Every March, the rugby league universe is comprised of the following. 16 groups of supporters all dreaming of seeing their team hold that damn trophy up at the end of the season, 16 teams all chomping at the bit to hit the field, to try to makes their supporters’ (and their own) dreams come true and 16 coaches counting the hairs on their head, knowing that in six months this number will fall dramatically. The season is only days away and it can’t start soon enough!
My name is Daniel Boss and this is my first article for Blindside Sport. I have previously written an article for the 2012 Rugby League Almanac but this is the first time I will write articles on a consistent basis. I am very grateful for the opportunity. For the 2013 NRL season, I will provide weekly tips for each game, including my lock and upset of the week. I have loved rugby league my entire life, having been force-fed the game ever since I was an infant. I am a die-hard Wests Tigers supporter, so please forgive me if any bias does come through in my articles.
Here is my prediction on how the ladder will end up, in reverse order.
16th: St George Illawarra Dragons
I can already sense the hate mail from ‘The Army’ coming through. To be brutally honest, I cannot see the Dragons scoring too many points in 2013. The team in the mighty red V lost Hornby, Young and Beau Scott in the offseason and the only notable gains are Gerard Beale and Bronson Harrison. In addition to this, Kyle Stanley is out for the season which is a big blow. Ben Creagh takes over as captain and it will be interesting to see how he fares. If the Dragons are to prove me wrong, they will need to improve on their away form as in 2012, they only won 2 from 12 away from home. This was tied for worst in the NRL.
15th: New Zealand Warriors
The last time Matt Elliott took control an under-achieving team with a lot of potential, it was the 2007 Penrith Panthers. They won the wooden spoon that year. When looking at this team, they should be finishing higher but I just can’t see it happening for the Warriors in 2013. This is Elliott’s last shot at a full-time coaching gig and it will be interesting to see what he can conjure up, especially with exciting attacking players such as Johnson, Locke and Vatuvei. Dane Nielsen and Todd Lowrie should turn out to be good buys as Nielsen is a strong defensive centre and Lowrie will tackle himself to a standstill. The Warriors will need all the help they can get in defence, as in the last 6 games in 2012, they conceded 36.5 points per game.
14th: Parramatta Eels
The only way for the Eels in 2013 is up. The early years of Ricky Stuart’s tenures at the Roosters and Cronulla were successful, which has led to optimism amongst Parramatta supporters for 2013. However, lacklustre performances in the trials have somewhat defused this optimism. For the Eels to climb back into the top 8, they will need big seasons from superstar fullback Jarryd Hayne and enigmatic halfback Chris Sandow. The big signing for Parra is front rower Darcy Lussick who will provide some much needed grunt up front.
13th: Penrith Panthers
The Panthers were the most active team in the offseason, as their playing roster has undergone a facelift. Key signings such as Lewis Brown, Dean Whare, James Segeyaro and Sika Manu will all provide much-needed depth. Still, they are lacking class in the halves. The big gamble for Penrith this year is the move of Lachlan Coote from fullback to five-eighth. How he fares in his new position will determine how far the Panthers will go in 2013. Ivan Cleary has this team going in the right direction, however they still need some more time to seriously threaten for a position high on the ladder.
12th: Gold Coast Titans
After the departure of Scott Prince, my first thought was that the Titans were almost certainties for the wooden spoon. However, after impressive trial form, Albert Kelly has put his hand up to replace the departed Prince. Kelly showed potential in his time at Cronulla but trouble off the field has plagued his career. If he can stay on track and if five-eighth Aidan Sezer can avoid the dreaded second-year syndrome, then the Titans could be surprise participant in finals football. This is because aside from the halves, the Gold Coast has a roster that can match it with most teams in the NRL, especially with the addition of Dave Taylor.
11th: Manly Sea Eagles
Here is the first selection that may shock a few people. I have Manly missing the top 8. Even though their best team is still one of the best teams in the competition, Manly have the least depth of any team. Plus, the squad is starting to show some age. Brett Stewart is nowhere near as quick as he once was (a couple of knee reconstructions will do that), Watmough has been injury prone over the past couple of years and Glenn Stewart will miss a lot of footy early in the year. However, when a team has Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran in the halves, they are a chance of winning any game.
10th: Canberra Raiders
On paper, the Raiders should finish in the top 6. In recent years, Canberra has followed a strong finish to the season with a dud season in the following year. I just don’t trust the Raiders and based on this that I have the Raiders finishing tenth. It came as a surprise to me that Terry Campese was again named as captain, as he has only played 9 games in the last two seasons. Even if he does return, will he be a better option in the halves than Josh McCrone and Sam Williams? At his best he is, but I have doubt as to whether he can return to his best. Another potential issue that could cause distraction is the Josh Papalii contract saga. This could be one to watch.
9th: North Queensland Cowboys
I’m a bit uncertain about how the Cowboys will fare in 2013. In what could be Thurston’s last year at the club, I see the Cowboys finishing at the fringe of the top 8. The reason for this is uncertainty at halfback and hooker. It appears that Robert Lui will get the halfback spot. One his day, he can be a match-winner but I think he will be rusty after a year out of the game. As for hooker, with the departures of Payne and Segeyaro, this position is wide open. It appears that either Anthony Mitchell or Scott Moore will start the year at dummy half. Mitchell in particular has shown potential and maybe this is the opportunity he has been looking for. Aside from those positions, another player of interest is Tariq Sims, who will just be hoping for an injury-free season. When fit, he provides a significant x-factor in the pack.
8th: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
I should firstly note that I expected the Bulldogs to not be as successful in 2013 as they were in 2012, however after the news about Ben Barba came out recently I expect them to finish about mid-way in the pack. I’m not sure when Barba will be back but all expectations are that he will miss at least the majority of the season. Canterbury will also miss James Graham for a significant part of the season after the biting incident from last year’s Grand Final. This should give 2012 Under 20’s player of the year David Klemmer an opportunity to make an impression in first grade. Aside from this, the Dogs have a very good team with high hopes, but the loss of Barba will significantly hurt their premiership aspirations.
7th: West Tigers
I know what you’re all thinking. The Tigers die-hard picks the Tigers in the top 8, big surprise! I honestly believe that the Tigers will improve in 2013. Sure, the squad is not as strong as last year but they still have two of the best players in the game in Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah. In fact, Farah is the key to this team. If he plays for the Tigers like he did in Origin last year, then Wests will have a big year. Ten years as coach is a long time and it was time for Tim Sheens to be shown the door. New coach Mick Potter is untested in the NRL, so it will be interesting to see how well he can coach. One concern is the injury to boom front rower Aaron Woods. If he misses significant time, then the Tigers may struggle.
6th: Brisbane Broncos
It was evident that in the second half of the 2012 season, the Broncos needed an upgrade in the halves. This upgrade came in the form of Scott Prince. The form of Prince could determine the fate of the Broncos in 2013. Will it be the Prince of 2011 and early 2012 or the Prince of late 2012, who shows up at Suncorp? At his best he’s a representative and Premiership player with a Clive Churchill medal at home. At his worst, he’s no more than a regulation ball-player who relies too much on those around him. The rest of the team is very strong, despite losing Civoniceva, Te’o and Beale in the off-season. One position that is uncertain in Brisbane is the wing as Yow Yeh is still out with that shocking ankle injury and Dale Copley is out for the season. Lachlan Maranta will likely get one of the wing positions and could be a cheap fantasy buy, for those who are looking for a bargain.
5th: Sydney Roosters
Forget Sonny Bill. Forget Michael Jennings. Forget Luke O’Donnell. The biggest signing for the Chookies in 2013 is James Maloney. Maloney provides an attacking option outside of Mitchell Pearce. This should free up Pearce who could return to the form of 2010, when he helped the Roosters along to a grand final birth. With all of these signings, the Roosters are regaining their reputation as big spenders in the free agency market. This spending should see them climb the ladder, but not all the way to the promised land. One situation keep an eye on is how often Daniel Mortimer is used in first grade. He is capable of providing a spark off the bench and is one of the better support players in the NRL, as shown in 2009 when he also played in a grand final.
4th: Cronulla Sharks
It has been a very long time since there has been this much optimism in the Shire. Rightfully so, as the Sharks have bought well in the off-season, through acquisitions of representative back rowers Luke Lewis and Chris Heighington as well as classy backs Beau Ryan and Michael Gordon. Cronulla has one of the best squads in the league and should contend for the premiership in 2013. Maybe they’ll find Harold Holt after all! The Sharks possess the best bench in the NRL, if Andrew Fifita and Wade Graham do indeed start from the bench. A couple of potential issues for Cronulla are the fitness of Paul Gallen following a staph infection in the offseason and the health of Todd Carney following an Achilles injury. Both should be fit for round one, but the Sharks will need them both healthy if they are to break their 45-year premiership drought.
3rd: Newcastle Knights
After a very disappointing 2012 campaign, the Knights are looking to bounce back in 2013. All signs are pointing to a very successful year. Their trial form has been strong and some of their star players are primed for a big season. No one looks more primed than Willie Mason, who showed in the all-stars game that he could be somewhere near his best. This is a frightening situation for every other team in the NRL. Kurt Gidley returns after limited action in 2012 and Newcastle will need a big year from him. Darius Boyd will be looking for an improved season after struggling to find his feet in the first half of last season. Coach Wayne Bennett will look for a more solid defence and the signing of Beau Scott should result in that.
2nd: Melbourne Storm
The defending premiers will be up near the top of the ladder again in 2013. Any team with Slater, Cronk and Smith will always be tough to beat. The Storm may have landed the biggest signing before the season as they retained coach Craig Bellamy for another 5 years. In the player department, Melbourne has once again bought solid players. This year they have got the two Juniors, Sa’u and Moors. Moors will add to the front row depth and Sa’u will compete for the centre position vacated by the departed Dane Nielsen. Not much more can be said, except that it will take a big effort to knock the Storm off their perch.
1st: South Sydney Rabbitohs
Yes, I am picking South Sydney to win the 2013 NRL premiership and as such, they’re deservedly at the top of my NRL Ladder Predictions. They came very close to making the grand final in 2012 and probably should have had Adam Reynolds not gone down injured. The signing of Ben Te’o is a big one and will more than make up for the loss of Dave Taylor. Reynolds should be more confident in his second season, Isaac Luke is one of the best players in the league and Greg Inglis is still Greg Inglis. In fact, my pre-season prediction for the Dally M is Inglis. I think he will have a massive season. Lastly, the whole team will be better for the finals experience from last season. That is why 2013 will be the year of the Rabbit. Glory, glory to South Sydney!
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