NRL Season Preview – Part 3

In the third part of our NRL season preview we look at the North Queensland Cowboys, Parramatta Eels, Penrith Panthers and St George-Illawarra Dragons.

 North Queensland Cowboys

 The Cowboys will be looking for a return to success this season and they boast a squad that is capable of doing that. After six rounds in 2006 they were undefeated and many were predicting a very successful season. Due to key injuries, poor form and internal problems, the Cowboys struggled for the rest of the season and missed the finals entirely.

 There have been a few key changes in terms of personnel. The major change was the signing of Jason Smith who should prove to be a major part of their campaign. He will compliment the play of Jonathan Thurston and provide him with an extra option which was lacking at times last season.

 The Cowboys have plenty of strike power throughout the lineup. Matt Bowen is still one of the most exciting players in the game and they also boast speed out-wide with players like Ty Williams and the ‘other’ Bowen, cousin Brenton. It will be fun to watch this team once again. They play daring football and have a versatile side that can certainly turn it on. They should make the finals and are a dangerous proposition from that point on.

 Star Player: Johnathan Thurston – The Cowboys really struggled when he was out injured last year and it showed just how much they rely on him. He has just been appointed captain of the side and will be looking to lead from the front. His combination with hooker Aaron Payne is potentially one of the best in the competition.

 Player to Watch: Jacob Lillyman – Most people were asking “Jacob who?” when he was plucked from obscurity to make his State of Origin debut in 2006. He has admitted that his form dropped off from that point on, however a fresh start should be just what he needs. Look for him to establish himself in 2007.


Parramatta Eels

 Parramatta will go into the season with perhaps less expected of them. This could be beneficial and might allow them to slip under the radar. The team gets a fresh start with the departure of coach Brian Smith and new coach Michael Hagan will be looking to make some changes. The biggest decision to be made a this stage is the halves combination, with no player securing a spot thus far.

 Tim Smith will be looking for some 2005 form and if he can fire the Eels can be dangerous. His likely partner in the halves is former Rooster Brett Finch who gets an opportunity at a new club after being constantly criticized and blamed for losses at his old club.

 The Eels have a well-balanced squad with a good mixture of youth and experience. They still have a strong forward pack and if they can do the job there are plenty of quality backs that can finish. This should be a top 8 team, but it is always difficult to gauge the Eels and they could go either way.

 Star Player: Nathan Hindmarsh – Probably still one of the best back-rowers in the game. His workload is incredible and an inspiration for those who play with him. He has stated that he will be looking to cut down on some defence and run the ball more in 2007. This will further improve the Eels’ chances.

 Player to Watch: Josh Cordoba – Cordoba was very impressive last season when he made his first grade debut. He could potentially develop into a very good forward and will be given an opportunity this year to improve his game.


Penrith Panthers

 Penrith were disappointing in 2006 due to a combination on injuries and simply sub-par performances. Consistency is one area in which they will have to improve, because it seemed that they struggled to back up from one week to the next. Many of the top-line players will also be looking to return to their best form after struggling last season.

 Quite a few players remain from the Panthers’ 2003 Premiership win. It is these players that will have to lead the way and they really need the likes of Craig Gower, Rhys Wesser and Luke Priddis playing at the top of their games. Penrith traditionally have a sold junior base and they will again be looking to uncover some talent for the season ahead.

 The Panthers could easily be the surprise team this season. They have a new coach in Matt Elliot and a fresh approach might just be what the doctor ordered. There is plenty of experience throughout the squad and young players will be given an opportunity to shine. The key to their success is Craig Gower. If he can stay injury-free as well as avoid off-field incidents, the Panthers might surprise a lot of people.

 Star Player: Craig Gower – He is the most important player in this team. He has been re-instated as one of the club captains for 2007 and this should give him confidence to lead the team as he would naturally do. A big season might also see a return to State of Origin football.

 Player to Watch: Alex Ranieri – Has been progressing along nicely in the Panthers’ junior ranks and a few injuries could see him feature in 1st grade this season. At 110kg he is a big and strong prop who is developing into a quality player


St George Illawarra Dragons

 For the first time in a long time the Dragons haven’t been given the favourites tag after losing a number of senior players. The injury to Mark Gasnier has left the team looking relatively in-experienced and the young players are really going to have to step up this season. Despite that, being the underdogs for a change should suit the team and take out some of the pressure

 The key to the season really is halfback Matthew Head. He is a brilliant player who has been unlucky with injuries in recent times. If he is on the field guiding the side around, the Dragons are a good chance of beating anyone. Jason Ryles will have to lead from the front and if he and his fellow forwards can do the job, the exciting backs have the potential to finish things off.

 Expectations for the Dragons are lower than in previous seasons. This will help Nathan Brown and his team and they may be able to ease into the season. They should once again figure in the finals and considering the quality of players coming through, they will be in with a chance of winning it.

 Star Player: Ben Hornby – With Mark Gasnier out, Hornby is almost certain to be in the halves and he will have the big job of leading the team. He is a versatile player and his consistency will be needed throughout the season.

 Player to Watch: Richard Williams – He will most likely be given first crack at the vacant five-eighth position. Williams has been impressive in Premier League and there are high hopes for him at the club.

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