The NRL offseason is finally over! No more preseason trials, no more 9-man footy, no more concerning trips to Bali – finally, NRL football is back.
Going into the first week of the season, every fan is going to have questions about their team. Is our new signing going to gel quickly into the line-up? How long until the refs rob us of a win? Would the Titans be better off fielding an under 14s team for the season?
Well, rather than assessing each clubs standing going into the season, we have compiled four points of interest that may have huge ramifications on where everyone sits on the ladder come September.
King of the Hill
Cooper Cronk’s retirement has left the title of ‘Best Halfback’ up for grabs, with several players hoping for that distinction come years end. Daly Cherry-Evans, Mitchell Moses and Adam Reynolds are all coming off strong seasons and deserve to be the favourites in competing for the starting role for the Kangaroos. However, there are several players nipping away at their heels.
Nathan Cleary had a disappointing year after, perhaps unfairly, being tagged by many as the next Andrew Johns. Will he be able to bounce back and show us all why he deserved that comparison in the first place?
Or Luke Brooks, another young half originally tipped for greatness, finally got back on track last year and made the Tigers look (at times) like a semi-decent football team.
The smoky in this race may be Brodie Croft, who moved to Brisbane to partner another disappointing former-star in Anthony Milford. Will Croft be able to bring the Broncos back from the abyss and show the NRL why he was such a highly touted junior? By season’s end, we’ll have an answer.
Coaches in the hot seat
Several NRL coaches will be desperate for a fast start to the season, hoping to ease concerns over their future. Perhaps no one’s seat is hotter though than Dragons coach, Paul McGregor.
After first taking the reins from Steve Price halfway through the 2014 season, McGregor has had a roller-coaster tenure at the joint venture. Last season’s dismal performance with a star-studded roster has really put the pressure on McGregor to get things on track this year.
Paul Green has been riding the wave of the Cowboys premiership for four years now but that can only last for so long. After losing Johnathan Thurston to retirement, the Cowboys struggled last year to find their identity. Now with the addition of Valentine Holmes, the men from the north have a squad that should make finals football. If not, expect a lot of questions to be thrown around about whether Green is still the man for the job.
A fit man’s game
When Jason Taumalolo had his breakout year in 2016, he also set the bar for the type of skillset forwards need to succeed in the modern game. While we have seen these changes in locks and second rowers, the prop position has been slow to catch up with the trend. At least that was the case before Payne Haas made his debut.
Last year the nation was introduced to the barnstorming running of Haas and what the future may look like at the prop position. Gone are the Shane Webcke and Shannon Boyd types that we all grew up watching, now props are slimmer, more skilled and very, very athletic.
Haas isn’t the only player changing how the position is played, Canberra star Josh Papalii put together an incredible campaign. While the Queenslander has been a dominant force in the NRL for several years now, the way he changed his game in 2019 was something to behold. How he was deployed in the opposing teams 20, busting his way through tackles and setting up try after try with his incredible offloading ability, was a big reason for the Raiders making the final.
The NRL is a true ‘adapt or die’ league and whichever teams can keep pace with the new type of forward will put themselves in the best chance of playing in September.
Origin, Origin, Origin
It seems like a lifetime ago that the Queensland Maroons were the best rugby league team in the world, possibly even better than our own national team. Now, New South Wales are the standard after winning back-to-back series on the back of a young, dynamic group of players.
James Tedesco, Damien Cook, Jack Wighton and Tom Trbojevic are made for the biggest stage and showed that last year. In addition to this, they’re all very young with Cook (28) being the ‘old head’ of the group.
However, Queensland have a great generation of their own ready to take back the state vs state crown. Kalyn Ponga, Cameron Munster, Papalii and Cherry-Evans can all be the best player in the world on their day. Should QLD hope to reclaim their title, it will be on the backs of these four men.
After years of discussion we finally saw a stand-alone Origin weekend last year and all the benefits it brings. Teams only had to plan for one game without their stars, international and women’s matches were given a platform midyear without the distraction of regular season games. Most importantly though was how the teams used the extra days to prepare and improve an already incredible contest between the two states. Should we see similar success this year, then the discussion may shift to whether every origin match should have its own standalone weekend.
Tonight, the greatest game in the world is on our TV screens once more.
Football. Is. Back!