NRL 2018 Winter is coming
WILL THE BULLDOGS GET BACK THEIR BITE?
Dean Pay is hoping to bring back the ‘Dogs of War’ mentality to the Canterbury Bulldogs, but my question is who is going to lead the way? David Klemmer and new signing Aaron Woods are outstanding players and are two of the best ball carrying props in the modern game. However, my memory of the 'Dogs of War' is from the early 2000’s and back then, their pack were on another level. The aggression of Mark O’Meley, Tony Grimaldi’s relentless defence and effort, Willie Mason's power and footwork, Adam Perry and Corey Hughes' line speed, Matt Utai’s kick returns and how could you forget the 2004 grand final bench of Roy Asotasi, Johnathan Thurston, Reni Maitua and Sonny Bill Williams.
That aggressive style is led by line speed and energy in defence from your pack especially your hooker and I’m not sure in today's game, if line speed and one-on-one defence is rewarded. I value players hard-working forward's like Josh Jackson, Clay Priest and youngster Adam Elliott. All three will have a great year under Pay. I would much prefer for them to develop their own style as opposed to trying to be someone or another style from the past. I’m excited to see their new team take shape especially with the new combination of Mybe at fullback, Foran at Seven and Lichaa at Nine. Playing direct will be key with this new combo and hopefully we’ll see Lichaa running from dummy half like he did late in 2017. Josh Jackson as Captain is a great decision. Dean Pay was my coach in 2012 with the NSW U/20s and I wish nothing but the best to him in his coaching NRL debut season.
WILL THE RAIDERS MISS TOP 8?
Jack Wighton is loaded with talent and is one player you can absolutely say that he would be selected in every other team in the NRL, if he were not a Raider. He is a future represtenative player. I’d pick him now for NSW, although I would do so at centre. As far as the 2018 season is concerned, the Raiders will miss the creativity that Josh Hodgson brought last year, and I still don’t believe they have their 7,6 and 1 sorted. Bulldogs recruit Brad Abbey will feature at fullback and the pressure will be on to move Wighton to centre. They still have a great pack and an elite level squad to be competitive - although they are at a similar stage Penrith was at in 2016, trying to find an identity. I think they will be looking to sign a young half this year.
ARE THE RABBITOHS BACK?
Three Burgess boys, Inglis at left centre, Gagai at right centre, young superstars like Zane Musgrove, Angus Crichton, Cameron Murray, Campbell Graham and a fresh rookie coach in Anthony Seibold leaves me with the firm opinion that the Rabbitohs will be a semi-final team this year. The must-see will be how consistent Damien Cook and Adam Reynolds are together at 9 and 7 while Alex Johnston is still developing at fullback. If the Bunnies can find stability in these core positions, they'll be rewarded with consistency. Cody Walker had a great year in 2018 - but I’m still unsure if five-eighth is his position. I believe they will be seeking to sign a fullback in 2018, maybe Knights back up Nick Meaney or Broncos rookie Cory Allen. Keep an eye out for young halves Adam Doueihi, recruited from the Wests Tigers and former Shark Connor Tracey - both will be pushing for a spot in the team.
CAN THE KNIGHTS ESTABLISH AN IDENTITY?
If you ask me to define the knights goal for 2018, it would be to establish an identity in the NRL and community of Newcastle. Only they can establish what they stand for though from my point of view everything is moving in the right direction. The Knights success especially in 1997 and 2001 came from local talent which is extremely rare and fortunate. 2018 is the year the knights need to re-establish themselves as a winning club on and off the field and I’ll be right there with them.
MY TOP 8
My two teams who'll be vying for the minor premiership are the Cowboys and Eels.
North Queensland Cowboys have the strongest squad in 2018. They boast great depth in the halves with Michael Morgan, Te Maire Martin, superstar Johnathan Thurston and Holden Cup Player of the Year Jake Clifford. Up front their forward pack contains Kangaroos front rowers Matt Scott and newly recruited Jordan Mclean. Kiwi wrecking-ball Jason Taumalolo and Queensland back rowers Gavin Cooper and Coen Hess. They will be hard to handle.
A close second, as far as squad strength is concerned, is the Parramatta Eels. New recruits Kane Evans and Jaryd Hayne improve the Eels finals team from last year immensely. An injury-free Clint Gutherson will fire at fullback in 2018 and a full pre-season for Corey Norman and Mitchell Moses to work on their halves partnership is ideal.
YOUNGESTERS YOU NEED TO KNOW IN 2018
Cameron Murray – Rabbitohs
Murray is a competitive dynamo, who continually wants to be in the game. He has superb leg speed and ball skills. South Sydney are not only seeing their new no.13 (Sam moving to the edge), they will be watching their future captain. To play NRL in the back row, you need to break the line, play long minutes and continually set the line speed for your team. Murray does exactly that.
Zac Lomax – Dragons
I was lucky enough to train alongside Mark Gasnier in his prime. This kid is every bit as good. Over the past few years the Dragons have lacked outside backs who are legitimate strike weapons with the ability to break the oppositions defensive line. Not anymore. Zac will transition into first grade this year via the wing position, though it won’t be long till we see him takeover Gasnier's No3 jersey.
Etene Nanai-Seturo – Warriors
Right now, there are few issues between the Waikato Chiefs and Warriors over Etene's services, though fingers crossed he stays with rugby league. He reminds me of a cross between Roger Tuivasa Sheck and Shaun Johnson. Etene plays fullback and at 17 he was clearly identified by the Warriors as one of their best last pre-season. I watched him play 1st Rugby in NZ he is a phenomenal player. A future All Black if he deviates to Rugby Union.
Campbell Graham – Rabbitohs
With Greg Inglis’ change back to left centre this season, Graham will play outside a future immortal of our game. Standing over 1.95cm in height, Graham will feature in the Rabbitohs highlights by the end of 2018.
Payne Hass – Broncos
Payne has only just turned 18, yet he's already 120kgs and has the cardio to play 80 minutes. Its important to consider Payne's skill and size though his main feature is his fitness because if you can’t keep up, it doesn’t matter how much skill you have. Hass will feature on the bench at some point this season. NSW star of the future.
Ray Stone – Eels
Think Beau Scott with a dash of Paul Gallen. Ray is your no-thrills type of player who matches Brad Arthur's style of coaching. Signed from the West Tigers in 2016, this aggressive Mittagong junior is turning 21 this year and I'm certain he will be pushing for a spot in what I think will be a top 4 team. I tried to sign him to Newcastle in 2016, I love his playing style.
Luke Metcalf- Sea Eagles
Luke, who signed with Manly from Cronulla at the end of last season, featured heavily in the NSW under 18s win over QLD in 2017, scoring three tries. Metcalf is an extremely fast ball runner, who has put on much-needed weight in his first NRL pre-season at Manly and will be pushing for the vacant number 6 jersey in 2018.
Jamayne Isaako - Broncos
Jamayne debuted at fullback for the Broncos against the Knights in Newcastle last season, although his preferred position is centre. A similar strong-running centre to Dane Gagai, who will be pushing for a wing spot as a result of Cory Oates transition to the forwards.
TOP OFF CONTRACT 2018 BREAKOUT NRL PLAYERS
Matt Lodge – BRISBANE BRONCOS His resurgence to NRL in 2018 will be noticed.
Tui Kamikamica – MELBOURNE STORM Hard working lock, I thought he was outstanding in the 2017 RL World Cup for FIJI.
Jack Gosiewski – SEA EAGLES Injury has held him back last few years at South Sydney, a great opportunity at Manly will see him excel.
Oliver Clark -PENRITH PANTHERS Past NYC Captain at Penrith does everything right, I believe he’ll find his way into their top 17 this season.
Brent Naden – NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS Lacking in outside backs at the club, former NSW 20s fullback Naden will get an opportunity this season and I think we’ll see him reach his potential in the Knights backline.