NRL season preview
  • Season Preview of The Heavyweights: last season’s Top 4
  • How will the Roosters, Storm, Raiders and Souths fare in 2020?

Last year the top four teams were made up of the Storm, Roosters, Souths and the Raiders.

They were the only four teams to finish the regular season with +100 in the Points Differential. After the first two weeks of finals, we were left with these four in the prelims. So it’s safe to say they were the heavyweight teams of 2019.

As usual, the bookies odds for 2020 have been framed around 2019 form.

In 2018 the Roosters, Storm and Souths were the top three teams at the end of the regular season and in 2017 the Storm and the Roosters were the top two teams.

So for the past three seasons running, the Storm and Roosters have won the regular season quinella. For a competition that prides itself on being even, that’s a remarkably dominant performance. The bookies have rightfully installed both as the outright favourites. The Raiders (last year’s losing Grand Finalists) are in third and Souths in fourth. So the bookies think 2020 will be a repeat of 2019 at the top of the ladder.

Today I cast my eye over the top four to see if that assumption is reasonable

NRL Season Preview: Sydney Roosters

Firstly, the Roosters have lost quite a bit of talent from their Grand Final win. Cooper Cronk is retired, while Latrell Mitchell has moved to arch-rivals Souths and Tetevano has moved to the Panthers.

To replace Cronk, Coach Robinson made the astute signing of Kyle Flanagan. I thought this was a great pickup. If I was the Sharks coach, I would have kept Flanagan at all costs, willingly giving up either Townsend or Johnson. I thought Flanagan was great in 2019, and with youth on his side and a gun goal kicker, he offered better bang for buck. The Roosters have done well here and he and Keary will be a formidable combination.

I also thought letting go of Mitchell made sense for the dollars he was demanding. You just cannot pay a centre that kind of money. And with Keary at 6 and Tedesco at 1, Mitchell was no hope of moving to a key position to justify his price tag. Billy Smith looked sensational in the NSW Cup and in limited NRL game time, but an ACL injury has thrown that plan out of whack.

The Roosters still have options, but trying to lure across Josh Morris is a sign that they’re still a little light on out-wide.

In the forwards they have some promising depth to cover Tetevano. Nat Butcher is a guy I expect we will see a lot more of, so I think they still boast a strong forward pack.

All in all, they are still the team to beat… but there’s more downside risk than the price indicates so I would not be taking them at the $4 Premiership price. Even if they finish first in the regular season, they still need to win three more finals games to claim the Premiership… so you’ll never find me tipping into such a price.

NRL Season Preview: Melbourne Storm

The only first grade regular that the Storm will lose is Will Chambers. While the loss of Stimson, Scott and Croft will affect their depth, it was clear than none of these three were in Coach Bellamy’s plans anyway. Welch is coming back from his knee injury and Papenhuyzen is locked in for the number 1 jersey. And with the very promising Nicholas Hynes likely to see some game time, the Storm squad look hard to beat again in 2020.

Cam Smith will be a year older, but if he does struggle with playing 80 minutes and doing so much defensive work, then the Storm have Brandon Smith and Harry Grant to fill the gap.

Hughes and Munster are the best running halves combination in the NRL and the Storm have plenty of options to fill Chambers’ spot.

Once again, there’s no reason to doubt this Storm team. They seem capable of repeating their amazing regular season form again in 2020. But similar to the Roosters, not enough upside for me to get on them at such a short price of around $4.50.

NRL Season Preview: Canberra Raiders

Coach Stuart has copped a bit of flack for his team changes since going down in the Grand Final. Aiden Sezer getting moved on was criticised due to the form the plucky halfback showed at the end of 2019. He’s already dominating the Super League in 2020. This was made worse by the fact that his UK replacement, George Williams, was given barely any game time by Coach Bennett on the Lions tour of Australia at the end of 2019.

Then following Joey Leilua’s departure, we saw Curtis Scott get arrested and his immediate future is now under a cloud. A lot of people questioned why Stuart had decided to let go of the rampaging Leilua after such a strong season (a season where he finally managed to cut down his errors and penalties).

Finally, crowd favourtie Rapana was lost to Japanese Rugby, without any replacement being signed. Simmonson is ready to start on the wing and has looked good every time he’s pulled on a green jersey, but it does take away some depth out wide.

From what I’ve seen of George Williams, he’s the real deal and capable of making an impact the way Hodgson did at the 9 position. I’m also a big fan of Curtis Scott’s potential… pending his police charges being resolved, he’ll be a great replacement for Leilua.

Besides that, the Raiders should generally improve across the board. Wighton, Tapine, Papalli, Hodgson, Bateman and CNK are at the top of their game with age on their side.

There easy start to the season makes it tempting to back them but again, the $7.00 is just not long enough for me in such an even competition.

It might take a while for their new combinations to gel so I think their price could drift if they drop a few games early. There then  might be a good opportunity to take the Raiders at $10 or better to win the competition.

NRL Season Preview: South Sydney Rabbitohs

Although the loss of Sam and George Burgess will leave a big hole in this forward pack, I do think Souths are looking very dangerous. Mitchell will provide the Bunnies with the strike power that Inglis gave them for all those years. And with Walker, Cook and Murray in the middle and Roberts, Gagai and Graham out wide, the Bunnies look like they’ll score plenty of points.

At slightly longer odds than the Raiders, I think Souths are the best value top 4 team. But I have a few question marks about how well their forward pack will handle the loss of Sam Burgess. They desperately need their lesser-known forwards to step up this season.

NRL Season Preview: The Heavyweights Summary

All in all, the top 4 from last year will be hard to beat again this year. But with quite a few team changes in each squad, there’s a fair bit of uncertainty hanging over each roster. Nothing stands out right now as sensational value, but after a few weeks we will have a far better idea..

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