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2018 NRL Season Preview - Part 1: Broncos to Sharks

2018 NRL Season Preview - Part 1: Broncos to Sharks

They say that opinions are much like ar$€holes…you’re not concerned with anyone else’s...until you have to hear it.

It is in this spirit of sharing that we’ve put together our 2018 NRL Season Preview.

With input from a cast of more reliable and knowledgeable characters than us, including:

  • The Phantom Tragic - owner of the best mailbag in Rugby League gives us his (her?) lowdown on each team’s chances this year and lays it on the line with predictions
  • The lads from NRLCEO Fantasy - the greatest damned Fantasy game in the Universe, give us their picks for your Fantasy team, the best left-field choices to get you one up on your mates, and threw in who they wish they could pick in Fantasy teams as well!

All we had to do was sit back and watch as these gurus tinkered away, considering all aspects of the new season, players and clubs involved. We laughed, we cried and we were moved to tears and sometimes laughter. We take no credit for any advice you glean from this preview, nor money or kudos you win. No seriously.

HOWEVER, we do take all the credit for your enjoyment in reading.

So read on ladies and gents, ‘pon the greatest Rugby League season preview ever: the 2018 NRL Season Preview!


2017 Season - Lost Prelim Final

Player Gains - Jack Bird (Sharks), Patrick Mago (Cowboys), Andre Savelio (Warrington), Sam Tagataese (Sharks)

Player Losses - Jai Arrow (Titans), Adam Blair (Warriors), Herman Ese'ese (Knights), Ben Hunt (Dragons), Matiu Love-Henry (Warriors), Benji Marshall (Wests Tigers), Tautau Moga (Knights), Jai Whitbread (Titans), Joe Boyce, Mitchell Dodds, Travis Waddell (released)

The Phantom Tragic:

Winning is in the Broncos DNA, and despite the disappointment of dropping out of contention a week early, 2017 exceeded predictions. Wayne Bennett is the ultimate competitor though and so naturally he has undertaken a player cleanout during off-season. The only uncertainty: has he held the right cards or folded prematurely? Keep in mind, at one time or another over the recent past, the Broncos have had huge wraps on each of Jai Arrow, Ben Hunt and Mitchell Dodds. Now that they’ve all left, the Broncos narrative, played out via the media, is that they weren’t worth keeping. As ever with the Broncos, the reality lies somewhere in between the lines.

Whilst the Broncos remain a team with the natural advantages of a cap extended courtesy of third party agreements, and this is straddled to an often sycophantic support from an adoring and fawning Brisbane media…and yet there remain nagging doubts; the front row and halves are not exactly positions that can be papered over with stop-gap options or inconsistent role players.

In any case, they possess rep players galore in Boyd, Oates, Kahu, Roberts, Bird, Milford, Nikorima, McGuire, the indefatigable Gillett, Thaiday….not to mention the workaholic McCulloch. And let’s not forget a wildcard in every sense of the word, the ‘reformed’ Matt Lodge. Can he rise above the intense and completely justifiable scrutiny to fulfill the promise that once had him touted as one of the premier props in the game?

Their swollen roster will probably allow them to force a spot in the bottom half of the eight, much like a toddler forces an hexagonal puzzle piece into a round hole. Although they’ve added a natural competitor in Bird, their gamble in the halves is unlikely to pay off enough for them to take a higher spot.

Phantom Tragic Prediction: 7th

Don’t Say: Reminds me of the good old days at QE2

Do Say: Sam Thaiday is an Australian treasure

NRLCEO Fantasy Player: There are a number of stars in this Broncos outfit but if you want to go for consistency and star power in the same breath then look no further than Matt Gillett. They don’t really rate him in New South Wales, but this bloke is in with a shout as best back rower in the world. He’s constantly in the top 20 tacklers in the NRL and has scored seven or more tries in a season three out of the past five years.

NRLCEO Fantasy Biggest ‘Smokey’: Broncos half Kodi Nikorima isn’t the flashiest halfback in the NRL, nor is he really a household name. He knows his way to the try line though and therefore becomes very relevant in any fantasy footy format. He’s quick with the ball in hand which means he’s a try assist merchant as well.

NRLCEO Fantasy ‘Fantasy’ Player: Centres aren’t usually very high scoring players in most fantasy formats, but imagine if you had a 1994 Steve Renouf in your backline…that year he scored 23 tries in 21 games including four in one game against Balmain.



2017 Season - 10th

Player Gains - Brad Abbey (Bulldogs), Charlie Gubb (Warriors), Siliva Havili (Dragons), Sam Williams (Wakefield), Craig Garvey (Bulldogs), Sitiveni Moceidreke (Rabbitohs), Stefano Hala (Panthers)

Player Losses - Adam Clydsdale (retired), Lachlan Croker (Sea Eagles), Jeff Lima (retired), Kato Ottio (Widnes, deceased), Clay Priest (Bulldogs), Zac Santo (Warriors), Scott Sorensen (Sharks), Dave Taylor (Toronto), Jordan Turner (Huddersfield), Kurt Baptiste (Leigh Centurions)

The Phantom Tragic:

After some swift finals exits in the 2000’s, Canberra have been ‘building’ on and off for a few years. In 2016 it seemed that Ricky Stuart was on the cusp of finally returning glory to the capital, as that season ended in losses to the eventual Premiers and runners up. However, last year was not a continuation of that trend.

Despite finishing just outside the top 8, the Raiders were out of contention weeks before the season ended, but like a once-was-great boxer seemingly playing purely on instinct, ended up throwing a few haymakers in the final rounds.

This could be attributed to an historical template laid down by Ricky Stuart coached teams: a surging year first up, followed by a period of stale tripe as his methods begin to wear thin on the players.

Curiosity around the Raiders at Dressing Shed Towers centres on Josh Papalii. As destructive a runner as a wrecking ball on his day, it has appeared those days are reserved for representative jumpers and the odd (very rare) Raiders game. If he could produce such form more regularly, he could really be a sight to see and would boost the Raiders chances against any team. The biggest blow for the Raiders this year is the loss of their fulcrum in rake Josh Hodgson. They just don’t have the consistency in the halves to account for the replacement of their on-field leader and steering wheel with a bunch of journeymen their only options.

I see them as a bottom four team, due to the fragility of their halves and the likely drop in discipline of some of their bigger boys as they don’t achieve the results they hoped for and the season wears on.

Phantom Tragic Prediction: 14th

Don’t say: This is only slightly more stimulating than Parliament

Do say: Raiders players have better off-field behaviour than Parliamentarians 

NRLCEO Fantasy Best Player: After a sabbatical from the NRL for more than five years, Jordan Rapana has established himself as arguably the games best winger. His last two seasons have reaped 44 tries in 50 appearances for the Green Machine but it’s his tackle breaks where he really shines. He has had over 100 tackle breaks for the past two years and with his passion, there’s no doubt he continues that form again this year.

NRLCEO Fantasy Biggest “Smokey”: Rangy backrower Joe Tapine showed what he was capable of in last year’s World Cup for New Zealand. In a team which struggled with form throughout the tournament, he was a shining light. With a Raiders backrow that will see Whitehead start at lock, Tapine should push Soliola to the bench and should play big minutes and score big points.

NRLCEO Fantasy ‘Fantasy’ Player: As far as goal kicking percentages go, Mal Meninga didn’t have the best strike rate at 61.66%, but any Fantasy League player knows the value of anyone topped with goal kicking duties. Take his 1990 season, where he scored 17 tries and kicked 72 goals. Now that’s Fantasy value!



2017 Season - 11th

Player Gains - Fa'amanu Brown (Sharks), Kieran Foran (Warriors), Ofahiki Ogden (Warriors), Clay Priest (Raiders), Aaron Woods (Wests Tigers), Jeremy Marshall-King (Wests Tigers), Mason Cerruto (Panthers), Moses Suli (Wests Tigers), John Olive (Bulldogs)

Player Losses - Brad Abbey (Raiders), James Graham (Dragons), Sam Kasiano (Storm), Richard Kennar (Rabbitohs), Tyrone Phillips (Panthers), Josh Reynolds (Wests Tigers), Craig Garvey, Chase Stanley (released), Brenko Lee (Titans)

The Phantom Tragic:

When your entire season is defined by a last round effort to stop a hated rival reaching the finals, you know something has to give, especially at a club like the Bulldogs. Cue off-season coaching dramas and boardroom turmoil, wherein fans of ‘The Family Club’ could be excused for hoping they’re secretly adopted.

Put all that aside though and with 2018 on the horizon, something is definitely brewing out Belmore way. Amongst the best talent recruitment for any club, coupled to the fact the Dogs traditionally come back from a season lull or major issue with some venom, and those same fans are justifiably optimistic. The big question mark surrounds rookie top grade coach Dean Pay. With a new administration and freshly star studded squad to work with, the stage is set to either thrive or fall and it’s all on him. No pressure Deano!

In terms of an appraisal of where they’ll finish, I have to offer up a few confessions.

First, I hate them. Always have, always will.

Second, and in contrast, I am in awe of their historical professionalism and their ability to rebuild at breakneck speed to sustain success.

Finally, I am responsible for much of the consumption of Kieran Foran flavoured Kool-Aid.

If these states converge with a changing of the guard over at Belmore, then anything is possible. Absolutely anything.

Keep an eye on both Michael Lichaa and David Klemmer this year – Lichaa is free of Des Hasler’s shackles and may be in for a cracking year on the back of unrestrained confidence and Klemmer will no longer wear the 13, but will pack down in the front row with great mate and kindred spirit Aaron Woods.

If I’m honest however, I see them as the best team to miss out on Finals action.

Phantom Tragic Prediction: 9th

Don’t say: I still don’t forgive Dean Pay for going to Parramatta.

Do say: Lucky for Kieran Foran he left Parra.

NRLCEO Fantasy Player: Big David Klemmer seems to be getting better and better each year and in a pack that has just lost James Graham, he has big shoes and minutes to fill. Klemmer was the ninth best for most runs and 12th best for total run metres. When he is fired up alongside his mate Aaron Woods I expect him to take his run metres to a new level.

NRLCEO Fantasy “Smokey”: Aplayer with a very unique spice of a background that I think is going to take his game to the next level this year is Marcelo Montoya. Born in Fiji to a father of Chilean descent, he is a unique character. With 12 tries in 17 games from his NRL career so far, I expect him to blast that number past 18 in 2018.

NRLCEO Fantasy ‘Fantasy’ Player: There’s only one name on my mind here. Hazem El Masri was a points machine fit for any Rugby League era! Currently the greatest ever point scorer in the history of the game with 2,418 points in 14 seasons, he once scored 342 points in one year (34 points more than the guy in 2nd). To put it into context, Nathan Cleary was the top point scorer last year with 228 points. Enough said.



2017 Season - Lost Elimination Final

Player Gains - Josh Dugan (Dragons), Aaron Gray (Rabbitohs), Matt Moylan (Panthers), Ava Seumanufagai (Wests Tigers), Braden Uele (Cowboys), Scott Sorensen (Raiders), Trent Hodkinson (Knights)

Player Losses - Jack Bird (Broncos), James Maloney (Panthers), Gerard Beale (Warriors), Fa'amanu Brown (Bulldogs), Chris Heighington (Knights), Jeremy Latimore (Dragons), Daniel Mortimer (Leigh), Jaeman Salmon (Eels), Jordan Drew (Townsville Blackhawks), Sam Tagataese (Broncos), Jayden Walker (released), Tony Williams (Eels)

The Phantom Tragic:

When you’ve waited that long for the return of Harold Holt, you can be excused a few strong lemonades and the requisite amount of time to recover. The Sharks were always going to find it difficult to match 2016, although last year was relatively successful and it is fair to say they’ll be happy with their personnel changes for 2018.

They’re a team that can be easy to discount based on an historical perception as bridesmaids, as well as the losses of straight-up winners in Bird and Maloney.

However, you can’t deny the ambition of their recruitment, with the caveat being that Dugan and Moylan come with question marks that aren’t only on the field. This could also be the year that an ageing Cronulla pack starts to creak and shudder in sight of the proverbial finish line. A player to monitor in that regard will be Andrew Fifita, as the scrutiny of the past twelve months coupled to a late finish to last season with World Cup duties may see Fifita start very slowly in 2018.

One more point of consideration before the prediction: The Sharks are bringing through a crop of gun juniors who, if they make it, could well lead Cronulla to sustained dominance and serial occupation of the top four for seasons to come. The likes of Kyle Flanagan in particular have pulses racing in the shire and he could provide healthy competition and motivation for Chad Townsend.

But that’s their future. I think the Sharks will keep their heads above water all year and swim into a spot just outside the top 4. (DS: Shit pun, but we’ll leave it in because, puns are cool).

Phantom Tragic Prediction: 5th

Don’t say: Harold Holt’s gone AWOL again

Do say: It’s a conspiracy that Paul Gallen isn’t named sexiest man alive

NRLCEO Fantasy Fantasy Player: He’s been written off time and time again, but the oldest player in the NRL just keeps on running. At 36 years old, Paul Gallen had the most total runs in the NRL last year and was second best in metres gained, despite not making easy metres like a fullback. Write him off again this year at your peril.

NRLCEO Fantasy Biggest “Smokey”: Despite the fact that pre-season speculation about a rookie making first grade in Round 1 is always high, most of these rumours never eventuate. I’m much more confident in Sione Katoa breaking that trend and starting on the wing ahead of Aaron Gray. He already comes with big wraps as one of the fastest men in Rugby League. He was the top try scorer in the Under 20’s last year and should do well on the end of a quality Sharks backline.

NRLCEO Fantasy ‘Fantasy’ Player: It’s not all about the backs in these throwbacks to the past. Gavin Miller was one of the finest back rowers to ever pull on a pair of boots. The big back rower was one of the rare forwards to ever win a Dally M Medal and he won it twice. His 1988 and 1989 seasons would have been great for Fantasy footy players (if existed) back then.

Want to read the rest of our Season Preview? Read on here:

Part 2: Titans to Knights

Part 3: Cowboys to Roosters

Part 4: Dragons to Tigers


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