The NRL is quickly approaching the most exciting part of rugby league calendar, the off-season. All jokes aside, I am personally looking forward to the months of player movements and other chaos which help us speculate which teams will be the best in the upcoming season. Last year many people predicted teams like the Sea Eagles and the Warriors to be firmly cemented in the top 8 or possibly in the top 4 – look how that turned out. It is tough to predict, but I’m going to give it a crack anyway before this season is even over. The following is a list of the teams that will be the biggest improvements in the 2017 season.
- Eels – If they had a fair season they most likely would have been a top 4 team but unfortunately they had some speed-bumps and are instead second last on the ladder. They are currently on a retaining spree, locking in all their players for next season and have managed to hold on to a couple of stars in Radradra and Norman. They are likely to head into next season with a similar looking team to what they have now but will be missing Michael Gordon. Brad Arthur indicated last night that Bevan French would be the fullback, Jeff Robson could stick around and there would be more signings to come very soon. The upside to the past few months has been that they have maintained a competitive squad while freeing up a lot of salary cap space. They might have penalties next season, but should still have enough money to sign some talent in some important positions.
2. Titans – The Titans have already been one of the most impressive turn arounds this year but they are set to get even better in 2017. Their current team is very different looking to their team from 12 months ago because of off season and mid-season recruitment drives. Next year they will have a similar looking team but will add Dan Sarginson from the UK and Kane Elgey from injury. The Titans should head into 2017 with a great looking team that will have had an entire offseason to allow combinations to form. They will field stars at almost every position and have one of the strongest spines with Hayne at fullback, Roberts or Elgey at five-eighth, Taylor at halfback, and Peats at Hooker. The Titans will be hot title contenders.
3. Tigers – This young team has finally figured out their issues and is developing into a strong team since Jason Taylor has been allowed to coach how he wants to. The likely departure of Robbie Farah and the retirement of Dene Halatau will be very beneficial as it would free up over a million dollars which the team can use to spend on re-signing key players such as James Tedesco and Elijah Taylor but also have some left over to buy a good replacement at hooker and boost their forward stocks.
4. Panthers – This team is already red hot and they have even had a messy season with a large portion of their team reshuffled. If they are playing this well now they will be even better when they have players return from injury and have recruits arrive. James Tamou is their biggest recruit and will be an enormous boost to the forward pack. The return of Te Maire Martin will allow Bryce Cartwright to return to the back row and Peter Hiku and Dean Whare should return to the centres. This team could be one of the best in the NRL in 2017.
5. Sea Eagles – These guys have been up and down this year but Lyon’s retirement, and Stewart and Matai’s potential departures will be positive for the club. Together those players would free up a large amount of cap space to boost the backline and forward pack. The addition of Blake Green at 5/8 will solve a huge problem and allow Daly Cherry-Evans to dominate.
6. Storm – It’s pretty hard to improve when you are most likely going to win the Minor Premiership, but storm should do so. Somehow the Storm have turned an injury rattled season into one of their best in recent years. Assuming that their injury problems will be solved, Storm will have an insanely good line-up. Billy Slater returning at fullback is the biggest potential benefit. Josh Addo-Carr has already been a revelation but should reach a whole new level under the tutelage of Bellamy. There are also whispers that Keiran Foran could go to the Storm which would take their team to a whole new level, otherwise there is the possibility that Kodi Nikorima could go there or Curtis Scott could play at 5/8.
Remarkably, you could make an argument for most teams in the NRL as to why they will improve next season. It is shaping up to be a very competitive and evenly matched year if the teams manage to avoid drama and injury. At this stage the only two teams that I would rule out of having a chance of winning are the Knights and the Dragons.