NRL Season Preview – Part 2

In the second part of our NRL preview we look at the Gold Coast Titans, Manly Sea Eagles, Melbourne Storm and Newcastle Knights.

 Gold Coast Titans

 The Titans are the new kids on the block and there has already been an incredible amount of interest and support for the new franchise. It is certainly an exciting time for the NRL with a team coming in and most will be focusing on the Titans to see how they progress throughout 2007.

 In terms of recruitment, the Titans have done a great job in putting together a well-balanced squad that should be competitive. Players such as Luke Bailey, Scott Prince, Preston Campbell, Mat Rogers along with some good young players like Gavin Cooper should ensure that this team isn’t doomed like previous new clubs.

 As with any new club it will take some time before the players are comfortable and are able to work together. Any major issue will be the depth of the squad. The team has the talent to do well, however a few major injuries to star players will have a major impact. This is an issue that will improve in the coming years but is a major hurdle for the season ahead. A surprise top 8 spot is a possibility, however the Titans will most likely be an inconsistent team with some good and some not so good days.

 Star Player: Luke Bailey – He is still one of the best props in the game of Rugby League. Bailey has the ability to carry a team during difficult times and this is something he will now do for the Titans. The young forwards at the club will also learn a great deal from him which is another positive.

 Player to Watch: Gavin Cooper – He had a tremendous season with the Cowboys last year and will only improve in 2007. He has an impressive work-rate and can be an explosive runner of the ball. A strong Origin candidate.


Manly Sea Eagles

 Most of the talk surrounding the Sea Eagles has focused on the retirement of Ben Kennedy and the signing of Jamie Lyon. With the season rapidly approaching it is still unclear what role Lyon will play. At this stage it would appear that he will play in the five-eighth position, which means Travis Burns will be forced to the bench. Either way, there is little doubt that he will have a major impact upon his return to the NRL.

 Manly had a successful 2006 campaign, finishing in 5th place and making the second week of the finals. They will be looking to improve on that result and a Premiership is certainly in their sites. The team boasts a brilliant backline, arguably one of the best in the competition. They also have some strong forwards, particularly Brent Kite who was outstanding last season and carried that form throughout the Tri-Nations campaign.

 If there is one concern for the Sea Eagles it is their forward depth. The top-line players are certainly capable and will do a good job, however injuries may make things difficult for the club. A relatively injury-free season could see Manly challenge for the title. Most eyes will be on Jamie Lyon and his addition the team could free up Matt Orford to have a great season. There are reports that Brett Stewart is quicker than he was in 2006 which should provide many thrills for the Brookvale faithful.

 Star Player: Jamie Lyon – It is great to see Lyon return to the NRL and he will have an impact immediately. Manly could play him anywhere in the backline and he will still leave his mark on the game. Round 9 sees him face up against the Parramatta Eels which should be great to watch.

 Player to Watch: Jack Afamasaga – He comes over from Parramatta looking for a fresh start. Injuries have plagued him over the last couple of seasons, but if he can remain on the field he can potentially be a very damaging backrower and the Sea Eagles will need that to cover for the loss of Ben Kennedy.


Melbourne Storm

 The Storm are the favourites to win the 2007 Premiership. Last season they were clearly the best team throughout the competition, but just failed to perform in the game that mattered most. What was most impressive was their consistency and their ability to be flexible and these are two things they’ll be looking to produce again.

 The team has had a few changes from last season, however there is enough depth to cover any of those positions. The major change is the Greg Inglis shift to five-eighth. This could be seen as a bit of a gamble, but Inglis is an incredible talent and there is every chance that he will revolutionise the position. Opposition players hate trying to tackle him and they will have to do even more of it now.

 Coach Craig Bellamy has a reputation of being one of the best coaches in the competition. He is always looking for an advantage and is willing to experiment to gain an edge. He also has an ability to get the best out of his players and he will again be pushing them towards success this season. The Storm have a great team with some talented young players coming through. They are the Premiership favourites and rightly so.

 Star Player: Greg Inglis – He is an incredible talent and athlete. Some of the things he produces on the field are absolutely freakish and a joy to watch. His combination in the halves with Cooper Cronk will be interesting to watch and could potentially develop to being a lethal pairing.

 Player to Watch: Pale Ale – Not only does he have a great name, but apparently this kid can play. Standing at close to 200cm tall he is a big and strong backrower who has been terrorizing opposition players in New Zealand. He has traveled to Melbourne looking for an opportunity and will likely be unleashed at some stage.


Newcastle Knights

 Brian Smith takes over at the Knights and will be looking to take the side to the next level. Once again the season rests on the shoulders of the great Andrew Johns. This could be his last season in the NRL and he will be looking to take his team all the way. Injuries are starting to become a concern for both Johns and Danny Buderus and the Knights need to have both players on the field if they are going to do well.

 2006 was a good season for the Knights until they were bundled out of the finals by the Brisbane Broncos. They have an ageing squad and this could be the last season before the start of a new era. They have plenty of talent and the support of their home town always allows them to lift a notch.

 Jarrod Mullen will need to take more responsibility this season as it is likely that he will be leading the side in the very near future. He has shown glimpses of his brilliance and this could be a big year for him. If Andrew Johns is fit, the Knights will again be up there challenging. If not, it could be a long season for the men in blue.

 Star Player: Andrew Johns – He might be a bit slower then he was, but he is still one of the best players ever to play the game. His ability to lift a team is unrivalled and the amount of games he has single-handedly won over the years is astonishing. If the maestro can stay on the field anything is possible.

 Player to Watch: Terence Seu Seu – He will be making his first grade debut in Round 1 due to an injury to hooker Danny Buderus. He admitted that his move to hooker from fullback was basically a joke, however it turned out to be a permanent move and he impressed all with his speed and running ability.

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