Hopefully by now you’ve read Parts 1-3 of our Season Preview, covering the Broncos to the Roosters. 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!
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
2017 Season - 9th
Player Gains - Mitchell Allgood (Wakefield Trinity), James Graham (Bulldogs), Ben Hunt (Broncos), Jeremy Latimore (Sharks), Darren Nicholls (Panthers).
Player Losses - Levi Dodd (Townsville Blackhawks), Josh Dugan (Sharks), Kalifa Faifai Loa (Townsville Blackhawks), Jacob Hind (Sunshine Coast Falcons), Drew Hutchison (Leigh), Chris Lewis (Sunshine Coast Falcons), Mose Masoe (Hull KR), Tyrone McCarthy (Salford), Josh McCrone (Toronto), Taane Milne (Wests Tigers), Shaun Nona (Wynnum-Manly), Russell Packer (Wests Tigers), Joel Thompson (Sea Eagles), Siliva Halivi (Raiders), Will Matthews, Jake Marketo, Izaac Thompson, Yaw Kiti Glymin (released), Will Matthews (Titans - train and trial).
The Phantom Tragic:
One Round left, all you need do is win against a team below you on the ladder and you’re in the Finals. Do that, and the team that ends up making the Grand Final misses out on play-off footy. The Dragons played their part in the end of season drama by fluffing their lines against the Dogs in Round 26. Unfortunately for fans, it had all the hallmarks of McGregor Dragons.
‘Mary’ assembles teams with excellent forward packs every year and fitness to match, but they always seem to lack the tactical awareness and cohesion to sustain a winning formula throughout a full season.
Unlike many, I reckon Ben Hunt is a great pickup but have doubts over his ability to form an effective combination with Gareth Widdop, who seems to go into his shell a little when paired with a genuine half. Overall though, the individual skill of the two should capitalise enough on the work of their pack to consistently satisfying effect.
Speaking of the forwards, the Dragons pack is a doozy. I’ve long admired Paul Vaughan and thought he showed why last year with some outstanding performances and the addition of James Graham will only aid his power game. They may have lost Joel Thompson, but the addition of the explosive Frizzell and the ever-evolving De Belin, mean that it will be exceedingly difficult for many teams to get on top of the Dragons.
They’ll squeak into the eight, followed by an early, disappointing exit.
Phantom Tragic Prediction: 8th
Don’t say: I always preferred Rodwell anyway
Do say: Caaarrrn the Dragons!
NRLCEO Fantasy Player: It still bothers me that the Raiders let Paul Vaughan go to the Dragons, but I understand the business reasons behind it. The Dragons have purchased a bargain and last year he repaid their mortgage and all the interest too. A front rower who not only works hard, but has footwork and can find the line on a regular basis is a valuable asset. This year he shares the back fence with another Fantasy gun in James Graham and I can’t wait to watch.
NRLCEO Fantasy Biggest “Smokey”: He has shown glimmers of “potential” for a few years now but I believe this is a career defining season for Tariq Sims. He will gain more minutes from the loss of Joel Thompson to the Sea Eagles and his high points per minute should translate to a 25-30% increase in his Fantasy scores based on that alone, but I also think he has the mettle and the minutes.
NRLCEO Fantasy ‘Fantasy’ Player: Fantasy footy is played to beat your mates, but it’s also about enjoyment too. There haven’t been any players that I can recall (settle down Mark Riddell) that have been more exciting to see in both scoring a try and in their post try celebrations as Nathan Blacklock. From a Fantasy footy standpoint his 2001 season where he scored 27 tries is the obvious high point, but so too were his backflips.
SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS
2017 Season - 12th
Player Gains - Jesse Arthars (Storm), Dane Gagai (Knights), Jacob Gagan (Knights), Richard Kennar (Bulldogs), Jesse Martin (Sea Eagles), Mark Nicholls (Storm), Vincent Leuluai (Storm).
Player Losses - Bryson Goodwin (Leigh), Jack Gosiewski (Sea Eagles), Aaron Gray (Sharks), David Tyrrell (Brisbane Easts), Anthony Cherrington, Brett Greinke, Luke Kelly, Dane Nielsen, Toby Rudolf (released), Sitiveni Moceidreke (Raiders)
The Phantom Tragic:
The ‘pride of the league’ stunned everyone in 2014 and capped three years of dazzling consistency with a deserved Premiership. But since then there have been some baffling recruitment decisions alongside some horrendous luck with injuries, returning Souths to familiar mediocrity.
Although I like their recruitment of Dane Gagai and the return of the great GI, I just have a feeling their pack will suffer from a lack of genuine consistency. Sam Burgess has not yet re-scaled the 2014 mountain from which he took off to Rugby and his brothers seem to have steadily declined since achieving the premiership. Angus Crichton is still one to watch but his early recruitment by the Roosters and constant niggling injuries will likely mean this a season of consolidation before he inevitably excels with the tri-colours.
Adam Reynolds is a player with some injury issues. The Phantom encountered Reynolds at close quarters at a function recently and was a little shocked at just how small he is, and couldn’t but consider injuries are an inevitability due to the heart with which he throws that diminutive frame around.
Almost everyone has a soft spot for the Rabbitohs, but I can’t see them doing much this year, as injuries and luck will probably consign them to the bottom four.
Phantom Tragic Prediction: 13th
Don’t say: We need another Burgess, surely?
Do say: When Souths are successful...Rugby League is...something
NRLCEO Fantasy Player: I’m not shocking anyone when I say that Sam Burgess is my number one Fantasy target at the Rabbitohs each year. Other than that time when he tried to play rugby union…but apart from that mishap, Burgess hasn’t put a foot wrong since landing in Australia in 2010. You can rely on him for tackles and runs, but he’s an attacking threat close to the line as well.
NRLCEO Fantasy Biggest “Smokey”: It’s not like no one will be aware of Campbell Graham’s deeds in his five games for the Rabbitohs last year…it’s just that he won’t be front of mind for many. He should be. This is a guy who could potentially push Sam Burgess to an edge so that he can play lock and push the Rabbitohs record game holder to the bench. I can’t wait to see him grow as a player this year.
NRLCEO Fantasy ‘Fantasy’ Player: In terms of being in the right place at the right time, Nathan Merritt made a career doing just that. In 2011 he was in the right place at the right time 23 times in just 22 games. He scored more than 15 tries in a season six times, but 2011 was the best of the lot, including five tries in one game against the Eels. It still remains the second best NRLCEO score of all time.
NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS
2017 Season - 13th
Player Gains - Gerard Beale (Sharks), Adam Blair (Broncos), Tohu Harris (Storm), Peta Hiku (Warrington), Matiu Love-Henry (Broncos), Agnatius Paasi (Titans), Leivaha Pulu (Titans), Blake Green (Sea Eagles), Anthony Gelling (Wigan).
Player Losses - Bureta Faraimo (Hull), Kieran Foran (Bulldogs), Charlie Gubb (Raiders), Ryan Hoffman (Storm), Jacob Lillyman (Knights), Ben Matulino (Tigers), Toafofoa Sipley (Sea Eagles), Bodene Thompson (Leigh), Manu Vatuvei (Salford), Ofahiki Ogden (Bulldogs), Matthew Allwood (released).
The Phantom Tragic:
Everyone is curious before a season starts to see whether the code to crack open the Warriors has been located, however that seems unlikely under Stephen Kearney. We greatly admires him as a player, and his achievement in leading the Kiwis to a World Cup was immense, but how does this guy keep getting employed as a Head Coach? Nonetheless, he’s what they’re stuck with.
They’ve recruited well, by bringing in the versatile Tohu Harris alongside Peta Hiku and Blake Green, who should make a great foil for Sean Johnson in the halves. Also, keep an eye on Agnatius Paasi, who showed devastating touches at the Titans and will shine even more brilliantly in front of a partisan home crowd.
On the topic of returning Kiwis, questions must be asked as to how a team can constantly be a force at age group level and not translate that to top grade footy? These players need development and strategic assistance and I’m not sure the coaching staff at the Warriors have the ability to do it. I truly hope the Warriors can inspire an entire nation for the sake of Rugby League as we saw during the World Cup that games in NZ can be inspirational to the local public and the various Polynesians that call it home. Perhaps it may take the arrival of a certain former Bulldogs and Eagles mentor in the not too distant future to unlock the mystery with his relentless work ethic? We’d all like to see that. Till then, the presence of Kearney on the sideline will probably hold them back so they won’t rise into the eight but should stay out of the bottom four.
Phantom Tragic Prediction: 11th
Don’t say: If only we could harness the momentum from the World Cup
Do say: Stephen Kearney has coached a winning World Cup team, y’know?
NRLCEO Fantasy Player: Fantasy footy is about high scoring ceilings but even moreso about consistency. If there’s any player that deserves “Consistency” as his middle name then it’s Simon Mannering. You can select him every year and know exactly what you’re going to get. His workhorse stats are plenty and the cherry on top is always how many tries he’s going to score each year too. He’s only been on a nudey run once in his 13 year career and that was back in his debut year in 2005 where he only played seven games.
NRLCEO Fantasy Biggest “Smokey”: The man with the hair on the left edge is extremely recognisable on TV and will soon be just as recognisable on a Fantasy stats sheet. Bunty Afoa is entering his third season of NRL but at just 21 years old his best work in the forwards is still ahead of him.. He will take Bodene Thompson’s spot on the left and will score well. Very well.
NRLCEO Fantasy ‘Fantasy’ Player: He might now be coaching, but back in the day Ivan Cleary was a supreme points scorer for the Sea Eagles, Bears, Roosters and Warriors. In his last season as a professional Rugby League player in 2002 he scored 224 points for the Warriors through eight tries and 105 goals. That record has never been broken.
2017 Season - 14th
Player Gains - Mahe Fonua (Hull), Tyson Gamble (Redcliffe), Pita Godinet (Sea Eagles), Benji Marshall (Broncos), Ben Matulino (Warriors), Chris McQueen (Titans), Taane Milne (Dragons), Russell Packer (Dragons), Josh Reynolds (Canterbury), Robbie Rochow (Storm), Corey Thompson (Widnes).
Player Losses - Matt Ballin (retired), Justin Hunt (retired), Jamal Idris (retired), Jordan Rankin (Huddersfield), Ava Seumanufagai (Sharks), James Tedesco (Roosters), Aaron Woods (Bulldogs), Joel Edwards, Jack Littlejohn, Kyle Lovett (Leigh Centurions), Moses Suli (Bulldogs).
The Phantom Tragic:
If you wanted to build a club from scratch, you’d probably appoint Ivan Cleary as chief architect. He builds programs that deliver future success, of that there is no doubt. The question is whether he has the cattle at the Tigers to challenge for a finals spot in 2018.
There are issues in the halves with Brooks and Reynolds, uncertainty at fullback in the form of a frustratingly talented Lolohea, project players up front and yet more projects in the back row. The club simply has too many ‘what-ifs’ to be answered amongst a single squad for one season so they’re probably one more summer recruitment drive away from having the depth of talent to mount any serious pressure on the rest of the league.
I think the Tigers are definitely coming out of the muck, but the hole which Taylor and the departing superstars have left would fill the Mariana Trench. It will be a long, painstaking process to get back to long term winning ways and the only thing that can spur the recovery is the addition of some hard-headed forwards.
That said, the Tigers are fan favourites with a fanatical and loyal support, so will likely pull off a few stirring upsets at any of Leichhardt, Campbelltown and points in between.
Unfortunately though, sorry Wests Tigers fans, but I can’t see past the bottom this season for the black (and white) and golds.
Phantom Tragic Prediction: 16th
Don’t say: Bring back Jason Taylor
Do say: It’s the Benji of old.
NRLCEO Fantasy Player: In terms of sheer tackling with no runs to rack up stats then Elijah Taylor shines. His no frills style will not get you watching more Tigers games than your own team, but he will rack up the points consistently for your Fantasy team. Now part of the leadership group it should see him stay at lock for good,rather than rotating into hooker, but either way his Fantasy output isn’t affected.
NRLCEO Fantasy Biggest “Smokey”: I’m going to sit on the fence for this one. Both Matt Eisenhuth and Alex Twal are on the bus. It’s just a matter of where coach Ivan Cleary wants to sit them. If either of these two young workhorses see enough game time ahead of the fragile back row pair of Chris Lawrence and Chris McQueen, then they will do enough base stat work to score very well.
NRLCEO Fantasy ‘Fantasy’ Player: In terms of English imports they didn’t get much better than Gareth Ellis. He was a fantasy God when he played Down Under in terms of base stats as well as the odd meat pie. His 2010 season netted him six tries and countless tackles. The evergreen forward only just retired as well, hanging up the boots this year in the English Super League.
Want to read the rest of our Season Preview? Read on here:
Part 1: Broncos to Sharks
Part 2: Titans to Knights
Part 3: Cowboys to Roosters