2013 NRL Season Preview: Melbourne Storm

By Brady Foray Writers

If there’s one thing the Melbourne Storm proved in 2012 it was that they are in fact human…and they still won the competition. Starting the year all guns blazing, winning their first nine games, their year turned sour quickly following their second bye and the end of the State of Origin series. With Billy Slater injured the club lost five games in a row, something unheard from a Melbourne side over the past couple of years. Though as soon as their bearings were established, with a rampant performance over Penrith in Round 22, Melbourne wouldn’t lose again in 2012.

While Dane Nielson, Sika Manu, Richie Fa’aoso, Rory Kostjasyn, Todd Lowrie, Jaiman Lowe and Anthony Quinn have moved on, the club has a knack of filling these gaps quickly and moving past any deficit in the squad. This can be attributed to obviously the big three in Slater, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk. These three are the reason Melbourne will finish with the minor premiership this season. No stats are needed, their class alone and the club’s ability to adapt to Craig Bellamy’s game plans quickly is the reason while you’ll see the Melbourne Storm perched on top of the table come the final whistle of round 26.

Signings: Junior Sau (Knights), Junior Moors (Tigers), Lagi Setu (Broncos), Brett Finch (Wigan), Tim Glasby (Central Queensland Capras), Kurt Mann (Knights)

Departures: Brayden Wiliame (Eels), Dane Nielsen (Warriors), Sika Manu (Panthers), Luke Kelly (Eels, mid-season),  Richie Fa’aoso (Sea Eagles), Rory Kostjasyn (Cowboys), Todd Lowrie (Warriors), Michael Greenfield (Retired), Jaiman Lowe (Retired), Anthony Quinn (Knights), Shea Moylan (Wynnum-Manly)

Key to Success:

When you hear the words “The Big Three” (pictured right) in Rugby League circles you automatically think of three men. Whether for Australia, QLD or Melbourne: Slater, Smith and Cronk are essential. When together on the paddock last season they won 90.5% of their games for Melbourne, contributing 28 tries and 65 try-assists. Without one of them on the field the whole team struggles. For the Storm to become the first team to go back-to-back for first time since 1993, they need this trio to be fit, firing and healthy for the seasons entire.

Player to Watch:

Not much was known about young back-rower Tohu Harris. A graduate of the Melbourne under 20’s competition, Harris (pictured left) strapped on the boots last week at Headingly to take down the Leeds Rhinos in the World Club Challenge, scoring a brilliant try in the process. Named to start for the Melbourne this week against the Dragons, most NRL fans will get their first proper look at Harris. Soon enough it will be known how much of an impact Harris will make in the NRL this season. Watch this space.

Erratic Eddy says:

“Eddy can’t stand Melbourne. Too many Queenslanders, however, if the Storm is to go back-to-back then Eddy won’t help but feel happy for veteran Jason Ryles. The former NSW and Australian representative missed out on the grand final last year. Let’s hope he can finally win that elusive premiership ring he’s been busting his arse for since the ‘choking’ era of the Dragons.”

Strongest 17: 1- Billy Slater 2- Matthew Duffie 3- Gareth Widdop 4-Will Chambers 5- Sisa Waqa 6- Brett Finch 7- Cooper Cronk 8-Jesse Bromwich 9- Cameron Smith (C) 10- Bryan Norrie 11- Ryan Hoffman 12-Tohu Harris 13- Ryan Hinchcliffe Interchange: 14- Kevin Proctor 15- Jason Ryles 16- Lagi Setu 17- Junior Moors 18th Man: Justin O’Neill.

Predicted Position: 1st

…and the clock has hit zero. The off-season is done for another year. The unpredictability of the NRL will leave fans guessing all year. Over the course of writing these previews the Ben Barba scandal has come to fruition and only today have ASADA seized control of the Cronulla Sharks 2013 fortunes with rumours rife that up to 14 players could be facing two-year suspensions. Rugby league is a controversial game and don’t we love it. Come that first whistle, all will be forgotten, everything will be on the line. The footy is back baby. Get Keen!

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2013 NRL Season Preview: South Sydney Rabbitohs

By Brady Foray Writers

The South Sydney Rabbitohs have made the finals 49 times. They have won 20 premierships out of 33 grand final appearances. Last season was the first time Souths have made the semis since 2007. Before that, they hadn’t made the finals since their 1989 minor premiership success.

2012 was a turning point in the history of the South Sydney Rabbitohs and if it wasn’t for a torn hamstring to influential halfback Adam Reynolds in the first half of their preliminary final loss to the Bulldogs last season, the South Sydney Rabbitohs could’ve made it grand final number 34.

Under the tutelage of Michael McGuire, the Rabbitohs had their best season in decades, this including a six-game winning streak between Rounds 17 & 22. Souths would manage to win 17 of their 27 games last year. While the club have lost cruicial forwards Dave Taylor (Titans), Eddy Pettybourne (Tigers) and Scott Geddes (retired), the club have managed to entice Jeff Lima, Ben Te’o and Thomas Burgess to replace them. Beau Champion and Bryson Goodwin have also come to Redfern in hope of busting into an already explosive backline. It’s going to be a massive year for the Rabbitohs.

Signings: Jeff Lima (Wigan), Ben Te’o (Broncos), Mitchell Bucket (Sunshine Coast), Thomas Burgess (Bradford), Bryson Goodwin (Bulldogs), Beau Champion (Titans)

Departures: Eddy Pettybourne (Tigers), Dave Taylor (Titans), Scott Geddes (retired), James Roberts (Panthers), Adrian Ha’angana (Rugby Union), Fetuli Talanoa, Ryan Carr, Neccrom Areaiiti, Blake Judd, Brendan McKinnon, Curtis Johnston (all released)

Key to Success:

On first count, the South Sydney Rabbitohs first grade squad contains a minimum of seven internationals. None of these men are the key to the success that the Rabbitohs season hinges on. The man the club’s premiership hopes lay on is one with 27 games to his name, halfback Reynolds. 22-year-old Reynolds will look at season 2013 to dispel himself of any second-year-syndrome speculation and build on what the Bunnies started last year. The Indigenous All-Star representative managed 17 try assists last season while also contributing 208 points himself to the Rabbitohs’ cause.

Player to Watch:

Jeff Lima has done a lot in a short amount of time. Even before playing his 100th NRL game, Lima has won two NRL premierships with Melbourne, a Challenge Cup with the Wigan Warriors, the Brent Todd medal for Man of the Match in the same Challenge Cup final and six Tests for New Zealand. Lima returns to the NRL this season to reunite with his former Wigan mentor Michael McGuire at South Sydney. Look for Lima to add an abundance of grunt to an already brilliant forward pack. Lima is a brilliant pick-up for the Bunnies as they look to win the premiership for the first time in over forty years.

Erratic Eddy says:

“I wonder if Tom and George Burgess can even play footy or they’re just here to keep Sam Burgess happy. Having all four brothers at the club, while nice for family morale, may not be the smartest move when it comes to retaining up-and-coming talent. Time will tell.”

Strongest 17: 1- Greg Inglis 2- Nathan Merritt 3- Matt King 4- Beau Champion 5- Andrew Everingham 6- John Sutton 7- Adam Reynolds 8- Roy Asotasi 9- Issac Luke 10- Sam Burgess 11- Chris McQueen 12- Ben Te’o 13- Michael Crocker (C) Interchange: 14- Nathan Peats 15- Jason Clark 16- Luke Burgess 17- Jeff Lima 18th Man: Ben Lowe.

Predicted Position: 2nd

2013 NRL Season Preview: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs

By Brady Foray Writers

Des Hasler came to the Bulldogs last season in controversial circumstances but nonetheless with a plan. He might have put the “I’m here to make the club competitive” shield up but behind the scenes he was working tirelessly, trying to crack the code behind the Bulldogs’ premiership hopes.

He almost succeeded. The Bulldogs came agonising close, winning the minor-premiership in the process, before going down 14-4 in the grand final to Melbourne.

The club managed to win five from 10 in the opening stages of the competition but wouldn’t lose again until Round 25.

The old saying: You have to lose one to win one has never rang truer for the Bulldogs this season. Though with James Graham suspended until Round 10 and Ben Barba out for an indefinite amount of time; the beginning of 2013 could be rocky for the Bulldogs.

The loss of the Dogs’ two main stars of last season may be lessened with the emergence of a T-Rex stomping around out Belmore way. Tony Williams could be just the man to solidify the Dogs another premiership. The Dogs could be just what the doctor ordered for Williams as he looks to maintain much-needed consistency – something the Origin and Australian representative has never quite been able to manage throughout his career.

Signings: Tony Williams (Manly) (pictured left)

Departures: Bryson Goodwin (Rabbitohs), David Stagg (Broncos), James Gavet (Tigers), Luke MacDougall (retired), Sione Kite (Widnes, mid-season), Jonathan Wright (Sharks), Jake Foster (Raiders), Michael Lett (Illawarra Cutters, mid-season), Tupou Sopoaga (Sharks), Corey Payne (retired)

Key to Success:

22 tries, 23 try assists, 122.6 metres averaged per game, 27 line-breaks and 171 tackle-breaks. Maybe now, for those who may struggle (for whatever stupid reason they hold) with the concept of Barba being the 2012 Dally M Player of the Year will realise how influential the man can be. While he is on ice at the moment, dealing with his off-field demons, Barba is the most influential man on the paddock and the obvious key to success for the Bulldogs this season. Let us hope he gets back on the field sooner rather than later, for the sake of the Bulldogs and NRL fans alike.

Player to Watch:

At 19 years old, he still has one more year of Under 20s but how much time he will see of the Holden Cup this season is yet to be determined. First grade beckons for boom prop David Klemmer. Judged as the Toyota Cup Player of the Year last season, Klemmer (pictured right), an already accomplished NSW and Australian representative schoolboy, will look to fill the breach left by suspended James Graham and injured Sam Kasiano. Remember the name.

Erratic Eddy says:

“What do you get when you combine Cranky Franky and T-Rex in the back-row? A sore everything. That’s what every single NRL player will saying when they go toe-to-toe with this destructive duo. Get the ice ready…lots of it.”

“It is nice to see that loyalty is still strong in the younger generations. David Klemmer, a superstar in the making was having the dollars thrown at him by the Knights but low and behold Klemmer stuck strong and has all but re-signed with the Doggies. Congratulations, David.”

Strongest 17: 1- Ben Barba 2- Steve Turner 3-Josh Morris 4- Krisnan Inu 5- Sam Perrett 6- Josh Reynolds 7- Kris Keating 8- Aiden Tolman 9- Michael Ennis (C) 10- Sam Kasiano 11- Frank Pritchard 12-Tony Williams 13- Greg Eastwood Interchange: 14- James Graham 15- Josh Jackson 16- Dale Finucane 17- Dene Halatau 18th Man: David Klemmer.

Predicted Position: 3rd*

*Established before Ben Barba’s suspension. Too hard to change and re-establish new positions

2013 NRL Season Preview: North Queensland Cowboys

By Brady Foray Writers

If it wasn’t for dubious refereeing in the second week of finals last season then who knows where the Cowboys would’ve ended up. 2012 was a year where the Cowboys finally showed some season-to-season consistency after reaching the finals for the second-straight time. Not to be outdone, the Cowboys have the potential to make it a treble of finals appearances in 2013.

2012 was the year of James Tamou at the Cowboys. Their roster this season is relatively unchanged barring the losses of hooker duo Aaron Payne (retired) and James Segeyaro (Penrith). Moving north this season (or south, depending on who you talking about) is Rory Kostjasyn (Storm), young hopeful Curtis Rona (Roosters), English international Scott Moore (Huddersfield) and Clint Greenshields who returns to the NRL after six seasons at the Catalans.

You talk about underdogs or dark horses in a competition. Some may say Cronulla, Newcastle and Raiders have this tag going into season 2013. For us, at the Brady Foray, we believe the Cowboys are deserving holders. Look at their squad, their experience and the combinations. 2013 could be the year of the Cowboy.

Signings: Rory Kostjasyn (Storm), Curtis Rona (Roosters), Clint Greenshields (Catalans), Scott Moore (Huddersfield)

Departures: James Segeyaro (Panthers), Cory Paterson (Hull KR), Aaron Payne (Retired), Moses Pangai (Panthers), Dane Hogan (Easts Tigers), Luke Harlen (Released), Ben Jones (Roosters)

Key to Success:

Most teams in the NRL have one player they are certainly better off with than without. For North Queensland this player and thus the teams’ key to success is Queensland and Australian five-eighth Johnathan Thurston. 79 tackle-breaks, 11 line-breaks and 24 try assists sums up his class. Thurston is the lynchpin to the Cowboys 2013 premiership winning hopes

Player to Watch:

With Payne retiring and Segeyaro moving to the Panthers, the Cowboys were left with a void to fill in at hooker. Scott Moore, who debuted in the Super League at 16, has been touted as this man. A Super League journeyman, Moore was named Hooker of Year in 2009. If he keeps his rumoured attitude in check then he shall be quite the find for the Cowboys this season.

Erratic Eddy says:

“Clint Greenshields returns to the NRL for the Cowboys this season after a long stint in France. Let’s hope he doesn’t repeat last year’s efforts at the Catalans when he went on a Twitter rant about how a referee was a ‘knob’. He was only suspended for a couple of days by the Catalans but imagine if he had done it in Australia. He would’ve copped weeks.”

Strongest 17: 1-Matthew Bowen 2-Ashley Graham 3- Brent Tate 4- Kane Linnett 5-Antonio Winterstein 6- Jonathan Thurston (C) 7-Michael Morgan 8- Matthew Scott (C) 9-Scott Moore 10-James Tamou 11-Tariq Sims 12- Gavin Cooper 13- Dallas Johnson Interchange: 14- Rory Kostjasyn 15- Jason Taumalolo 16- Ashton Sims 17Glen Hall. 18th Man: Scott Bolton.

Predicted Position: 4th

2013 NRL Season Preview: Manly-Waringah Sea Eagles

By Brady Foray Writers

The Sea Eagles squawked into 2012 with a premiership under their wings and with confidence they could go back-to-back. While they looked every bit of a premiership-winning side for the majority of last season when it came to crunch time, the team never lived up to expectations. Losing to the Bulldogs in the first week of the finals, the Sea Eagles were lucky to escape with victory against the Cowboys the week after. Their preliminary final against the Melbourne Storm was a different story. The trophy they had high hopes of holding on to was snatched from them by the Storm in thrashing fashion.

While the Sea Eagles have lost internationals Dean Whare, Tony Williams and forward duo Darcy Lussick and Daniel Harrison the squad is relatively unchanged. Their depth is as strong as it has been in years thanks to the signings of Richie Fa’aoso, Brenton Lawrence, David Gower, Esi Tonga, Kayne Lawton and Justin Horo. Expect a big year from the Sea Eagles; it may be their last hurrah for quite a while yet. Age is a fickle enemy for aging veterans Lyon, Watmough, Matai, King, Kite, Ballin and the Stewart brothers.

Signings: Michael Chee Kam (Raiders), Richie Fa’aoso (Melbourne Storm), Ligi Sao (Warriors), James Hasson (Sharks), Ben Musolino (Dragons), Brenton Lawrence (Titans), Dane Chisholm (Wests Tigers), Jacob Gagan (Eels NYC), David Gower (Dragons), Peta Hiku (Warriors NYC), Jesse Sene-Lefao (Panthers), Kayne Lawton (Titans), Esi Tonga (Eels), Justin Horo (Eels), Jamil Hopoate (Eels), Blake Harrison (Eels), Tim Robinson (released), Tom Symonds (Roosters)

Departures: Dean Whare (Panthers), Tony Williams (Bulldogs), Darcy Lussick (Eels), Daniel Harrison (Eels), Michael Oldfield (Roosters), Josh Drinkwater (Dragons), Liam Foran, Vic Mauro (Salford)

Key to Success:

What is the Sea Eagles without their inspirational co-captain, Jamie Lyon? The answer: an absolute shamble. The Sea Eagles can attribute many of the successes to Lyon (pictured left) over the past few seasons. When on song, Lyon is the deadliest centre in the competition. In 2012, Lyon scored 190 of his team’s points alongside his averaged 75 metres per game, his 55 tackle breaks, seven line breaks and 18 try assists (more than both halves Cherry-Evans and Foran, individually).

Player to Watch:

Jorge Taufua had a ridiculous first foray into the first grade arena in 2012. Taufua solidified his position in the team early in the season and never left. Taufua, who crossed the white stripe 10 times in his rookie season, went so well he was determined Man of the Match in the Sea Eagles’ finals win over North Queensland. Barring his try-scoring escapades, Taufua managed to average 142 metres on a weekly basis and break over 100 tackles. Let’s hope second year syndrome doesn’t affect this freak of nature.

Erratic Eddy says:

“Apart from Penrith and Cronulla, the Sea Eagles have signed brilliantly this season. While most that have signed on will not be first picked for the first grade side, what they have done for their depth is exceptional. Names like Lawrence, Horo, Gower, Tonga and Lawton while not known as regular first-graders can only help the club if they are to fall on hard times.”

“Four clubs in the space of a year. That is the reality Richie Fa’aoso is facing this year after leaving the Newcastle Knights, signing with the Melbourne Storm….whose feeder side is the Cronulla Sharks. Now he’s at the Sea Eagles in surely unprecedented circumstances.”

Strongest 17: 1-Brett Stewart 2- Jorge Taufua 3- Jamie Lyon (C) 4- Steve Matai 5- David Williams 6- Kieran Foran 7-Daly Cherry-Evans 8- Jason King 9- Matt Ballin 10- Brett Kite 11- Anthony Watmough 12- Jamie Buhrer 13- Glenn Stewart Interchange: 14- Ben Farrar 15- Joe Galuvao 16- Richie Fa’aoso 17- Brenton Lawrence 18th Man: George Rose.

Predicted Position: 5th

2013 NRL Season Preview: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks

By Brady Foray

It was touted this time last year that if the Sharks were able to the top eight last season it would be deemed a success. But nobody expected to see such a dramatic upheaval. Journeymen like Ben Ross, Isaac De Gois and Jeff Robson arrived and helped solidify the club as a genuine threat during the first half of last season. While they didn’t keep it up, finishing seventh, and were eliminated by the Raiders in the first week of the finals, the platform was laid for the Sharks to have a crack at their first ever premiership in 2013.

RECRUITS: L-R- Chris Heighington, Luke Lewis, Beau Ryan, Michael Gordon

Now they have the signed the stars to make the unthinkable only a couple of seasons ago into reality. Australian international Luke Lewis joins the Sharks this season alongside former Wests Tigers’ duo Chris Heighington and Beau Ryan, former Origin winger Michael Gordon and 2012 grand finalist Jonathan Wright.

Signings: Michael Gordon (Panthers), Luke Lewis (Panthers), Jonathan Wright (Bulldogs), Beau Ryan (Tigers), Chris Heighington (Tigers) , Tupou Sopoaga (Bulldogs), Alipate Ratini (Fiji)

Departures: Tyson Frizell (Dragons), Colin Best, John Williams, Josh Cordoba (retired), Jeremy Smith (Knights), James Hasson (Sea Eagles), Isaac Gordon (released)

Key to Success:

When the words ‘Success’ and ‘Cronulla Sharks’ are put together in the same sentence, what does your mind picture? If it isn’t Paul Gallen then you are delusional. Gallen (pictured left) is the heart and soul of the Sharks. Gallen has been the sole being that has kept the Sharks’ heart pumping over the years. Last season, Gallen managed to average astronomical numbers. To go with his 27.1 tackles per game, Gallen average 23.3 runs for 193.6 metres alongside his 63 tackle breaks and 52 offloads. Without him, the Sharks have nothing.

Player to Watch:

Luke Lewis, whose blood pumped black due to his association with the Penrith Panthers over the last twelve seasons, has joined the Sharks this season. While 2012 wasn’t as great as seasons past, Lewis was still an instrumental element for the Blues, Australia and the Panthers (when he played) last season. Lewis’s thyroid cancer scare shouldn’t prevent him from having a massive year at Cronulla.

Erratic Eddy says:

“People didn’t give enough credit to Jeff Robson on the Sharks’ performances last season. After two rounds the Sharks were in shambles. Wade Graham wasn’t cutting it at five-eighth and Todd Carney was struggling. Enter Robson and the Sharkies embarked on a six-game winning streak. Expect more of the same this season.”

“Luke Lewis, Beau Ryan and Chris Heighington are not only some of the names that the Sharks have signed this year but between them they will feature on the Footy Show every episode this season. Surely!”

Strongest 17: 1-Michael Gordon 2- Stewart Mills 3- Ben Pomeroy 4- Jonathon Wright 5- Beau Ryan 6- Todd Carney 7- Jeff Robson 8- Bryce Gibbs 9- Isaac De Gois 10- Ben Ross 11-Chris Heighington 12- Luke Lewis 13- Paul Gallen (C) Interchange: 14- John Morris 15- Anthony Tupou 16- Wade Graham 17- Andrew Fifita 18th Man: Jason Bukuya

Predicted Position: 6th

 

2013 NRL Season Preview: Newcastle Knights

By Brady Foray Writers

Let’s not beat around the bush. The Newcastle Knights, who delivered so much promise with the signings of Darius Boyd and coach Wayne Bennett, rarely delivered last season. The Knights were miserable in 2012. The team never clicked under Bennett and the season-ending shoulder injury to captain Kurt Gidley definitely didn’t help. The club went win for loss before Gidley’s injury in Round 8 and embarked on a five-game losing streak thereafter. The successful return of former international Willie Mason, however, was a real highlight for the club last season.

Enter 2013 and the Newcastle Knights appear to have a different vibe about them.  Club veterans Wes Naiqama, Zeb Taia, Richie Fa’aoso and Junior Sau among others have left. The arrival of internationals Beau Scott, David Fa’alogo and Jeremy Smith will not only help the Knights improve on the field but will add much needed experience to a side which lacked leadership last year. If the Knights are to win a premiership in the Wayne Bennett era then this is the season to do it, just as long as Gidley stays fit for the entire season.

Signings: Beau Scott (Dragons), Toka Likiliki (Warriors), David Fa’alogo (Huddersfield), Jeremy Smith (Sharks), Mitchell Frei (Broncos), Anthony Quinn (Storm), Joseph Leilua (Roosters), Travis Waddell (Raiders), Jacob Gagai (Knights)

Departures: Api Pewhairangi (Eels), Zeb Taia (Catalans Dragons), Richie Fa’aoso (Storm, mid-season), Wes Naiqama (Panthers), Kyle O’Donnell (Panthers), Joel Edwards (Raiders), Evarn Tuimavave (Hull KR), Junior Sau (Storm), Sam Anderson (Panthers), Ethan Cook (Panthers), Kurt Mann (Storm), Geordie Connelly (Panthers), Albert Kelly (Titans)

Key to Success:

It was Round 8 last year when it all went downhill for the Newcastle Knights. Kurt Gidley, the inspirational captain and most influential player at the club, left the field clutching at his season-ending shoulder injury. The team never quite recovered. While Tyrone Roberts did an admirable job in Gidley’s (pictured right) absence, at the end of the day there was no replacing the Origin and Australian representative. If the Newcastle Knights are genuine premiership contenders then their skipper needs to be out on the paddock every single game.

Player to Watch:

By no means does this mean he’ll have a brilliant season, but it will be interesting to see how former New Zealand international David Fa’alogo will perform in his NRL return. Well-known for his seven-season stint at the Rabbitohs (and for knocking out the first grade coach at the time Jason Taylor), Fa’alogo (pictured left) returns to the NRL to add some (much needed) grunt to the otherwise relative soft Knights forward pack.

Erratic Eddy says:

“They call Wayne Bennett ‘the super coach’…fair enough call I suppose. He has proven himself over time with Canberra, Broncos and Dragons that he is one of the best coaches to ever pick up a clipboard. But Eddy can’t believe they got rid of internationals like Fa’aoso, Tuimavave and Kafusi to keep Adam Cuthbertson. What was/is Bennett thinking?”

Strongest 17: 1-Darius Boyd 2- James McManus 3- Dane Gagai 4- Timana Tahu 5- Akuila Uate 6- Jarrod Mullen 7- Kurt Gidley (C) 8- Willie Mason 9- Danny Buderus 10- Kade Snowden 11- Chris Houston 12- Beau Scott 13- Jeremy Smith Interchange: 14- Matt Hilder 15- Neville Costigan 16- David Fa’alogo 17- Robbie Rochow. 18th Man: Zane Tetevano.

Predicted Position: 7th