NRL Tips expert Steve Green previews what he believes will be the bottom half of the ladder for NRL 2019.
Some title contenders in recent times look set for a drop this season, while the team from across the ditch is likely to struggle after losing Shaun Johnson over the summer.
(9) South Sydney Rabbitohs
(10) Penrith Panthers
(11) Canberra Raiders
(12) North Queensland Cowboys
(13) Manly Sea Eagles
(14) Gold Coast Titans
(15) Canterbury Bulldogs
(16) New Zealand Warriors
A note on the Cowboys – I have them low, but a lot rests on Michael Morgan.
Steve’s Top 8 prediction will be released on Wednesday.
Team By Team
9th – South Sydney Rabbitohs
Best Starting Lineup: 1. Alex Johnston 2. Campbell Graham 3. Dane Gagai 4. Greg Inglus 5. Corey Allan 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. George Burgess 9. Damien Cook 10. Thomas Burgess 11. John Sutton 12. Sam Burgess 13. Cameron Murray
Interchange: 14. Junior Tatola 15. Matt McIlwrick 16. Dean Britt 17. Adam Doueihi
There are a few reasons I have Souths falling outside the top 4 in 2019.
Firstly, I think they will suffer from the loss of Siebold. While Bennett is handy replacement, it was clear from their performances last year that Coach Siebold had really struck a chord with this Bunnies outfit. Bennett will get Souths defending well and they will be mentally tougher, but they may lack some of the attacking plays that Siebold brought to Redfern.
I also think that there is a chance Damien Cook is brought back to ground after his stellar 2018 season. At the end of the year, Cook was getting found out by defences, who had realised that markers needed to be alert to his scooting game. He is not the most brilliant passer in the game, so that could really kill Souths’ momentum up the middle – which is what their success was all about.
With Greg Inglis having a poor offseason due to injury, Angus Crichton having moved to the Roosters, Sam Burgess going through a break up to the mother of his young baby and Bennett in Sydney for the first time in a long time, there is a lot of uncertainty facing this Souths team and I think they will have to fight for a spot in the finals.
10th – Penrith Panthers
Best Starting Lineup: 1. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 2. Dylan Edwards 3. Waqa Blake 4. Dean Whare 2. 5. Josh Mansour 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Sione Katoa 10. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Isaah Yeo 13. James Fisher-Harris
Interchange: 14. Wayde Egan 15. Tim Grant 16. Jack Hetherington 17 Tyrone May
I know the Panthers are every chance of making me look foolish for this prediction, but I do think that this club has gone through too much turmoil in recent years, with coach changes, star players moved on and Gus Gould interfering in every aspect of the way the club is run.
And while the Panthers squad does look strong, there are areas of weakness on my system. Firstly, although Dylan Edwards is a gun, he is coming back from an ACL recovery and as we saw with Gutherson last year, that can take a while for a fullback.
I would go with either young C Aekins or DWZ to start the year at 1. And at 9, the battle is between Katoa and Egan. While Egan has dominated at NYC level, it might take him a while to find his feet at NRL level. Katoa is good, but not great.
Then in the forwards, while they have a ton of athletic, big forwards (Kikau, RCG, Hetherington and Yeo), they need more impact off their bench this year.
I am also one of the few people in the NRL that thinks Maloney is overrated. I reckon Luai will be partnering Cleary in the halves before the season is over, with Tyrone May the bench player and Maloney shipped off to Super League (bold call I know, but let’s see).
11th – Canberra Raiders
Best Starting Lineup: 1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Nick Cotric 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Joseph Leilua 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Jack Wighton 7. Aidan Sezer 8. Sia Soliola 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Josh Papalii 11. Joseph Tapine 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. John Bateman
Interchange: 14. Siliva Havilii 15. Emre Guler 16. Sam Williams 17. Royce Hunt
The Raiders are like the Panthers, in that I am tipping them to finish this far down with very little confidence. On their day, the Raiders are an attacking juggernaut that get to 30 points in the blink of an eye. When they are off however, they can blow a 20-point lead in the final 20 minutes of the match.
While I think that a lot of their problems with close games in 2018 was because of the absence of their star hooker (and no co-captain) Josh Hodgson, I do still have some concerns about the Raiders halves.
While Wighton at 6 is a good long term move, he will take a while to get his range and Sezer or Williams, whoever gets the nod for 7, has not shown the ability to control this Raiders team on a consistent basis. Also with Wighton back to 6, there is a very strong chance that new Kiwis recruit (Klokstad) will be asked to play at 1, a position he has very little NRL experience at.
I love the Raiders back row and think they will win them a lot of games this year, while guys like Guler and Hunt will help Papalli and Soliola up front, but I think they are a little short on NRL experience.
I do think that Bateman from Wigan will be a great signing and Cotric, Rapana, Croker and BJ will score enough tries to keep them competitive this year, but the Raiders are in dire need for a marquee fullback or halves signing between now and end of the season.
With Rapana out injured for the opening 10 weeks of the season, I expect the Raiders to attack down Cotric’s wing a lot more. Wighton throws a good right to left cut out pass and expect this to lead to many Cotric tries in 2019.
12th – North Queensland Cowboys
Best Starting Lineup: 1. Ben Hampton 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Jordan Kahu 4. E. Tuala 5. Nene Macdonald 6. Michael Morgan 7 Jake Clifford 8. Matt Scott 9. Jake Granville 10. Jordan McLean 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Josh McGuire 13. Jason Taumalolo
Interchange: 14. John Asiata 15. Coen Hess 16. Corey Jensen 17. Francis Molo
This is another selection that would be having the experts on TV spitting out their coffee. It is worth noting how many people selected Cowboys to win the whole competition last year and how many had Eels top 4…
Firstly, losing Thurston is huge. Not because he is irreplaceable on the field, but because a player like that leaving can lead to a massive void at the club.
Secondly, the Barba sacking would have hit the morale of the team hard, as a star recruit being dropped like that is never pleasant.
Thirdly, while McGuire, Kahu and Macdonald are good buys, they are a little short on talent out wide.
Hampton, Kahu, O’Neil, Fedlt and Tuala are the likely candidates for centres position, with none of them world beaters. It is not clear who will be playing 1 with Barba gone either (my money is on Hampton, who played well last year).
There is no doubting the Cowboys pack this season, with Taumalolo, Cooper, McGuire, Scott and McClean forming the best starting forward pack in the competition. And if Morgan can recapture his 2017 form, then they will be hard to beat at home, but I think that outside of Morgan and with Granville a bit off the pace last year, the Cowboys appear to be lacking class in their spine.
13th – Manly Sea Eagles
Best Starting Lineup: 1. Tom Trbojevic 2. Jorge Taufua 3. Moses Suli 4. Dylan Walker 5. Reuben Garrick 6. Trent Hodkinson 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Addin Fonua-Blake 9. Apisai Koroisau 10 Martin Taupau 11. Joel Thompson 12. Curtis Sironen 13. Jake Trbojevic
Interchange: 14. Manase Fainu 15. Kelepi Tanginoa 16. Jack Gosiewski 17. Taniela Paseka
While Manly have some real superstars, the fact that a talented young coach was willing to walk away from it all suggests not all is good under the bonnet at Brooky.
Yes DCE, Taupau, Tom T and Jake T are four of the top 30 players in the NRL on my system, but outside of that they have too many weak spots to compete in 2019.
Firstly, they lack depth out wide, with a likely ban to Dylan Walker only likely to make matters worse. Secondly, they lack depth in their forwards.
While they have a good looking starting team, after that they get short on depth and with Tom T out for the early rounds due to injury, we are already seeing how short on options they are (Brendan Elliott is tipped to get first crack and this is a guy that has played 40 games at 3 different clubs…).
An injury to someone like DCE would wipe them out and although they will be hard to beat when injury free, you need a squad of 25 good players to make the finals nowadays and I don’t think Manly have that.
I will be interested to see what Coach Hasler up his sleeves too. His final year at the Doggies was one of the worst coaching displays in modern history, so unless he has reinvented his style again, I am not sure Manly’s tactics will set the world on fire in 2019.
14th – Gold Coast Titans
Best Starting Lineup: 1. Michael Gordon 2. Brenko Lee 3. Tyrone Peachey 4. Brian Kelly 5. Phillip Sami 6. Alex Brimson 7. Ashley Taylor 8. Jarrod Wallace 9. Nathan Peats 10. Shannon Boyd 11. Kevin Proctor 12. Ryan James 13. Jai Arrow
Interchange: 14. Mitch Rein 15. Moeaki Fotuaika 16. Bryce Cartwright 17. Tyrone Roberts
The Titans pack continues to improve, with Coach Brennan making some sharp acquisitions. While the media is fixated on big names like Peachey and big bodies like Boyd, I think Tyrone Roberts and Riley Jacks are the real stand out signings.
With these two options available to partner Taylor in the halves and Brimson pushing Gordan for starting number 1 jersey, for the first time since taking over at the Gold Coast, Coach Brennan has genuine competition for key spots. I think Roberts is a perfect supersub, who can come on and create something at the 30th minute mark.
Up front the Titans have always had an impressive pack, with James, Arrow and Wallace all Origin quality forwards and Proctor, Cartwright and Fotuaika are all capable of excelling in this new look Titans squad.
Where I do think the Titans are a little wobbly is out wide in their centres and wingers. While Don is a cult hero and Sami shows glimpses of brilliance, neither are consistently good. And although Brian Kelly is a smart buy from Manly and Brenko Lee has looked good at times since signing from the Dogs, both are also lacking consistency in their game.
15th – Canterbury Bulldogs
Best Starting Lineup: 1. Nick Meaney 2. Reimis Smith 3. Will Hopate 4. Kerrod Holland 5. Marcelo Montoya. Lachlan Lewis 7. Kieran Foran 8. Aiden Tolman 9. Michael Lichaa 10. Dylan Napa 11. Josh Jackson 12. Rhys Martin 13. Adam Elliott
Interchange: 14. Jake Cogger 15. Corey Harawira-Naera 16. Sauaso Sue 17. Raymond Faitala-Mariner
A good coach is worth their weight in gold and while his short career might not have showed what he can do just yet, I think Coach Dean Pay is a top NRL coach in the making. His acquisitions are always sharp and he makes the right calls regarding team selection.
The problem for Coach Pay is that he is working on shoe-strong budget due to the mistakes made by the previous administrations at Belmore. This means that their squad does look the odd bunch at times.
But there is a bit to like here about the Doggies, firstly with Foran having an injury free pre-season away from the spotlight. Secondly, Meaney and Cogger are smart buys from the Knights and both will have a role to play, while guys like Napa, Sue and Harawira-Naera will help the likes of Elliott, Jackson and Failata-Mariner.
If Lachlan Lewis can continue to improve his game, and Lichaa continues to grow under Dean Pay (2018 was his best year on record), then the Doggies will be a tough team to be beat in 2019, despite finishing towards the bottom.
16th – New Zealand Warriors
Best Starting Lineup: 1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 2. David Fusitu’a 3. Peta Hiku 4. Solomone Kata 5. Ken Maumalo 6. Adam Keighran 7. Blake Green 8. Agnatius Paasi 9. Issac Luke 10. Leeson Ah Mau 11. Tohu Harris 12. Isaiah Papali’i 13. Adam Blair
Interchange: 14. Jazz Tevaga 15. Karl Lawton 16. Sam Lisone 17. Bunty Afoa
After such a strong 2018, and knowing how important NZ success is for the NRL, it was hard to put the Warriors last… but my system gave me no choice.
Losing Johnson and Lino in the off-season means a lot of the attacking strike power has been taken from this team!
I like Coach Kearney, so he must know something I don’t about his crop of youngsters. Although the halves look talented and despite the potential they are showing in the u20s competition or on the training park, they are heading this season with a pretty inexperienced line up.
Then in the forwards, I think they are a little light on. Adam Blair is massively overrated in my opinion, and while Papalli, Afoa and Paasi are good on their days, they are too inconsistent. That leaves a lot to fall on the shoulders of guys like Tohu Harris and Leeson Ah Mau.
I think the Warriors halves are the worst in the NRL, and that is the main reason I have them coming last.
Steve will cover every NRL game for the season, as well as State of Origin and Internationals.
He has already released five Futures bets as well, while new to this season there will be some halftime bets on selected games.