The start of the 2016 NRL season is less than two weeks away and most of the trials have come and gone. How will each team fare in the upcoming season? Rugby league writer Daniel Boss provides his thoughts on each sides’ chances for 2016 in his NRL 2016 Season Ladder Prediction.
Over the past weekend, every side has their dress rehearsals for the regular season, which provided some insight into the composition of teams for Round 1. In these games, there were a couple of talking points. The first was the use of the shot clock for dropouts and scrums. The issue here is that teams are waiting until for almost the full 35 seconds before feeding the scrum. I don’t see this as a bad thing. The average time for scrums last season was 45 seconds, so it is 10 seconds less per scrum. Plus, it gives enough time for a commercial, which makes sponsors of the NRL happy and in turn, maintains the highest value of television rights. With less time wasted per scrum and enough time for a commercial, it’s a win-win situation for everybody.
The second issue is the inconsistency in the rules when comparing the NRL, Super League and International rules. It is an embarrassment that this inconsistency exists and I’m honestly not sure when we will see full alignment. I think the first step towards this is to align the rules for both the NRL and Super League, as both leagues have shown initiative to change the rules to make the game more exciting, which they have to as both leagues currently operate in highly competitive sporting markets.
Anyway, on to the ladder prediction. In the past two years, I have successfully named 13 of the 16 sides that have made the finals. The sides that made the finals that I did not predict would are Brisbane in 2014 and Cronulla and the Dragons in 2015. The two Grand Finals in these years involved sides that I predicted would finish 2nd (Souths) and 3rd (Canterbury) in 2014 and 3rd (Cowboys) and 5th (Brisbane) in 2015. By spruiking my record over the past two years, I’m almost certain to be destined for failure this year. As usual, I’ll finish the season by reviewing these selections after the Grand Final.
2016 NRL Ladder Prediction
16. Gold Coast Titans
I’m quite sure that this is the consensus pick for the wooden spoon in 2016. Not only have they lost a co-captain from last year, their best attacking player and their best playmaker, they have also lost their brightest young star, Kane Elgey, for the entire season. The back row should be improved this year, with the signings of Chris McQueen and Zeb Taia. With that said, I really can’t see how this side will be able to win too many games this year, especially with the competition so balanced in 2016.
15. Newcastle Knights
I do expect the Knights to be better this year, but I still think that it will take another year before the Knights challenge for a finals berth. I really like the signing of Trent Hodkinson, as it provides this side with direction. I also think that there is more depth in the front row, which is greatly needed as well. However, despite the good signings and talent in the club, the squad (particularly the backline) is still quite young and inexperienced and I think they may get found out at times throughout the season.
14. Wests Tigers
For the past three seasons, the Tigers have finished in the bottom 4. Last year, they only avoided the wooden spoon via point differential. I think they will be better this year as a result of the stability in the club after the shopping of Robbie Farah, the more attacking style that suits the players in key positions and James Tedesco. However, I still think that they lack depth and size in the forwards, especially with the loss of Martin Taupau, and this will make a run at the finals unlikely.
13. Penrith Panthers
Across the park, Penrith has quite a strong side. Their backline is quite classy and the return of Matt Moylan will provide a boost. A strong start to the season is highly important, as it will alleviate any pressure on the incumbent halves combination of Soward and Wallace. The one big weakness of Penrith over the past two seasons is their ability to score points and I think it will again be an issue in 2016. Hence, I don’t see a strong start for the Panthers and I think there will be calls for either Moylan or Te Maire Martin to get a chance in the halves.
12. St George Illawarra Dragons
It has been said that the Dragons overachieved in 2015 and given this prediction, you would think that I agree. I don’t think that they overachieved and the main reason I have the Dragons falling is due to the move of Josh Dugan to the centres. I don’t like it, as it means that their best player is less involved in the game. The Dragons may have a style of play that gets Dugan involved, but I’m sceptical about this. Also, the loss of Trent Merrin hurts, as hiss offloading ability will be missed, which the Dragons utilised effectively in 2015.
11. Canterbury Bulldogs
I’m basing this selection on the back end of the 2015 campaign, where the Dogs looked directionless with Moses Mbye and Josh Reynolds in the halves. It’s the big issue for the side heading into the 2016 season and I’m not sure whether it can be resolved. I think it should be up to Reynolds, as Mbye offers more spark in attack. However, Reynolds just seems to have a meltdown every now and then, which makes me doubt whether he can lead the side around. Outside of the halves, this is a strong team and will be a finals contender if the halves get the balance right.
10. Canberra Raiders
Despite placing them outside of the top eight, I really like the way Canberra are building. The purchases of Aidan Sezer and Elliott Whitehead are shrewd and they provide even more depth to this squad. A minor concern is the ability of Blake Austin, who is only just getting back from a shoulder injury. Another concern is the ability of the big Raiders pack to handle the lower interchanges in 2016. This is the main reason why I have them outside of the top 8. If they do make the finals, it would certainly not be a surprise.
9. Sydney Roosters
One positional group that will be vastly different in 2016 is the Roosters backline. Only 3 of the starting backline from 2015 will start the 2016 season in the Roosters backline, including a new halves combination. As a result, I expect the Roosters to play more through the middle of the field, as they did against St Helens. I’m not sure they will have the same level of success against bigger forward packs in the NRL and I think goal kicking may hurt them, following the loss of James Maloney.
8. South Sydney Rabbitohs
I think the Rabbits will finish around the middle of the pack, despite the return of Sam Burgess. They will be looking to bounce back after a disappointing end to their premiership defence. I think they will benefit from the lack of pressure that comes from defending a title and they will also benefit by having the majority of their squad fully fit. Despite this, the losses of Dylan Walker and Chris McQueen are quite big, plus there is also uncertainty in the selection of the halves, which is why I have Souths just sneaking into the top 8.
7. New Zealand Warriors
Those who have read my articles and are familiar with my articles, the selection of the Warriors at around mid-table is no surprise. Despite signing New Zealand internationals Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke, I still don’t know what to fully expect from this side. I’m actually surprised that they plan on starting Jeff Robson over Tui Lolohea, as it means that Konrad Hurrell will not get a starting spot in the centres. Based on talent alone, they should be a top 4 side but because they’re the Warriors, I have them here.
6. Parramatta Eels
There is always one side each year that makes a big climb up the ladder and makes a solid run in the finals. I think in 2016, that team will be the Eels. The signings of Kieran Foran and Michael Jennings are big, although I do think that it will take some time for the combinations to develop. They have plenty of size in the front row and the addition of Beau Scott adds experience and attitude to the side. Barring a horror run with injuries, there are no more excuses for the Eels now. Anything less than a finals spot would be a disappointment.
5. Manly Sea Eagles
While the Eels did obtain the best individual signings, Manly improved the most over the off-season. In losing Kieran Foran, the Eagles were able to add depth and strength to their forward pack, following the additions of Martin Taupau, Nate Myles and Lewis Brown. Their backline has long been their strength and they still have plenty of points in them. I would be more bullish about Manly if they weren’t missing players due to injury and there is a lot of expectation on rookie coach Trent Barrett, as a result of the strength of the squad.
4. Cronulla Sharks
The Sharks will be looking to send off skipper Paul Gallen in the best way possible; by claiming the club’s maiden premiership. While they certainly are a contender, especially after the signing of James Maloney, I think they will fall just short. The main reason for this is that I think that the outside backs of the three sides ahead of the Sharks all have more attacking ability. Their forward pack is also somewhat aging, but players such as Gallen and Luke Lewis continue to lead the side despite their age, so another strong year from the older players would not surprise.
3. Melbourne Storm
This pick is solely dependent on the big three staying fit for the majority of the season. Last year, the Storm were able to cope with the loss of Billy Slater for the majority of the season. I don’t think they can get away with it in 2016, as they have lost depth in the backline. The forward pack will be even better this year, as the young forward pack will benefit for another year of experience. I think Melbourne will be up there yet again, but I don’t think their side is as strong as last year’s Grand Finalists.
2. North Queensland Cowboys
Yes, I am predicting a rematch of last year’s decider, despite the fact that no side has (legitimately) made back-to-back Grand Finals since Manly in 2007-08. I know that it is very difficult to defend a premiership, but the Cowboys possess the same side that won last year’s title and have the best player in the world. I just think that winning consecutive premierships will be too much to ask, especially considering the key addition of the 2015 runners-up.
1. Brisbane Broncos
To put it simply, if Brisbane are close to having their best team on the field come finals time, anything less than a premiership will be a disappointment. This isn’t an overly surprising pick, especially as Brisbane were able to replace Justin Hodges with the most explosive young outside back in the league, James Roberts. It is scary to think how good Roberts will be at the end of the season, under Wayne Bennett’s coaching. The top two sides are very complete from numbers 1 to 17 and I give a slight edge to Brisbane as they now have a more explosive attack.