With the NRL season almost over for another year, clubs and fans are celebrating the success of their team or lamenting a season that did not live up to their expectations.
Those clubs that look at the 2018 season as a less than successful year now face the task of identifying where things went wrong and how they need to improve to have a better 2019.
Coaching, management and team culture are all key ingredients to a strong club, as of course are the players. Most teams will have already identified areas they need to strengthen on the field, others will still be sifting through where they need to improve, do they have the players already at the club or do they need to look outside for new talent to join their 2019 campaigns.
So where do clubs look to improve their team and the depth at their club if they identify new talent needs to be brought into the organisation? Other NRL clubs? Of course. NSW and Queensland Intrust Cup teams? Yes. How about the English Super League?
OK, so apart from some of the English stars of the game who might like to have a shot at the toughest competition in the world, what about the Australian ex-pats playing over there who might like the chance to come home?
Lets run the rule over the current Aussie players in the Super League, how their team has gone in 2018 and what NRL experience they have.
Table topping St Helens have a number of former NRL players in their squad including Luke Douglas, Zeb Taia and Dominique Peyroux. However the two players on St Helens books who NRL clubs should be looking at are Ben Barba and Ryan Morgan.
While it is well known Barba is on his way to the Cowboys for 2019, Morgan, 29, has not been mentioned as a possible recruit back to the NRL. The former Parramatta and Melbourne outside back, who played 94 NRL games, scoring 31 tries, has played 45 games for St Helens since his arrival in the Old Dart in 2017 and scored 24 tries.
Morgan may not be the flashiest however he is a reliable, solid defensive player who has been around long enough to know what it takes to be a first grade player. Morgan would be a solid player for any club to pick up for the 2019 season.
Former Newcastle and Gold Coast utility, Tyrone Roberts, currently playing for the third placed Warrington is returning to the Gold Coast in 2019.
Roberts, best known for his running game, will be up against it trying to force his way back into the clubs NRL side with Michael Gordan, AJ Brimson and Ash Taylor already occupying Roberts’ preferred back line positions.
However with his experience and utility value, Roberts is a handy pick up for the Titans, as a bench utility who could easily find himself in the starting line-up should there be injuries or form slumps to Gordon, Brimson or Taylor.
Former Wests Tigers half, Jacob Miller, 26, currently playing for fifth placed Wakefield, was a junior star in Australia. Standing out in junior rep teams including the winning NSW under 20’s sides, many thought Miller who played nine NRL games between 2011-2013, scoring five tries, kicking two goals and a field goal, would transfer his brilliant attacking game to first grade.
However there were always questions over the young halves defence and this along with competition from fellow Tigers, Benji Marshal, Curtis Sironen and Robert Lui, forced Miller to try his luck in England where he has played 142 games, scored 50 tries, kicked 27 goals and one field goal.
Miller has played predominantly as a running five-eighth however can play fullback and halfback. His defence can still be questionable however there is no doubting his attacking skills. He is not Robinson Crusoe there as there are a number of halves in the NRL today who are not known for being the strongest defenders.
Jacob Miller could be a great pick up for a struggling club looking for an experienced half to help spark their 2019 season.
Sixth placed Huddersfield have a number of ex-NRL players and my picks for Australian clubs looking to build for a stronger 2019 would be utility Tom Symonds, 29, outside back Jake Mamo, 24, and prop Shannon Wakeman, 28.
Symonds, who played eighty seven NRL games between 2009-16, scoring 17 tries for the Roosters and Manly, had an injury interrupted career in Australia and while he is getting on in age, he could represent a very solid back rower for any NRL team.
Mamo who scored 11 tries in 29 games for Newcastle is known as a fast and elusive player who also struggled with injury. Since traveling to England in 2017, Mamo has managed 21 games for 14 tries with Huddersfield. A dynamic runner, Mamo has had his issues with consistency however he is another player who could become a crowd favourite if he returned to the NRL.
While many will see Wakeman as an odd choice, having never played NRL in his time with St George, I always enjoyed watching him in the lower grades and his blockbusting runs regularly brought the crowds to their feet. Wakeman has managed 30 games for Huddersfield since joining them in 2017 although he has also spent time on loan to second division team Dewsbury. If the big man could crack a spot in the NRL, he is a player who could easily become a cult favourite.
Seventh placed Hull have the talented former Parramatta, Cronulla and Gold Coast player, Albert Kelly, 27, carving up the middle of the English fields for them.
Kelly has played forty seven NRL games and scored eighteen tries along the way. After continued off field problems, Kelly moved to the U.K. in 2015 and has played eighty seven games for Hull Kingston Rovers and Hull, scoring forty nine tries, three goals and a field goal.
There is no doubting the full-back, five-eight or halfback’s ability on the field. he is solid in defence and can tear opposition defences to shreds in attack. Kelly’s problems have always been off the field.
If Kelly can get his act together off the field, he would be an excellent pick up for most NRL teams.
26-year-old halfback Josh Drinkwater started the 2018 season playing reserve grade for the Wests Tigers before heading overseas to join Catalans in the English Super League.
Drinkwater was another star junior who played in rep teams and won 20’s State Of Origin games for NSW. He broke into first grade with St George in 2013 where he played four games and kicked a goal. He went overseas for the 2014 season before returning to the NRL and playing a sole game for the Tigers in 2015. Drinkwater returned to England for the 2016-17 seasons, playing 43 games and scoring 12 tries, 29 goals and two field goals.
In 2018 he formed a lethal combination with young Queensland five-eight, Tom Humble for the Tigers’ reserves who were at the top of the table, before leaving to join Catalans. Significantly once he left the Tigers, they slipped down the ladder and never recovered their early season form.
A talented player who has had limited NRL opportunities, he could certainly make an interesting off season signing for many NRL clubs.
Ninth placed Leeds have the skilful dummy half Matt Parcell steering them around the park. The former Brisbane and Manly No.9 played 21 games and scored two tries before joining Leeds in 2017 where he has played 58 games and scored 24 tries along with a single goal.
A talented dummy-half, the 25-year-old could be a very astute pick up for many NRL teams.
Other players of note who could offer NRL teams genuine talent and ability are the giant former Parramatta and Newcastle forward, Pauli Pauli, who has played 48 NRL games where he has scored four tries.
Pauli currently plays with Wakefield where he has appeared in 25 games, scoring eight tries. Former Kiwi and Samoan international, Kristian Inu, who has played 139 games, scored 65 tries, kicked 130 goals and two field goals over an eight-year NRL career with Parramatta, the Warriors and Bulldogs before heading overseas in 2015 where he has played a further 60 games and scored 20 tries with 27 goals.
The talent of both Pauli and Inu is unquestionable. The problem with both players is their commitment and focus week to week at the top level of rugby league.
So there you have it, some definite quality playing in England who could be very handy pickups for your team for the 2019 season.