Hopefully by now you’ve read Parts 1-2 of our Season Preview, covering the Broncos to the Knights. 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 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!
Without further ado...read on!
NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS
2017 Season - Lost Grand Final
Player Gains - Carlin Anderson (Townsville Blackhawks), Jordan McLean (Storm), Francis Molo (Townsville Blackhawks).
Player Losses - Patrick Kaufusi (Storm), Patrick Mago (Broncos), Kalyn Ponga (Knights), Ray Thompson (retired), Braden Uele (Sharks), Blake Leary, Ben Spina (released).
After going so close in 2017, falling at the last to a machine-like season from Melbourne and with two superstars on the sidelines for a large chunk of the year, the Cowboys can't help but look forward to 2018 with an abundance of confidence.
They possess a squad a half: a beast of a forward pack now indisputably led by Jason Taumalolo and further bolstered by the addition of the best prop of the last decade and a monster in Jordan Mclean, a scrum base that rivals any in recent memory featuring a future immortal and a newly minted superstar, with Origin calibre support at the back and in the three-quarters. Phew.
There are two caveats to this assessment. As with all teams, injuries need to be accounted for, but with the Cowboys those injuries have the ability to crater their season…and with the ageing Thurston and Matt Scott that could will once more be a factor. Additionally their Achilles heel as always isl be scheduling and travel, but I see them as just too good, too talented and too big.
Definitely top two with a another Grand Final appearance on the cards and a much, much closer finish than 2017 that ends in an NQ victory.
Phantom Tragic Prediction: Premiers
Don’t say: JT’s shoulder won’t last five mins
Do say: JT doesn’t need shoulders
NRLCEO Fantasy Player: With the strength of five men and the pay cheque of 100, Jason Taumalolo is quite simply a Fantasy footy outlier. No forward gets anywhere near his run metre ceiling and other forwards regularly fall off him padding his stats with tackle breaks too. He’s never scored more than six tries in a season, but I have a feeling he’ll clear that total easily this year.
NRLCEO Biggest “Smokey” : There aren’t too many players that go under the radar in this squad and after his efforts in the trial against the Storm Kyle Feldt will struggle to go further unnoticed this year. Most still wouldn’t consider him in the top ten NRL wingers but I have a feeling that will all change in 2018 My prediction? 18 tries plus.
NRLCEO Fantasy ‘Fantasy’ Player: It’s hard to think of historical champions when the Cowboys have only recently become one of the dominant teams, but there is one that springs to mind. Matt Bowen was the smallest man on the park each and every week but he sure knew how to make the rest of them look silly. Give me 2007 Bowen when he scored 22 tries and kicked three field goals (!) any day.
2017 Season - Lost Semi Final
Player Gains - Kane Evans (Roosters), Jaeman Salmon (Sharks), Tony Williams (Sharks), Jarryd Hayne (Titans).
Player Losses - Bureta Faraimo (Hull FC), Kelepi Tanginoa (Sea Eagles), Isaac De Gois, Jeff Robson (retired), Semi Radradra (Toulon rugby), John Folau, Cody Nelson, James Hasson, Rory O'Brien, Frank Pritchard (released).
The Phantom Tragic:
No-one does off-season expectations quite like the Parramatta Eels. If dressingshed.com made a t-shirt that said ‘year of the Eel - 2018’ and just kept changing the year, every year, it would probably be a best seller (DS: thanks for the idea Phantom!)
Whilst everything old is new again as Jarryd Hayne and Tony Williams return, the biggest shift for Parramatta has been the mentality instilled by Brad Arthur. There is a professionalism and application about the squad, exemplified by Arthur shaping the playing roster to add depth in every position and interchangeable parts to form a whole. A versatile squad with talent in the halves, out wide and in the back row.
Questions remain for the Eels at hooker and front row and Parramatta will hope their tradesmen up front do the job competently enough to not give up ground so their more fancied teammates can flourish. In this respect, the role of Cameron King is crucial and he needs to kick on after his first proper unbroken stint in the top grade to take his game to the next level.
There is excitement about the combinations between Gutherson, French, Jennings, Hayne, Norman and Moses – each one a superstar or superstar in waiting and if egos can be cast aside for the sake of harmony, then opposition defences should be very afraid.
If injuries are kind and the development of Mitchell Moses continues, the Eels renaissance should continue with a second straight top four finish and possible Grand Final matchup with the Cowboys.
Phantom Tragic Prediction: Runner-Up in Grand Final
Don’t say: It was Jarryd’s dream to return to the Eels
Do say: This could be our year...again.
NRLCEO Fantasy Player: He might not look like much, but I’ve got a man crush on Nathan Brown. (The current player that is). Seventh most runs last year in the NRL and 15th best for tackles made. It’s not just the quantity with Brown, it’s the quality. He runs as hard in the 66th minute as he does in the 6th minute. I expect him to be a Fantasy gun for the next five years.
NRLCEO Biggest “Smokey”: His forward partner in crime Daniel Alvaro doesn’t get the credit of the others in the forward pack but he sure has the output. There were times last year when he went stat for stat with Nathan Brown. Still only 24, his best footy is well ahead of him.
NRLCEO Fantasy ‘Fantasy’ Player: A cousin of the rugby union greats of the same name, Steve Ella had blistering speed and freakish evasive skills. His 1982 season netted him 23 tries and I dare say equal if not more in line breaks. Playing in the English Super League he once scored 11 tries in only two matches! Semi who?
2017 Season - Lost Semi Final
Player Gains - James Maloney (Sharks), Tyrone Phillips (Bulldogs).
Player Losses - Sitaleki Akauola (Warrington), Zach Dockar-Clay (Hull KR), Samisoni Langi (Leigh), Matt Moylan (Sharks), Darren Nicholls (Dragons), Mitch Rein (Titans), Mason Cerruto (Bulldogs), Stefano Hala (Raiders), Bryce Cartwright (Titans)
The Phantom Tragic:
There is a joke doing the rounds, after some strange off-season player movement at the base of the mountains, that the cleaning lady walked into Phil Gould’s office and asked for a release from her contract for personal reasons...it has seemed like every man and his dog are ‘off’ the coach and he’s ‘lost’ the dressing shed. Speaking of which, Gee I hate that term! NOTE: ‘lost the dressing shed’, not the dressing shed itself. (DS: we appreciate the clarification!).
All of which is to say, the Panthers have a playing squad filled with immense talent. Consider this: a current, and likely long-term, Australian prop forward; a young half who may well wear sky blue (and perhaps even green and gold) for the next decade; big and fast three-quarters that move like their club namesake, State of Origin backrowers, an underrated hooker and a five-eighth who has the happy knack of visiting Homebush on the first weekend in October for every team he’s played for! Not bad for a club ‘in crisis’.
Get ready for Nathan Cleary to go to another level under the influence of Maloney and without Moylan and Cartwright demanding the ball and attention as a distraction. This will truly be his team this year and he will thrive with the encouragement of Maloney, just the foil the kid needs.
Sure the movement and speculation could have a knock on team chemistry, but recent changes will probably clear some of the noise pollution and may see the Chocolate Soldiers (DS: we need to bring this term back into the Rugby League vernacular) return to the top four.
Phantom Tragic Prediction: Loss in Prelim Final
Don’t say: Not sure I trust in this ‘project’
Do say: It’s all part of the ‘project’
NRLCEO Fantasy Player: Is it possible that the best Fantasy player in his club is a20 year old who still lives at home with his parents?? Growing up around rugby league has obviously agreed with Nathan Cleary, who could be the best goal kicker since Hazem El Masri. Throw in a great running game and freakish play making ability and you don’t need to look at any other halves for your Fantasy team.
NRLCEO Biggest “Smokey”: Isaah Yeo is so underrated that his own family probably don’t even rate him, but speak to players though and they know his importance. With a name like an Amish man and a frame like a librarian it’s easy to see why he’s forgotten, but his fantasy output sure isn’t. Still only 23, he will only get better and better.
NRLCEO Fantasy ‘Fantasy’ Player: There are so many great names in the Panthers history, but for the novelty of having one of my all time favourite players in my team I couldn’t go past Brad Fittler. I’ll take his 1990 season where he scored eight tries and nudged a few goals over too.
2017 Season - Lost Preliminary Final
Player Gains - James Tedesco (Tigers - 2021), Cooper Cronk (Storm - 2019), Reece Robinson (NSW Waratahs - 2018)
Player Losses - Kane Evans (Eels), Aidan Guerra (Knights), Liam Knight (Raiders), Connor Watson (Knights), Paul Carter, Brenden Santi, Johnny Tuivasa-Sheck (Warriors), Michael Gordon (Titans), Grant Garvey (released)
The Phantom Tragic:
During the off-season, we have to admit to secretly hoping Cooper Cronk would give up on League for love. Having achieved everything in the game, it wouldn’t have been romantic solely because of his relationship, but also the idea of going out on your own terms must appeal to any athlete. You’re a long time retired though and the Roosters were the only team [cough] who could seemingly afford him, and a few others [cough] as well.
As for as predictions and season appraisals go, strap yourselves in because this will probably get interesting, fast.
Despite the recruitment of the dynamic Tedesco and the metronomically brilliant Cronk, something just feels a little off about the Roosters. There are loose cannons out wide (no names required), some underachievers up front and the likelihood of a letdown experienced by Cronk outside the Melbourne support system. Being a Rugby League player in Melbourne couldn’t be a more polar opposite environment than being one in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs, a place where taste (and your wallet) go to die.
There will be eyes aplenty on the big boys up front as the gigantic reputations of Napa and Waerea-Hargreaves took a hit in the wake of the Cowboy capitulation last September – there is a lot on the line for these boys.
The Roosters are a side that will probably rip other teams apart on their day and then struggle under the blowtorch of serious contenders like the Storm or Cowboys.
I see them making the Eight, but in the latter half, and appreciate that such an assessment could lead to all seventeen members of the Chook Pen spitting out their chai lattes and writing to their local member for Wentworth in indignation! Either that or they’ll agree with me whilst renewing their Swans membership and Tahs season tickets.
Phantom Tragic Prediction: 6th
Don’t say: How do they fit them all under the salary cap?
Do say: They all do it. (referring to obstruction)
NRLCEO Best Fantasy Player: I hope I’m not over hyping this, but I think we are in for a record breaking year from James Tedesco in 2018. I genuinely think he can score 25 tries this year and lay a few on as well. In Fantasy games where metres gained are important, think of the space that RTS used to get returning the ball and then multiply that with Teddy’s try scoring ability. I’ve predicted him to be the NRLCEO MVP of 2018 and he should get the same gong in any Fantasy format.
NRLCEO Fantasy Biggest “Smokey”: The only thing harder than Sio Taukieaho on the field, is spelling his name on paper. SST or TKO to those who know the Fantasy online space well is as tough as nails, but also a hard worker. Throw in the fact that he could be playing front row and kicking goals and you can understand why he’s a pretty special Fantasy player. I expect his scoring output to increase at least 10% on last year.
NRLCEO Fantasy ‘Fantasy’ Player: I’m going deep for this one. Real deep. Back in 1935, a fella called Dave Brown played centre for the Roosters. Sporting his trademark head gear, which he wore after losing his hairpiece on a Kangaroo tour, Brown scored 38 tries that season! You read that correctly. 38 tries!!! I’ll take that in my fantasy team please.
Want to read the rest of our Season Preview? Read on here:
Part 1: Broncos to Sharks
Part 2: Titans to Knights
Part 4: Dragons to Tigers