It’s been a long off-season for NRL punters, but on-field footy is just around the corner. While not every team has their sights realistically set on a premiership, every club has something to be thankful for heading into Round 1.
The Broncos are thankful for their junior development program. The likes of youngsters David Fifita, Payne Haas, Thomas Flegler, Patrick Carrigan and Kotoni Stags provide plenty of depth to an otherwise stacked football side. Injuries hurt the Broncos in 2018, but they’re well-equipped to deal with any this season. The coaching change shouldn’t cause too many issues; Anthony Seibold is ready for this.
Best Bet: Make the Top 4 @ $1.95
The Raiders continue to give thanks to the UK Super League with the 2018 Man of Steel runner-up, John Bateman, along with Ryan Sutton joining the squad for 2019. They connect with fellow countrymen Elliot Whitehead and Josh Hodgson for this season. Bateman is a magnificent signing, but it’s Hodgson that holds the key for the Raiders. His role at hooker has become even more important with Jack Wighton moving to the halves. In an unfamiliar spine with Wighton playing his first season at five-eighth, how Hodgson plays could make or break Canberra.
Best Bet: Dally M Medal – Josh Hodgson @ $26
The Bulldogs haven’t had a lot to be thankful for in recent years, but the worst is behind them, so there’s that. The only way is up from here, and there’s some interesting young talent for fans to get behind. Lachlan Lewis is the headline, but Reimis Smith, Jeremy Marshall-King, Jack Cogger, Nick Meaney and Ofahiki Ogden are all poised for improvement. It’s a rebuilding year for the Bulldogs. They’re going to struggle and injuries will hurt them more than they would other clubs given Canterbury’s salary cap situation. However, this group showed some resilience to end 2018 and won’t be easy beats.
Best Bet: Least Wins @ $4
The Sharks are thankful for some poor man-management from the Warriors front office. Thanks to the way they handled negotiations with Shaun Johnson, the Sharks were gifted an elite player to replace the departed Valentine Holmes. Without Johnson, the Sharks would be at great risk of falling outside of the Top 8. With him, they look good to play finals footy. If Cronulla can win as many games as they lose while waiting for Wade Graham to return halfway through the year, they’ll feature in September.
Best Bet: Make Top 8 @ $1.75
We don’t know if we can lock it in yet, but the Titans might end up being thankful for a shirtless poster of Johnathan Thurston. Rumour is that the image acted as the catalyst to Ash Taylor losing 8kg to get himself in the best shape of his career. Tayor’s lack of improvement has seen the Titans stall in recent years, but that looks set to change in 2019. They boast a massive pack led by Jarrod Wallace and Jai Arrow while Tyrone Peachey and Brian Kelly fill huge holes in the backline. With Taylor fit and surrounded by perhaps the best squad he’s ever had, the Titans can tickle the Top 8.
Best Bet: Make Top 8 @ $2.80
The Sea Eagles are immensely thankful for Daly Cherry-Evans, Marty Taupau and the Trbojevic brothers because, besides those four, the club doesn’t have much else. After Manly finished with the worst defence in the NRL last season, their backline is now heading into Round 1 of 2019 regarded as the worst in the competition. The four superstars will find ways for the Sea Eagles to win games, but everything will need to go right in the injury department for them to threaten the Top 8.
Best Bet: Least wins @ $6.50
Beaten Grand Finalists in 2018, the Storm will be thankful just to get the season underway. Speculation of Cameron Smith re-signing, salary cap pressures, and questions over how they cope without Billy Slater all dissipate once the ball has been kicked. With Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Jesse Bromwich and Dale Finucane clogging up the middle, Cameron Smith and Cameron Munster conducting the attack, and Jahrome Hughes, Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr providing the finishing touches out wide, the Storm are still a premiership threat.
Best Bet: Top Tryscorer – Josh Addo-Carr @ $9
As they are almost every season, the Warriors are thankful for low expectations. Tipped to win the wooden spoon in 2018, they made the Top 8. With Johnson leaving for Cronulla, talk of the Warriors winning their first ever wooden spoon ($8.50) is again a preseason favourite for punters. This squad is ready to surprise a few people, though. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is coming off a Dally M winning year while the youngsters in what was an impressive pack throughout 2018 are a year older. If Adam Keirghan can provide good service to one of the best back three’s in the NRL, there’s no reason to think the Warriors can’t tread water in Johnson’s absence and return to the Top 8.
Best Bet: Make Top 8 @ $2.70
The Knights are thankful for David Klemmer. He’s being hailed as their saving grace following a 2018 season in which Newcastle were dominated through the middle. They finished the season running for an NRL-low 1,353 running metres per game. On top of that, the Knights were also the second-worst defensive team in the competition. Even if all of the signings and Kalyn Ponga’s move to the halve all work out, there’s still a lot of work for Newcastle to do before playing finals football.
Best Bet: Miss the Top 8 @ $2.05
Given the outside backs offer very little to get excited about, the Cowboys are thankful for their monster forward pack. Matt Scott, Jordan McLean, Gavin Cooper, Coen Hess and Jason Taumalolo are running out for Round 1 while Josh McGuire and John Asiata are named on the bench. That’s a pack that can compete with anybody. If Michael Morgan can work some magic with this backline, the Cows are a chance of playing in September.
Best Bet: Make Top 8 @ $1.75
The Eels were so bad in 2018 that they’re still thankful the season is over. It doesn’t look like getting much better in 2019 either. The spine, while young and full of potential, is unproven. Playing behind a pack that looks set to struggle most weeks won’t make it any easier. Unless Junior Paulo, Shaun Lane and Blake Ferguson are all candidates for Signing of the Season, it’s going to be another long year for the Parramatta faithful.
Best Bet: Least Wins @ $4
After punting him at the end of 2015, the Panthers are thankful for Ivan Cleary’s forgiveness. He’s now in charge of a football side expected to compete for an NRL premiership for the first time in his career. He has his son as well as two-time premiership winner, James Maloney, in the halves, a decent forward pack, and an exciting backline. Will the pressure be too much for the club, though? Backline depth isn’t an issue, but injuries to key forwards could really hurt them. It’s a roughie, but if one of these premiership hopefuls is going to blow out, it’s going to be the Panthers.
Best Bet: Miss Top 8 @ $2.80
Singing his praises since he arrived, the Rabbitohs are thankful for master coach, Wayne Bennett. He’s been around long enough and is familiar with enough players to ensure a relatively smooth transition. We’re not going to see the usual new coach teething issues we normally do here. This squad finished one game short of the NRL Grand Final in 2018 and looks good to go one better this time around. If Greg Inglis can reach full fitness and line up at fullback, this attack will be too much for any defence to handle. Waiting for Inglis’ knees to catch up rules them out as halfway leaders ($10), but this group will be running hot by September.
Best Bet: Premiership Winner @ $8.50
The issues surrounding Jack de Belin have the potential to derail the Dragons’ season. However, there’s enough talent and experience in this squad to push the dramas to the background and play good footy. It could go either way, and it will be obvious early how well the playing group is dealing with de Belin’s absence. In Ben Hunt, Tyson Frizell, Paul Vaughan, James Graham and Tariq Sims, there’s a plethora of representative experience. That group can anchor a Top 8 side with or without de Belin. A rally for the Top 4 isn’t out of the question either.
Best Bet: Make Top 4 @ $3.80
The defending NRL premiers start 2019 as $4 favourites to lift the Provan-Summons Trophy at the end of September. As everybody knows, there has never been a back-to-back premier in the NRL era. And as usual, these defending premiers are “the best chance at becoming the first”. The Roosters have the best 17 in the NRL. There’s little debate about that. However, their depth isn’t all that encouraging. Injuries to the likes of Cooper Cronk, Latrell Mitchell, Luke Kearey or James Tedesco have the potential to cause havoc. Expecting them to start strong before a long season takes its toll, the Roosters will be towards the top of the ladder in June.
Best Bet: Halfway Leaders @ $4
Ah, the Tigers. No team has gone longer without tasting finals football than the joint-venture out west. It doesn’t look like the finals drought will end anytime soon either. The turnover in the coaches box hasn’t allowed the club to build any momentum. Just as the Tigers started to look like a competent football side in 2018, coaching drama took over and yet another new face greeted them at training for 2019. Continuity in the spine should see them improve on what was the 15th-ranked attack in the NRL last season, but Michael Macguire will need a full season before he has all of his process in place. If they’re to surprise anybody, Luke Brooks will need another career year.