Santa has come and gone and the new year has arrived. That can only mean one thing: the NRL season is just around the corner.
With so much movement across all 16 clubs, a host of rule changes, and COVID-19 still rearing its ugly head, it’s likely we will see a different competition than we did last year.
Check out our 2020 Bold Predictions to see how we went.
So, without further delay, let’s dive into a list of 10 predictions – some reasonable and some far-fetched – before a ball is kicked.
The Bulldogs, Titans, and Warriors to all Push for Top Eight Spots
All three clubs have had some massive changes in both roster and coaching staff. The Bulldogs and Titans have recruited extremely well, as have the Warriors, while the Bulldogs and New Zealand welcome new head coaches.
All three missed the top eight in 2020, albeit not by much in the case of the Titans and the Warriors. I expect all three clubs to push for the top eight. I expect the Titans and Warriors to be in the finals, but the Bulldogs will have to wait until 2022.
The Rabbitohs and Panthers to Fall from Grace
Unfortunately, I can’t see either of these sides doing as well as they did in 2020. Penrith made the Grand Final and Souths were just one win away. The phenomenal Minor Premiership season must be erased from Penrith’s mind. The fact is they have a very different squad. They have lost a lot of experience in James Tamou and Josh Mansour, they are still a young and raw squad, and I think the loss of Trent Barrett to the Bulldogs will have more of an effect than people think.
For Souths, they over-performed in 2020. A hot run at the end of the season is the only reason they got as close as they did to the grand final, as their overall season was inconsistent. Latrell Mitchell’s injury didn’t help, but I can’t see him performing as a top fullback. He needs to go back to the centres to recapture his best form.
The Broncos to Stay Bottom of the Ladder
Brisbane are in a similar position to the Knights, the Bulldogs, and the Titans of yesteryear. They are at the start of a rebuild and, sadly for this once powerful club, I can’t see them going close to the finals for at least another two seasons. Kevin Walters as coach is a great step forward, but as far as their roster goes they have gone backwards.
David Fifita is a catastrophic loss, while Darius Boyd – though not everyone’s cup of tea – brought a lot of experience and leadership. They’ve only added John Asiata and the ageing Dale Copley, while Andrew McCullough returns from Newcastle after a horrendous injury.
Jake Averillo to Lead List of Tantalising Rookie Cast
Jake Averillo has been earmarked as the Bulldogs’ most promising rookie since Sonny Bill Williams, and rightly so. He played a handful of first grade games in 2020 and looked incredibly talented. The key for Barrett is finding Averillo’s best position. He can play any position in the backline and rumour has it he will start the season at fullback.
Joining Averillo in impressive young guns will be North Queensland’s Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Manly’s Zac Saddler, and of course the already-established Tino Fa’asuamaleaui (Titans), and Bradman Best (Knights).
Pap the Dally M King
One of my more outlandish predictions is the continued rise of Melbourne fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen. I’m tipping him to top the try scorer list for the Storm in the NRL and for Queensland in State of Origin. He’ll finish off the year without a grand final appearance but will take home the coveted Dally M medal just ahead of Harry Grant.
John Morris to Make Way for Shane Flanagan
The Sharks will not offer John Morris a new coaching contract, which is a shame because he’s done an admirable job. Premiership-winning coach Shane Flanagan will return for season 2021 after his deregistration in 2018.
He has been working as an assistant coach while also managing his son Kyle. A return to top grade coaching will come with some money to spend as the Sharks cut Andrew Fifita loose.
Gus Gould and His Mannerisms
Phil will be back on our sets and in the papers, annoying the crap out of punters week in and week out. This prediction can go in any spot on this list and in any future year until he retires from the NRL spotlight.
Grant-led QLD to Reign Supreme
I’m tipping the Maroons to defeat the Blues again. All of this will be on the back of Man of the Series Harry Grant. He will create at least six tries and score a couple himself before signing a long mega-rich deal with the Storm.
Under new management, the NRL has been elevated to a height not seen in some time. The rule changes are innovative and exciting, the Captain’s Challenge is a huge success, and with a new referees boss in Jared Maxwell, I see the Bunker getting more right than wrong. This is more of a hopeful prediction, because if we see any major blunders from such an expensive and sophisticated system I’ll break my TV.
A Grand Final Replay
No, not a 2020 replay but rather a 2019 one. I’m tipping the Roosters and the Raiders to face off in the Grand Final, with the Green Machine to finally break their premiership drought. I’m punting on the Eels and Titans to both feature in Preliminary Finals against the eventual Grand Finalists.
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