The NSW Cup kicks off on Saturday, March 7 with a six-game schedule, followed by two games on Sunday March 8.
The reigning premiers, the Penrith Panthers open their title defence against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs at Pepper Stadium on the Sunday and after such a dominant 2014, where they won 20 from 26 regular season games and then cruised to victory in the grand final, beating the 48-12, they will be a tough assignment for the Bulldogs.
The Newcastle Knights may have some pretty handy outside backs in their ranks this season with the Knights’ NRL side suddenly overflowing with talent out wide. Jake Mamo was a star of the Auckland Nines but may play for the Knights in the NSW Cup until he gets his chance, while former NSW and Australian winger Akuila Uate is also another player that could turn out for the club as he battles both Sione and Pat Mata’utia as well as James McManus for a wing spot.
The Wyong Roos will be linked with NRL glamour club the Sydney Roosters, and have already had Blake Ferguson pull on their jersey in a pre season trial. They will be hoping to improve on an inconsistent 2014, where the won 13 and lost 11 regular season games to miss out on the finals.
The Wentworthville Magpies are linked with the Parramatta Eels and at one stage had Chris Sandow running around for them, although his irresistible form at the Auckland Nines means he may not see much game time in the NSW Cup. Look out for Adam Quinlan, who is a quality signing for the Eels from the Dragons. He is a great young player and there is every chance he may play some games for the Magpies in 2015 with Will Hopoate the likely fullback at NRL level.
The Illawarra Cutters, coached by Ian Millward, and then Scott Logan, enjoyed their best season yet in 2014 finishing in fourth position. With plenty of new faces at the Dragons, the Cutters will benefit, especially with a number of recruits yet to taste NRL. The likes of Kris Keating, Charly Runciman, Rulon Nutira, George Rose and Craig Garvey could spend time with the Cutters in 2015.Potent Try scorer Junior Vai Vai is back after spending last season with the Newtown Jets.
The Mt Pritchard Mounties and Wests Tigers both finished the 2014 regular season with 14 wins and 10 losses, good enough for a finals spot, but they will be looking to push further up the ladder in 2015.
The Mounties are affiliated with the Canberra Raiders, who have a host of exciting youngsters in the squad, many who will turn out for the Mounties. Players like Jack Ahearn, Mitch Cornish, Sam Williams, Josh McCrone and Bill Tupou could turn out for the club, depending on what happens at NRL level. The Tigers are one of a number of clubs with their own NSW Cup team and their side could easily feature a number of experienced NRL players in 2015. Dene Halatau and Tim Moltzen are just two big names likely to feature in the NSW Cup, and the return to Australia of Josh Drinkwater could also boost their playing ranks, if he is not required at NRL level.
The New Zealand Warriors, like their NRL team, endured an inconsistent 2014, winning 12 regular season games. Like the other teams, the make-up of their team week in week out depends on their NRL side. Look out for a player called Solomone Kata, a Holden Cup star who should spend time in the VB NSW Cup as he continues his development. They face a tough trip in round one against 2014 grand finalists the Knights.
The Newtown Jets ended their 9-year association with the Sydney Roosters after the club opted to link up with the Wyong Roos for 2015. The Jets will team up with the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks, a much weaker side, but any NRL experience would be welcomed by the Jets, who failed to make the finals in 2014, with an 11-win, 12-loss season. The Sharks have recruited heavily and not all of them can play first grade every week so the Henson Park faithful would be pleased with the new association. Jackson Bird id a fine young player, but perhaps not quite ready for first grade, and Kyle Stanley will likely start the year for the Jets as he continues his comeback after a terrible run with injuries.
The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs suffered a lean 2014, winning just 6 games all year and conceding over 650 points. They have started 2015 well with a 28-8 trial win over the Cutters and this will give them plenty of confidence going into their round one clash with the reigning premiers. In this league, it’s hard to make predictions with players in and out of first grade each week, but the Bulldogs look to have some handy players in their squad. Damian Cook is a fine young hooker with great speed out of dummy half.
Like the Bulldogs, the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles won just six games all year in 2014, and their defence leaked well over 700 points. A look through their NRL squad reveals a number of players who will likely feature in the VB NSW Cup in 2015. Luke Burgess, Dunamis Lui, David Williams and promising youngster Brayden Wiliame look set to bolster the Sea Eagles in 2015. Hard to say if they will improve the Sea Eagles’ fortunes, but a few early wins could set the ball rolling.
No team endured a longer year than the North Sydney Bears in 2014. It started brightly with a 34-6 thumping of the Roos, but they had to wait until round 10 for their next win, 18-12 over the Knights. It was clear by the latter stages of the season, that the players couldn’t wait for it to end, conceding 140 points in their last 3 games. On February 14, they went down 26-10 to the Jets Joel Reddy, Bryson Goodwin and even Thomas Burgess have all spent time with the Bears in recent seasons, and it would take a number of NRL-level players turning out each week for the Bears to become competitive again in 2015.