George . Who knows what the Warriors will produce next year? Even South’s coach could suffer a second year coaching syndrome .
    As for the Kings of the Third Part Deals. Surely any of them is due a year when they won’t make the 8. Percentages say they have to miss out some time.

  6. Every bottom 8 team should be excited about their chances this year. If weve learnt one thing this year its that any team can win a game on their day.
    Whilst i dont necessary believe in all these arguments ill make them and see them as just as valid as the ones put forth in the article for Newcastle and Bulldogs.
    Para: is still largely the main squad that came 4th last year. Add in a front rower in Paulo, and a promising young Mahoney they may have filled the obvious holes in their roster. Nathan Brown, missed a large chunk of the season and the eels need their best forward and the leader of their pack to stay healthy next year. Hayne’s body finally looks like its in the right shape for rugby league (not so much a crack at his previous fitness levels but prior to his return from injury he was still carrying to much bulk from his NFL shaped body) and back near his best.
    Manly: Their 2018 season was hampered by off field issues and injury. How much this has impacted the playing group we will never know. What we do know is that although Kane Elgey is no superstar, he has the potential to be a great foil for DCE. He showed in his rookie season the talent he possesses. Players often take a long time to mentally and physically recover from an ACL injury and his 2nd year back could/should be much better than his first. He isnt needed to be a superstar however as Manly already have their own superstars in DCE and Tom Trbojevic. Brother Jake will continue to do more than his fair share in the middle and Taupau will alway make his metres and be a threat with the offload. Add Walker and Kelly, two very good centres and the side has the nucleus of a top 8 team. If they can remain distraction and injury free this is a side capable of anything.
    Cowboys: In 2017 the cowboys showed they can win without Thurston as they made an incredible run to the grand final. Although 2018 has been underwhelming they have looked to rejuvinate their backline and blooded talented young players in Gela-Mosby and Tuala with the raw pace they were desperately missing. They will also welcome back representative players in Morgan and Mclean who missed most of 2018 through injury. The later will feature in a pack with the most destructive forward in the game in Taumalolo.
    Titans: Until the rise of Cleary, Taylor was considered by many as the next champion halfback. In AJ Brimson they have found a kid who oozes class and will be better for the experience and being locked into a position (IMO that position should be fullback). These two have enough creativity to create points. They will be behind 2 origin forwards in Arrow and Wallace and arguably neither are as good as their captain Ryan James. Add in kiwi international Kevin Proctor, young gun Fotuaika and new signing Shannon Boyd and they have a very capable forward pack. Sami has shown plenty on the wing and Don is at least reliabe. They have struggled to find a left back rower, 5-8 or consistent centres. Peachey could fill any of those positions. Lee and Hurrell are dangerous with ball in hand, even if they are lacking a bit defensively. They also have this bloke named Bryce Cartwright in reserve grade who just needs to get his mind right to be one of the most dangerous players in the comp. With the players they have they will never be a great defensive side but they have all the attacking ingredients to win any game of football, not unlike the 2016 Raiders a side that not only made the 8 but finsihed 2nd.
    Raiders: Speaking of the 2016 raiders the 2019 version features many of the same names. Leipana can continue to do their thing down one side of the field whilst Croker and Cotric are just as dangerous down the other. Their halves still wont be great but Hodgsons return after missing most of 2018 will take a lot of pressure away from them. Their forward pack however features an all international backrow of Tapine, Papali and Whitehead. The critics claimed Raiders were to big this year and thats why they couldnt play 80 minutes. They have rectified this in letting go big men Paulo and Boyd and replaced them with a couple of Poms with big reputations. Admittedly i dont know much about the English recruits but will say they got it right with their other two poms. Not sure they have the depth they have had in the past, particularly in the spine, but if Hodgson can stay injury free they will worry plenty of teams in 2019.
    Tigers: Finsihed 9th in 2018 despite not finding a consistent 1 and 9 until halfway through the season. That says something for their ability to do plenty of the little things right. And doing the little things right is what their middle forwards are about. None of them are flashy, none a big names (despite Packer, Matalino and Taylor all being former NZ reps) but in their 3 Kiwis and Eisenhuth they have middle forwards that do their job. In Esarn masters (another Kiwi rep) they have a quality strike centre who can match it with anyone and Nofolouma and Fanua are tackle breaking beast who make plenty of metres from their own end. Their spine is solid enough and will benefit from having spent half a season, plus a full preseason together. If they show up with the same defensive attitude they showed for the first half of 2018 they are certainly capable of making the 8.

    • Ok, I really think you need to explain things better you left out heaps of detail😍🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

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