The 2018 season of the National Rugby League kicks off with the Brisbane Broncos clashing with traditional rivals Saint George. The Broncos ($11) and the Dragons ($17) have a proud history, with the Dragons falling to the Broncos in two grand-finals in the 1990’s. 2018 shapes as an intriguing season, with the Melbourne Storm aiming to become the first side since the Brisbane Broncos to defend their NRL title.’
The Storm ($6.50) have been the competition benchmark for some time and currently are the holders of the minor premiership, premiership and World Club Title. The North Queensland Cowboys ($5.50) and Sydney City Roosters ($5) have the players to stop the Storm from achieving another accolade.
It promises to be an exciting season and there’s plenty of value to be found in the betting market.
The Broncos have had a quiet off-season in terms of the player recruitment, with halfback Ben Hunt leaving to take up a big money offer from the Dragons and forward Adam Blair leaving to join the New Zealand Warriors.
The Broncos made an early move for Cronulla star Jack Bird and brought in his teammate Sam Tagataese to bolster their front row stocks. Bird was injured in the pre-season and it could be some time before we see him in a Broncos jersey. The most controversial addition to the Broncos was former Tigers player Matt Lodge. Lodge was only recently allowed to return to the NRL after an off-field altercation in the US. Wayne Bennett will be banking on the Anthony Milford to lead his side to the finals, and there’s speculation that the super coach could be looking to pass the coaching torch to the likes of Kevin Walters.
2017 RESULT: 3rd
2018 PREDICTION: 5th
Ricky Stuart will be looking for his side to bounce back from a forgettable 2017. The Green Machine has struggled to compete with the marquee clubs for some time and 2018 could be a make or break year for Stuart. Canberra have been able to retain the nucleus of the side that pushed the Storm in 2016, with Blake Austin and Adam Sezer starting in the halves for round one. The Raiders will be looking for a strong start to the season and will rely on Josh Papalii and Jarrod Croker to set the standard. The Raiders have the potential to push their way into the top eight and it would be no surprise to league pundits if they featured in September
2017 RESULT: 10th
The Bulldogs were buoyed by the outstanding editions of playmaker Kieran Foran and NSW representative Aaron Woods. After a mediocre performance in 2017, former club stalwart Dean Pay takes over the coaching duties from Des Hassler. Pay has a strong record at junior level and brings some new ideas to a club that has been running out of passion. Kieran Foran will be looking to recapture the spark that made him one of the best halves in the game. The Bulldogs will take some time to gel with a new halves combination and potentially could be one of the big improvers in the second half of the season.
2017 RESULT: 11th
2018 PREDICTION: 10th
The big match experience of the Sharks can’t be ignored, and Paul Gallen will be wanting to add a premiership ring to his cabinet before he leaves the Shire. The Sharks have recruited aggressively in the offseason adding name recruits Josh Dugan and Matt Moylan to replace Jack Bird and Gerard Beale. The loss of James Maloney will hurt the Sharks in the push to the finals as the NSW playmaker is a proven big match performer. Their breakthrough premiership gave Cronulla a newfound sense of self-belief and the Sharks will go deep into the finals in 2018
2018 PREDICTION: 4th
GOLD COAST TITANS
The Titans lurched from one drama to another in 2017 and it’s difficult to see an immediate improvement from the Gold Coast. Former Penrith junior coach Garth Brennan takes the coaching hot seat on the Gold Coast, with Neil Henry and Jarryd Hayne the big-name departures from 2017. The Gold Coast have one of the thinnest rosters in the league and early injuries could hurt their hopes of improving on last year. Brennan will be looking to use 2018 to develop his squad, with a view to pushing for finals action in 2019.
2017 RESULT: 15th
2018 PREDICTION: 16th
MANLY SEA EAGLES
Manly approach the 2018 season with the same 17 that got them into the sixth spot on the ladder in 2017. Blake Green was the only major departure from the side, in what was a failed attempt to lure Mitchell Pearce to the Sea Eagles. The fitness and form of Dale Cherry-Evans will be the key to Manly progressing deeper into the finals this season. If Evan’s can exploit the open spaces for Tom Trbojevic, then the Sea Eagles will cause their share of upsets this season.
2017 RESULT: 6th
2018 PREDICTION: 7th
The defending premiers head into the 2018 season without Cooper Cronk, who has moved to rivals the Sydney City Roosters. Brodie Croft steps into the playmaker role for Melbourne, with Cameron Munster, expected to play alongside him. The Storm won’t be too worried by the loss of Cronk, given Craig Bellamy’s ability to produce a number of high-quality playmakers over the years. Billy Slater heads into the season with question marks remaining over his fitness and this could be his last season in his competition. The Storm has added Sam Kasiano and Ryan Hoffman to their forward pack to cover the loss of Tohu Harris and Jordan McLean. If the spine of Billy Slater and Cameron Smith can stay fit, then Melbourne could break through to defend their title.
2017 RESULT: 1st
2018 PREDICTION: 1st
NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS
For all of their talent, the Warriors remain one of the most frustrating sides in the competition. New Zealand boasts an international backline and have added Gerard Beale and Adam Blair to make up for the loss of playmaker Kieran Foran. If the Warriors can’t improve their record on the road then this could be another long season for New Zealand fans. Blake Green needs to provide the Warriors with another stable playmaking option otherwise coach Stephen Kearney could be the first NRL coach on the chopping block.
2017 RESULT: 13th
2018 PREDICTION: 14th
The Knights won the race to sign former Sydney City Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce to play alongside young half Brock lamb. Newcastle have added the experience of Jacob Lillyman, Aiden Guerra and Chris Heighington to give some steal to a forward pack that has finished with the wooden spoon for the last three seasons. Expectations are high in the Hunter Valley, with the Knights hopes of success resting on the shoulders of Mitchell Pearce.
2017 RESULT: 16th
2018 PREDICTION: 15th
NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS
Paul Green has the task of adding the likes of premiership-winning prop Jordan McLean to a pack that includes wrecking ball Jason Taumalolo. The Cowboys shocked league pundits to make the journey to the league decider without Jonathan Thurston and Matt Scott. Thurston will be playing this season without the rigours of Origin football and if the Cowboys playmaker can stay fit, then North Queensland will challenge Melbourne for the title.
2017 RESULT: 2nd
2018 PREDICTION: 3rd
Jarryd Hayne joins an exciting Parramatta backline that includes Corey Norman and Mitchell Moses. How the Eels deal with the drama that follows Jarryd Hayne, could make or break their season. Parramatta are a well-drilled unit and will push the likes of the Storm, Cowboys and Roosters for a top three berth. Norman has the potential to slot into the Queensland Origin line-up depending on his early round performances with Parramatta.
2017 RESULT: 4th
2018 PREDICTION: 6th
Panthers coach Anthony Griffin could be one of the first NRL coaches to find himself under real pressure to hang onto his role if early round results don’t go as expected. James Maloney slots into the halves to take the pressure off the young and talented Nathan Cleary. With the departures of Matt Moylan and Bryce Cartwright, Anthony Griffin needs to restore some pride to the foot of the mountain by notching up some early season wins.
2017 RESULT: 7th
2018 PREDICTION: 8th
SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS
Greg Inglis returns to the Rabbitohs line-up after spending 207 on the sidelines with injury and is joined by new coach Anthony Seibold. The former Maroons Assistant Coach is charged with the regeneration of a South Sydney line-up that couldn’t make a major impact on the competition in 2017. Dane Gagai joins the Rabbitohs from Newcastle and Seibold will also need a full season from the Burgess brothers. The 2014 premiers face a battle to make the top eight in 2018 but will show plenty of improvement.
2017 RESULT: 12th
2018 PREDICTION: 12TH
SAINT GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
The Dragons have put all their money on former Bronco Bent Hunt providing the finesse that was sorely missing from their 2017 efforts. The Dragons need Hunt to hit the ground running in a partnership with Gareth Widdop that will be key to their chances of cracking the top eight. James Graham adds some leadership to their forward pack and new fullback Matt Dufty has shown plenty of promise in the off-season, replacing Jarryd Dugan. This will be a make or break season for Ben Hunt as the former Bronco has struggled for consistency over the last couple of seasons in the NRL.
2017 RESULT: 9th
2018 PREDICTION: 10th
The addition of Cooper Cronk gives the Roosters the leadership that they have missed in the halves for the last couple of seasons. James Tedesco and Latrell Mitchell will relish the opportunity to play on the outside of one of the genuine superstars of the last decade. The Storm playmaker brings a wealth of experience that makes the Roosters one of the pre-season favourites for the title. The Roosters have superstars across the park and anything less than a top-two finish would be considered a failure for the Bondi side.
2017 RESULT: 3rd
2018 PREDICTION: 2nd
Tigers fans have watched their marquee players walk out the exit door over the last two seasons and they’ve splashed the cash on Josh Reynolds, Russell Packer, Ben Matulino and Chris McQueen. Benji Marshall returns to the fold and will fill the bench utility role for the Tigers. There won’t be a dramatic improvement for the Tigers in 2018 and they’ll fight it out with Gold Coast Titans for the wooden spoon
2017 RESULT: 14th
2018 PREDICTION: 13th