THE 2013 rugby league season marks a new stage in my association with the code after 32 years as a fulltime sports journalist with Queensland Newspapers in Brisbane.
Suffice to say, rugby league will remain a big part of my life, given I have been involved with the code since 1961 when I signed up as a player for the Murwillumbah Junior Rugby League.
One of the History Committee’s chief goals is the establishment, and then up-keep of a rugby league museum, preferably at Suncorp Stadium.
No doubt history will be created on many fronts in 2013, a season which promises so much, given it will culminate with a World Cup in Europe when the Kangaroos hope to wrest back the trophy from the Kiwis, although the English may have something to say about that.
Looking ahead to the NRL here are my predictions and a few observations:
Brisbane Broncos: Skipper, Sam Thaiday turns 28 this year, and there are signs the intensity of his style of football has taken its toll on his body. The recruitment of veteran, Scott Prince should take some of the pressure off Thaiday. Prince will play NRL, don’t worry about that. Don’t expect to see him running around for his allocated club, Central Capras any time soon. If Jharal Yow Yeh cannot get back to his dazzling best after that shocking ankle injury last year, watch for him to move into the pack.
Last year Eighth. This year eighth.
Canberra Raiders: Can you believe they provided so many players to the All Stars match? Coach, David Furner has every right to be miffed, particularly as Channel 9 have virtually ignored them in their scheduling for the first 20 rounds. The Raiders made the finals last year even though superstar, Josh Dugan missed nine games. Look out for Bulldogs’ signing, Jake Foster.
Last year sixth. This year: Seventh.
Canterbury Bulldogs: Diminutive Dally M Medal winner, Ben Barba says he is even faster than last year, a frightening prospect for rivals. The signing of ‘T Rex’ Tony Williams from Manly will lessen the loss of English prop, James Graham for the early part of the season after his bizarre biting offence in the grand final.
Last year: Runners-up. This year: Premiers.
Cronulla Sharks: The boys from ‘The Shire’ will miss firebrand, Jeremy Smith more than they probably imagine, despite an impressive recruiting drive in the off-season. Their pack still has plenty of bite, and it’s just as well because if Cronulla lose either of their halves, Todd Carney or Jeff Robson to injury their inexperienced replacement(s) will need plenty of help up front.
Last year seventh. This year: Ninth.
Gold Coast Titans: Coach, John Cartwright has assembled an awesome pack, but only a supreme optimist would predict a try scoring orgy from a what looks a ‘bits and pieces’ backline. Maybe big Dave Taylor will prove the answer to the centre problems. It will be interesting to see what style of football the Titans embrace, given their apparent limitations.
Last year 11th. This year 12th.
Manly Sea Eagles: Andrew ‘Joey’ Johns is on the coaching staff and Manly’s classy halves, Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran look set for a stellar season. Despite the loss of Tony Williams to the Bulldogs, Manly appear to have the depth to be a top four side again.
Last year: Fourth. This year: Fourth.
Melbourne Storm: The demands of the World Club Challenge trip to Britain could take a toll early in the season, but you just know the Storm will be there when it counts. Brett Finch’s return from Wigan gives coach, Craig Bellamy an ace up his sleeve for the rep season, unless NSW coach, Laurie Daley grants Finch a Blues recall.
Last year: Premiers. This year: Runners-up.
Newcastle Knights: Expectations were great at the start of 2012, but now the people of the Hunter should be happy just to make the finals. Forget about a premiership and look to this year as the start of the long climb back to top, although I expect them to be the competition’s big improvers.
Last year: Twelfth. This year: Sixth.
North Queensland Cowboys: Cronulla, Gold Coast, the Warriors and North Queensland have never won a premiership, but the Cowboys look the most likely to break the drought in the short term. They have one hell of a team on paper and plenty of depth. They lost three home games early in 2012 when they should have been invincible in the heat. I can’t see that happening again.
Last year: Fifth. This year: Third.
Parramatta Eels: New coach, Ricky Stuart is no miracle worker, and those expecting the Eels to climb out of the cellar will be disappointed. They can only improve, but they need to attract more top flight players if they are to be a force again.
Last year: Last. This year: 15th.
Penrith Panthers: One of the worst sights in rugby league is all those empty red seats at Penrith’s home ground. Penrith is allegedly rugby league heartland, but the obviously cash strapped locals don’t believe it is worth wasting their hard earned on the local footy side, if it is not performing. The Panthers have spent big in the off-season and hopefully that pays dividends.
Last year: 15th. This year: 14th.
South Sydney Rabbitohs: Broncos recruit, Ben Te’o will help fill the attacking void left by the loss of Dave Taylor, and Jeff Lima will give a fearsome pack even more mongrel. Hopefully halfback, Adam Reynolds avoids second year syndrome.
Last year: Third. This year: Fifth.
St George Illawarra Dragons: Fans of the Big Red V expected a bit more action in the recruiting stakes and it’s hard to get excited about the club’s chances. Experienced prop, Michael Weyman says they have the necessary depth for the NRL, but that is debatable.
Last year: Ninth. This year: Tenth.
Sydney Roosters: You have to feel sorry for coach, Trent Robinson, having to deal with ‘Sonny Bill Enterprises’ and Penrith discard, Michael Jennings in his debut season. The club has been spruiking its talented youngsters for some time, and now it is time for them to deliver.
Last year 13th: This year 11th.
New Zealand Warriors: There’s no doubt the Warriors put the cue in the rack late in the season and the players have a lot of work to do to restore the faith of their loyal fans, never mind many thousands of fringe followers. New coach, Matt Elliott is a great communicator, in a quirky sort of way, but it remains to be seen whether if he can get through to the Warriors.
Last year: 14th. This year: Last.
Wests Tigers: Stand up Adam Blair. Big things were expected of the former Melbourne forward last year, but he was steady rather than spectacular, perhaps an indication of how well Storm coach, Craig Bellamy utilised his services. New Tigers coach, Michael Potter and Roosters signing, Braith Anasta may be able to unlock the key to Blair’s devastating running game.
Last year: 10th. This year: 13th.