2019 is going to be a MASSIVE year for the NRL and only six weeks out from kick off I have run a rule over my five players who have a huge shot at owning 2019. New clubs, new leagues or just returning from injury or bad form, here are my Top Five.
1. Shaun Johnson (Cronulla)
His move from across the ditch to Cronulla could really spark a run for the Sharks after Valentine Holmes announced he’d have a crack at the NFL. From day one Johnson must inject himself into the game and put his hand up as a key playmaker for this besieged team (who have lost their coach Shane Flanagan due to punishments handed down by the NRL executive) and a new coach to be announced in the coming weeks (currently interim coach John Morris). If he can create a combination with Matt Moylan, then Cronulla could win their second premiership in four years.
2. Tyrone Peachey (Gold Coast)
We are talking about a player who represented NSW in a dominant and resurgent State of Origin win last year. With a move from the mountains to the Gold Coast, there has been much suggestion as to where this potential sparkplug could play: for me the answer is at centre or at loose lock, with the opportunity to run the ball. Ash Taylor and Ryley Jacks could potentially be a huge halves combination, with AJ Brimson, ice cold yet silky from fullback, given permission to run freely by coach Garth Brennan.
3. Ben Barba (North Queensland)
I have said it already multiple times and will say it again, do not be surprised if this dynamo rediscovers the zip and form that won him the Dally M in 2012. It seems a long time ago but behind a monster pack at St Helens, Barba received the Man of Steel award and showed what he still had in the tank. The 2019 Cowboys have one of the largest and most formidable forward packs in the competition (also acquiring Josh McGuire) which will allow Barba to work his magic. Expect Barba to win the 2019 Dally M (paying $26 currently) and the Cowboys to be playing deep into September.
4. Nathan Cleary (Penrith)
The worst kept secret in the NRL, but one which may prove so rewarding for the mountain men of Penrith. It may have taken a reported $10 million, which is an insane gamble which hopefully pays off for the Penrith faithful. He is one of the most chilled players under pressure, but it will be interesting to see if the issues which have plagued teams with father/son combinations (favouritism for example) hit this squad also.
5. Brodie Croft (Melbourne Storm)
The talented youngster must build off a successful 2018. He needs to step up at halfback with Jahrome Hughes tipped to play fullback, while Ryley Jacks has joined the Gold Coast.