While the competition heavyweights over the past decade (Storm, Roosters, Sharks, Souths and Broncos) are all favoured to do well again, there is a fair bit of support floating around for the likes of the Dragons, Panthers, Cowboys and even the Knights.
The market thinks the likes of the Raiders, Manly, Warriors and Titans will be competitive, but unlikely to challenge for the title, while very few people give the Eels, Bulldogs and Wests a chance.
However, with so much coaching and player movement over the off-season, the 2019 NRL season is shaping up as one that could throw up anything.
Over the past decade and a half of betting seriously on footy, I have seen how much the bookies have wised up to the evenness of the NRL competition. When the Panthers won the competition in 2003, they started that season at 126-1.
The Tigers were over 100-1 at multiple times in the season in 2005, the year they went onto to beat the Cowboys in the GF. And I remember backing the Storm to be Minor Premiers in 2006 at 50-1.
Nowadays, no team is given ~1% chance of winning the competition (i.e. 100-1). With an even salary cap and a long season, the reality is that if the Roosters (favourites) played the Bulldogs (least favourites) in Round 1, the line would not be bigger than 12 points.
So, although the bookies have improved their approach to framing the market, I still think that what happened in 2018 is given too much credence by those setting the market for 2019. Here is how I see the top 8 forming.
- Brisbane Broncos
- St George Illawarra Dragons
- Sydney Roosters
- Newcastle Knights
- Cronulla Sharks
- Parramatta Eels
- Melbourne Storm
- Wests Tigers
- South Sydney Rabbitohs
- Penrith Panthers
- Canberra Raiders
- North Queensland Cowboys
- Manly Sea Eagles
- Gold Coast Titans
- Canterbury Bulldogs
- New Zealand Warriors
The big surprises are Knights and Eels. While many think the Knights can crack the top 8, not many have them finishing as high as 4th.
And many people have the Eels destined for the spoon… so having them 6th and ahead of the likes of Souths and Panthers would have me laughed out of most pubs around Sydney.
Team By Team
1st – Brisbane Broncos
Best Starting Lineup: 1. Darius Boyd 2. Corey Oates 3. James Roberts 4. Jack Bird 5. Jamayne Isaako 6. Anthony Milford 7. Kodi Nikorima 8. Matthew Lodge 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Joe Ofahengaue 11. David Fifita 12. Matt Gillett 13. Tevita Pangai Junior
Interchange: 14. Kotoni Staggs 15. Jaydn Su’A 16. Alex Glenn 17. Payne Haas
The Broncos success in 2019 will come off their back of their forward pack, which I have as the best in the NRL.
With a starting pack of Lodge, McCullough, Ofahengaue, Gillett, Fifita and Pangai Junior, the Broncos have no room for young superstars Haas and Su’a, nor former Kiwi international Glenn in their opening 13. But having a bench with such strike power is a gift no other team has in 2019.
Then in the halves, Milford and Nikorima were two of the Broncos best at the end of last season. With new Sean O’Sullivan breathing down their neck and a whole host of talented youngsters coming through the ranks, new Coach Siebold will have plenty to work with. Bird and Roberts could form a fearsome centre pairing if they can stay injury free and Oates and Isaako are two of the best finishers in the game.
That leaves us with captain and fullback Darius Boyd, who will be playing without mentor Wayne Bennett for the first time in a long time! Word is, Boyd is in great shape and has got back his elusive speed. On his day he is the best ball playing fullback in the game and if he can have a solid season, then I see no reason why the Broncos won’t go all the way this year.
2nd – St George Illawarra Dragons
Best Starting Lineup: 1. Gareth Widdop 2. Jordan Pereira 3. Euan Aitken 4. Tim Lafai 5. Zac Lomax 6. Corey Norman 7. Ben Hunt 8. James Graham 9. Cameron McInnes 10. Paul Vaughan 11. 12. Tariq Sims 13. Tyson Frizell
Interchange: 14. Jacob Host 15. Matt Dufty 16. Blake Lawrie 17. Luciano Leilua
Although they broke my heart last year, they again look good on my system and will be in a position to go one step better this year and make the Grand Final.
Although they have lost Ah Mau and Macdonald, the Dragons have recruited Corey Norman and Korbin Sims (who are both experienced and talented players). But more importantly, it’s the young talent coming through that should have Dragons fans excited.
We all saw what a physical specimen Josh Kerr was in the All Stars game and I think Blake Lawrie is a player to watch, with the nuggetty forward having a bit of Shane Webcke about him.
But the absolute young gun of the season has to be Zac Lomax. I cannot overstate how much I rate him this kid. He will likely start on the wing, but he is a centre or fullback and by mid-season he will be playing a key role in the attacking movements of this Dragons team.
Although key forward Jack De Belin has a big question mark over him due to the criminal charges against him, I think the Dragons have the second best squad in the NRL and will be in the Grand Final this year.
3rd – Sydney Roosters
Best Starting Lineup: 1. James Tedesco 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Latrell Mitchell 4. Joey Manu 5. Brett Morris 6. Luke Keary 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 9. Jake Friend 10. Sio Siua Taukeiaho 11. Boyd Cordner 12. Angus Crichton 13. Victor Radley
Interchange: 14. Mitch Aubusson 15. Isaac Liu 16. Lindsay Collins 17. Zane Tetevano
Although they lost some quality in the form of Ferguson and Matterson, the recruitment of B Morriss and Angus Crichton is a pretty good way of making up for it! Crichton is one of the best young forwards in the competition and Morris, judging by him form in the World Club Championship, won’t let anyone down in the try scoring department.
The reason I have the Roosters not making the GF, is because backing up and playing two great seasons in a row is tough to do! Cronk is a year older and likely to encounter more injury concerns, as is hooker Jack Friend.
Up front, I think Waerea-Hargreaves’s best years are behind him and I think Cordner struggled to main his personal form due to the burden of Origin, which will again be an issue for the Blues captain.
Coming third is still impressive, but along the way I expect to take the Roosters on in 2019. As I explained in my Webinar and Podcast before the season started, I think the referees are not going to let the Roosters defence be so dominant this year and they will struggle to win games off the back of their defence like they did last year.
4th – Newcastle Knights
Best Starting Lineup: 1. Connor Watson 2. Edrick Lee 3. Jesse Ramien 4. Sione Mata’utia 5. Shaun Kenny-Dowall 6. Kalyn Ponga 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. David Klemmer 9. Danny Levi 10. James Gavet 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12. Mitchell Barnett 13. Tim Glasby
Interchange: 14. Kurt Mann 15. Aidan Guerra 16. Daniel Saifiti 17. Herman Ese’ese
Coach Nathan Brown has slowly but surely put together a very strong NRL squad. At its core, the halves are the best part of the Knights team. Pearce was back to his best last year and despite a poor showing in the AllStars, I think Ponga will be fantastic at 6… as will Watson at 1.
Out wide, Ramien and Lee will add some much-needed try scoring strike power and Klemmer is the perfect leader for this heavily underrated forward pack. Fitzgibbon and Ese’ese might not be household names, but they rate very highly on my system, while Guerra showed that he still has plenty more to offer at club level.
I think the recruitment of Gavet and Glasby are very clever and will add some real punch to their bench and I Think Hymel Hunt and Mason Lino will also get plenty of game time.
The only position I am a little unsure of is 9… with Slade Griffin’s long-term injury really hurting. A combination of Levi and Mann will get the job done, but that is why I think they will fall short of playing in a GF.
5th – Cronulla Sharks
Best Starting Lineup: 1. Matt Moylan 2. Sione Katoa 3. Josh Dugan 4. Kurt Capewell 5. Josh Morris 6. Shaun Johnson 7. Chad Townsend 8. Andrew Fifita 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Matt Prior 11. Jack Williams 12. Wade Graham 13. Paul Gallen
Interchange: 14. Kyle Flanagan 15. Aaron Woods 16. Jayson Bukuya 17. Scott Sorensen
The acquisition of Johnson over the off-season was massive! I always thought he was going to be one club player for the Warriors, but now that he has arrived at the Shire, the skilful half will rate his chances to make a Grand Final.
The Sharks have not only added a superstar half, but they have also a young superstar in the form of Bronson Xerri. Losing Ramien was always going to be tough, but the glimpses I have seen of this kid suggest he may be an even more dangerous player out wide this year.
And although losing the experience of Luke Lewis to retirement and Wade Graham to ACL injury will hurt their forward depth, the Sharks have plenty of talent in the back row to cover this loss.
The reasons I have such a strong club falling outside the top 4 are:
- Losing long-term Coach Flanagan is a big loss and new coach John Morris is a young guy that might be a little too close to the players to make a big impact.
- There are rumours the club is again in salary cap trouble and could be forced to offload players to be compliant.
The Sharks will be a difficult team to beat and if Dugan, Moylan and Johnson can stay fit and build a connection, they will be hard to shut down in attack.
6th – Parramatta Eels
Best Starting Lineup: 1. Clint Gutherson 2. George Jennings 3. Michael Jennings 4. Brad Takairangi 5. Blake Ferguson 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Daniel Alvaro 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Nathan Brown 11. Marata Niukore 12. Shaun Lane 13. Tepai Moeroa
Interchange: 14. Tim Mannah 15. Junior Paulo 16. Peni Terepo 17. Will Smith
When I get a result like Eels coming 6th, I am always worried that something in my model is broken. So, I double and then triple checked all the formulas and sure enough, Eels are right in the mix for 2019!
The first thing that I would note about the Eels, is that they recruited three players that all rate very well on my system. Junior Paulo is a barnstorming prop that will be considered for NSW selection this year.
Shaun Lane is one of the most underrated players in the NRL, with the massive second rower causing havoc close to the line and Blake Ferguson was an absolute beast last year on the wing for the Premiers and is a big signing for the Eels!
Then you throw in the likely debut of prodigy Dylan Brown and with guys like Mahoney and Salmon maturing from last year, the Eels finally have some competition for spots. Gutherson will be better in 2019 after returning from serious injury last year and despite all the haters, Mitchell Moses had his best full season on record last year.
Without Norman and Hayne being disruptive forces at the club, I expect Coach Arthur to get the Eels back playing the quality football we became accustomed to in recent years. With fast line speed, brutal defence and a reenergised Michael Jennings leading some younger future superstars out wide, I think the Eels will bounce back from their 2018 disappointment.
7th – Melbourne Storm
Best Starting Lineup: 1. Jahrome Hughes 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. Will Chambers 4. Curtis Scott 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 7. Brodie Croft 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 10. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Joe Stimson 13. Dale Finucane
Interchange: 14. Brandon Smith 15. Christian Welch 16. Kenny Bromwich 17. Scott Drinkwater
I also have the Storm coming back to the field, after three consecutive years of making the Grand Final. This is a champion club and they still have a great looking roster, but with Slater having retired last year and Cronk moving on the year before, and Cam Smith now turning 36 this year, surely, is close to the end of an era for the Storm.
Jesse Bromwich is now a long way from the world’s best prop that he was only a few years ago and although guys like Curtis Scott, Cam Munster and Addo-Carr will be the future of this club for a long time to come, I don’t think they will be the benchmark in 2019.
I also think that the crack down on dead time and spoiling tactics could really hurt the Storm, who have relied on controlling the ruck and slowing down their opponents for years.
I was very keen to see more of Drinkwater in 2019, as this guy looked awesome when given a go last season. His injury over the weekend will delay his impact, but eventually I think this guy will be fullback for Storm.
I also want to see what Solomona produces this year, as Big Nelson could turn into the most damaging prop in the game if he can improve his game time and be more consistent.
8th – Wests Tigers
Best Starting Lineup: 1. Moses Mbye 2. M. Fonua 3. Esan Marsters 4. Robert Jennings 5. David Nofoaluma 6. Benji Marshall 7. Luke Brooks 8. Russell Packer 9. Robbie Farah 10. Ben Matulino 11. Luke Garner 12. Ryan Matterson 13. Elijah Taylor
Interchange: 14. Josh Reynolds 15. Matt Eisenhuth 16. Alex Twal 17. Michael Chee-Kam
The other surprise packet in my top 8 is the Wests Tigers and it is the depth in their squad that I think is impressive.
In every position they have someone that could step up as a replacement if needed. Brooks, Benji and Reynolds are a lethal 3 way halves combination and Mybe at the back is set for a massive year after being named captain at a club he only joined less than 12 months ago!
With Coach McGuire in charge, I am expecting Wests to build on their solid showing in 2018 and crack the finals in 2019.
Expect Wests to get off to a strong start with their first three games all at home and against teams that are weak on my system. Manly in Round 1 will be without Tom T, the Warriors in Round 2 and the Bulldogs in Round 3 are all true home games at Leichardt / Campbelltown.
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.