With the opening round of the NRL just a fortnight away I thought it was as good a time as any to have a look at the eight teams which made up the bottom half of the table at the end of last year, and which players will play key roles for them this season if they are to make the play-offs.
The Dragons left their run too late last year, falling two points short of the 8th placed Broncos and narrowly missing the play-offs. Of the players which the Dragons will have to do without this year the most significant will be veteran Ben Hornby, who has retired, and Beau Scott, who heads to Newcastle to join former Dragons’ coach Wayne Bennett at the Knights.
Although there are few new signings of note former Canberra Raider Bronson Harrison and ex-Bronco Gerard Beale will add depth to the squad, while Brett Morris’ re-signing through until 2015 will be encouraging. All in all though the Dragons have done little over the off-season to instil new blood in to their team environment, and they may well struggle in 2013.
Pre-season favourites last year the Tigers got off to a horrible start, winning their first game then losing the next five on the trot, and despite some half-decent mid-season form never really looked like being consistent enough to challenge for the title.
As always their fortunes will rely heavily around their ability to keep Robbie Farrar and Benji Marshall fit and on the field. The loss of Beau Ryan and Chris Heighington, who both head to the rejuvenated Sharks, will be a blow, although the addition of Braith Anasta may help alleviate some of the pressure on the sides’ key playmakers. Plenty of potential, and should be keen to prove themselves after last year.
Dave Taylor is the Titans’ biggest signing (excuse the pun), while the loss of playmaker Scott Prince will be a huge blow for the Gold Coast based side, who struggled to get on a roll last year, and may well battle again in 2013.
The Knights failed to deliver amidst the hype of Wayne Bennett’s first year at the helm in Newcastle, but the legendary coach continues to attract quality players, and they will undoubtedly be a threat in 2013. Sound signings in the form of Jeremy Smith, Anthony Quinn and Scott will add depth and experience, while Bennett has ensured he will get at least one more season out of veteran hooker Danny Buderus with the seasoned campaigner’s commitment through until the end of the upcoming season.
The Roosters have been the side whose roster has undergone the most changes. Of those to leave the most notable are Anasta and Sam Perrett, but it’s their signing of marquee player Sonny Bill Williams which has unquestionably attracted the most attention.
Williams is undoubtedly a game-breaker; a superstar in whichever sport he participates in, but also a genuine professional when it comes to game day. Joining SBW at the Sydney-siders are other quality players including James Maloney (from the Warriors) and Michael Jennings (from the Panthers), and the Roosters really have no excuse for not making the Top 8 this season.
The Warriors were inconsistent for most of the season and woeful at the end, slumping to 14th place on the final table last year. The lost of Maloney is a big blow, as is the retirement of the hard-working and inspirational Michael Luck. Dane Nielsen is the Kiwi-sides’ most exciting addition to their squad, but unless the incoming Thomas Leuluai can help spark something and fill the void left by Maloney the Warriors could be in for another grind this season.
The Panthers were poor last season, and threatened very few sides. Like the Roosters there has been plenty of movement in the Blue Mountains, with senior players including Jennings and Luke Lewis seeking opportunities at other clubs. Although there are plenty of fresh faces at Penrith ahead of the 2013 campaign there are few genuine stars, although the powers-that-be in the head office may well be saving their money for a serious bid at Johnathan Thurston when he comes off contract at the Cowboys later in the year.
Earning the wooden spoon last year were the Eels, who were purely and simply abysmal. The hype surrounding the signing of playmaker Chris Sandow proved to be all bark and no bite, and they failed to create anything on attack if Jarryd Hayne wasn’t firing (which he wasn’t for most of the season).
The retirement of Luke Burt and Nathan Hindmarsh has seriously depleted the leadership stocks at Parramatta, and unless former New South Wales coach Ricky Stuart can work some magic the Eels look set to struggle again this year.
Of all the teams that missed the play-offs last year I think the Roosters and the Tigers are the only ones who pose a genuine threat to the competition’s heavyweights, while fans of the Eels, the Warriors and the Panthers could be in for another joy-less year.