12: New Zealand Warriors
The Warriors may end up spending most of the season in Australia again. If they can channel the same energy from last season into this one, then they may finish higher on the ladder. If Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is in the team, they won’t fall down the ladder badly. They will welcome back both David Fusitu’a and Ken Maumalo this season; expect new recruits Euan Aitken, Kane Evans, and Addin Fonua-Blake to make a difference.
11: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
Many would have the Bulldogs close to the bottom this year, but I expect them to show up this season. One thing you couldn’t fault last year was their effort every week. They have made some good signings in Kyle Flanagan, Nick Cotric, Jack Hetherington, Corey Waddell, and Corey Allan. With a steadier board and new coaching staff, the Bulldogs will try and push to play finals football, but will ultimately fall short.
10: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
The streak of finishing eighth is finished for the Sharks. With no Shaun Johnson for the majority of the season, expect the Sharks to be competitive but fall short of playing finals football. There’s major question marks over Matt Moylan and Chad Townsend this season, along with Josh Dugan and Andrew Fifita. They do have several good young players in their top 17, but it won’t be enough, as they’ll need to fix their defence coming into this season.
9; Newcastle Knights
With the status of Kalyn Ponga’s return unclear, it’s hard to get a read of the Knights this year. A team that faced more injuries than anyone else last year, they will welcome back a host of players going into this year. The big question is where is Mitchell Pearce at? With more off-field dramas, he has stepped away from the captaincy and I believe there is now further pressure on him and Adam O’Brien. They should float around the top eight for a bit, but I don’t think they have what it takes to play finals football this year.