NRL 2020 Team Guide Part Four: Raiders to go one better, Bulldogs start under a cloud and Ponga key for the Knights

Our final four previews for the new NRL season, which starts on Thursday.

Additional research by Sam Harris

Canberra Raiders

2019 finish: 4th (Grand Final runner up)

Coach: Ricky Stuart

Captain(s): Jarrod Croker, Josh Hodgson

Ground(s): GIO Stadium

Signings: George Williams (Wigan Warriors), Curtis Scott (Melbourne Storm), Matt Frawley (Huddersfield Giants)

Departures: Brad Abbey(Wests Tigers), Ata Hingano (Mackay Cutters – Queensland Cup), Royce Hunt (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks), Joseph Leilua (Wests Tigers), Aidan Sezer (Huddersfield Giants), Jordan Rapana (Panasonic Wild Knights – Rugby Union)

First five games: Titans (H), Warriors (A), Dragons (H), Eagles (H), Panthers (A)

Last five games: Eagles (A), Tigers (H), Rabbitohs (A), Titans (A), Storm (H) 

Teams they play twice: Titans, Warriors, Dragons, Sea Eagles, Panthers, Rabbitohs, Tigers, Roosters, Storm.

Teams they play once: Knights, Bulldogs, Sharks, Broncos, Eels, Cowboys.

It was a case of so near yet so far for the Raiders in 2019 as after they were able to make a Grand Final appearance for the first time in 25 years. Even though Canberra may have found themselves hard done by in the Final due to controversy, the dust has now settled completely, and the green machine will be hoping they can pick themselves up from where they left off. They remain one of the best teams in the league up front and defensively and the additions of Curtis Scott at the centre spot and George Williams in the halves bolster an already talented side. It is now seemingly up to Ricky Stuart’s side to put those pieces together.

Key man

After an exceptional debut season, you could easily suggest John Bateman is the key man and he can certainly be that but in terms of catalyst to pull the strings then Jack Wighton could be that man. The 27-year-old made his Origin debut last year and was a key contributor to the Raiders throughout the year.

 

Canterbury Bulldogs

2019 finish: 12th

Coach: Dean Pay

Captain(s): Josh Jackson

Ground(s): ANZ Stadium and Belmore Sports Ground

Signings: Joe Stimson (Melbourne Storm), Dean Britt (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Sione Katoa (Penrith Panthers)

Departures: Michael Lichaa (Released), Danny Fualalo (Released), John Olive (Released), Fa’amanu Brown (Released), Connelly Leumelu (Released), Zac Saddler (Released), Francis Tualau (Released)

First five games: Eels (A), Cowboys (H), Tigers (A), Sharks (H), Rabbitohs (H)

Last five games: Sharks (H), Dragons (A), Panthers (H), Tigers (H), Knights (A)

Teams they play twice: Eels, Cowboys, Tigers, Sharks, Rabbitohs, Warriors, Sea Eagles, Dragons, Knights.

Teams they play once: Raiders, Broncos, Titans, Storm, Roosters, Panthers.

The Bulldogs were another team that suffered a torrid start to 2019 with this was mainly due to the injury to Keiran Foran and inexperience. However, to their credit they were able to push strong towards the end of the season and even without Foran they gave some of the bigger teams a run for their money in games. As we go into 2020, the question remains now as to whether the likes of Lachlan Lewis, Reimis Smith and Renouf To’omaga can step up and compete alongside seasoned players such as Josh Jackson and Will Hopoate.

Key man

In a team that has its fair share of inexperience with plenty of younger players breaking into first grade the Bulldogs need a leader and Josh Jackson is just that. The second rower has been one of Canterbury’s most consistent performers in recent years and will lead his team in the hope of following on from strong end to last season.

 

Newcastle Knights

2019 finish: 11th

Coach: Adam O’Brien

Captain(s): Mitchell Pearce

Ground(s): McDonald Jones Stadium

Signings: Gehamat Shibasaki (Brisbane Broncos), Enari Tuala (North Queensland Cowboys)

First five games: Warriors (H), Tigers (A), Sharks (A), Cowboys (H), Sea Eagles (A)

Last five games: Warriors (A), Sea Eagles (H), Broncos (A), Eels (A), Bulldogs (H)

Teams they play twice: Warriors, Tigers, Sharks, Cowboys, Sea Eagles, Panthers, Rabbitohs, Broncos, Bulldogs. 

Teams they play once: Raiders, Dragons, Roosters, Storm, Titans, Eels

After a poor start last year, Newcastle managed to put together a great run of form that saw them climb to 4th only for their fortunes to completely flip once again and finish way outside the top eight. Now yes, some of this may have been down to Kalyn Ponga playing out of position, Origin selections or even injuries themselves but it was certainly a hugely inconsistent year for the Novocastriens. A new season beckons though with a new head coach in tow and plenty of talent from front to back, with the likes of Ponga, Conor Watson and Mitchell Pearce creative centrepieces and David Klemmer, Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Tim Glasby forces in the forward pack.

Key man

A name that has been mentioned already but Kalyn Ponga is quite possibly the Knights biggest offensive weapon. Although he may not have performed well as he did in 2018, mainly due to starting the season out of position alongside sitting out games due to injury, the 21-year-old still showed how lively and electric he can be and it should not come as a surprise if he’s within Dally M contention in 2020.

 

South Sydney Rabbitohs

2019 finish: 3rd (lost to Canberra in preliminary final)

Coach: Wayne Bennett

Captain(s): Adam Reynolds

Ground(s): ANZ Stadium

Signings: Latrell Mitchell (Sydney Roosters), Bryson Goodwin (Warrington Wolves), Troy Dargan (Brisbane Broncos), Jaxson Paulo (Gold Coast Titans), Steven Marsters (St George Illawarra Dragons)

Latrell Mitchell (left) poses for a photograph with fans at Redfern Oval in Sydney, Monday, January 13, 2020. Latrell Mitchell has signed a one-year deal with South Sydney Rabbitohs. (AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi)

Departures: Dean Britt (Canterbury Bulldogs), Connor Tracey (Cronulla Sharks), Adam Doueihi (Wests Tigers), George Burgess (Wigan Warriors), Kyle Turner (unsigned), Sam Burgess (Retired), John Sutton (Retired)

First five games: Sharks (H), Broncos (A), Roosters (H), Storm (A), Bulldogs (H)

Last five games: Titans (A), Warriors (H), Raiders (H), Roosters (A), Dragons (A)

Teams they play twice: Broncos, Roosters, Storm, Bulldogs, Dragons, Raiders, Knights, Tigers, Eels.

Teams they play once: Sharks, Cowboys, Sea Eagles, Panthers, Titans, Warriors.

The Bunnies will now have to deal with the loss of both Greg Inglis and Sam Burgess coming into 2020. However, their business in the off season certainly showed plenty of positive intent coming into the year as they acquired one of biggest coups in recent memory with the signing of Latrell Mitchell. Although naturally a centre, the 21-year-old will make a switch to fullback in a move that could define their season. There remains plenty of firepower on the flanks with Dane Gagai and Campbell Graham looking to continue their try scoring ways. However, concerns may linger with the forwards as without Sam and George Burgess, the emphasis will be on Tom Burgess and a younger pack consisting of the likes of Liam Knight, Tevita Tatola and Jaydn Su’A to step up to plate.

Key man

Although Souths have Latrell Mitchell and a star in the making in Cameron Murray at loose forward, one of the most important players in Wayne Bennett’s set up will still be their elusive dummy half Damien Cook. Over the last two seasons both the Bunnies offence and defence have ran through the 28-year-old as he continues to create plenty of opportunities and lead his side in tackles.

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