But before the season started we pointed out that opinions were a dime a dozen, but that said, how often do you get the chance to go back and review your own opinions? Imagine you could change them at will? Well, we thought it might be fun to take a look at our original season preview, to make comparisons between those predictions made by our own Phantom Tragic on our behalf, and the reality that has occurred since in the season proper.
This is because as with every year of Rugby League since time immemorial, mugs like us have lined up their predictions, stood firmly by them before a tackle is made in anger, felt vindicated from the feedback of all and sundry who agree with our assessments and say pretty much the same thing… then watched as our estimations are shattered from the get-go.
ST GEORGE-ILLAWARRA DRAGONSPhantom Tragic Prediction - 8th
2018 Position after Round 7 - 1st
In our season preview, we seem to have talked Saints up whilst simultaneously predicting a poor finish to the season. One thing we did get right: “Unlike many, I reckon Ben Hunt is a great pickup…” and in reference to his partnership with Widdop “the individual skill of the two should capitalise enough on the work of their pack to consistently satisfying effect”. So it has proven. Hunt has completed the side and given Widdop the freedom to play his natural game to the point that he may well be the best player in the comp so far this year. The losses of Dugan and Joel Thompson have seen the injection of Matt Dufty and Tariq Sims into the starting side and both have been revelations. James Graham looks like he has found a new lease of life and Cameron McInnes has catapulted into Origin contention with some dazzling displays. In fact, barring the Brit Graham, the entire Saints pack would not look out of place in Origin jerseys. De Belin is a must, Frizell is a cert, Paul Vaughan just keeps going and Tariq Sims is playing out of his skin. Add to this that Nene McDonald is currently the best winger in the comp and Euan Aitken is knocking on the door for Origin inclusion with his power running, strength and determination, and the Dragons look the goods. It is the Dragons though, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves and see how their season plays out.
NEW ZEALAND WARRIORSPhantom Tragic Prediction - 11th
2018 Position after Round 7 - 2nd
We predicted that Kearney was an issue, and doubted whether he could unlock the Warriors enigma but so far, we’ve been proven wrong. The off season recruits of Blair, Hiku, Harris, Paasi, Pulu and undoubtedly Blake Green have given this side new belief, whilst the fitness regime of Mark Corvo seems to be paying dividends. They look united and even missing Sean Johnson they’ve competed in every game they’ve played so far. Can it be sustained? Fusitua and Mamalo are big, tall, fast, powerful wingers and Tuivasa Sheck is growing into his role as a captain. Their form looks better now than the last couple of years and we’ve a long season still ahead... Buuuuuuutttt… a good start from the Warriors has other teams on notice. The Phantom Tragic hoped “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”. After some great performances in Auckland from this revitalised team, on that point we can all agree.
Phantom Tragic Prediction - Loss in Prelim Final
2018 Position after Round 7 - 3rd
One prediction which we seem to be on track to get right went something like “recent changes will probably clear some of the noise pollution and may see the Chocolate Soldiers return to the top four.” It has been a case of no Cleary, no worries whilst Maloney just gets better and better with age. Meanwhile, Big, tall and mean, the Penrith Towers of Kikau, Campbell-Gillard, Fisher-Harris, Herewira-Naera, Tamou and Yeoh are killin ‘em. Tyrone Peachey ‘the everywhere man’ is a must for Origin with his ability to play almost any position and Dylan Edwards is a shining light at the back with his blistering speed. All of which is to say that not only did we get this one right, but that the Panthers are serious Premiership contenders.
Phantom Tragic Prediction - 16th
2018 Position after Round 7 - 4th
We said “If you wanted to build a club from scratch, you’d probably appoint Ivan Cleary as chief architect...the question is whether he has the cattle at the Tigers to challenge for a finals spot in 2018”. Whilst we won’t know for another few months, there is no doubt that Wests Tigers have proven to be the surprise packets of the 2018 season. They’ve knocked off the Storm (twice), Roosters and were extremely unlucky against the Broncos in their only loss before the top 4 clash with the Warriors. In our preview, we added “Do say: It’s the Benji of old” and so it has proven. Kind of. Despite playing a vastly different role to his 2005 era-defining, premiership-winning, ball-flicking self, it is all hail Benji Marshall the magician out west. How old is he now!? It matters nowt. With his maturity and magic he is the best thing to happen to the Tigers in years and with his guile alongside, Brooks is flourishing. Young gun forwards Aloiai, Twal and Eisenhuth are getting better with each game and that is little surprise with Packer and Matulino asking them to follow their lead. Esarn Masters, Corey Thompson and Kevin Naiqama have also been outstanding. BUT. Are the Tiges roaring too early? No matter yet, Cleary has a galvanised unit playing fantastic footy.
Phantom Tragic Prediction - Loss in Prelim Final
2018 Position after Round 7 - 5th
The Storm have endured a slower than expected start, including two losses to the Tigers and are still working out their halves combinations, meaning Smith is looking for, and appears to have, more control of the team on the park. It also seems that Tohu Harris and Cronk were bigger losses than anyone envisaged and with Origin just around the corner, they’ll lose their regular rep stars and probably a few more with Ado-Carr, Curtis Scott and Dale Finucane mounting strong cases for inclusion in the state contests. The speculation about whether Bellamy will stay or go appears to be having an impact and whatever he does will influence their chance of the first back to back title since early 90’s Broncos. Our prediction of “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” appears to be way off, but they’re still 5th. Whilst they don't appear to be anywhere near the same team as last year, they’re professional enough to do what is required and give themselves every chance to repeat last year's victory in the big dance.
SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS
Phantom Tragic Prediction - 13th
2018 Position after Round 7 - 6th
Sorry to say it but we fluffed this one entirely, with the Phantom declaring that whilst “everyone has a soft spot for the Rabbitohs… I can’t see them doing much this year, as injuries and luck will probably consign them to the bottom four” The Burgess bash and barge has been a feature and they have exciting outside backs who flourish when their forward pack manages dominate. Good wins against the Roosters, Raiders and Sea Eagles has shown the Rabbits are a very capable outfit this year. Damien Cook has been outstanding and has to be a strong NSW Origin contender, Alex Johnson, Gagai, GI, Robert Jennings and Cody Walker have the freedom to wreak havoc with Adam Reynolds ably controlling the play. Contrary to our assessment, the Rabbits look destined to return to Finals footy in 2018.
Phantom Tragic Prediction - 6th
2018 Position after Round 7 - 7th
Have we seen the best of the Roosters yet? Does anyone really know? We may have seen snippets but not anything approaching consistency. We said “something just feels a little off about the Roosters” and so it has proven. Is Cronk missing Cam Smith? Is Tedesco missing the opportunity of more ball touches? The Roosters appear uncertain at times and will need to lift their overall game and teamwork to be considered genuine threats. In our opinion, Luke Keary holds the key to this slingshot and if all clicks in to place, locked and loaded he can help catapult the Roosters into title contention.
Phantom Tragic Prediction - 12th
2018 Position after Round 7 - 8th
“Their justified optimism comes from the recruitment of a few handy players…and also Mitchell Pearce” said The Phantom Tragic. Turns out we were kind of right. The Knights have recruited well and although (as predicted) they will still take more time to gel, Pearce has been a good addition for them and his long-term absence with a ruptured pectoral will be keenly felt. We also pointed out that “The only potential fly in the ointment… is their lack of real quality in depth and this will affect any real tilt at Finals footy” and this prediction is going to be tested by Pearce’s absence with the Knights currently filling the last Finals position.
Of the rest of their squad, Lachlan Fitzgibbon is destined for higher honours if he can continue his form on the edges and we’ve seen impressive performances from Ese'ese, Guerra and Safiti but the most impressive of all has been Kalyn Ponga. He looks the real deal and has fans on the edge of their seats with every touch. Better times ahead for the Knights and as predicted “Sunday afternoon at Newcastle (has) once again become one of the most hated trips in Rugby League”
Phantom Tragic Prediction - 5th
2018 Position after Round 7 - 9th
Who wants to play fullback? Holmes, Moylan or Dugan? All three have had indifferent stints in the #1 jumper with the only certainty being that Holmes wont get another shot at it. The Sharks have also been hit by injuries with Gallen, Lewis, Graham, Bukuya and Fifita all spending time on the sidelines, making us look like Nostradamus with the line that it “could also be the year that an ageing Cronulla pack starts to creak and shudder in sight of the proverbial finish line” They’ve won 3 out of 7 so far, with one of those coming against a very poor 2018 Eels, but win number 3 unexpectedly came against the hitherto rampaging Panthers. So the question mark remains, can they repeat that performance more often in 2018?
Phantom Tragic Prediction - 7th
2018 Position after Round 7 - 10th
“the front row and halves are not exactly positions that can be papered over with stop-gap options or inconsistent role players” said our Phantom and so it has proven as the lack of a genuine #7 with the departure of Hunt looks like costly a error on the part of club management. Both Nikorima and Milford are both running halves and lack the game management of the elite number 7's in the game. Whilst Jamayne Isaako has been a revelation with his play and goal kicking and Tevita Pangai Jnr a star in the making, Jack Bird, Darius Boyd and James Roberts need to fire if the Broncos are to have any chance of post-season play. With no McCullough for the next 6 weeks, how they fare in this period could determine their season.
GOLD COAST TITANS
Phantom Tragic Prediction - 15th
2018 Position after Round 7 - 11th
Tipped by many (not us - just!) to get the spoon, the Titans have so far outperformed expectations without being exceptional. Jarrod Wallace, Jai Arrow and Ryan James give the go forward which allows Taylor and Elgey to play what’s in front of them. We’re yet to see Cartwright assert control over a game and in our opinion, Ash Taylor holds the key to the Titans chances this year. With experience in the likes of Michael Gordon, Hurrell, Don and Rein, it will still require all their players being at the top of their game if they are to avoid meeting our prediction of “some spirited performances… early to mid- season spunk, but a gradual fade out to an eventual finish in the bottom four” and avoid the spoon.
Phantom Tragic Prediction - 14th
2018 Position after Round 7 - 12th
Do the Raiders need Ricky Stuart sitting on the sideline for every single game? Whilst Leipana is working well again and Cotric has shown his effort last year wasn’t a fluke, Can Sezer and Austin provide the spark from a platform laid by Jnr Paulo, Soliola, Tapine and co. Time will tell whether the Raiders can improve as a unit, but road trips are definitely their achilles heel, and some players appear overweight and underdone. All of which means that our assessment of them being 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” seeming to be increasingly on the money.
Phantom Tragic Prediction - 10th
2018 Position after Round 7 - 13th
The Sea Eagles appear a club in crisis. After thumping Parra 54-0 in Round 2, Marty Tapau came out and said they could go all the way and win the comp… which now appears just like the bluster many mistook it for at the time. Losing Sironen and Tanginoa for the season, Jorge Tafua for an extended period and Darcy Lussick being released, our assessment that they were “thin up front” has become even more apparent. So far, the prediction of “some decent performances at… Brookvale, and the odd Turbo-charged performance… they’ll struggle occasionally in games against less fancied opposition and almost certainly against the big teams” appears spot on. With the DCE/Hastings incident seeming to have divided the players against each other, the Sea Eagles need to regroup fast otherwise it could be a long, cold winter on the peninsula.
Phantom Tragic Prediction - 9th
2018 Position after Round 7 - 14th
Despite earning good wins against the Panthers and Cowboys, the Bulldogs of 2018 have been trying hard but not getting results. Scoring points seems to be their problem as it was last year and we’ve predicted they’ll finish just outside the 8, their current lowly position means they could be out of contention earlier than predicted. Moses Mbye has been an absolute revelation at fullback, Lichaa can actually run the ball finally, Woods seems to be getting better each week and Marshall-King and Foran are starting to gel. Will they kick on? It’s difficult to confidently say yes from the performances to date.
NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS
Phantom Tragic Prediction - Premiers
2018 Position after Round 7 - 15th
The bewildering performances of the Cowboys this season just raises a plethora of questions. They’re packed with star names but have so little to show for it thus far. 2 wins from their first 7 was almost unthinkable when the season began, but we did say that “injuries have the ability to crater their season…and their Achilles heel as always is… scheduling and travel, but I see them as just too good, too talented and too big” I hate to say this to the Phantom, but we were dead wrong. Thurston has looked tired, Morgan has misfired and Taumalolo has been contained in most games. Does the rest of the comp have the Cowboys worked out? They’ve certainly been off the pace and will lose stars to Origin soon, so how they perform over the next month will be crucial to their premiership hopes.
Phantom Tragic Prediction - Runner-Up in Grand Final
2018 Position after Round 7 - 16th
“No-one does off-season expectations quite like the Parramatta Eels” said the Phantom. He’s a soothsayer that one. Parramatta are the surprise packets of 2018 and for all the wrong reasons. After last year, most had the Eels in their top 4. “There is a professionalism and application about the squad” we said in the Preview. Well, anything but professional, it would seem. They’ve won 1 game out of 7 and with injuries to key players like Hayne, Takairangi and Brown, as well as the delayed return of Gutherson... Parra are walking a tightrope already. Gutherson is now co-captain and he brings energy, enthusiasm, calmness and a fighting spirit which has been sorely missing for the opening 6 rounds. An emphatic victory over Manly is a start, although with the Sea Eagles having their own issues, it may be too early to say how they’ll fare from here on in. The next few weeks are crucial and if this outfit doesn’t starting peeling off victories with metronomic regularity, they’re gone.