NRL Season Preview – Part 1

In the first of four parts we preview the Brisbane Broncos, Canterbury Bulldogs, Canberra Raiders and Cronulla Sharks.

 Brisbane Broncos

 The defending champions will be attempting to go back-to-back after a brilliant 2006 saw them win the title, defeating the Melbourne Storm in the big one. The great challenge for 2007 is attempting to overcome the loss of Shane Webcke. Webcke is arguably one of the best props in the modern era and his retirement will certainly impact on the team.

 Coach Wayne Bennett continues on as coach of the Broncos after proving all the crtics wrong last season. He has an amazing ability to bring through young, talented players and there is no doubt the Broncos will uncover a few more gems as the season progresses.

 The Broncos certainly have enough strike power to threaten for the competition again. They have one of the best backlines in the competition, led by Darren Lockyer, and if the forwards can lay a good platform, players such as Lockyer, Justin Hodges and Karmichael Hunt have the ability to destroy any opposition. Back-to-back Premierships are a rarity in the modern era, however the Broncos may just be good enough to pull it off.

 Star Player: Darren Lockyer – 2006 was an amazing year for Lockyer captaining his side to the Premiership, State of Origin victory as well as the Tri-Nations. Many believe he is the bets player in the world and he will certainly be looking to fire again in 2007.

 Player to Watch: Brent McConnell – He made his debut for the Cowboys in 2006 and is an exciting prospect for the Broncos this season. Plenty of speed and the ability to find the line will allow him to pressure for a first grade spot.


Canterbury Bulldogs

 The Bulldogs always manage to put together a strong team and 2007 shouldn’t be any different. They have a good blend of youth and experience and should be competitive once again. Their great strength is the back row with star players Reni Maitua, Sonny Bill Williams and captain Andrew Ryan forming a formidable combination. This will again allow Willie Mason to wreak havoc in the front row.

 One area of concern for the Bulldogs last season was their halves combination and this will again be an issue in 2007. Brent Sherwin certainly improved as the season went on, however was still not playing anywhere near his best. Daniel Holdsworth will again accompany him in the halves and the combination will need to fire if the team is any chance of winning the title. There is plenty of talent in the backline and they will get the job done if they receive quality ball.

 The Bulldogs should make the finals again in 2007. There is plenty of talent throughout the squad and it is likely that they will once again have the best bench in the competition. Injuries plagued them last year, and the pre-season injury to winger Matt Utai isn’t the ideal way to start off the year.

 Star Player: Willie Mason – Mason has matured over the last couple of years and has developed into one of the bets forwards in the game. On his day, he can be as destructive as anyone and can certainly turn a game.

 Player to Watch: Karl McNichol – He played Premier League in 2006 following completion of the SG Ball competition. First grade is a possibility this season especially if he keeps up his aggressive running out in the centres.


Canberra Raiders

 Canberra have been installed as the 2007 wooden spoon favourites and a quick glance at their squad reveals the reason why. They have a team full of ‘no-name’ players, many of them young and un-tried in the top grade. New coach Neil Henry is going to need to be patient because a slow start to the season is definitely on the cards.

 The Raiders played a trial recently against a combination of two QLD Cup sides, and were embarrassed to be beaten despite fielding a near full-strength team. They have a speedy backline that could pose problems for many teams. There is also plenty of talent in the forwards, however these young players are going to have to step up if they are going to be any threat.

 Young players such as Dane Tilse, Neville Costigan and Glen Turner will be looking to cement a spot in first grade in the competitive front/back row positions. The halves positions will most likely be decided following the trial matches and a number of combinations will probably be tried throughout the season.

 Star Player: Alan Tongue – Not the kind of player you would normally refer to as a ‘star’, however he is a tireless player and always leads by example. As the new captain look for him to have an outstanding season. Always a consistent performer and someone who somehow finds his way to the try-line.

 Player to Watch: William Zillman – 2007 is the year for him to finally cement a spot in the first grade spot. He can play in the halves or at fullback and possesses an impressive kicking game along with exceptional speed. If he is given an opportunity he will certainly excite Raiders fans.


Cronulla Sharks

 The Sharks have underachieved for many years and their loyal supporters must be wondering if a maiden Premiership is anywhere on the horizon. Once again they have a solid squad that is capable of making the finals. New coach Ricky Stuart will need to make a decision early in the season regarding the halves combination, a problem the team has had for the past few years.

 Some good off-season acquisitions should help the Sharks in 2007. Players such as Brett Seymour and Josh Hannay have plenty of experience and will be pushing for spots in first grade. Brett Kimmorley will need to get back to his best to lead the team towards a finals spot.

 The Sharks always seem to start the season strong before falling apart towards the back end. There is enough talent on the roster to trouble any team and with a bit of luck they may just make a finals appearance.

 Star Player: Brett Kimmorley – Despite some average form in the past two seasons, Kimmorley is still vital to the Sharks’ Premiership aspirations. He has proven in the past that he can be one of the best halfbacks in the competition and will need a consistent season to prove his worth to the club.

 Player to Watch: Fraser Anderson – He made his first grade debut in 2006 and will be looking to build on that this season with the Sharks. For a winger he is big and strong and could wreak havoc if he is given an opportunity.

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