The 2021 NRL season is just over a week away and with clubs going through their final preparations we take the opportunity to run the rule through all their changes and premiership chances.
Coach: Kevin Walters
New signings: John Asiata (Cowboys), David Mead (Catalans), Dale Copley (Titans)
Departures: David Fifita (Titans), Sean O'Sullivan (Warriors), Jack Bird (Dragons), Joe Ofahengaue (Tigers), John Asiata (Cowboys), Andrew McCullough (Dragons), Darius Boyd (retired), Matt Gillett (retired), Jamil Hopoate (released), Jordan Kahu (released), Richie Kennar (released), Ilikena Vudogo (released), Issac Luke (released)
First five games: Eels (H), Titans (A). Bulldogs (H), Storm (A), Rabbitohs (A)
Predicted finish: 9th
New coach Kevin Walters has arrived and has put the cleaners through the club after last year's dismal wooden spoon performance. The Broncos have way too much pride to repeat that effort and Walters could be the man to bring the players together in a backs-to-the-wall climb up the ladder. The biggest concern is that despite a busload of players departing, they haven't really done much in the recruitment department. Walters could be looking to a Baby Broncos mentality, rebuilding the club on the wealth of their vast local talent pool.
Coach: Ricky Stuart
New signings: Harry Rushton (Wigan), Ryan James (Titans), Caleb Aekins (Panthers), Albert Hopoate (Sea Eagles).
Departures: John Bateman (Wigan), Nick Cotric (Bulldogs), Michael Oldfield (Eels), Sebastian Kris (released)
First five games: Tigers (H), Sharks (A), Warriors (H), Titans (A), Panthers (A)
Predicted finish: 1st
The Raiders struggled without hooker Josh Hodgson last year, but still only missed the Grand Final by one game. The year before they went desperately close to winning the club's fourth title. If Ricky Stuart can keep his key players on the field, they have all the pieces in place to go all the way. They have a relatively cozy start to the season and should be up near the top of the ladder from the start.
Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
Coach: Trent Barrett
New signings: Nick Cotric (Raiders), Corey Waddell (Sea Eagles), Jack Hetherington (Panthers), Kyle Flanagan (Roosters), Corey Allan (Rabbitohs)
Departures: Kieran Foran (Sea Eagles), Marcelo Montoya (Warriors), Aiden Tolman (Sharks), Sauaso Sue (Knights), Jack Cogger (Huddersfield), Kerrod Holland (retired), Tim Lafai (Eels), Isaiah Tass (released)
First five games: Knights (A), Panthers (H), Broncos (A), Rabbitohs (H), Storm (H)
Predicted finish: 12th
The Bulldogs have undergone a big facelift under new coach Trent Barrett. In their trial game against the Sharks they showed that their outside backs are still having difficulty counting, but they did come out on top in that first hit-out. Barrett has a real task on his hands turning this team into a match-winning unit, but he has started pulling together the pieces he'll need to make the transformation. He'll need a year under his belt and a couple more key ingredients before they become a threat from 2022.
Cronulla Sutherland Sharks
Coach: John Morris
New signings: Aiden Tolman (Bulldogs), Luke Metcalf (Sea Eagles)
Departures: Cameron King (retired), Jayson Bukuya (retired), Scott Sorensen (Panthers), Bryson Goodwin (released), Kayleb Milne (released)
First five games: Dragons (A), Raiders (H), Eels (A), Cowboys (H), Roosters (A)
Predicted finish: 15th
Five games into the season and we should have a clear idea of how well the Sharks are going to go. They haven't really made many changes to the squad and injuries to key players last year exposed a troubling depth issue. On their day they will beat anyone, but they struggle to turn up with the necessary focus each and every week.
Gold Coast Titans
Coach: Justin Holbrook
New signings: Tino Fa'asuamaleaui (Storm), Herman Ese'ese (Knights), David Fifita (Broncos), Patrick Herbert (Warriors), Sam McIntyre (Tigers)
Departures: Jai Arrow (Rabbitohs), Ryan James (Raiders), Young Tonumaipea (rugby union), Bryce Cartwright (Eels), Keegan Hipgrave (Eels), Dale Copley (Broncos), Shannon Boyd (retired), Nathan Peats (released), Tyrone Roberts (released)
First five games: Warriors (A), Broncos (H), Cowboys (A), Raiders (H), Knights (H)
Predicted finish: 7th
The Titans are everyone's tip to be the big improvers this season after finishing last year strongly. They have added some real muscle to the forwards, while giving the whole roster a good clean-out. On paper they really should be a threat right into the finals, whether they can maintain the consistency throughout the season is yet to be seen.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
Coach: Des Hasler
New signings: Andrew Davey (Parramatta), Kieran Foran (Bulldogs), Christian Tuipulotu (Roosters), Jason Saab (Dragons), Josh Aloiai (Wests Tigers)
Departures: Joel Thompson (St Helens), Corey Waddell (Bulldogs), Addin Fonua-Blake (Warriors), Albert Hopoate (Raiders), Luke Metcalf (Sharks), Jade Anderson (released), Brendan Elliot (released), Danny Levi (released), Tony Williams (released)
First five games: Roosters (A), Rabbitohs (H), Dragons (A), Panthers (H), Warriors (A)
Predicted finish: 11th
The Sea Eagles had a better than expected season last year and welcome back old favourite Kieran Foran for 2021. They have already lost Tom Trbojevic for the first few weeks of the season and they face a tough couple of games to start the year. It will be interesting to see what Des Hasler does with Foran and what difference he will make to the balance of the team.
Coach: Craig Bellamy
New signings: George Jennings (Eels), Reimis Smith (Bulldogs), Harry Grant (returns from Tigers loan)
Departures: Suliasi Vunivalu (rugby union), Tino Fa'asuamaleaui (Titans), Paul Momirovski (Returns to Tigers after loan), Albert Vete (Hull KR), Ricky Leutele (Huddersfield), Cameron Smith (released), Sandor Earl (released)
First five games: Rabbitohs (H), Eels (A), Panthers (A), Broncos (A), Bulldogs (A)
Predicted finish: 5th
The big question hanging over the Storm is how they will adapt without Cameron Smith. Harry Grant is a great replacement, but will miss the opening rounds with a knee injury, but he is not yet Smith calibre. The Storm have survived the departures of Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater, but Smith to the Storm is Tom Brady to the New England Patriots. Unlike the Patriots, they should still make the finals, purely on the strength of Craig Bellamy's clever recruitment and coaching nous.
Coach: Adam O'Brien
New signings: Bailey Hodgson (Castleford), Dominic Young (Huddersfield), Tyson Frizell (Dragons), Sauaso Sue (Bulldogs), Jack Johns (Rabbitohs), Brayden Musgrove (Cessnock)
Departures: Herman Ese'ese (Titans), Andrew McCullough (Dragons), Sione Mata'utia (St Helens), Mason Lino (Wakefield Trinity), Tautau Moga (Rabbitohs), Aidan Guerra (retired), Tim Glasby (retired)
First five games: Bulldogs (H), Warriors (A), Tigers (H), Dragons (H), Titans (A)
Predicted finish: 6th
The Knights have made some decent moves on the player market, adding Tyson Frizell and Sauaso Sue to the engine room as well as a couple of astute buys from England. If they can manage to have their best line-up on the paddock they are capable of beating any side. If Kalyn Ponga can survive the full season he could be leading the Knights deep into the finals.
New Zealand Warriors
Coach: Nathan Brown
New signings: Ben Murdoch-Masila (Warrington), Kane Evans (Eels), Euan Aitken (Dragons), Addin Fonua-Blake (Manly), Iliesa Ratuva (rugby union), Sean O'Sullivan (Broncos), Marcelo Montoya (Bulldogs), Bayley Sironen (Rabbitohs)
Departures: Lachlan Burr (Cowboys), Isaiah Papali'i (Eels), Taane Milne (Rabbitohs), Patrick Herbert (Titans), Nathaniel Roache (Eels), Agnatius Paasi (St Helens), Adam Keighran (Roosters), Adam Blair (retired), Gerard Beale (retired) First five games: Titans (H), Knights (H), Raiders (A), Roosters (A), Sea Eagles (H)
Predicted finish: 13th
The Warriors did incredibly well last year to finish two wins outside the Top 8, considering they had to move to Australia in order to play at all and then saw coach Steve Kearney unceremoniously sacked. They are currently holed up in Australia again, with another Auckland lockdown crushing hopes of a return to New Zealand any time soon. They lost interim coach Todd Payton to the Cowboys, with experienced mentor Nathan Brown stepping in. Brown has already put his broom through the playing ranks and it will be interesting to see how well he can bring the new squad together.
North Queensland Cowboys
Coach: Todd Payton
New signing: Lachlan Burr (Warriors), Kane Bradley (Tigers), Javid Bowen
Departures: Tom Opacic (Eels), John Asiata (Broncos), Tuki Simpkins (Tigers), Daniel Russell (released), Gavin Cooper (retired)
First five games: Panthers (A), Dragons (H), Titans (H), Sharks (A), Tigers (A)
Predicted finish: 10th
The Cowboys had a really ordinary season last year as injuries and a lack of Johnathan Thurston really started to bite. With an almost brand new stadium, which hopefully will be packed with some classic North Queensland home ground support, and a new coach in Todd Payten, they should improve on last year's 14th place finish. With Valentine Holmes struggling a bit at fullback and Michael Morgan fighting injuries in the halves, it's hard to see the Cowboys improving enough to crack the Top 8.
Coach: Brad Arthur
New signings: Keegan Hipgrave, Bryce Cartwright (Titans), Michael Oldfield (Raiders), Tom Opacic (Cowboys), Isaiah Papali'i (Warriors), Joey Lussick (Salford), Nathaniel Roache (Warriors - Dev squad). Tim Lafai (Bulldogs - for Canterbury Cup)
Departures: Kane Evans (Warriors), Andrew Davey (Sea Eagles), George Jennings (Storm), Stefano Utoikamanu (Tigers), Jai Field (Wigan), Brad Takairangi (Hull KR), Daniel Alvaro (Dragons), Jaeman Salmon (Panthers), Rhys Davies (released), David Gower (retired), Peni Terepo (retired)
First five games: Broncos (A), Storm (H), Sharks (H ), Tigers (A), Dragons (H)
Predicted finish: 8th
The Eels have had a fairly neutral off season, despite quite a few arrivals and departures. You can't say they have lost any big names, nor have they signed any. What Eels fans will be hoping is that Brad Arthur has weeded out the passengers and injected some of the consistent commitment they'll need to be really competitive. With a season behind them, a lot will be expected from the halves combination of Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown. They should make the finals, but will struggle against some of the stronger teams.
Coach: Ivan Cleary
New signings: Robert Jennings (Wests Tigers), Matt Eisenhuth (Wests Tigers), Jaeman Salmon (Eels), Scott Sorensen (Sharks), Paul Momirovski (Wests Tigers)
Departures: Jack Hetherington (Bulldogs), Caleb Aekins (Raiders), James Tamou (Wests Tigers), Josh Mansour (Rabbitohs), Zane Tetevano (Leeds Rhinos), Daine Laurie (Wests Tigers), Dean Whare (Catalans), Dean Blore (released), Malakai Watene-Zelezniak (released), Pat Hollis (released), Brayden McGrady (released)
First five games: Cowboys (H), Bulldogs (A), Storm (H), Sea Eagles (A), Raiders (H)
Predicted finish: 3rd
The Panthers went within one win of the premiership last season, being undone by the wily combination of Craig Bellamy and Cameron Smith. They'll have all that experience under their belts as they look to go one better this year. One major concern is that their depth has been heavily raided by other clubs during the off season, so they'll need another year devoid of major injuries. If they can keep the majority of their squad healthy they should go close to winning the club's third title.
St George Illawarra Dragons
Coach: Anthony Griffin
New signings: Poasa Faamausili (Roosters), Jack Bird (Broncos), Daniel Alvaro (Eels), Andrew McCullough (Broncos)
Departures: Tyson Frizell (Knights), Euan Aitken (Warriors), Jason Saab (Sea Eagles), James Graham (St Helens), Jacob Host (Rabbitohs), Korbin Sims (Hull KR), Joe Lovodua (released), Tristan Sailor (released)
First five games: Sharks (H), Cowboys (A), Sea Eagles (H), Knights (A), Eels (A)
Predicted finish: 16th
The Dragons have said goodbye to some prime NRL playing stock since last season, as new coach Anthony Griffin looks for a fresh start after recent seasons filled with mediocrity. What isn't apparent is how he plans to replace those experienced players, with Jack Bird and Andrew McCullough being their only significant signings. It looks to be a long period of rebuilding as Ben Hunt's contract winds down towards its conclusion at the end of 2022. Fresh faces and a new coach might spur them on to avoid the wooden spoon, but it won't be by much.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Coach: Wayne Bennett
New signings: Jai Arrow (Titans), Jacob Host (Dragons), Taane Milne (Warriors), Tautau Moga (Knights), Josh Mansour (Panthers), Benji Marshall (Wests Tigers)
Departures: James Roberts (Tigers), Bayley Sironen (Warriors), Jack Johns (Knights), Joseph Suaalii (Roosters), Corey Allan (Bulldogs), Ethan Lowe (retired), Tom Amone (released), Cory Denniss (released), Kurt Dillon (released), Ky Rodwell (released)
First five games: Storm (A), Sea Eagles (A), Roosters (H), Bulldogs (A), Broncos (H)
Predicted finish: 2nd
The Rabbitohs look good right across the park with the additions of Jai Arrow, Benji Marshall and Josh Mansour adding some class and experience to the squad. They start the season with three real tests, before what should be easier games against the Bulldogs and Broncos. They should be flying high after the first five rounds and I see them playing in the Grand Final this year. With master coach Wayne Bennett pulling the right strings to see them overcome their recent Preliminary Final hoodoo, they'll go very close to adding another premiership to their club's proud history.
Coach: Trent Robinson
New signings: Adam Keighran (Warriors), Joseph Suaalii (Rabbitohs)
Departures: Kyle Flanagan (Bulldogs), Poasa Faamausili (Dragons), Ryan Hall (Hull KR), Christian Tuipulotu (Sea Eagles), Mitchell Aubusson (retired), Sonny Bill Williams (released)
First five games: Sea Eagles (H), Tigers (A), Rabbitohs (A), Warriors (H), Sharks (H)
Predicted finish: 4th
The Roosters have established themselves as one of the competition's leading clubs, but it's not easy to stay at the very top for sustained periods of time. For the second season running they will start a new halves pairing, after releasing Kyle Flanagan to the Bulldogs. Lachlan Lam will join Luke Keary and look to fire a backline that contains some aging legs in the Morris twins. Waiting in the wings for his opportunity will be Joseph Suaalii who has already impressed in a trial against the big boys. The Roosters will be well in every game they play, but their recent premiership window could just about be closed.
Coach: Michael Maguire
New signings: James Roberts (Rabbitohs), Stefano Utoikamanu (Eels), James Tamou (Panthers), Joe Ofahengaue (Broncos), Tuki Simpkins (Cowboys), Daine Laurie (Panthers)
Departures: Chris McQueen (Huddersfield), Robert Jennings (Panthers), Matt Eisenhuth (Panthers), Harry Grant (Storm, loan over), Sam McIntyre (Titans), Josh Aloiai (Sea Eagles), Josh Reynolds (Hull FC), Elijah Taylor (Salford Red Devils), Kane Bradley (Cowboys), Benji Marshall (Rabbitohs), Paul Momirovski (Panthers), Chris Lawrence (retired)
First five games: Raiders (A), Roosters (H), Knights (A), Eels (H), Cowboys (H)
Predicted finish: 14th
The Tigers have lost some big-name players heading into 2021 and although they have bolstered the forwards, the addition of Daine Laurie and James Roberts to the backline doesn't scream that the end of the finals drought is on its way. The departure of Harry Grant is going to have an enormous impact on their work around the ruck and the cohesion needed between dummy-half and Luke Brooks at half. They face an extremely tough start to the season and it is hard to see them pinching any points in the first five rounds. It could be a long year for the Tigers.