The 2022 NRL season is officially underway, with the reigning premiers in the Panthers sounding an ominous warning to the rest of the league by demolishing the Sea Eagles in the opening game of the season. Already they were vying for Premiership favouritism with the Storm, but though we’re only one game in, that game certainly had most NRL betting sites scrambling to put them atop the list of contenders. There are, however, plenty of high-quality teams who will make going back-to-back very difficult for them, including the Storm, as well as the Roosters, Sea Eagles and Eels. Let’s dive in and take a look at each of those team’s Premiership credentials.
The Panthers headed into this season with minimal changes to the list which saw them claim their third Premiership in club history last season, and expectations were high as a result. The early signs are that they are ready to meet those expectations. The absence of their superstar leader Nathan Cleary in the opening round proved to be no issue for the reigning champs, who disposed of a talented Manly Sea Eagles side in emphatic fashion. That only served to solidify their standing as the favourite to take out the 2022 NRL Premiership, and though there is a long way to go, it’s hard to imagine them not at least going close.
It’s said that death and taxes are the only certainties in life, but the Melbourne Storm being contenders for the NRL Premiership must be close to joining the list. With the exception of 2010 when a salary cap breach saw them stripped of points, they’ve made the finals every season since 2003, racking up a multitude of minor Premierships and actual Premierships along the way. Their most recent came in 2020, and though last season they were unable to get over the line in the Preliminary Final against the Panthers – who they beat in the Grand Final the year prior – they were nonetheless in the best couple of teams all year and are expected to be once again this year. Thrilling games deep in the finals against the Panthers have meant that cross-border rivalry has rapidly grown into one of the league’s most significant, and there are plenty of experts anticipating another clash between the two on the league’s biggest day this year.
After back-to-back Premierships in 2018 and 2019, the Roosters have been eliminated in the semi-final in consecutive seasons, last year in ignominious fashion when they were defeated 42-6 at the hands of the Sea Eagles. It was, however, a season plagued by injuries for the Chooks, and with a full list available to them they will be hoping to make their way a little deeper into September – and ideally October – this season. There have been plenty of changes in the off-season, but their losses are expected to be offset by the return of Luke Keary and Lindsay Collins from ACL injuries, as well as the plethora of young talent that they have.
Manly Sea Eagles
The Sea Eagles were the lucky side to scrape into a hotly contested fourth place last season and earn themselves the double chance, but they demonstrated that they deserved it with a brilliant semi-final performance against the Roosters. Unfortunately their season came undone the very next weekend when they were beaten comprehensively by the Rabbitohs, but their top-end talent – led by Dally M Medallist Tom Trbojevic – is undeniable. They may not be as well-rounded as some of the other sides on this list, but there is enough quality on the park to justify them being among the favourites for this year’s NRL Premiership.
It’s nearing 40 years since the Eels last saluted at the top level, and after four semi-final defeats in the past five years they will be desperately hoping they can make a little bit more of a mark in this year’s finals series. They were entrenched in the top four late in the 2021 home and away season, but a poor run of form between rounds 17 and 22 cost them a top four spot. Nonetheless, they worked their way into the semi-finals before losing to the eventual Premiers by just two points, so things certainly could have ended differently for the Eels. An elite defence will put them in the frame once again this year, and though getting through the above teams won’t be easy, last year suggested that they aren’t as far off as many might think.
It’s déjà vu in 2022 with the Panthers and the Storm leading the list of NRL Premiership contenders, but one of them winning is far from a fait accompli. The Roosters, in particular, will fancy their chances, the Sea Eagles and Eels aren’t too far behind, while even the Rabbitohs could claim to be worthy of consideration after only losing narrowly to Penrith on Grand Final Day last year. With so much water to go under the bridge this season there are plenty of teams who will view themselves as capable of springing a surprise, but it’s the above five teams who deservedly lead the list of Premiership contenders.