The Dick Smith Auckland Nines have been run and won, and congratulations to the South Sydney Rabbitohs on their win. But now we are back to 13-a-side rugby league and here are 5 questions that Adam Bagnall looked at ahead of the March 7 kickoff.
Can the Rabbitohs go back to back?
History (at least the last 25 years or so, since the game has gone fully professional) shows that winning back to back is often a bridge too far. The last side to do this was the mighty Brisbane Broncos of 1992-93. Technically they won back-to-back titles in 1997-98, but 1997 was during the Super League war when the game was split into two leagues. The Sydney Roosters made 4 Grand Finals in 5 year in the early 2000’s but only managed one win, and two of the most dominant teams of the last decade, the Storm and Sea Eagles have also failed to go back-to-back so the Rabbitohs have it all against them to return to the promised land. Without the strike-power and leadership of Sam Burgess, the Rabbitohs may find it tough, especially around Origin when the likes of Greg Inglis, Chris McQueen and perhaps John Sutton will be missing. They have the side to be a top 4 team again, but do they have the hunger that other teams have lacked?
Will The Dragons play finals for the first time since 2011?
The St George Illawarra Dragons made a habit of playing finals on a regular basis during their first 3 years, playing finals football in 10 of those years. But lately they have been on a finals drought, missing the top 8 for the last 3 years. Things won’t get easier without go-to man Brett Morris, and their recruits won’t have their fans jumping out of their seats in anticipation. But their form at the recent Nines tournament showed glimpses of a brighter future. Eto Nabuli just needs half a chance to turn it into points and young centre Euan Aitken is one to watch, while Benji Marshall and Gareth Widdop will be better with a full off-season behind them. All this sounds great but can Paul McGregor get the team firing week in, week out?
Will The Eels Struggle Without Jarryd Hayne?
Most likely, yes, although Chris Sandow’s irresistible Auckland Nines form must have fans excited about the season ahead. Their recent acquisition of Dragons utility Adam Quinlan is a shrewd one, as he has a great all-round game, but was looking at a season of NSW Cup duties. With a great passing game and wonderful support play, don’t be surprised to see Quinlan in the number one jersey come round one. The recruitment of Anthony Watmough could be a great one, guiding the younger forwards around, or it could backfire, given his history of injuries. They don’t have a lot of established stars in their pack, but Tepai Moeroa had a wonderful 2014 and looks like a great player in the making. They may not struggle, but it would take a stand-out season by a number of players for them to make the finals.
Can The Sharks Become A Force in 2015?
Yes they can, but they need luck with injuries, like most sides. Jackson Bird showed at the Auckland Nines that the hype surrounding him is well and truly justified, and with Ben Barba and the reliable Jeff Robson in the halves and some much-needed strike-power out wide in Gerard Beale as well as utility Kyle Stanley, the Sharks finally have a line-up that could challenge the top teams. Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis, Wade Graham and veteran hooker Michael Ennis form the nucleus of an experienced forward pack and the Sharks showed us in Auckland that they are ready to return to contention again.
Is 2015 The Year of the Comeback?
Blake Ferguson, Danny Wicks and potentially Russell Packer, have the opportunity to revive their careers in 2015 after all three, for various reasons, found themselves on the rugby league scrap-heap. Ferguson will play with the Sydney Roosters in 2015, Wicks will play for the Parramatta Eels, while Packer, if the NRL gives him the green light to return, looks set to join the St George Illawarra Dragons. What a great story it would be if all three returned to their best and were talked about for their deeds on the field, rather than off it.