Cowboys ready to reign supreme
SEASON 2018 has arrived and the banter about NRL premiership contenders and pretenders has reached fever pitch.
Every good rugby league tragic has a theory about how the season will play out and why, and I'm no different.
Here's my NRL premiership preview for 2018.
The Cowboys made a grand final last year without Jonathan Thurston and Matt Scott, so when you put them back in the team this year, throw in Jordan McLean, and account for the improvement in Michael Morgan, I can't see how they don't go all the way.
Paul Green has established himself as one of the best coaches in the game, and I'm sure he'll be subtly leveraging the farewell season for Thurston as extra motivation.
The 'Big 2' just doesn't have the same ring about it, but even without Cooper Cronk, this is a roster that is dripping with talent. How Cronk's replacement, Brodie Croft, performs is the only question mark but with a bulletproof system managed by the best coach and senior players in the NRL, Melbourne remain well and truly in the mix.
Two big-name recruits, James Tedesco and Cooper Cronk, have been added to an already impressive list.
How fast Cronk and Tedesco can adapt to new teammates, playing style and culture will determine how deep the tri colours go into the finals.
The Eels possess two things I love in footy teams; a hard edge and genuine x-factor. Parramatta have one of the more fearsome forward packs in the competition and a backline chock full of players who can produce something from nothing. And if Brad Arthur can get Jarryd Hayne back to his best, the Parramatta premiership drought might finally be over.
Some astute buying in the form of Matt Moylan and Josh Dugan will certainly add some class and big game experience to the Sharks.
This is a team who can beat you both ways; tough and dour or fast and clinical. And with a critical mass of players who know how to go all the way, the Sharks will be thereabouts again.
There are many questions around the Broncos in 2018. Will Matt Lodge be the front-row force many tip? Can Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima prove themselves a first-class halves combination? Andrew McCullough's comeback? Darius Boyd's body? Jack Bird's change of clubs? If these questions are answered in the positive, the Broncos are a force, if not, they could miss finals. I've got them in my eight for one reason; Wayne Bennett.
The truth of what's happening out at Penrith will never fully be known, but it's safe to say something ain't right. But here's the thing; this list at the Panthers is talented enough to go on a run almost in spite of any off-field drama that may or may not be happening.
The arrival of James Maloney should help if the past is anything to go by, and I'm particularly excited about the continued evolution of Nathan Cleary ... what a player.
This is my speculative buy in 2018 and you all know why; the difference between the Raiders' best and worst is too great. I think this is largely due to an underlying mentality that their ability to score points quick will cover for any flaws in defence and discipline. If Ricky Stuart can teach his players to stay in the grind and play the long game, there's much upside in Canberra.
The Best of the Rest
Sea Eagles - need to find a way to cover for the loss of Blake Green who has gone to the Warriors.
Dragons - Ben Hunt must handle the pressure of the franchise player tag.
Knights - impressive recruitment drive but a lot of change in a short period.
I had a few contenders here but eventually landed on the Titans. With a rookie coach, a relatively inexperienced halves pairing, and limited depth, the Titans' best years lie beyond 2018.