2019 NRL Ladder Predictions

It’s crystal ball time as we predict the 2019 NRL ladder. We rank every club and provide you with a tip.

James Baxter
 | 
Thu, 7 Mar, 12:00 AM

 

With the 2019 NRL season now just around the corner, it’s time to look at the ladder and predict where we think every team will finish.

16th – Canterbury

Look away Doggies fans – this might be painful reading. But there’s no question the boys from Canterbury are in a rebuilding stage. Coach Dean Pay already has question marks over his tenure entering his second season. Salary Cap pressure has seen the Dogs recently shed talent they once had seen their future foundations built upon – Moses Mbye, Brett and Josh Morris, David Klemmer, Aaron Woods and Josh Reynolds to name a few. And the turnover has caught up with them. Kieran Foran hasn’t been the playmaker they coveted and instead now is in a battle to restore his past reputation. Their 2019 recruitment is at least promising – forwards Dylan Napa and Corey Harawera-Naira, in particular, stand out - and there is light at the end of the tunnel with young talent in tryscoring winger Remis Smith and livewire five-eighth Lachlan Lewis emerging… it’s just the light won’t be reached this season.

 

15th – Parramatta

Will 2019 be the final season in the Brad Arthur era? Arthur has guided Parra through extremely challenging times on and off the field in his tenure, but after a promising 2017 which saw a top-four finish, 2018 was a disaster with the Eels again hitting rock bottom. Perhaps enigmatic playmaker Mitchell Moses epitomised the collapse better than anyone – the halfback went from NSW Origin discussions to a first grader devoid of any confidence. With a brand-new stadium awaiting them, Parramatta needs to deliver or the consequences will be swift, likely starting with a coach in the final year of his deal. Dally M Winger of the Year Blake Ferguson will go a long way in finally replacing Semi Radradra on the wing, while Shaun Lane is an underrated edge forward who is always a smoky in first try scorer markets. However an extremely raw spine of Clint Gutherson – yet to recapture his pre-knee injury form and without a contract beyond 2019- teenager Dylan Brown (or potentially fellow teen Jaemen Salmon), Moses and Reed Mahoney does not inspire confidence. Another long season awaits the Parra faithful.

 

14th – Manly

The last time Des Hasler missed the finals as Manly coach was in 2004, a time when Casey Donovan won Australian Idol, Mark Latham almost became Prime Minister and MySpace was the place to be. The second coming of Hasler to the peninsula is badly needed for a club who lost its way under Trent Barrett but the turnaround will take longer than just the 2019 season. Salary Cap issues have restricted their recruitment and a horror off-season has seen them already lose Dylan Walker indefinitely, plus the likes of superstar Tom Trbojevic and ----- for the beginning of the season. For a club whose list is already thin, this places the Sea Eagles at a huge disadvantage. If there’s any sort of positive from this situation, it might just be the environment Hasler thrives in. Hasler’s relationship with the Bulldogs became untenable but he’s been welcomed back to Brookvale with open arms. A master of siege mentality, Hasler commands respect and knows the club better than most. The Sea Eagles were in a worse state when Hasler’s first coaching stint with them began and led them to a golden age of Premierships and success. If they can make Lottoland a fortress-like old times, the Sea Eagles may yet surprise a few.

 

13th – New Zealand

A chaotic off-season for the Warriors – but then again, when have things ever been stable for Steve Kearney’s side? Arguably the most unpredictable side in the competition, a disappointing 2018 suddenly marked a new generation for the Warriors with franchise halfback Shaun Johnson first told he wasn’t getting a new contract beyond 2019 before a rapid mutual termination was agreed upon. The Warriors had Johnson’s sizeable salary to throw at experienced free agents however they declined to do so. This decision either inspires confidence – the Warriors may believe they have two potential replacements in Adam Keighran and Chanel Harris-Tavita already on their books at a combined fraction of Johnson’s cost, or dread – the Warriors are prepared to blood Keighran and Harris-Tavita come what may and wait until 2020 before chasing a more established halfback. There remains huge talent on their books, led by Dally M winner Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, along with leading try scorer David Fusitua while Jazz Tevaga went from a makeshift hooker to the Dally M Interchange Player of the Year. No team enjoys the away trip to New Zealand, and there’s too much ability in the side to totally write them off for 2019. But Johnson’s shadow will loom large over their season, and will only grow if their revamped attack begins faltering and points need to be chased.

 

12th – Gold Coast

What to make of the Gold Coast Titans? The ingredients for a surge up the table are almost there, but the Titans will need to conquer their crippling inconsistency to fulfil their potential. On paper, there are hugely promising signs. Ashley Taylor remains an attacking general at halfback, where he’ll play behind a forward pack loaded with representative class – Jarrod Wallace and Jai Arrow – both incumbent Queensland Origin representatives- are joined by former Australian prop Shannon Boyd, while Kiwi backrower Kevin Proctor will be better on the Glitter Strip with an injury-free offseason. Taylor will be joined by NSW utility Tyrone Peachey, a huge signing from Penrith who looks likely to play at centre but could well get free rein to drift infield with ball in hand. And yet despite all this class, it remains hard to fully trust the Titans.

Michael Gordon at 35 is likely to be preferred at fullback, with Ryley Jacks looming at Taylor’s halves partner. These choices relegate superstar rookie AJ Brimson to the bench and may well blunt the Titans’ offence. Jack, in particular, is known more for his defence than his attack, An inability to win regularly interstate is a huge hurdle to overcome, and likely will see the Titans again narrowly on missing out on finals.

 

11th - Wests Tigers

The Wests Tigers instead face an intriguing 2019 after a drama-filled 2018 which promised much but delivered heartache. Releasing coach Ivan Cleary to Penrith means a third coach since 2017 for the Tigers, but in Premiership winner Michael Maguire the joint venture's management has come up trumps. You know from Maguire’s time at South Sydney and Wigan that very few sides – if any- will be fitter than the Tigers, who in recent years have made a habit of mid to late season collapses. That won’t be an issue under Maguire, however, the same concern which ended their once-promising 2018 season is yet to be fixed. The Tigers attack was unproductive in 2018 – only Parramatta who finished bottom scored fewer points. The Tigers built their campaign on defence and while it helped them squeeze out stunning- and deserved- upsets over Melbourne (twice) and Sydney, their attack never improved to give them a chance in high-stake games and ended their finals dream. Big-money recruit Josh Reynolds is yet to overtake veteran Benji Marshall at five-eighth, Robbie Farah in his final season will be the first-choice hooker ahead of Jacob Liddle, and Moses Mbye will enter a new season knowing his role will be fullback. Luke Brooks won the Dally M Halfback of the Year award but he can’t do it alone – as seen in 2018. The Tigers will be competitive and continue upsetting heavyweights but too many question marks over their attack remain for them to break their finals drought.

 

10th – North Queensland

Welcome to a brave new world Cowboys fans – the Jonathan Thurston era has ended in Townsville and the future Immortal’s shoes on and off the field may be impossible to fill – at least in 2019. Michael Morgan will take over at halfback, but also means two relatively unestablished five-eighths in Jake Clifford and Te Maire Martin will fight it out for the remaining halves slot, and while talent remains, Thurston’s leadership is a huge loss. Ben Barba will not replace Lachlan Coote at fullback as first planned – instead Jordan Kahu from Brisbane will play at the back. Kahu’s an international with New Zealand who will do a job for Paul Green, however, a very late arrival means further disruption to Green’s post-Thurston spine. The Cowboys’ strength remains in the pack. Josh McGuire is their marquee signing from Brisbane and will join fellow representatives Matt Scott, Jordan McLean, Jason Taumalolo and Coen Hess in providing the forward muscle. The Cowboys’ decline in 2018 though is a worry. They were expected to be a Premiership contender, instead found themselves in a wooden spoon battle. There will be improvement in 2019, however, it may not be enough to make a finals run against more settled rivals.

 

9th - St George Illawarra

It’s hardly been a stable off-season for St George Illawarra. Their captain Gareth Widdop sought an early release before agreeing to stay a final season before a move to Warrington in the English Super League. Widdop will also move from five-eighth to fullback, opening the door for new signing Corey Norman to join Ben Hunt in the halves. Losing Jack de Belin indefinitely means a forward pack shuffle which is further hindered by the early season unavailability of Korbin Sims (suspension).

Tyson Frizell will move from an edge into the middle – there’s no question of Frizell’s class, but it means yet another starting line-up shuffle for coach Paul McGregor, who remains a man under the spotlight. A brilliant ambush of Brisbane in week one of the finals was followed by a painful last-second defeat to Souths last year – and that may have been the best shot at a Premiership under McGregor. The Dragons have a tendency for sluggish season finishes under “Mary” – they can ill afford a slow start in 2019.

 

8th – Cronulla

The Sharkies are a club under siege – and yet that’s just how they like it. Ordinarily, a side who in one off-season has lost its star fullback, Premiership winning coach and its Chairman whilst copping substantial fines and penalties for salary cap irregularities would understandably be written off – but this isn’t the first time Cronulla have experienced chaos, and through their recruitment, they remain a relevant finals contender.

Valentine Holmes’ sudden departure to chase an NFL contract left a gaping hole in the Sharks attack – but they wisely moved quickly into shifting Matt Moylan from five-eighth to his more familiar fullback position while recruiting Shaun Johnson from the Warriors. The New Zealand star has spent his entire NRL career at first receiver but a shift into pivot may be the spark the Sharks need to charge their offence. Johnson will see a familiar face in the halves in Chad Townsend – the pair guided the Warriors to the 2012 Grand Final and means the relatively late arrival of the Kiwi is suddenly not such a hindrance in forming cohesion. John Morris was the Sharks choice in taking over from now deregistered coach Shane Flanagan – and with his playing career ending at Cronulla before serving his time in their lower grades, Morris may be inexperienced at head coaching level but will be more aware of the Sharks internally than anyone else. The Sharks still possess an intimidating forward pack led by Andrew Fifita, coming off a career-best campaign. Paul Gallen has signed on for another season and in new signing Josh Morris, the Sharks go a long way – at least in the short term – of replacing departed young star Jesse Ramien in the centres. Wade Graham’s likely return from a serious knee injury in May will be a huge boost for the Sharks at a time where other finals rivals may begin losing talent to Origin. The Sharks cannot be written off – they have too much class and experience to be underestimated, and a finals appearance will be the minimum goal for Morris.

 

7th – Canberra

Will the real Raiders please stand up? Are they the rampaging side who shock up the 2016 season on the back of the game’s biggest forward pack, or are they the 2017-2018 sides who couldn’t close out tight games meaning no finals action? Ricky Stuart needs to deliver or else his position will be in serious jeopardy – and that’s coming from the man himself. Stuart has revamped his squad for 2019 and the changes may be the best thing to have happened to Canberra’s finals hopes. Blake Austin is gone – the five-eighth didn’t live up to the brilliant form of his early Canberra career and has gone to Warrington. This means Aiden Sezer for the first time will become the unquestioned chief-playmaker of his NRL side. Sezer’s organisational skills will be complemented by Jack Wighton’s move from fullback to five-eighth. Wighton is no stranger to this shift, as he previously spent time in the six jersey in his younger Raiders days. Stuart clearly believes Wighton is now ready for the full-time switch and his strong running game may bring joy to where Canberra attack is the strongest – the edges. Joseph Tapine is on the verge of his breakout season, Elliott Whitehead will relish starting the season in the forwards instead of a temporary centre, while Josh Papalii remains one of the game’s best enforcers. New English signings John Bateman and Ryan Sutton bring further steel to a menacing forward lineup and Stuart no doubt will be hoping to again strike gold from the Old Dart likeas he did with hooker Josh Hodgson. Canberra will miss Jordan Rapana in the league’s early rounds from injury, but his return will mean Canberra will field one of the game’s finest wing combos along with Nick Cotric, who will be desperate to crack the NSW Origin side. Canberra needs a finals appearance for the sake of their coach – and with their squad strength, there can be no excuses if not.

 

6th – Newcastle

One of the sides under the most pressure in 2019 happens to be a side who in the last four seasons have three wooden spoons and a 10th place finish to show. Newcastle’s rebuilding phase is over – coach Nathan Brown now has assembled a squad built for September and with the coach under a unique incentive-reliant deal, Brown knows he needs to deliver on the Knights’ patience. But make no mistake - Newcastle has managed to slickly fly under the radar and could be primed for their biggest season since a Preliminary Final appearance in 2013. The recruitment of NSW enforcer David Klemmer was the finishing touch on one of the competition’s strongest forward lineups. Klemmer should thrive under Brown’s coaching and has already been encouraged to offload should he see fit – potentially a huge addition to Newcastle’s attack dynamic. Tim Glasby joins from Melbourne in an unheralded transfer, however, the Queenslander brings with him a culture of success from his time at the Storm and will be the perfect influence on the likes of Herman Ese’ese and Lachlan Fitzgibbon – who each are on the verges of breakout seasons. The biggest wildcard in the Knights chances is the smooth transition of Kalyn Ponga from fullback to five-eighth. The league world is abuzz with Ponga’s potential, but will the young superstar handle the defensive responsibility with his positional change? In Mitchell Pearce he has a Premiership winning halves partner, and if the change is a hit the Knights will be the danger side nobody wants to face come September.

 

5th – Penrith

It’s a huge year for Penrith – a new coach who’s not so new in Ivan Cleary returns to the Panthers and in doing so inherits one of the league’s best lists. Favouring development over big money recruits, Penrith’s roster brings stability and a strong understanding with each other. Only eight of their top 30 have played elsewhere in first grade – and that includes the returning Tim Grant.

In Nathan Cleary and James Maloney, they have clutch playmakers who will be under pressure to deliver in order to be Blues’ coach Brad Fittler’s halves pairing come Origin. Dylan Edwards’ return to fitness is worth noting – it allows Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to return to his more favoured wing position, and means the Panthers have greater balance in their side. An early injury to Viliame Kikau is already a worry – injuries have haunted Penrith in recent years. Even halfback Cleary spent time in the injury ward in 2018 – and if similar misfortune happens, it may be another case of so close yet so far for Penrith’s talented side.

 

4th – South Sydney

South Sydney returned to their on-field status as a competition powerhouse in 2018 – and yet despite a successful season in reaching the preliminary finals, they will begin again in 2019 with their third coach in three seasons. Wayne Bennett – a coach with more Premierships than any other in Australian league history- joins the Bunnies with a serious point to prove to his former employers Brisbane. This motivation will be matched by his hungry squad, who saw their Dally M Coach of the Year Anthony Seibold rock Redfern in requesting a transfer to Brisbane. Bennett is the wiliest coach in the land. The man has seen it all and no doubt will be rubbing his hands together with a Souths squad in a Premiership window. There’s stability in the side. The biggest question marks over the backline are will Greg Inglis play at fullback or centre, and whether Corey Allan will force his way into the side. These are question marks any other side in the competition would be jealous of. And stick Allan’s name in your notebook – joining from Brisbane, he’s yet to debut in NRL but will be a serious Rookie of the Year contender. Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds are one of NRL’s elite halves pairings, and in the forwards, you know what you’re going to get – smashmouth aggression in the middle, the guile of Cameron Murray on an edge and the game’s most dynamic hooker in Damien Cook. Souths are at their best when their heart and soul Sam Burgess is at his best. Bennett has worked with Burgess before as coach of England and will know how to get the best out of the firebrand. Souths are a Premiership contender and offer great value to make the top four.

 

3rd – Melbourne

The Storm juggernaut continues rolling over. The defeated Grand Finalists lose arguably the game’s greatest fullback in Billy Slater, make no significant recruitment – and yet it’s business as usual for the NRL’s most professional club. Craig Bellamy has redefined who the Melbourne Storm are through their reliance on teamwork over an individual. It’s a formula which saw them fall 80 minutes shy of being the first Premiers to retain their crown since Brisbane in 1993. It looked as though Scott Drinkwater would get the first chance to replace Slater but a torn pectoral muscle instead sees Jahrome Hughes with the one on his back. It’s hard to envision any other club losing an iconic player like Slater along with his first-choice replacement and yet carry on as normal, but the Storm will do just that. Cameron Munster made history in the Grand Final but in the worst way possible – two sin bins punctuated a disappointing performance. Munster will look for redemption in 2019 and Melbourne will start becoming his side to lead. Cameron Smith is set to play his 400th NRL game in round 17 against Cronulla- an unfathomable achievement- but Munster is the man under pressure to maintain the Storm’s ruthlessness in attack. Their forwards remain strong, even with the departure of Tim Glasby to Newcastle. Felise Kaufusi is now an established Queensland second-rower, and in Joe Stimson, he has possibly NRL’s most under-rated backrow partner. Melbourne is an automatic top-four pick – it’s just about whether they can deliver under the furnace of elimination footy. They will be stinging from their Grand Final loss – write them off at your own risk.

 

2nd – Sydney

The reigning Premiers with a squad arguably even stronger than their previous campaign while rivals have lost either star players or switched coaches – what can possibly stop the Roosters from defending their title? Only 26 years of history. Brisbane in 1993 achieved something no Premier in a united competition has managed since – a successful title defence. Some of the game’s strongest sides – including the Roosters in 2002 and 2013- have been tipped to repeat and yet here we are. The salary cap is designed to give clubs outside a Premiership window hope they’re only a season away from turning it around – this generally comes from the elite sides losing talent who exceed their contract value. But the Roosters are outsmarting the system by developing players from within while choosing not to pay over what they believe is market value. Blake Ferguson was the Dally M Winger of the Year – but the Roosters declined to match Parramatta’s offer and instead looked at cheaper options in Brett Morris and Ryan Hall. They were prepared to cut Ryan Matterson and Dylan Napa early in order to accommodate Angus Crichton from Souths while backing their rookie forwards to make the step up. It’s a ruthless operation but undeniably successful. Stars remain everywhere for the Tricolours – James Tedesco, Latrell Mitchell, Luke Keary, Cooper Cronk, Boyd Cordner…take your pick. Complacency won’t be an issue for the Roosters – they’ve got too many veterans from their 2013 Premiership which was followed by a crushing 2014 elimination for that to happen. What might be the Roosters’ biggest obstacle is their new home ground. The Sydney Cricket Ground is an entirely different beast to Allianz Stadium. The surface will be harder and potentially more damaged through their AFL and Rugby co-tenants, the oval shape will mean an adjustment for their kicking game and the fact is the ground is foreign for both players and their fans. The club’s relocation with training facilities during the Moore Park revamp should be noted – it takes time for HQ to become home and a slow adjustment to these new settings might just be the biggest threat to a successful Premiership defence.

 

1st – Brisbane

The case can be made for the game’s biggest underachievers in the last decade are the Broncos. An unfathomable title drought stemming from 2006 needs to be ended – and in Anthony Seibold the Broncos believe they have the man who can achieve what Wayne Bennett on his second coming could not. The pieces are in place for a Broncos Premiership. Seibold had a glowing reputation from his work behind the scenes at South Sydney, Melbourne and Queensland before becoming the Bunnies’ head coach in 2018. He took a side who had ran their race under Michael Maguire and instead revitalised them. Damien Cook went from being a backup to Robbie Farah to suddenly the game’s most exciting number nine. He promoted youth and gave his side license to attack. It just so happens Seibold has the game’s best young forwards to work within Brisbane. This is crucial for a Premiership charge – the Broncos will continue to evolve in 2019 with their experience and adjusting to Seibold’s attacking strategy. The fact the Broncos were prepared to let Josh McGuire – a forward leader at the top of his game – depart to a rival in North Queensland is hugely telling in the faith the Broncos have from within. Matt Gillett’s return from a broken neck is huge. Gillett will takeover from McGuire and Sam Thaiday as the Broncos’ spiritual leader and at full fitness the Queenslander arguably NRL’s most balanced edge runner. His return will be music to the ears of playmakers Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima – Gillett will act almost as a safety blanket on an edge – an option the halves can rely on in attack when all else may fail. Milford is capable of breaking open any game – Seibold did wonders with Cody Walker at Souths and will see Milford as his new pet project – look for a huge campaign for “Milf” in 2019. Andrew McCullough may get a new lease of attacking life under Seibold – he’s had a taste of Origin experience and will need to perform to keep his jersey, serving as perfect motivation. Corey Oates’ temptation to shift from the wing to the pack has wisely been ignored. His kick returns are crucial – they set the tempo for the Broncos attack and relieve pressure on the pack. If kickers choose to aim away from the giant Oates they’ll instead face either Darius Boyd – now the NRL’s most senior fullback following Billy Slater’s retirement- or Jamayne Isaako, who looked a future Origin star in his debut season. Suncorp Stadium is an intimidating venue, but the biggest challenge to the Broncos may be the mental scars suffered from their last game there. They were inexplicably diabolical against the Dragons in the first week of the finals, ending their season and in turn sealing Wayne Bennett’s fate. The Broncos may dominate in the regular season but doubt over that dismal effort will linger until they prove otherwise. A win in week one of the finals to secure a week off and a home preliminary final might be all it takes to erase any doubt. You don’t sack the game’s most successful coach and farewell your forward leaders unless you have faith a change is the final step needed to fulfil your potential – and look for the Broncos under Seibold to do just that in 2019.

 

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