The new NRL season is now less than a month away as clubs reset and look to climb to the top of the ladder and raise the silverware.
Suppose the league was separated into two conferences – NSW and non-NSW teams. We have focused our lens on the NSW sides for the 2021 season and ran through which is the most likely to come out on top while the Six Nations is already under way and captivating as ever.
There is great value around which NSW team will finish highest in 2021.
Well, we’ve named the chief favourites to be the NRL’s highest finishing NSW team in 2021.
The Panthers shocked almost everyone in the NRL world in 2020, claiming the minor premiership and charging all the way to the grand final. Unfortunately, in a season where they had 17-straight wins, it will be remembered for their poor showing to the Storm in the big dance in a game they went in as favourites, losing 20-26.
But there are so many positives to take out of the season, including the breakouts from Stephen Crichton, Dylan Edwards and Jerome Luai. And coming off such an impressive campaign they sit as the 2021 flag favourites.
Nathan Cleary is the MVP of this team and probably deserved the Dally M Medal last year. Across 21 games in 2020 Cleary scored eight tries, laid on 17 try assists, made 11 line breaks, and forced 27 drop outs. He dominated basically every game and the Panthers will go as far as he takes them in 2021.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
The second favourites for the 2021 premiership, the Rabbitohs have all the tools to go all the way and be NSW’s top team. Who knows how far they would have gone last year prior to Latrell Mitchell’s season-ending hamstring injury.
Cody Walker was terrific for the Rabbits last year alongside halves partner Adam Reynolds, who will both need to have big seasons for this team to go far. Damien Cook is the most dangerous runner from dummy half and he needs to run more in 2021 to get back to his best form.
While South Sydney lost James Roberts to the Wests Tigers and Bayley Sironen to the Warriors, they have the depth to cover them and the additions of Jai Arrow and Josh Mansour are significant. Could Wayne Bennett deliver a premiership in his final year at the helm?
You can never count out the Roosters. Despite losing Cooper Cronk and Latrell Mitchell the Tricolours still made the top four last year. However, bowing out of the finals in straight sets was a disappointing result for such a talented team coming off back-to-back premierships.
James Tedesco had another massive season and further asserted his status as the number one fullback in the game.. and maybe the best overall player too. He scored 11 tries, set up 15, made 15 line breaks, broke 139 tackles and ran for over 230 metres per game from 19 appearances.
The Roosters are built as good as any team with a mix of young stars and veterans – led by the resurgence of the Morris twins.
After a reasonably quiet off-season, the Roosters will reload with a more settled team that has the tools to go much further in 2021.
The Eels should not be discounted as NSW’s potential number one side. Brad Arthur’s team was firing on all cylinders for much of the 2020 season and made the top four.
However, the season unfortunately finished in tears as Parramatta went out of the finals in straight sets. Other than the loss of Michael Jennings and a few fringe players, the Eels have largely managed to keep their 2020 roster intact.
Clint Gutherson is the MVP of this team and if halves pairing Mitch Moses and Dylan Brown go to another level the Eels could be anything.
While the additions of Isaiah Papali’i from the Warriors and Tom Opacic from the Cowboys are not major, they could push for starting spots. Bryce Cartwright has been thrown an NRL lifeline and could yet have a big role to play. Keep an eye on the Eels.