The heat is on at pre season training for all 16 clubs at the moment but when season 2015 arrives there will be a number of players and coaches feeling more pressure than most.
The one they call Mary needs to turn the Dragons around, and after a promising end to 2014, expectations will be high after a full pre season with the team. The club hasn’t played finals football since 2011, unacceptable for the club’s legion of fans and McGregor needs to get the Dragons firing early. Ridiculed for a perceived lack of size up front, McGregot and renowned recruitment guru Peter Mullholland have secured a host of relative unknowns, mixed in with a couple of experienced campaigners. Names like Rulon Nutira and Rory O’Brien may not be familiar to most league fans, but they have the size that the Dragons desperately needed, while Dane Nielson and George Rose boast plenty of NRL experience. With no Brett Morris on the top squad, McGregor’s job becomes even harder and as his predecessor Steve Price found out, success at the Dragons is expected and failure won’t be tolerated.
Oh how the mighty have fallen. Back in 2012, Ben Barba had the rugby league world at his feet. After a sensational year saw him crowned Dally M Player of the Year, Dally M Fullback of the Year, and a host of other awards as well as featuring in the Grand Final against the Melbourne Storm.Fast forward 3 years, and he is back in Sydney after an ill-fated move to the Broncos in 2014 where he failed to spark. So much so, that incoming coach Wayne Bennett allowed Barba to have a look around, and he was picked up by perennial strugglers, the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks. He needs to recapture his best and ignite a faltering attack or risk being another one season wonder. It won’t be easy with the Sharks lacking genuine strikepower out wide, and set to be without veterans Paul Gallen and Luke Lewis during the Origin period. Kyle Stanley, a talented, but injury-prone buy from the Dragons could help Barba, but he will likely start the year alongside the reliable, but unspectacular Jeff Robson.
Bennett is used to success, after 21 highly successful seasons at the Brisbane Broncos that yielded 6 premierships, followed by another at the St George Illawarra Dragons in 2010. He arrived at the Newcastle Knights in 2012 with high hopes, but 3 years later he departed with the Knights failing to live up to the hype. With key recruit Darius Boyd set to be sidelined for an extended period following an Achilles injury and the loss of regular first graders Josh Hoffman and Ben Hannant, Bennett will be out to end the Bronco’s premiership drought. His side has plenty of potential, headlined by Anthony Milford and Ben Hunt, and Broncos fans will be expecting a top-4 finish in 2015.
So much talent, so little discipline. Blake Ferguson’s off-field misdemeanors has seen him punted from 2 clubs but he was good enough to represent NSW in 2013. Thrown a lifeline by the Sydney Roosters last year, he has been training with the club and is set to return to the NRL in 2105. The eyes of the rugby league world be upon him, but that’s the price you pay when you want to play in the best competition in the world. Ferguson needs to work hard to repair his tattered image and resist the temptations that have thus far stalled his career. It won’t be easy with King’s Cross a stones throw away but he can ill-afford another slip up.
The Raiders of 2014 were a rabble despite a host of talented names in the side. Ricky Stuart’s coaching resume hasn’t looked pretty in recent years, a wooden spoon in 2013 followed by a 15th placed finish in 2014 In fact, his coaching record stretching back to 2007 is questionable at best. Of the 122 games he has been in charge of, he has won just 46. In 2014 he claimed the Raiders won’t be successful until they recruit quality players but the fact is, he has an abundance of stars already at the club in new skipper Jarrod Crocker, Jack Wighton, Mitch Cornish, Edrick Lee, Paul Vaughn and workhorse Shaun Fensom. Its time for Stuart to stop making excuses and start delivering results.