NRL 2012 – Fearless Predictions
With the 2012 NRL season only hours away, I thought it was high time to commit my thoughts on the season to the internet for posterity. If nothing else they should provide a good laugh in about six months time.
Increasingly, predicting the top 8 sides at the start of the season is an impossible task. Who would have thought 12 months ago that the Roosters, Titans and Raiders would figure amongst the also rans in 2011, or that Manly Warringah, a team which had fallen over the line into 8th place the previous season before losing their young halfback to Canterbury, would finish 2nd on their way to winning the premiership?
Despite this, I have stuck my neck out and predicted the finishing position of all 16 teams. Further, I have separated the teams into four groups
– Will not make the 8
– May make the 8
– Should make the 8
– Will make the 8
When I am wrong about sides in the middle two groups, I will claim that those reading were given fair warning about the uncertain nature of the prediction.
For each team, I am providing a summary of some vital statistics before getting into the rationale behind my prediction. This includes their 2011 finishing position, an ‘expert’ consensus in the form of aggregated predictions from the Rugby League journalists at the Sydney Morning Herald and the Daily Telegraph, as well as the percentage chance each team has of winning the premiership and making the finals, as implied by Betfair’s odds on the 29th February.
The ‘Expert Consensus’ finishing position was calculated by scoring each of the expert top 8 predictions (8 pts for 1st place, 7 points for 2nd place and so on) and then ranking the total points for each team, and the ‘Chance of Finals’ is simply what proportion of the experts tipped that team to make the 8.
For each team I have separately discussed the changes to the roster and my prediction for 2012. The Roster analysis section aims to highlight not just the major offseason signings, but also teams which were missing key players for a significant amount of time in 2011, with the implication being that having these players fully fit for 2012 can provide a similar boost to signing a new face.
A quick analysis of the betfair odds illustrates the difficulty of my task – even those teams ranked at the bottom of the league are felt to have a roughly 30% chance of making the 8! It is this uncertainty that makes every fan approach each season with such hope and expectation.
I will offer no prediction for the eventual premier, other than to say that I think they will definitely come from my ‘Will make the finals’ group.
Without further ado, onto the predictions
Will not make the 8
16. Penrith Panthers
Expert Consensus – 15th (14% chance of finals)
Betfair Odds – 31% chance of finals, 3% chance of premiership
Penrith have lost significant experience and quality from their pack with Petero Civoniceva, 2003 premiership winner Trent Waterhouse and Matthew Bell all departing. Off season recruitment has focussed on partially replenishing the depth of the forwards; however Clint Newton, Chris Armit, Cameron Ciraldo and Danny Galea all seem to lack the quality of the key departures. Sam Mckendry and Tim Grant will be given the opportunity to step up and become leaders of the pack. A fully fit Michael Gordon (played only 9 matches in 2011), Luke Lewis (14) and Michael Jennings (15) are expected to provide a boost.
The side which finished 2nd in the 2011 home and away rounds struggled to get out of the blocks in 2012, and never really threatened to reach the finals. The kicking game which had led to so many tries in 2011 did not prove as effective in 2012 which often led to the Panthers struggling to score points, and injuries to key personal did not help. The roster appears to have gone backwards since last year, and their does seem to be a sense out Penrith way that this will be a rebuilding year under new coach Ivan Cleary, with football boss Phil Gould recently stating that the teams goal for the year was to train hard, play hard, and compete every week. Penrith’s hopes of making the 8 this season rely on the fitness of the key outside backs and Luke Walsh’s ability to spark them – significant improvement is required in this area from 2011. They may not come last, but it is hard to see them figuring in the finals of what looks to be an exceptionally even competition.
15. Gold Coast Titans
2011 Season – 16th (6 – 18)
Expert Consensus – 16th(0% chance of finals)
Betfair Odds – 38% chance of finals, 2% chance of premiership
The Titans were constantly in the news last season as they signed several of the biggest free agent names. Jamal Idris and Beau Champion arrive to bolster a backline that looked undersized and short of strike power last season, while Nate Myles and Luke Douglas will be welcome additions to the ageing pack. Myles should be a like for like replacement for the departing Anthony Laffranchi, while the inspirational Preston Campbell will leave a hole in the Titans playmaking ranks that has struggled since the departure of Matt Rogers. The loss of Nathan Friend will not be felt given he was restricted to 4 matches last season. A full year from Ashley Harrison (played 13 matches in 2011) and winger Kevin Gordon (2) would provide a boost.
From an early point last season the focus for the Titans seemed to be more recruitment for 2012 rather than performance in 2011. On paper, the team closely resembled the highly successful outfit of 2009-10, however several of the older stars who had been integral to that success seemed to noticeably slow in 2011, and the younger players of the Gold Coast were unable to pick up the load. The Coast has recruited well and on paper are a side that could easily trouble the top 8. Concerns surround the lack of a 2nd playmaking option to support Scott Prince, and the downturn in Prince’s form last year. The former Tigers playmaker was consistently excellent throughout his three seasons with the joint venture club, and was the key player in the Titan’s first four seasons. At 32 (Happy Birthday for Monday, Scott!) it seems unlikely that Prince will rediscover top form, and without that, I don’t see the titans making the 8.
14. Sydney Roosters
2011 Season – 16th (10 – 14)
Expert Consensus – 12th (10% chance of finals)
Betfair Odds – 37% chance of finals, 3% chance of premiership
The key departures of Todd Carney, Nate Myles and Jason Ryles have not been matched by the quality of the arrivals, but some may consider it a case of addition by subtraction with Carney and Myles (rightly or wrongly) blamed for much of the unrest at the club last season. Young prop Martin Kennedy sparked origin talk after several damaging performances early last season, however injury cut his contribution to just 8 games last year. A full season from him will go a long way to offsetting the losses in the forwards. Young centre Tautau Moga is expected to make an impact during his first season in first grade. A lot more playmaking weight will fall on the shoulders of blues half Mitchell Pearce in the absence of Carney.
The Roosters season fell apart after round 4 last year, and it did not take long before all the journos who had praised Carney and Brian Smith came to bury them with relish. This is a huge season for Mitchell Pearce. His predecessors in the NSW number 7 jersey, Brett Kimmorley and Andrew Johns, made a habit of leading their teams into September each season. Pearce will have his hands full getting this squad to the finals, but if he is able to it will be the coming of age of him as a player. The Roosters finished last season in great style winning their last four matches, and will be hoping to continue that roll early in 2012.
13. South Sydney Rabittohs
2011 Season – 10th (11 – 13)
Expert Consensus – 8th (57% chance of finals)
Betfair Odds – 47% chance of finals, 5% chance of premiership
The major off season addition was Matt King, whom the red and green will be hoping has a bit more left in the tank than Matt Orford did upon his return from England. Sam Burgess and Roy Asotasi played a combined 12 matches last year so expect the bunnies pack to be even stronger in 2012 if those two take the field regularly, though an injury free season may seem an optimistic expectation for Roy given his history at the Rabbitohs. The task of replacing Chris Sandow will fall to rookie Adam Reynolds and it is here that Souths appear significantly weaker than last season. Reynolds will need to produce a Cherry – Evans type debut season to adequately replicate the impact Sandow had upon the club during 2011.
Each of the last four seasons has commenced with high hopes for the Rabbitohs, but they are yet to add to their one finals appearance since reinstatement to the competition. Chris Sandow was immense for the bunnies last year and his absence will be keenly felt. Daly Cherry-Evans has raised the bar for rookie halfbacks coming into the league and Adam Reynolds will certainly be feeling the pressure to perform. The Rabbitohs have enough class in the pack and strikepower in the backs to cause problems for any team on their day. Service to the outside men has been a problem in the past, with Greg Inglis underutilised last season, and unless the bunnies can fix this they are unlikely to make the 8. That they will be relying on a rookie to address this leads me to conclude they will not be playing in September this season.
12. St.George-Illawarra Dragons
2011 Season – 5th (14 – 1 – 9)
Expert Consensus – 10th (38% chance of finals)
Betfair Odds – 52% chance of finals, 5% chance of premiership
The Dragons backline has lost a lot of strikepower due to the departure of Darius Boyd and the retirement of Mark Gasnier. Those gaps are expected to be filled by the locally produced Stanley brothers, Chase and Kyle. The loss of several bench forwards should be ably filled if youngsters Mitch Rein and Jack De Belin flourish.
Following an incredible two and a half season run at the top of the league, during which they amassed a 44 – 15 record, the Dragons came right back to the pack over the 2nd half of last season. The 2012 side is not hugely weaker than the previous edition, but it is weaker all the same. Throughout their dominant run the Dragons built their victories methodically, by playing risk free football, taking the points on offer, and relying upon their superior defensive ability to hold the lead. I expect their defensive standards to be maintained under new coach Steve Price, but their reduced ability to put points on the board without Boyd and Gasnier will put too much pressure on the defence to restrict opponents to low scores. The Dragons won only 4 of their last 14 matches last season (including finals) and while I expect their win % to be better than that in 2012, it won’t be sufficient to get them into the 8.
May make the 8
11. Cronulla Sharks
2011 Season – 13th (7 – 17)
Expert Consensus – 13th (14% chance of finals)
Betfair Odds – 38% chance of finals, 3% chance of premiership
Todd Carney is the biggest name in an impressive recruiting class that includes Isaac De Gois, Bryce Gibbs, Andrew Fifita and Ben Ross. Fifita, Gibbs and Ross provide readymade replacements for the two key offseason departures, Luke Douglas and Kade Snowden.
The Sharks have pinned their hopes on the undeniable talent and questionable commitment of Todd Carney who has been shown the road by his previous team due to behavioural issues. The last time that happened, his new team reached the Grand Final, and Carney won the Dally M medal. So it is understandable that the hopes of Sharks fans are sky high this preseason. I certainly expect an improved performance from both the Sharks this season, as Carney will bring the flair and playmaking ability that the Sharks have lacked in recent years. The forward pack is strong and they will be in the match most weeks, but ultimately they lack the strike power out wide and will rely too much on Carney in the playmaking area to make the finals.
10. Parramatta Eels
2011 Season – 14th (6 – 1 – 17)
Expert Consensus – 14th (24% chance of finals)
Betfair Odds – 39% chance of finals, 4% chance of premiership
It says a lot about Parramatta’s recent halfbacks that new number 7 Chris Sandow is being touted as a replacement for a man who retired 22 years ago, rather than Jeff Robson. Overshadowed by the Sandow hype are the arrivals of fellow backs Willie Tonga, Esi Tonga and Ben Roberts. Justin Poore can essentially be regarded as a new recruit given his
negligible number of matches played since his arrival at the club. None of the departing players had any significant impact on the 2011 campaign.
Stephen Kearney’s second season in charge finds him better equipped for success than in 2011. The Eels have recruited well and the arrival of Sandow will ensure that Jarryd Hayne will not have to take over the roles of both ballplayer and ball runner, which he attempted to do all too often last season. The Eels showed impressive fight last season, and were well in the contest for the majority of their losses. The arrival of Sandow should convert several of those close losses into wins this season, however I’m predicting that while they will remain in the finals race until the closing stages, they will fall just short. Sandow played the season of his life last year and could not get Souths to September. He’ll need to produce a similar effort this year if the Eels are to make it.
9. New Zealand Warriors
2011 Season – 6th (14 – 10)
Expert Consensus – 6th (62% chance of finals)
Betfair Odds – 60% chance of finals, 10% chance of premiership
The Warriors return with a very similar 17 to that which contested last year’s Grand Final, with Lance Hohaia and Aaron Heremaia the only departures. The gap at the hooking spot is expected to be filled by Nathan Friend. Several graduates of the premiership winning Under 20’s side are expected to press for spots in first grade throughout the year, with damaging centre Konrad Hurrell the one most likely to impress.
The Warrior’s talent and roster is certainly capable of seeing finals action for what would be the 3rd straight year. However, I feel that this team is the most likely of the favourites to drop out of the 8. James Maloney’s impending departure has the potential to be a distraction. Shaun Johnson has tremendous talent but will it will likely take a few seasons of maturation before finding the week to week consistency that is required. The victory over hot favourites the Storm in the preliminary final last year showed the heights that the Warriors are capable of scaling, yet two weeks previous they were humbled by 40 in Brisbane, and they were seconds away from exiting the finals in straight sets before Inu’s miraculous try vs the Tigers. At their best the Warriors are a definite top 4 side and premiership contender, however I am predicting their campaign will reach those heights infrequently enough to see them finish just outside the 8.
Should make the 8
8. Canterbury Bulldogs
2011 Season – 9th (12 – 12)
Expert Consensus – 9th (57% chance of finals)
Betfair Odds – 52% chance of finals, 5% chance of premiership
The Dogs high profile recruit for 2012, James Graham, arrives with a workhorse reputation forged during an exceptional career in the English super league. He will have justified his fee if he can replicate the impact of recent English arrivals Gareth Ellis and Sam Burgess. Jamal Idris took his extreme raw talent and questionable work rate to the Titans in the offseason which along with the retirement of captain Andrew Ryan were the notable losses from the roster which finished 9th last year. New captain Michael Ennis was restricted to only 12 matches during 2011 and you would have to think that if available during the closing weeks of the season he would’ve made the difference between making the finals and missing out.
2011 was a tumultuous year for the Dogs off the field, as the club sacked their coach mid-season for the first time in their history, before achieving the unlikely coup of attracting premiership coach Des Hasler to Belmore. On field, Canterbury started brightly and lead the competition early behind the brilliant form of Jamal Idris, before fading over the 2nd half of the year. New captain Michael Ennis is the key to everything the dogs produce in attack and I’m expecting that an injury free year from him combined with the positive influence of Hasler and new recruit Graham will see the dogs sneak into the 8 in 2012.
7. Canberra Raiders
2011 Season – 15th (6 – 18)
Expert Consensus – 11th (24% chance of finals)
Betfair Odds – 33% chance of finals, 4% chance of premiership
With Shaun Berrigan the only significant newcomer, the improvement in the Raider’s line-up is almost entirely due to the prospect of their stars having better luck with injury in 2012. Terry Campese’s 8 minute long season has been well documented, but in addition Josh Dugan managed only 13 matches for the lime green in 2011 and Tom Learoyd Lahrs played only 12. The retirement of inspirational captain Allan Tongue will leave a hole in the dressing room.
I am tipping the Raiders to be the big improvers of 2012. The combination of huge forwards, a great ball running and ball playing half and fast backs proved impossible to handle for the majority of sides over the back half of 2010. 2011 started in similar fashion with a thrashing of the Sharks but after round 1 the Raiders went on to win only 5 of the next 23 matches to only narrowly avoid the wooden spoon on for and against. As the losses snowballed, confidence drained out of the young side and several of their defeats were more self-inflicted than due to great play by the opposition. If Campese can return to the form of 2010 and Dugan can stay on the paddock for the full season, I’m tipping a return to the finals for the Green Machine. A strong start to the season will be crucial to regain confidence from the horrors of 2011.
6. North Queensland Cowboys
2011 Season – 7th (14 – 10)
Expert Consensus – 7th (38% chance of finals)
Betfair Odds – 52% chance of finals, 6% chance of premiership
The roster is largely unchanged from 2011. Willie Tonga has left for Parramatta, and his centre spot will be filled by either new arrival Kane Linnett or Antonia Winterstein, whose promising 2011 season was reduced cut short at 9 matches due to injury. If Robert Lui can overcome his off field problems, he will challenge the incumbent Ray Thompson for the right to partner Johnathon Thurston in the halves. Toyota Cup cannonball Jason Taumalolo has huge potential and should play a major role in the Cowboys season.
The Cowboys rediscovered their mojo in 2011, after cutting loose a lot of the dead wood that had dragged down the 2010 campaign. They have the best halfback and best prop in the game, and Dairy Farmers Stadium is once again a fortress after the Cowboys won 9 of 12 there last season. There is significant upside for the club if Tariq Sims continues to emerge as one of the most damaging backrowers in the league, if Jason Taumalolo can have the expected impact and if Robert Lui can form a dangerous partnership with JT. The roster is strong enough to ensure a return to the finals. Concerns will arise if Willie Tonga’s finishing is unable to be replaced or if Thurston’s domination of the ball stunts the development of his young halves partners – it is not for no reason that the cowboys have been unable to find a permanent halves partner for Thurston since his arrival in 2005.
Will make the 8
5. Brisbane Broncos
2011 Season – 3rd (18 – 6)
Expert Consensus – 5th (76% chance of finals)
Betfair Odds – 60% chance of finals, 9% chance of premiership
A 34 yr old departs, a 36 yr old arrives. Petero Civoniceva is well known to Bronco’s fans, and he will add depth and experience to an already impressive pack. Corey Norman will be given the unenviable task of filling Lockyer’s enormous shoes at five eighth.
Ordinarily, a club which won 18 matches with a young exceptionally talented line-up, and which was retaining every player except a 34 yr old would be raging premiership favourites. But when that player is future immortal Darren Lockyer the equation is not that simple. The Broncos have divided opinion this off season like few teams I can remember – some think that they will miss the finals, some expect them to win the premiership. The potential is there for both. I think that Lockyer’s absence will be felt most in the big games, and that the team will not quite reach the heights of 2011. However given they were 6 wins ahead of 9th place last season, they can afford to slip a little and still comfortably make the finals.
4. Newcastle Knights
2011 Season – 8th (12 – 12)
Expert Consensus – 3rd (100% chance of finals)
Betfair Odds – 67% chance of finals, 10% chance of premiership
Nathan Tinkler and Wayne Bennett wasted no time in attracting some big names to the Knights cause. Darius Boyd and up and coming star Alex McKinnon have followed their mentor up the F3, while Tahu, Buderus and Snowden have all been persuaded to return home. The Knights roster is undoubtedly stronger than in 2011, with Isaac De Gois Cameron Ciraldo and Adam Macdougall the key losses.
It’s a new day in Newcastle. One of the poorest clubs in the league became one of the wealthiest overnight upon Nathan Tinkler’s wildly popular takeover of the club. Along with a decidedly stronger squad came supercoach Wayne Bennett. Bennett’s impact on St.George-Illawarra cannot be overstated. He took essentially the same squad that had scraped into 7th in 2008 and led them to back to back minor premierships and a first premiership in 31 years by instilling a strong defensive mentality and disciplined attacking system. He arguably has more to work with talent wise than he did at the Dragons and accordingly expectations are high of a return to the glory days. This could be a huge year for Kurt Gidley, who often has seemed guilty of trying to do too much in recent seasons. If Bennett can bring some direction and focus to the Knights the squad is strong enough for top 4 honours.
3. Wests Tigers
2011 Season – 4th (15 – 9)
Expert Consensus – 1st (95% chance of finals)
Betfair Odds – 71% chance of finals, 12% chance of premiership
The signing of Adam Blair and resultant departures of Bryce Gibbs and Andrew Fifita appeared to cause major disruption to the Tiger’s 2011 campaign. The club will be expecting that the NZ vice-captain will repay them during 2012 with his distinctive mix of strength and skill. Robert Lui’s halfback spot will be (at least initially) filled by Tim Moltzen, with 19 yr old James Tedesco taking over at fullback. Chris Lawrence and Lote Tuqiri played only 9 matches each during 2011 and their return to full fitness will be a big boost to what was already one of the NRL’s most potent backlines.
The Tigers looked premiership winners at times during their 9 game winning streak last year, however for the 2nd consecutive year were unable to hold a halftime lead in a finals game, exiting to a 79th minute Krisnan Inu try that was as heartbreaking in both its unorthodox nature and the ease to which it could have been prevented. The deep gloom hanging over Tigers fans was partially lifted by the news that crowd favourite Tim Moltzen would be remaining for at least one more season. At their best, the Tigers have the squad to win the premiership, with an international studded pack that rivals the fearsome Balmain 6 of the late 80’s, and a potent backline sparked by Benji Marshall and Chris Lawrence. They can also be maddeningly inconsistent – it is worth remembering that prior to the 9 game streak they sat at 7 – 9 and looked unlikely to make the finals. The key determinant of the Tigers success this year appears to be the halves partnership. If Tim Moltzen can make a success of it and reduce the pressure on Marshall the Tigers should expect top 4.
2. Manly Sea Eagles
2011 Season – 2nd (18 – 6)
Expert Consensus – 4th (90% chance of finals)
The bulk of the premier’s squad returns to defend the title, with wingers William Hopoate and Michael Robertson the only departures. Their spots will be taken by the fit again David Williams and Michael Oldfield. Jason King missed the back end of the premiership season through injury and his return will boost the forward pack.
Manly’s 2012 season will offer fascinating empirical evidence on the question “How important is a coach to the team’s success?” If Hasler were still taking the reins at Narrabeen, the defending premiers would expect to be on the front line of premiership betting. As it is, after a disruptive off season, the side containing all the key players from last year’s triumph is only rated 5th favourites on Betfair. Key performers Brett and Glenn Stewart, Watmough and Lyon are all in the prime of their careers, while young stars Daly Cherry Evans, Kieran Foran and Tony Williams figure to reach greater heights as they gain experience. DCE plays like a veteran and would not seem to be a prime candidate to suffer the dreaded 2nd year syndrome that has effected other playmakers in recent years (Ahem.. Tim Smith.. cough cough). It would take a major premiership hangover to see the Sea Eagles miss the top 4.
1. Melbourne Storm
2011 Season – 1st (19 – 5)
Expert Consensus – 2nd (100% chance of finals)
Betfair Odds – 67% chance of finals, 11% chance of premiership
Another big name from the glory days departs in the form of Adam Blair, while recent arrival Beau Champion has left for the sunnier climate of the Gold Coast. Two veteran forwards, Jason Ryles and Ryan Hoffman, arrive to be rejuvenated by the Bellamy methods.
The storm roster appears slightly weaker than in 2011, but as long as they retain the best ‘spine’ in the league they are a strong chance of being thereabouts in September. Last year was the 4th time in the last 6 seasons that the Storm have finished on top after the premiership rounds, and they won the grand final in one of those other two seasons. Some felt that they overachieved to finish first in 2011 however with a stable playing roster, imposing home record and a Craig Bellamy inspired consistency of effort and performance that is the envy of the league, I’m tipping them to repeat the does in 2012.