2013 NRL Season Prediction Review

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Rugby league writer Daniel Boss reviews his predictions from the start of the season. See the teams he got right and the teams he got wrong. Very wrong.

My first article for Blindside Sport was a prediction of the 2013 NRL ladder. I think I got some predictions spot on, while I was well off on quite a few teams. Of the 8 teams to make the finals, I selected 6 of them to finish in positions 1 to 8. The teams I selected in positions 1 to 5 were all still in the competition in the second week of the finals, when only 6 teams remained in the competition. Of course, the other team that were there (who eventually would make the Grand Final) was predicted to finish 11th by yours truly. That was my big miss.

16th: St George Illawarra Dragons; 2013 finish: 14th

“To be brutally honest, I cannot see the Dragons scoring too many points in 2013.”

The Dragons performed as I expected this season. They were tough and gritty but just didn’t have a lot of points in them. I thought that this would be enough to see them end up with the wooden spoon, but I didn’t account for how poorly the teams who finished 15th and 16th would perform. The Dragons have bought well and I expect them to finish higher in 2014 and possibly even push for a finals spot.

15th: New Zealand Warriors; 2013 finish: 11th

“When looking at this team, they should be finishing higher but I just can’t see it happening for the Warriors in 2013.”

2013 was a typical Warriors season as at times they looked like world-beaters but at other times they looked like a reserve grade side. Still, Matt Elliott was able to get more from this team than his predecessor and will look to build on this year’s result. However, I am not expecting this as I again can’t see it happening for this team. In fact, my gut feeling is that 2014 will be a lot like 2013, as I expect them to again finish just outside the top 8.

14th: Parramatta Eels; 2013 finish: 16th

“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.”

Well, at least the Eels didn’t go down in 2013. Then again, they literally couldn’t. The season that started ah so well, just got worse and worse as the season wore on. The coach has left, the board is still divided and the best player is still highly injury prone. For you Parramatta fans, there isn’t much reason to be hopeful for 2014. A third consecutive wooden spoon is likely, with the only major challengers the team that finished 15th and Ricky Stuart’s new (and old, I guess) team.

13th: Penrith Panthers; 2013 finish: 10th

“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.”

The Panthers proved that they are well ahead of schedule throughout the 2013 season. They were in finals contention until the last couple of weeks in the past season. Again, they have been active in player recruitment, with some very astute purchases. The performance of the lower grade sides at the club (Under 20’s premiers, NSW Cup and SG Ball grand finalists) show that there is plenty of depth there. I would not be surprised to see Penrith play finals football next season.

12th: Gold Coast Titans; 2013 finish: 9th

“After the departure of Scott Prince, my first thought was that the Titans were almost certainties for the wooden spoon.”

I definitely overestimated the loss of Prince. The Titans now possess one of the best young halves combinations in the NRL. With another off-season under their belt, this halves combination should develop further. The Titans looked set for a spot in the top 8, until they lost Jamal Idris to injury. For the first time in a few seasons, the playing roster for this club is mostly unchanged. The Titans should again contend for the finals next season.

11th: Manly Sea Eagles; 2013 finish: 2nd

“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.”

Wow. I was very wrong about Manly in 2013. Like Melbourne, they are able to get the best form out of any player. The Sea Eagles have bought a lot of young, unknown players for 2014 and I think we may hear more about some of them by this time next year. This team possesses the best halves combination in the league and while these two are playing together, Manly will be a contender. I’m definitely not going to predict them to finish this low next year; in fact I can see another top 4 finish.

10th: Canberra Raiders; 2013 finish: 13th

“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.”

Oh, to be Raiders supporter. They have such a talented side but just find ways to waste it. Dugan and Ferguson are now gone, which may increase team morale, but both are match winners who are no longer wearing lime green. The coach has also been sacked, with Ricky Stuart returning home to take the reins. Yet, it can’t be ignored that in Stuart’s last 7 seasons as an NRL coach, he has only made the finals once. A wooden spoon in 2014 isn’t completely out of the question for Canberra either.

9th: North Queensland Cowboys; 2013 finish: finals week 1 (8th)

“I see the Cowboys finishing at the fringe of the top 8. The reason for this is uncertainty at halfback and hooker.”

While everyone had the Cowboys as a shoe-in for the top 4, I had them missing the top 8. It looked like a great prediction, until they sacked coach Neil Henry which lifted the pressure off the players and won 6 straight to finish 8th. Paul Green is their coach next season and is expected to be a success. They have purchased Cameron King, which is a very smart buy as he can potentially sort out their issues at the hooker position.

8th: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs; 2013 finish: finals week 1 (7th)

“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.”

The loss of Ben Barba to Brisbane might do the Dogs the world of good. For the majority of the season, his presence was more of a hindrance. In fact, at the tail end of the season, it appeared that they played better when he was not in the team. Having said that, they absolutely imploded in the finals match against Newcastle and I am expecting another mid table finish for the Dogs in 2014. They may even miss the top 8.

7th: Wests Tigers; 2013 finish: 15th

“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.”

I expected a bounce back from the Tigers, with a new coach in 2013. Unfortunately for this Tigers supporter, this was definitely not the case and this season could not have ended soon enough. Their franchise player, Benji Marshall, is now playing rugby union, the two sides of the merger are clashing at board level and the new coach is under fire. This team is clearly in a rebuilding phase and I see nothing but a bottom 4 finish for the Tigers in 2014.

6th: Brisbane Broncos; 2013 finish: 12th

“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.”

Again, I overestimated the purchase of Prince. The Broncos still have issues in the halves and it showed in 2013. Ben Hunt did show some promise late in 2013, but he still needs an experienced partner in the halves that currently isn’t there. The Broncos have added much needed depth to their backline, so I do expect them to finish higher in 2014. With that said, I would not be surprised to see them miss the finals for the second consecutive year.

5th: Sydney Roosters; 2013 finish: 1st

“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.”

Not all the way, huh? Oops. The Roosters just kept improving throughout the 2013 season and were deserved premiers. Coach Trent Robinson looks like he could coach in the NRL for the next two decades. I am a huge fan of his. Next season, the side will be mostly unchanged and I expect the Roosters to finish in the top 4 yet again. Time will determine whether they will remain as the gold standard in the NRL or whether another side has been able to catch up.

4th: Cronulla Sharks; 2013 finish: finals week 2 (6th)

“It has been a very long time since there has been this much optimism in the Shire… Maybe they might find Harold Holt after all.”

This was written before the ASADA scandal began and it was very clear that this cloud over their head took a toll on the team. They were very unlucky to lose to Manly in the week 2 of the finals but were luck to beat the Cowboys the week before. Age will be an issue, as a majority their forward pack (Fifita aside) is north of 30. Plus, the ASADA investigation is yet to come to a close, so I’m not going to guess where the Sharks might finish next year at this time.

3rd: Newcastle Knights; 2013 finish: finals week 3 (4th)

“After a very disappointing 2012 campaign, the Knights are looking to bounce back in 2013. All signs are pointing to a very successful year.”

For the majority of this season, it looked like this prediction was very wrong. At times, it looked like the Knights would miss the top 8. At times, their attack was quite poor and their bench lacked any real impact. Yet, they finished the season with a strong charge and their experience proved to be crucial in the victories in the finals. However, Danny Buderus has retired and this leaves a huge hole at hooker. As a result, I think the Knights will finish in the bottom half of the top 8 next season.

2nd: Melbourne Storm; 2013 finish: finals week 2 (5th)

“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.”

Melbourne looked like the side to beat after the first half of the season but really faded in the second half of the season. It appeared that their star players looked tired. I’m not sure that a World Cup at the end of this year will do them any good. If I was the Storm, I would give the big three a two month break after the event as they need these three players to be fully firing in September and not in April. I would not be surprised to see a slow start to the 2014 season but should make the finals.

1st: South Sydney Rabbitohs; 2013 finish: finals week 3 (3rd)

“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!”

This prediction looked good for the majority of the 2013 season and even up to the first 20 minutes of the preliminary final. Yet, for the second consecutive year, the Rabbits didn’t have a back-up plan. They were punished for being too structured and predictable in attack. In my opinion, Souths need to start Luke Keary at five eight. He provides a spark in attack that Sutton lacks and will also take pressure off Reynolds. I see another strong year for Souths next season, but no premiership.

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