Which teams will succeed, and which teams will struggle? What could make the NRL news in 2022? With just over a month until the 2022 NRL Pre-Season matches kick-off, we look at 10 bold predictions for the new season.
Check out our 2021 Bold Predictions to see how we went.
COVID-19 To Play Havoc With Early Season Draw
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to play with our freedoms. Australia is experiencing a sharp rise in cases, with the peak yet to be reached. You get the feeling that the NRL draw may need some refinement early in the season while cases start to fall.
Most clubs are down in troops to start the new season as players and staff are identified as being COVID-positive, or close contacts and reduced to being in isolation.
Surely the NRL will endorse Ricky Stuart’s suggestion to allow for players from any grade to be eligible to play in the top grade. It may be to the detriment of fans who want to see their full-strength side week in, week out. But the game must go on, just like it has been with cricket’s Big Bash.
Manly To Go One Step Further in 2022Embed from Getty Images
The Manly Warringah Sea Eagles became the entertainers in 2021 with Tom Trbojevic (28), Jason Saab (23) and Reuben Garrick (23) scoring 55% of the clubs tries during the season.
Should they be able to sharpen their defence, the Sea Eagles have the springboard for success and the ability to dominate the competition, just like Melbourne and Penrith have in the past two seasons. Given that Des Hasler’s success has been set on defence, expect this facet of the Eagles’ game to tighten in 2022.
Their squad is quite stable with Ethan Bullemor the only notable signing. Should Tommy Turbo, Jake Trobjevic, Reuben Garrick, and DCE stay fit, they look in a strong position to be playing on grand final day.
Paul Momirovski’s Magic Touch At BondiEmbed from Getty Images
Paul Momirovski is the modern-day journeyman.
Discarded by the Tigers (which continues to be a complete mystery), the popular utility made his way to the Storm in 2020 and was part of their premiership-winning squad. In 2021, he was a regular starter in the Penrith Panthers squad and was a starter in their premiership-winning side.
Now returning to the Roosters on a three-year deal, Momirovski will be the ultimate utility player to help guide the Bondi club to their fourth title in the last decade. Using his knowledge from being part of the last two premiership squads will provide the Roosters with an edge in 2022.
The Roosters in 2021 played above their weight after losing the Morris brothers, Jake Friend, and Boyd Cordner to retirement at different parts of the season. It was an amazing coaching feat for the best coach in the competition, Trent Robinson.
Surely a little bit of luck, including working on Victor Radley’s tackling style, will fall the Roosters’ way in the new season?
Bulldogs Improve But Still Missing The FinalsEmbed from Getty Images
Like the Broncos, expect the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs to improve significantly in the new season, but they will fall short of making the finals.
There’s plenty to look forward to for Bulldogs fans. Gus Gould helped clean out the clutter at the end of 2021 and they’ve made some smart signings for 2022. Matt Burton, Josh Addo-Carr and Tevita Pangai Junior would rank up there as some of the best transfers for this season.
It’s a make-or-break year for Kyle Flanagan, should he be first selected to partner Matt Burton in the halves. He’s failed to deliver at the top level since his debut at the Sharks in 2018. Should he click with Burton, Flanagan’s career will head north. The smarter choice would be to give Jake Averillo first crack.
With the high volume of departures and arrivals, it might take just over 12 months for the Bulldogs to make their mark in the competition and have a crack at the title. There may be a bit of inconsistency in their performances until the halves combination is established and structures are put in place.
No Good News For The KnightsEmbed from Getty Images
A tough year awaits the Newcastle Knights in 2022. There’s already friction about the future of star fullback Kalyn Ponga and whether he’ll remain at the club.
Mitchell Pearce, along with Ponga, was the heartbeat of Newcastle. You can add Connor Watson to the list: he gave it his all for the Novocastrians.
With an inexperienced half pairing of Jake Clifford and Adam Clune, Newcastle can’t simply sit back and wait for Ponga to do something. Opposition clubs will know this, and exploit it.
It seems like 2022 will be a backward step for the Knights. After finishing in seventh place the last two seasons with Adam O’Brien at the helm, they might just finish in the first half of the bottom eight this season.
Cowboys Set For Wooden SpoonEmbed from Getty Images
The poor old North Queensland Cowboys, with Todd Payten at the helm, are heading for the wooden spoon in 2022. So many factors go against the Townsville-based franchise.
With the expectation the Bulldogs will lift themselves off the bottom of the ladder with excellent recruitment, a poor away record makes the Cowboys vulnerable to collecting the spoon.
The signing of Chad Townsend will help guide them around the paddock but what can’t be overlooked is Tom Dearden’s record at NRL-level, with only five wins from 34 games.
Expect the relationship between Jason Taumalolo and Payten to continue to fray, with the Cowboys’ highest earner set for reduced time again in the new season.
Twelve players are off contract at the end of 2022, and this appears to be the best time for Payten to start shaping the side he wants, if he survives the axe from the Cowboys board.
Broncos To Make The EightEmbed from Getty Images
2022 will mark the return of the mighty Brisbane Broncos to the finals series, in a huge boost for the most successful Queensland-based NRL franchise.
Brisbane made two key back-office appointments in 2021. Ex-Storm CEO Dave Donaghy became the Broncos CEO and in June last year, Ben Ikin returned to the club he played with as their new Football and Performance director. Slowly, things are turning around.
The Broncos’ on-field performances improved last season, giving premiers Penrith Panthers, and the Sydney Roosters, a huge fright in matches during the back-half of the season.
With the direction of Adam Reynolds, Brisbane is set to get their structure and combinations right. Other recruits Kurt Capewell and Ryan James will provide some much needed experience to a young forward pack.
With the new Dolphins franchise coming into the NRL in 2023, the Broncos will want to protect their fanbase, media exposure, and relevance in the Queensland market. They really can’t afford another season where they don’t make the eight.
Brad Arthur’s Future At The Eels May Not Be So Clear
This is a make-or-break year for Brad Arthur at the Parramatta Eels.
They’ve been knocked out in the semi-finals the last three seasons. In 2019 they were demolished 0-32 against the Storm, having put 58 on Brisbane the week before. Their 2020 campaign saw them out in straight sets to Melbourne and Souths. Last year they beat the Knights before going agonisingly close to beating eventual premiers Penrith in Mackay.
Should they fail to get past week two of this year’s finals series, questions will be asked whether Arthur can take this side any further than what he’s achieved in the past?
This is as good as any other time since 1986 for the Eels to break their premiership drought, but you get the feeling that premiership window is closing, quickly.
Oliver Gildart To Follow In The Footsteps Of Sam Tomkins and Ryan HallEmbed from Getty Images
Oliver Gildart will follow the same path as Sam Tomkins and Ryan Hall, struggling to adapt to the NRL attacking structure.
There’s been many success stories of English forwards making an impact in the NRL, with the Burgess brothers, James Graham and John Bateman, just to name a few.
But it’s a different story for the outside backs over the last decade. Tomkins signed with the New Zealand Warriors with a lot of promise but didn’t deliver. Ryan Hall, the best winger in Super League with other 200 career tries with Leeds Rhinos, couldn’t get over the line in a disappointing two seasons at the Roosters.
Gildart’s transition to the NRL may get a boost with his Wigan teammate Jackson Hastings also joining the Tigers. But it will be a steep learning curve for the 25-year-old, who’s scored 61 tries in 239 games for the famous Cherry and Whites.
Matt Burton To Give Dally M Award A Big CrackEmbed from Getty Images
This might be my inner-Panther thoughts speaking. Matt Burton will skyrocket up the Dally M table and move into contention for a surprise top five finish in the awards.
Last year, Burton accumulated 14 points in the Dally M tally in a race which saw fellow teammates Nathan Cleary (30) and James Fisher-Harris (20) finish ahead of him. This is quite incredible given that he was playing the bulk of the season out of his favoured halves position.
Given the chance to shine in his own right will make a huge difference to picking up some of those Man of the Match performances. We’ve already seen in his short career that he can handle directing a team around the field and he possesses an excellent kicking game. Burton is a genuine star in the making.
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Season Previews: Brisbane Broncos, Canberra Raiders, Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks, Gold Coast Titans, Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles, Melbourne Storm, New Zealand Warriors, Newcastle Knights, North Queensland Cowboys, Parramatta Eels, Penrith Panthers, St George-Illawarra Dragons, South Sydney Rabbitohs, Sydney Roosters, Wests Tigers