After an off-season filled with controversial coaching changes and a huge amount of player movement, the 2019 NRL season is almost upon us. As we near the season opener, there are a lot of questions and plenty to discuss, so let’s check out the five key talking points heading into the season.
Can anyone catch the Roosters?
The Roosters, coming off a dominant finals campaign which ended with their 14th Premiership, appear to have somehow improved in the off-season. This is evident in the NRL odds, which list them as a comfortable favourite, and whether or not anyone is able to chase them down is likely to be a point of discussion throughout the season. They have added talented back-rower Angus Crichton and Englishman Ryan Hall to their side, have plenty of players who will likely improve, and are on paper easily the best side in the league. It’s a long season and plenty can change, but they are about as well placed as they could hope to be heading into 2019.
Life without Johnathon Thurston and Billy Slater
Both the Cowboys and the Storm will be difficult to recognise this year after they each lost a stalwart of their respective clubs at the end of 2018. Johnathan Thurston, consistently entrenched in discussion about the game’s greatest ever player, has represented the Cowboys for the last 14 years and been a major part of the success they have had throughout that time. Meanwhile, Billy Slater’s 16 years with the Storm saw him lead them to an era of unprecedented success – even if some of it was illegitimate – and deservedly end his career with a host of awards, both local and international. Watching these two sides won’t be the same in 2019, and it will be fascinating to see how they fare without their favourite sons.
Anthony Seibold and the Broncos
The Brisbane Broncos were one of the more intriguing teams of 2018, seemingly capable of beating anyone on their day but equally able to frustrate fans with unpredictable performances. Their first round finals exit wasn’t a graceful one, and their off-season mirrored their season on-field for drama. The end result, however, is former Rabbitohs coach Anthony Seibold is at the helm of an undeniably talented list. Seibold had a relatively successful first year as a head coach in the NRL, leading the Rabbitohs to a third place finish and ultimately being named Dally M coach of the year. Coaching the enigmatic Broncos will be a challenge, but if it all comes together they could easily find themselves in the mix come season’s end.
Wayne Bennett and the Rabbitohs
On the other side of the Anthony Seibold coaching drama was legendary coach Wayne Bennett, who will this year coach the Rabbitohs after a quarter of a century with the Broncos – albeit with a six year gap in the middle. At 69 years of age, many debate whether he is still the coach he once was, but with a plethora of experience and a list capable of challenging for a Premiership at his disposal, both he and the Rabbitohs’ loyal army of supporters will be expecting another season which extends deep into September. With Seibold at the helm last season, the Rabbitohs were a dangerous side all year – they found themselves on top of the ladder with just a couple of weeks remaining, and led the dominant Roosters at half time of the preliminary final. Rabbitohs, the most successful side in the league’s history, have won just one Premiership since 1971, but they will be a genuine threat to double that number in 2019.
The plethora of players with new homes
The 2018 off-season was one of the busiest in living memory, with a huge number of players finding new homes. Shaun Johnson is perhaps the most notable of these, the 28-year-old set to play his first season outside of his native New Zealand since his debut in 2011 when he suits up for the Sharks in 2019. David Klemmer will look unusual in a Knights jersey after playing the first six years of his career with the Sharks, while Tyrone Peachey’s first year at the Titans after five seasons at the Panthers will also be a point of interest. A number of players who moved in the off-season have the potential to make a major impact at their new teams, and many of them will be under the microscope throughout the season.
The 2019 NRL season is shaping up to be a fascinating one after one of the closest seasons in history last year. With players in new colours, new coaches, and a Roosters side which will probably be looking over its shoulder for the nearest challenger throughout the year, there are already plenty of talking points heading into the season – and there are even more likely to pop up throughout.