March 14th cannot come quick enough for the NRL after an interesting offseason, to say the least. We’re here to predict how the season will play out and which teams can contend for the 2019 Grand Final.
The addition of Cooper Cronk paid immediate dividends as the Roosters took out the 2018 Grand Final. Coming into 2019 as the hunted team every week won’t be easy but they have the best talent on paper. In the offseason, they’ve added the experience of Brett Morris and Angus Crichton in his prime. Which will offset the losses of Napa and Ferguson. They have the talent of Mitchell/Manu in the centres, Tedesco in career best form and Luke Keary is on the verge of becoming a star.
Wayne Bennett is out and new coach Anthony Seibold will look to turn the Broncos back into a powerhouse. He led the Rabbitohs to 3rd spot last year and they just fell short in the finals. He now has a young squad to work with at Brisbane. They will need to improve defensively after they ranked last within the top 8 for points allowed and that showed in a 48-18 crushing defeat in the finals. But with the NRL’s love affair of Friday/Thursday night games at Suncorp Stadium, they’ll continue to be in the hunt for the Grand Final.
After a disappointing performance in the 2018 decider, Melbourne’s biggest question mark in the offseason was whether Cameron Smith would re-sign. Well after a bit of a stalemate, the two parties agreed to a new contract. With Smith and Bellamy around this squad, expect the Storm to be around the top 8 once again. Although, they have lost the experience of Billy Slater and Ryan Hoffman to retirement. The likes of Brandon Smith, Brodie Croft, Curtis Scott and Jarome Hughes are talented enough to lead the Storm back into the finals.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
South Sydney wasn’t satisfied with a 3rd place finish in 2018 and as a result, they’ve hired master coach Wayne Bennett. They have lost the talented Angus Crichton and Robert Jennings. Greg Inglis isn’t getting any younger either. But with the likes of Cook in career best form and the Burgess boys in the middle of the park, they’ll be a tough team to beat.
St. George Illawarra Dragons
It’s a shame the Jack de Belin saga has overshadowed a solid 2018 campaign. They came within a point of the Rabbitohs in the semi-finals and they were on top of the ladder until Round 11. In 2019, I see them having another strong season and finishing in the top 8. Their schedule is very kind with no trips to Melbourne or New Zealand. There’s also extra motivation for the squad as Gareth Widdop will depart after the season.
Ivan Cleary is now at the helm of the Panthers in 2019 and he’ll look to improve on a 5th place finish. He should enjoy working with his son, who will be a player to watch in 2019. The spine of this team is strong with the experience of Maloney and Watene-Zelezniak at the back. While in the forward pack, Trent Merrin is missing but they have a number of young forwards to replace him. Penrith enjoys a nice home-field advantage in NSW and should finish around the top 6 again.
It’s fair to say Cronulla will be glad the 2019 season is almost here because it’s been a very long offseason. They’ve been rocked by salary cap issues from a few seasons ago and head coach Shane Flanagan has been let go. They also lost one of their best players to American Football in Valentine Holmes. However, some good news is that fact they recruited Shaun Johnson from the Warriors. On potential, Johnson can be one of the best players in the NRL. But he just lacks consistency and it will take time for him to adjust within a new squad. They’ve also lost Wade Graham for the first half of the season.
It’s been an offseason from hell at the Shire and I think that will translate onto the field. Their forward pack is only getting older and an ACL injury to Wade Graham really hurts. Losing Valentine Holmes is a big step back for their attack and while they’ve added Shaun Johnson, he can be inconsistent. The fixture isn’t overly kind either as they play the Storm, Broncos, Panthers and Dragons twice. As well as 3 five-day turnarounds and travelling during the SOO period.
It’s been a while since the Knights featured in the finals but if everything goes to plan in 2019, I like their chances this year. Firstly, they start the season with 5 of 7 at home and that should give the squad momentum. They were rocked by Mitchell Pearce’s injury early on last year despite a good start. So hopefully that doesn’t occur again. An interesting move will see Ponga playing at five-eighth in 2019 and getting the ball in his hands more often will only benefit their attack. He’ll take time to learn a new role but a string of home games to start with will help.
It’s pretty hard to see any side competing with the Roosters talented squad in 2019 for the Minor Premiership. The fact that they won the Grand Final last year with Cronk basically coaching on the field is a scary sight for the NRL. They’ve now added Morris and Crichton in the offseason. No doubt, finishing 1st in back to back seasons is a tough feat but this team is too talented not to achieve this feat.
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