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2018 NRL Season Preview - Part 2: Titans to Knights

Hopefully by now you’ve read Part 1 of our Season Preview, covering the Broncos to the Sharks. Now, delight in the remainder of the best damned season preview on the planet, with help from our contributors:

  • 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 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!

Without further on!



2017 Season - 15th

Player Gains - Jai Arrow (Broncos), Mitch Rein (Panthers), Jack Stockwell (Knights), Jai Whitbread (Broncos), Leilani Latu (Panthers), Will Matthews (Dragons), Michael Gordon (Roosters), Brenko Lee (Bulldogs), Bryce Cartwright (Panthers)

Player Losses - Chris McQueen (Wests Tigers), Agnatius Paasi (Warriors), Nathaniel Peteru (Leeds), Pat Politoni (Burleigh), Leivaha Pulu (Warriors), Tyrone Roberts (Warrington), Dan Sarginson (Wigan), Tyler Cornish, Chris Grevsmuhl, Eddy Pettybourne, Ryan Simpkins, Daniel Vidot (released), William Zillman (released), Jarryd Hayne (Eels), John Olive (Bulldogs)

The Phantom Tragic:

The Titans could be described as an enigma, although many may choose another descriptive term. They’ve flattered to deceive for years as there was a long-held belief that players would be attracted by the lifestyle on the coast, away from major capitals and would flock there, allowing the club to flourish. In reality, the opposite has been the case with club, fans, administrators and players often stumbling around for an identity and hoping for something resembling a plan to arise.

That said, there is some serious potential in the recruitment of Jai Arrow, Bryce Cartwright and Leilani Latu; all much hyped as juniors and potential excitement machines.

Much will depend though on whether the excitement is on the field…or off.

There is also the rise of Ash Taylor as little general and puppeteer of this Gold Coast team. It could well be this year, but there is likely another year of tinkering with his game before he takes ownership of big moments in the years to come.

Finally, there is the question of whether Garth Brennan can deliver on the promise touted by many as the next great coach. If so, the Titans could begin a gradual climb up the table as Brennan overhauls their very identity.

Then again, there are a lot of ‘ifs’.

I see some spirited performances, some early to mid- season spunk, but a gradual fade out to an eventual finish in the bottom four.

Phantom Tragic Prediction: 15th

Don’t say: Clive Palmer is a poor man’s Nathan Tinkler

Do say: Why would you want to live anywhere else?

NRLCEO Fantasy Player: Recently named club captain, Ryan James is not your typical front rower. He scored 11 tries in 2016 to equal the most tries ever in a season ever for a front rower. But that’s not the only reason you pick him in your Fantasy team; his work ethic is also outstanding. With speculation mounting that he will play back row this year, he could well receive valuable dual position status.

NRLCEO Fantasy “Smokey”: Traditional locks do not exist in rugby league much anymore, hence why I was excited when non-stop tackling machine Jai Arrow looked set for 80 minutes at the Titans. Unfortunately the recent signing of Bryce Cartwright could put a halt on his stats, but I’m going to back him in and hope that he gets the minutes.

NRLCEO Fantasy ‘Fantasy’ Player: As far as old-skool fantasy props go, you can’t look too far past Luke Bailey. For both the Dragons and Titans he was a tireless worker in attack and defence. With so few props playing big minutes these days he would fit nicely in my any Fantasy team.



2017 Season - Lost Elimination Final

Player Gains - Jack Gosiewski (Rabbitohs), Toafofoa Sipley (Warriors), Lachlan Croker (Raiders), Joel Thompson (Dragons).

Player Losses - Pita Godinet (Wests Tigers), Blake Green (Warriors), Brenton Lawrence (retired), Jesse Martin (Rabbitohs), Steve Matai (retired), Brett Stewart (retired), Billy Bainbridge, Jarrad Kennedy, Joey Lussick (released).

The Phantom Tragic:

The Sea Eagles over-achieved in 2017, giving Trent Barrett some leeway in what was expected to be a tough season. You don’t usually get provided much rope on the Northern beaches, and with some club legends retiring and little in the way of blockbuster talent coming through, 2018 is certain to test the tactics and preparation skills of the blow-in from the South Coast.

The pressure on Barrett is only exacerbated by the fact that recruitment and therefore squad management is still theoretical due to the salary cap scandal, and so a problem area like five-eighth is now dependent on the emergence of the rookie Lachlan Croker. Manly also appear thin up front, despite possessing a concrete tornado in Martin Taupau as well as Jake Trbojevic. It can’t be left unsaid how exciting the Trbojevic boys are. Whilst it can be annoying to hear the gushing over them as if they possess the antidote to ills of the world, but I can’t see any way that these boys do not become long term superstars…as a Blues fan, this is comforting.

The Sea Eagles will again put up some decent performances at the graveyard that is Brookvale, and the odd Turbo-charged performance may stun teams throughout the season, but I reckon they’ll struggle occasionally in games against less fancied opposition and almost certainly against the big teams. For these reasons, my tip is that they’ll finish mid-table.

Phantom Tragic Prediction: 10th

Don’t say: We just need to get the stadium sorted

Do say: It’s Ok, Manly hates you too

NRLCEO Fantasy Player(s): Can I pick two? I honestly can’t split the Trbojevic brothers and unbelievably there is still one more (Ben) playing in the junior grades at Manly. Firstly, Jake has turned into one of the games best locks. With a big body, he has the ability to work hard in defence but also possesses ball playing abilities. If the rumours are correct and he starts goal kicking for Manly then we have Corey Parker 2.0. Tom on the other hand is tall, and despite looking like a school teacher, brushes off tackles like he’s got hot spiders on him. With six instances of scoring multiple tries in one game, and eating metres like cereal it’s easy to see why both are valuable Fantasy prospects.

NRLCEO Biggest “Smokey”: It won’t be the same after he succeeds again this year, but Api Koroisau often gets overlooked whenever there is discussion of the best hookers in the game. Dynamite out of dummy half and with a good work rate, he racks up Fantasy scores with relative ease. Amongst the kicker lottery at Lottoland he might just get the kicking tee for Round 1 as well.

NRLCEO Fantasy ‘Fantasy’ Player: When we voted for the top Fantasy NRLCEO player of the last 15 years, Steve Menzies was the runaway winner. Can you imagine adding a 1995 Steve Menzies to your current fantasy line-up when he scored 22 tries in 25 games?!?!



2017 Season - Premiers

Player Gains - Ryan Hoffman (Warriors), Sam Kasiano (Bulldogs), Patrick Kaufusi (Cowboys), Sandor Earl (unattached), Billy Walters (Brisbane Easts), Cooper Johns (Sea Eagles), Kayleb Milne (NZ rugby),

Player Losses - Jesse Arthars (Rabbitohs), Cooper Cronk (Roosters), Slade Griffin (Knights), Tohu Harris (Warriors), Jordan McLean (Cowboys), Mark Nicholls (Rabbitohs), Robbie Rochow (Wests Tigers), Jeremy Hawkins, Nate Myles (retired), Vincent Leuluai (Rabbitohs).

The Phantom Tragic:

They’ve lost the Australian halfback, but looking through the additions to their current squad I don’t spot a weakness. Players head to Melbourne to become better and the team is consistently more than the sum of their parts when showing up on game days. They have a style of playing, a work ethic, a sense of team and club culture that others admire and attempt to copy, but fail miserably.

Oh the irony in most league fans considering them to be an aberration; a franchise in a sport of ‘clubs’. To understand Melbourne though, everything you need to know is right here.

The Storm are the model by which all modern rugby league programs are measured and compared, admired, imitated...but never bettered.

Bellamy is infuriatingly brilliant in his professionalism and his constant ability to regenerate. Watch out for more of his magic dust to rub off on Kasiano this year and for Brodie Croft to display all the hallmarks of a Cronk clone and Bellamy protege.

On the Menu for 2018? A strong start, followed by a minor lull during Origin when we’ll see that their second string is almost as good as their first, then a strong season finish in the final rounds ending in a Minor Premiership.

Season to taste and serve, followed by a dessert involving a loss one week early and no Grand Final for Melbourne Storm in 2018.

Phantom Tragic Prediction: Loss in Prelim Final

Don’t say: No team has won back to back Premierships since 1993.

Do say: No team has won back to back Premierships since 1993.

NRLCEO Fantasy Player: Is there any point in writing this? Cameron Smith needs no introduction, but I have to write one anyway. He is the total Fantasy Footy package and the ultimate captain as well for double points. Tries, try assists, line break assists, 40/20s, field goals, tackles, runs and goals. He ticks every box and he does so in a position that he shouldn’t be able to. Freak..

NRL CEL Fantasy Biggest “Smokey”: Young Brodie Croft is such a Cooper Cronk clone that if you squint their last name almost look the same. He showed his talent and Fantasy value through his running game in Round 24 last year, where he slottedin for Cronk and proceeded to score a hat-trick. With a lot to learn this year going into his first full season in first grade but he’s worth a shot in your Fantasy team.

NRLCEO Fantasy ‘Fantasy’ Player: There aren’t many front rowers who have played 80 minutes consistently in recent years, let alone in State of Origin! But that’s exactly what Glenn Lazarus did. His hulking frame might send him to fat camp by today’s standards but his work ethic would saw him amongst the most hard working forwards in the history of the game.



2017 Season - Stone Motherless

Player Gains - Herman Ese'ese (Broncos), Slade Griffin (Storm), Aidan Guerra (Roosters), Chris Heighington (Sharks), Jacob Lillyman (Warriors), Tautau Moga (Broncos), Mitchell Pearce (Roosters), Kalyn Ponga (Cowboys), Connor Watson (Roosters).

Player Losses - Brendan Elliot (Titans), Jaelen Feeney (Townsville Blackhawks), Dane Gagai (Rabbitohs), Jacob Gagan (Rabbitohs), Rory Kostjasyn (retired), Jesse Martin (Sea Eagles), Sam Mataora (retired), Chanel Matautia (retired), Peter Matautia (Leigh), Jarrod Mullen (retired), Mickey Paea (Hull FC), Josh Starling (Oberon), Jack Stockwell (Titans), Anthony Tupou (retired), Joe Wardle (Castleford), Tyler Randell (Wakefield Trinity), Pauli Pauli (Wakefield Trinity), David Bhana, Will Pearsall,  (released), Trent Hodkinson (Sharks)

The Phantom Tragic:

There is considerable optimism in Newcastle, a place that could use it after some [cough] up and down years. The Tinkler period may be done and dusted, but the wooden spoon last year earned them a record only three other clubs (Parramatta, Newtown & University) can claim: three wooden spoons in a row.

Do it again this year and they may set up a run at Parra’s six straight.

Their justified optimism comes from the recruitment of a few handy players…and also Mitchell Pearce. Add to this the fact that Nathan Brown is something of a ‘players coach’ and the signs are there that a happy-go-lucky squad will enjoy their football and cause more than a few problems for other teams.

I properly skimmed through their list and can see at least nine new names in their opening round squad. That is a lot of change and normally I would be wary of so much new talent and it’s ability to integrate quickly but in this instance every position is an upgrade.

The only potential fly in the ointment I see is their lack of real quality in depth and this will affect any real tilt at Finals footy. I’ll predict they finish out of the bottom four but frighten a few more fancied teams along the way to the extent where a Sunday afternoon at Newcastle once again becomes one of the most hated trips in Rugby League.

Phantom Tragic Prediction: 12th

Don’t say: Mitchell Pearce is the greatest halfback the Knights have had since…

Do say: Did you know that Parra holds the record for most wooden spoons in a row?

NRLCEO Fantasy Best Player: Most people would expect me to put Mitch Pearce or Kalyn Ponga in here, but I’m not most guys. I love to watch Nathan Ross play and his performances inthe last two years have justified his post try celebrations. This guy is a seriously good finisher and a solid metre eater as well.

NRLCEO Fantasy Biggest “Smokey”: In amongst the myriad of signings for the Knights, Connor Watson seems to have slipped into the background. I don’t think that will be for very long. Mitch Pearce may get the media spotlight but I have a feeling Watson will be in the highlights. A running five-eighth, I expect a minimum of seven tries from him this year which is a great return for a half.

NRLCEO Fantasy ‘Fantasy’ Player: If I could drop 2001 vintage Andrew Johns into my Fantasy team I’d win every time. In that year he scored an incredible 14 tries, kicked 110 goals PLUS  three field goals. If only they tallied up try assists back then, as he probably had about 30 of those as well!

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

Part 1: Broncos to Sharks

Part 3: Cowboys to Roosters

Part 4: Dragons to Tigers



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