After weeks of off-field turmoil, it’s finally time for some on-field explosions, as the NRL returns this week!
While the stability of the league as a whole is still under question, the reputation of the league’s best clubs is not. Expect several familiar names to be there when the whips are cracking at season’s end – whenever, of course, that is.
The Tricolours have a very real shot at a historic threepeat, despite the losses of premiership heroes Cooper Cronk and Latrell Mitchell in the off-season. Coach Trent Robinson’s track record suggests the Roosters will maintain excellence on and off the field, and while no one can truly replace Cronk, astute signing Kyle Flanagan has already proven he is at home as the Chooks’ new half-back.
Meanwhile, Robinson will be relieved to have avoided the media storm his former charge Mitchell has courted in recent months – he can focus on readying his side to once again establish themselves as the team to beat once the NRL returns. Don’t sound the alarm over their 0-2 start – come finals time, it will take a very good side to dismount the Roosters from the league’s summit.
Count them out, count them out again – the Storm will be there or thereabouts when the real punches are being thrown. The 2019 minor premiers retained the nucleus of their side, and the losses of Joe Stimson and Brodie Croft will be met with typical Bellamy ease. This team is consistently one of the premiership favourites in rugby betting tips.
While Cameron Smith is a year older – we think – the Storm’s youngsters continue to progress in one of the most settled sides in the competition. Top four isn’t penciled in any more for the Storm – it’s written in prockey marker at the dawn of every season, and their 2-0 start has underlined it.
The Raiders came from nowhere to vault into last year’s Grand Final, and were the better side for large periods in the big dance against the reigning premiers. Their best lineup is well-established, although question marks remain whether breakout sensation John Bateman’s head is in the right place amid recent contract furore.
For a side better than the sum of their parts, they’ll hope to avoid further individual controversies and get back to what made them last season’s revelations amid a s strong 2-0 start to their 2020 campaign.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
The other 2019 preliminary finalist, the Rabbitohs are by far the most uncertain prospect of the premiership favourites. With the retirement of long-time talisman Sam Burgess, the Rabbitohs enter a new era headlined by the arrival of Latrell Mitchell. He’s had far from the ideal first few months at the club, but once he’s out on the field racking up tries again, the media storm should subside.
If coach Wayne Bennet gets the best out of the host of youngsters under his tutelage, the Rabbitohs may prove the naysayers wrong and establish themselves as a serious challenger.
After just establishing themselves in their new home, the Eels will miss their fans more than most when the season resumes on May 28th. But they will remain a very dangerous offensive team, able to rack up huge scores at will, as they did several times in 2019.
Concerns over their defence are well-founded, along with their record away from home. We may learn many things on Thursday night, as the Eels look to put doubts over that away record behind them against a strong Broncos outfit.