As the pre-season begins for clubs across the NRL, here is a brief insight into each clubs strengths and flaws for the 2019 season.
Strengths: Returning to pre-season later in November, the Broncos’ short-lived 2018 finals campaign will see returning players in Matt Gillett, Jack Bird, Payne Haas and Jaydn Su’A to boost the side’s forward pack which was decimated at the back end of their year. Their attack was fifth best in the league with points scored with their backline a well-oiled machine in all parts of the field which can grow tremendously with a full squad together starting round one.
Flaws: Having signed another half in young rookie Sean O’Sullivan to come into the squad, the halves combination between Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima is in jeopardy of defining the Broncos season once again. The halves pairing was not always hitting the same tune on the field and much of the responsibility fell upon Milford to carry the side in the end. Brisbane will have to address this quickly in the pre-season, either focusing in on Nikorima to assist or going with their new exciting signing to create a new dynamic behind a young forward pack.
Strengths: Former Sharks fullback and Dally M winner Ben Barba will be a huge boost for the Cowboys in 2019, being that strike force that the club has been wanting for a few seasons out the back. A new era with Jason Taumalolo and Michael Morgan to lead the side after the retirement of Johnathan Thurston will see a new exciting spine that could well trouble many sides with Jake Clifford and Jake Granville to benefit each other.
Flaws: With many new signings in Nene McDonald, Tom Opacic and Barba – and some departures – it could well take some time to gel a whole new spine and backline. A pre-season to get combinations to work while dodging injuries through the year, if players start to fall off with those fresh faces still getting use to the squad’s style it would be another long season.
Strengths: Not much of what Parramatta worked in their latest season however with a fresh start and a few key signings in recent premiership winner Blake Ferguson and former Raider Junior Paulo to the roster, they will have a backline that can match it while having an experienced forward pack. On-field connections are vital in the NRL and most of the squad has been through the tough times together now, which could prove a silver lining and push the Eels back to their 2017 form.
Flaws: A lot of flaws come through the skill level of the squad, though a lot have been at the club through thick and thin it seems apparent that their side isn’t as robust as the other 15 sides in the competition. If the forwards don’t pull above their weight and have no presence in the competition it could be lights out for the Eels in 2019.
Strengths: Ivan Cleary’s return could be beneficial now the fiasco of who is coaching is over at Penrith; the defence-first style that he is known in recent times will strengthen the Panthers into a potential top four side in 2019, allowing their already potent backline to perform even better.
Flaws: A weakness coming into the pre-season will be the combinations around the spine, with Dylan Edwards the mainstay fullback having been out for the majority of 2018. The hooking role at the club is still up for grabs with the spine needed to be established quickly, otherwise it could be a tough start to the season and may ruin their chances at the back end.