The League Lowdown now looks at the remaining 8 teams and their prospects for the upcoming season.......
WESTS TIGERSLAST SEASON: Ninth KEY LOSSES: Robbie Farah (Rabbitohs), Josh Addo-Carr (Storm), dene Halatau (retired), Curtis Sironen (Sea Eagles). BIG GAINS: Jamal Idris (free agent).
CURRENT BEST ODDS:$31.00This is going to be a defining year for the Tigers and especially coach Jason Taylor. It will be the first time in over a decade that the Tigers will be without Robbie Farah in their side, with Taylor deciding not to resign the ‘heart and soul’ of the team and instead opting for alternatives at hooker. Farah’s replacement will be the highly versatile Matt Ballin who missed most of last season through injury. After beginning last year with consecutive wins their season was defined by six straight losses thereafter. It meant that the Tigers were playing catch up with the Top 8 for the remainder of the season. Ultimately they missed out on the Top 8 by a single point and of all their 13 losses (11 wins), they will look back to the one against Newcastle in Round 6 which hurt the most because it was the only win the Knights had all year! That aside the Tigers shed a stack of players at the end of the season including the exciting Josh Addo-Carr while Dene Halatau retired but the one big question will be how they cope without Farah. The board appeared to have backed Taylor to turn things around in 2017 which will be his third year at the club. It’s now or never for him! He has, however, managed to snare one of the prized recruits of the off-season in former boom rookie Jamal Idris. After having a year off from the game, Idris is back and determined to get back to the sort of form that saw him represent New South Wales and Australia. His presence, along with a bit more maturity after a tough season from Mitchell Moses, Luke Brooks and James Tedesco, could see the Tigers register a winning record for the first time since 2011.
NEW ZEALAND WARRIORSLAST SEASON: 10th KEY LOSSES: Thomas Leuluai (Wigan), Jonathan Wright (Sea Eagles), Raymond Faitala-Mariner (Bulldogs). BIG GAINS: Kieran Foran (Eels).
CURRENT BEST ODDS:$12.00Don’t laugh but this could be the year New Zealand are crowned champions of the National Rugby League. I know many people have given the Warriors a chance year after year, and each time, have been seriously let down. This year could be different but that comes with one big clause – Kieran Foran. The talented halfback was released from the Eels last season and signed a one-year deal with the Warriors for 2017 but the NRL are yet to register the contract. It’s this sticking point which will ultimately determine whether they are premiership contenders or not. Foran is one of the best talents in the NRL and if he can get his head right and has all his off-field issues sorted out then it looks as though the Warriors have snared themselves a bargain. Whether that is the case and whether he is allowed to play is a question that will soon be answered. Even without Foran, New Zealand have a talented playmaker in Shaun Johnson but he has shown that he can’t do everything on his own and needs some help. That help could come in the form of new captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck who returned to action in a trial match against Melbourne on February 11. The brilliant fullback was a prized recruit for the Warriors in 2015 but missed most of the season thanks to a knee injury. For years they’ve had a squad that is the envy of most of the league and if all the pieces fall into place for coach Stephen Kearney, then the Provan-Summons trophy could be headed across the ditch for the very first time.
STGEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONSLAST SEASON: 11th KEY LOSSES: Mike Cooper (Warrington), Ben Creagh (retired), Benji Marshall (Broncos), Dylan Farrell (retired), Mitch Rein (Panthers), Adam Quinlan (Hull KR). BIG GAINS: Paul Vaughan (Raiders), Cameron McInnes (Rabbitohs), Nene Macdonald (Titans).
CURRENT BEST ODDS:$101.00Many people will be wondering how Paul Mcgregor kept his job as Dragons coach after their performances last season. Despite having the likes of Josh Dugan, Tyson Frizell, Benji Marshall and Gareth Widdop, the Red V struggled to score points all season. Only the lowly Knights scored less than them. In criticising Mcgregor it must be remembered that he did guide them to the finals the year before so maybe he was entitled to a bad year, however, he won’t get another one. The Dragons didn’t sign too many players in the off-season but did shed quite a few older players including captain Ben Creagh, who retired, along with Marshall who has gone to Brisbane. The signing of former Raiders giant Paul Vaughan is a positive and adds to a pretty big forward pack which will feature the highly promising Luciano Leilua. Stgeorge Illawarra didn’t come out of the Auckland Nines all that well and will begin the season with the talented Matt Dufty likely to miss the start of the season. Prior to that, Drew Hutchison did an ACL in training back in December and left the Dragons without a solid replacement for Marshall. The Nines did allow youngster Jai Field to show off his talent and although raw and immature, Mcgregor may take the gamble on him in the halves. Expect to see veteran Josh McCrone fighting for the same spot though. In summary even the most one-eye Dragons fan will admit they face a battle to make the Top 8 so on that basis, we definitely want value if we are going to put money on that happening.
SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHSLAST SEASON: 12th KEY LOSSES: Luke Keary (Roosters), Joe Burgess (Wigan), Cameron McInnes (Dragons), Kirisome Auva’a (released). BIG GAINS: Robbie Farah (Tigers), Luke Kelly (Eels), Robert Jennings (Panthers).
CURRENT BEST ODDS:$16.00South Sydney could be one of the big improvers in 2017. No doubt that coach Michael Maguire and the entire playing roster were disappointed with last season. Their efforts saw them yield just nine wins and lose 15 times just two years removed from winning the 2014 premiership. Although they had a poor record you have to remember that something clicked in the final five weeks of the season. They took the Storm to Golden Point in Melbourne but lost to a Cameron Smith field goal after blowing a big lead. They then beat the Warriors, eventual premiers Cronulla, Newcastle and Bulldogs to finish their campaign. Plenty went wrong for the Rabbitohs with Adam Reynolds missing a big part of the season due to a broken jaw while Greg Inglis was also missing thanks to Origin and suspension. Maguire trimmed the squad of a handful of players from last season and managed to snare the prized signing of Robbie Farah. The veteran hooker could add another dimension in attack to Souths and could be the piece of the puzzle that was missing after the departure of Isaac Luke in 2015. How he links up with Inglis and Reynolds will be vital to their chances of success while Clive Churchill Medallist Sam Burgess will get a full pre-season under his belt after returning to the NRL in 2016. Aaron Gray will be missing for the first month of the season after being injured at the Auckland Nines. Other than that the Rabbitohs are looking pretty solid. Note that most bookies have kept them safe in the betting to win the NRL Premiership.
MANLY WARRINGAH SEA EAGLESLAST SEASON: 13th KEY LOSSES: Jamie Lyon (retired), Steve Matai (retired), Jamie Buhrer (Knights), Nathan Green (released), Feleti Mateo (Salford), Luke Burgess (Catalans). BIG GAINS: Blake Green (Storm), Akuila Uate (Knights), Curtis Sironen (Tigers), Jackson Hastings (Roosters), Jonathan Wright (Warriors), Frank Winterstein (rugby).
CURRENT BEST ODDS:$29.00Out of all the teams in the NRL it was the Sea Eagles were the busiest in terms of off-season activity. We haven’t listed all the comings and goings above, however, Trent Barrett is likely to field a totally different outfit to the one that played in 2016. They’ve had some big losses with Jamie Lyon and Steve Matai retiring and Jamie Buhrer moving on but in their place come some very nice players including Blake Green and Jackson Hastings just to name a few. Green played an integral part in the Storm’s charge to the Grand Final while Hastings has been regarded as one of the best young talents going around but couldn’t get a go with the Roosters last season. The addition of popular winger Akuila Uate gives them danger on the fringes while Curtis Sironen will be looking to cement a first grade spot on a permanent basis on the Northern Beaches. Manly’s 2016 never really got going and they won just eight games from 24 – definitely not good enough for the Sea Eagles faithful. Their roster definitely isn’t the worst in the competition but they need to improve a great deal if they are to make the Top 8.
PARRAMATTA EELSLAST SEASON: 14th KEY LOSSES: Kieran Foran (Warriors), Luke Kelly (Rabbitohs), Danny Wicks (retired), Michael Gordon (Roosters). BIG GAINS: George Jennings (Panthers), Josh Hoffman (Titans), Frank Pritchard (Hull FC), Kirisome Auva’a (unattached).
CURRENT BEST ODDS:$19.00Most Parramatta fans will want to forget 2016 in a hurry. Everything was going along rosily and the Eels were shaping as genuine premiership contenders before the salary cap scandal and the Kieran Foran saga unravelled their season. Even when they had their points stripped and they started from scratch again, it was unrealistic to think that Parramatta could make the finals but they gave it a genuine shot. Foran is now gone, as are a few people in the administration side of things, so essentially the Eels can now start on a clean slate. One big positive from last season was the form of Corey Norman who will once again play a big part in the Eels fortunes. Veterans like Beau Scott and Michael Jennings, who played really well last year, will once again take on leadership roles and be vital components to the Parra machine. Coach Brad Arthur has done a tremendous job in trying to steady the ship over the past few years and this could be the season he gets the best out of the Blue and Golds. Just how much the team has learnt and gained from the harrowing experience of 2016 will only be seen when Round 1 comes about. Definitely worth having a few dollars on in exotic NRL bets like Top 4 etc.
SYDNEY ROOSTERSLAST SEASON: 15th KEY LOSSES: Jackson Hastings (Manly), Sam Moa (Catalans). BIG GAINS: Michael Gordon (Eels), Luke Keary (Rabbitohs).
CURRENT BEST ODDS:$11.00No one could have predicted that the Roosters would wind up closer to last than first when January 2016 rolled around. Then the Mitchell Pearce saga resulted in him missing the first part of the season while key injuries to the likes of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Boyd Cordner had them on the back foot from Round 1. When they all did come back in to the squad the Roosters began to show signs of the team that won the previous three Minor Premierships but by that time, 2016 was dead and buried. Pearce finished the season strongly as did the rest of the team and with several key recruits, we may well see the Tricolours as one of the teams to beat. Michael Gordon was a smart acquisition from Parramatta as was securing Keary from the Rabbitohs. The latter is likely to take the place of Jackson Hastings who seemed to fall out of favour with coach Trent Robinson in the early stages of the season. Through the rubble emerged some big positives though in the shape of talented youngsters Connor Watson and Latrell Mitchell, who will be far better for having made their debuts last season. Watson was named Player of the Tournament at the recent Auckland Nines which the Roosters won by beating Penrith in the Final; Mitch Aubusson was instrumental in captaining the side; while Bernard Lewis became an instant cult hero. All in all, the Nines was a great tournament for the boys from Bondi. They have improvement written all over them for 2017 and although they aren’t the team from a few season ago, we think they can definitely feature in the finals come September.
NEWCASTLE KNIGHTSLAST SEASON: 16th KEY LOSSES: Jeremy Smith (retired), James McManus (retired), Kade Snowden (retired), Akuila Uate (Sea Eagles), Jake Mamo (Huddersfield), Korbin Sims (Broncos). BIG GAINS: Jamie Buhrer (Sea Eagles), Rory Kostjasyn (Cowboys), Anthony Tupou (Wakefield).
CURRENT BEST ODDS:$251.00Newcastle will head into 2017 with plenty of optimism if their off-season recruiting is anything to go by. Coach Nathan Brown managed to secure the signatures of Jamie Buhrer and Rory Kostjasyn which will immediately improve the spine of their team and attacking prowess. Coming off the worst season of any club in NRL history, Newcastle posted just the one win and one draw while having the dubious honour of the poorest attack and defence. Brown did get the chance to blood several youngster last season and they should be all the better for the experience. Gone are hard heads Jeremy Smith and Kade Snowden who have hung up the boots while cult hero Akuila Uate has gone to Manly. It’s still hard to get enthused about their chances of being premiership contenders and even a spot in the Top 8 is way off. You have to remember, they were a whopping 20 points behind the Titans who finished eighth. Things are definitely looking up and we are almost certain they will finish with at least 4-5 wins for 2017 at a bare minimum.