2019 NRL Season Preview & Predictions
We look into our crystal ball to find the premiers, the finalists and which team will take home the wooden spoon in 2019.
Defending Premiers Sydney Roosters are hot favourites to go back to back at $4.90* (Betfair) – but to do so they’ll need to overcome 26 years of history. Brisbane in 1993 were the last Premiers to successfully defend their title in a unified competition. In the Roosters’ favour is a loaded squad and great recruitment (although losing Blake Ferguson, Ryan Matterson and Dylan Napa, the gains of Angus Crichton, Brett Morris and Ryan Hall are significant), along with the added bonus of a stable offseason under coach Trent Robinson.
Although the Roosters were worthy Premiers, it’s also easy to forget they came perilously close to what ultimately undermined their last title defence – a week one finals defeat. In 2014 Penrith stunned the Roosters and in a year where the boys from the East were hot tips to go back to back, they couldn’t overcome this hurdle. Last year Cronulla pushed the Roosters all the way in week one of the finals.
There’s a reason why it’s been figuratively eons since a successful Premiership defence, and so it’s worth looking at another side with a heavyweight squad – Brisbane.
Under new coach- and Dally M Coach of the Year- Anthony Seibold, Brisbane are primed to end the longest Premiership drought in club history. The Broncos’ strength lies in their pack – they have the best group of young forwards in the game, to the point where even the early injury of Tevita Pangai Junior means an opportunity for David Fifita to seamlessly replace him on an edge.
The Broncos have a stable spine in Darius Boyd, Anthony Milford, Kodi Nikorima and Andrew McCullough, and in Jamayne Isaako and Corey Oates, they’ve got one of the best wing pairings in the game. Seibold has a burgeoning reputation in the sport – Brisbane was ruthless in their pursuit of him to replace Wayne Bennett – and will have a point to prove to his former club- and fellow Premiership contenders- South Sydney ($8.50* – Unibet).
In a chaotic off-season for the sport, Newcastle has managed to slickly fly under the radar – but make no mistake, the Novocastrians are Premiership dark horses. The Knights rebuild has accelerated under coach Nathan Brown and the recruitment of NSW enforcer David Klemmer was the finishing touch on one of the competition’s strongest forward lineups.
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.
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.
It’s the first season of the post-Jonathan Thurston era, but North Queensland are in a better position to handle this transition than it may appear. This is now Michael Morgan’s team and as seen in 2015 and 2017, Morgan thrives under increased pressure. He’ll also relish playing behind a tremendous forward group which remarkably continues to improve following the signing of Josh McGuire from Brisbane. The Queensland and Australian middle forward joins fellow representatives Matt Scott, Jason Taumalolo, Coen Hess and Jordan McLean in a blockbuster forward pack. There are enough senior heads in the squad- along with Premiership coach Paul Green- to compensate the leadership void left by Thurston. 2018 was a huge disappointment for the Cowboys but they did finish the season in a more positive manner and are capable of making another finals run in 2019.
Parramatta faces another long season – and possibly Brad Arthur’s final as coach. A promising 2017 saw hopes rise for the Eels. Instead, they hit rock bottom. Perhaps halfback Mitchell Moses best epitomised the dramatic collapse – he went from being mentioned for NSW selection to a first grader completely devoid of confidence. He’ll have the youngest five-eighth in the competition to start off within 2019 in Dylan Brown, along with a highly inexperienced hooker in Reed Mahoney. It’s a huge pressure on Moses’s shoulders. Their recruitment is positive, led by the impressive trial form of Blake Ferguson and Shaun Lane, but there are too many questions over the Eels’ roster to even consider them as a finals contender.
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. The Dragons have a tendency for sluggish season finishes under McGregor – they can ill afford a slow start in 2019.
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 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. Their recruitment is promising – Dylan Napa and Corey Harawira-Naera, in particular, stand out in the forwards- 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.
Best bet – Canterbury