By Stephen Gallagher
It’s the most wonderful time of the year…. It’s not Christmas, but for league loving legends out there it may as well be Christmas!
With the NRL Nines in giving us a delicious taste of what was to come this season in early February, and then the Super Rugby got underway last week, we knew it was not going to be long until league season got underway.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. That first hit up, the first big hit, the rivalries, the fans, the 26 weeks of regular season football that will have the fans reacting all over the globe to some sensational footy and some heart-stopping passages of play. It’s the most wonderful time of year.
Lets count down the season! Going to share my thoughts on who will finish where – starting with teams placing 16-13 in this piece, and throughout the week revealing who will finish where.
Oh, and cheers to Sportsfreak for continuing to put up with my league pieces! [Ed:- probably should remove this, but no]
SIXTEENTH: GOLD COAST TITANS
Ins: David Shillington (Canberra Raiders), Nathan Friend (New Zealand Warriors), Zeb Taia (Catalan Dragons), Ashley Taylor (Brisbane Broncos), Tyrone Roberts (Newcastle Knights), Leivaha Pulu (Wyong Kangaroos), Chris McQueen (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Cameron Cullen (Burleigh Bears)
Outs: Nate Myles (Manly Sea Eagles), Aidan Sezer (Canberra Raiders), Dave Taylor (Catalan Dragons), Shaun Hudson (North Queensland Cowboys), Ben Ridge (retirement), Matthew White (Melbourne Storm), Brad Tighe (retirement), Kalifa Faifai Loa (St George Illawarra Dragons), Beau Falloon (Leeds Rhinos), James Roberts (Brisbane Broncos)
This season has already started poorly for the Titans, with wonderkid of 2015 Kane Elgey going down in the off-season with an ACL injury which will keep him out for the majority of the season, if not missing the entire campaign. Then you gotta think about this Bears takeover bid – what is happening in the front office of this Gold Coast Franchise?
Titans fans – look away, 2016 is going to be a season to forget for you. Which judging by your unpopulated home games of last year won’t be a big deal. I just can’t see the Titans firing any shots. Ashley Taylor is the new young Queensland star, with one NRL appearance to his name – I hope he has broadened his shoulders over the pre-season because he has the weight of his side on him, along side with former Newcastle half Tyrone Roberts.
They haven’t recruited very well, with only Chris McQueen being worthy of a mention. Zeb Taia, and Dave Shillington are seat fillers and Nathan Friend will be the only one out there playing 80 minutes and making tackles.
This is probably a harsh preview of what’s to come this season for the Titans – but their forward pack lacks any fear and their backs don’t have the skillset other teams are offering this season.
FIFTEENTH: WESTS TIGERS
Ins: Matt Ballin (Manly Sea Eagles), Jack Littlejohn (Manly Sea Eagles), Michael Chee-Kam (Manly Sea Eagles), Jesse Parahi (rugby union), Justin Hunt (St George Illawarra Dragons), Jordan Rankin (Hull FC), Josh Addo-Carr (Cronulla Sharks), Joel Edwards (Canberra Raiders), Rod Griffin (Ipswich Jets), William McConnachie (Ipswich Jets), Josh Aloai (Parramatta Eels)
Outs: Martin Taupau (Manly Sea Eagles), Pat Richards (Catalan Dragons), Keith Galloway (Leeds Rhinos), Shannon McDonnell (St Helens), Te Maire Martin (Penrith Panthers), Tim Moltzen (Manly Sea Eagles), Matthew Woods (Parramatta Eels), Salesi Funaki (Brisbane Broncos), Delouise Hoeter (Townsville Blackhawks)
It’s not a pretty sight for the players they’ve let go. That’s plenty of talent and experience missing for what is already a young Tigers team.
Then there is this whole Robbie Farah/Jason Taylor fiasco which unplayed, but nothing ever came of it and now Farah is staying (however will miss the opening month of football as he has undergone surgery for an injury suffered in a trial) which just reflects poorly to all those keeping on eye on this Tigers side.
Brooks and Moses still have a lot to learn, and I don’t trust them enough to stand up and deliver when it comes to winning games. They are injury riddled already at the beginning of the season, so they are on the back foot from the get go. Hard to climb the ladder when you don’t have a side capable of playing first-grade footy.
On the upside, give this side a Gus Gould five year plan, and they might actually get back in to the top eight. Woods, Tedesco, Brooks, Moses, and co have the potential to bring this club out of the darkness. Just not this year.
FOURTEENTH: NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS
Ins: Trent Hodkinson (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Mickey Paea (Hull FC), Will Pearsall (Manly Sea Eagles), David Bhana (Warriors), Pauli Pauli (Parramatta Eels)
Outs: Kurt Gidley (Warrington Wolves), Beau Scott (Parramatta Eels), Clint Newton (retirement), David Fa’alogo (retirement), Carlos Tuimavave (Hull FC), Tyrone Roberts (Gold Coast Titans), Adam Clydsdale (Canberra Raiders), Kerrod Holland (Canterbury Bulldogs), Todd Lowrie (retirement), Honeti Tuha (Parramatta Eels), Chris Houston (Widnes Vikings), Joseph Tapine (Canberra Raiders)
With only two signings that are worthy of mentioning, this could be another long season for the Knights.
Trent Hodkinson is the sort of halfback you want in your side when your starting halfback is out injured. However this is all Newcastle have…..
They’re a side that could be capable of making a few upset wins this year, but won’t be anywhere near threatening enough to make a run to the finals.
On the upside, this will be their first full season under Nathan Brown… Remember, he slapped Trent Barrett and Mark Gasnier on the sideline all those years ago? Yeah he’s back to coach – so it will be interesting to see how he can rally a deplated roster.
THIRTEENTH: PARRAMATTA EELS
Ins: Kieran Foran (Manly Sea Eagles), Michael Jennings (Sydney Roosters), Beau Scott (Newcastle Knights), Michael Gordon (Cronulla Sharks), James Hasson (Manly Sea Eagles), Cameron King (North Queensland Cowboys), Kieran Moss (Penrith Panthers), Rory O’Brien (St George Illawarra Dragons), Mitch Cornish (Canberra Raiders), Kelepi Tanginoa (North Queensland Cowboys), Scott Schulte (North Queensland Cowboys), Clinton Gutherson (Manly Sea Eagles), Matthew Woods (Wests Tigers), Honeti Tuha (Newcastle Knights)
Outs: Darcy Lussick (Manly Sea Eagles), Ryan Matterson (Sydney Roosters), Ben Crooks (Castleford Tigers), Zach Dockar-Clay (Penrith Panthers), Chris Sandow (Warrington Wolves), Beau Champion (retirement), Fabian Goodall (Sea Eagles), Richie Fa’aoso (retirement), Reece Robinson (rugby union), Joseph Paulo (Cronulla Sharks), Josh Aloai (Wests Tigers), Will Hopoate (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Pauli Pauli (Newcastle Knights)
There’s no doubting that the Parramatta Eels have recruited the most in the off-season. That’s mainly due to them having no good players whatsoever on their roster at the end of 2015.
I do think this Parramatta side are capable of doing big things this year… but much like Newcastle, their problem over the last ten years is consistency. Kieran Foran will have a lot on his plate, having to lead around this fresh faced new era of blue and gold. A lot of guys are going to have to earn their positions on this team with so many spots up for grabs in round one.
Lets not forget they did win the NRL Auckland Nines early in February, but thirteen-a-side, twenty-six round league is a lot different to a two day competition.
Follow Stephen Gallagher on Twitter