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2017 NRL ladder predictions, team by team previews and NRL Premiership best bets

Posted on 28/02 by Joe Gann

2017 NRL ladder predictions, team by team previews and NRL Premiership best bets
2017 NRL Ladder Predictions

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The twentieth year of the NRL gets underway on March 2nd 2017 when reigning Premiers the Cronulla Sharks take on the Brisbane Broncos at the Southern Cross Group Stadium.

Here we take a look at the prospects of each of the sixteen teams that make up the World’s elite Rugby League competition. For the eleventh consecutive season, the sixteen established first grade clubs will battle it out for the right to take home the Provan-Summons trophy in October’s Grand Final showdown.

It is now two decades since the Murdoch/ Packer instigated ‘Super League War’ between the Australian Rugby League and Super League exploded; and changed the face of the modern game forever. The bitter feud between the two media moguls left behind an aftermath that had countless consequences on the game; after effects that are still being felt today.

A recurring theme throughout the years since the amalgamation of the two bodies has been the competitive nature of the league despite the continued presence of increasingly convoluted and questionable salary cap regulations.

The constant rotational nature of title challengers during the post-unification years has seen the biggest and richest clubs unable to maintain a stranglehold on the Premiership; thus preventing a closed shop situation materialising at the summit of the game.

It is a testament to the balanced nature of the league that in the nineteen seasons of the NRL, all nineteen champions have tried - and ultimately failed - to retain their hard-won crown. Tellingly, the last team to achieve this feat were the Brisbane Broncos back in the 1992/93 seasons.

In the past four years alone, eight different teams have made it through to the Grand Final. Those kind of statistics don’t auger well for the present incumbents, the Cronulla Sharks in their quest to become the first side in the NRL years to successfully defend their crown. After reaching the promised land of a first title in fifty years, will Shane Flanagan’s side be the first to go back-to-back in the modern-day era? History does not favour them.

2017 NRL Ladder forecast and Premiership betting odds
Team Odds
1st -> Melbourne Storm $8.00 Bet Now
2nd -> Canberra Raiders $9.00 Bet Now
3rd -> Cronulla Sharks $11.00 Bet Now
4th -> Penrith Panthers $9.00 Bet Now
5th -> Nth Queensland Cowboys $8.00 Bet Now
6th -> Parramatta Eels $17.00 Bet Now
7th -> Brisbane Broncos $10.00 Bet Now
8th -> Canterbury Bulldogs $17.00 Bet Now

Brisbane Broncos

Coach: Wayne Bennett

The signing of Benji Marshall has raised a few eyebrows in the game, particularly as coach Wayne Bennett has indicated that the off-season capture from the Dragons will be deployed at Left Centre.

After a career spent mainly at full-back, five–eighths or scrum half, question marks will surround the decision to utilise the 31 year old in an unfamiliar role against younger, speedier players.

The gaping hole in the pack left by club legend Corey Parker’s retirement will be one of the most crucial issues to be addressed by Bennett and the loss of Jarrod Wallace to the Titans will do nothing to lessen the void created by Parker’s loss. Bennett has plenty of depth in his roster with the likes of Darius Boyd, Corey Oates, James Roberts and Jordan Kahu supplemented by new additions Tautau Moga and Moses Pangai; the Broncos will certainly not be lacking in options in the outside backs positions.

With fourteen star names coming off contract in 2017, the upcoming season could be the last chance for this group of players to reclaim a first title for the club since 2006.

2016 saw the Queensland side fade badly after a bright start - they were leading the competition after 10 rounds – with State of Origin obligations playing a major role in the Bronco’s underachievement. Bennett’s side lost 7 of the 9 games during the Origin period between rounds 11 – 21. The 106 tries they amassed - the second most in the competition - suggests that attack is not a weak point of this team.

A late surge of form wasn’t quite enough to elevate the maroon and golds into one of the coveted top four spots and their fifth place finish ultimately proved to be their downfall – a trip to North Queensland in week 2 of the finals precipitated a dramatic sudden death defeat. 2016 will go down as a step back for the Grand finalists of the previous year and they will be hoping to make amends when the action starts up again next year.

Ins: Moses Pangai (Townsville Blackhawks), David Mead (Titans), Tautau Moga (Cowboys), Benji Marshall (Dragons).

Outs: Greg Eden (Castleford Tigers), Brett Greinke (Rabbitohs), Corey Parker (Retirement), Jarrod Wallace (Titans), Jack Reed (Retirement), Carlin Anderson (Cowboys), Darren Nicholls (Panthers), Lachlan Maranta (Queensland Reds – Rugby Union).

Broncos Ladder prediction: 7th

Broncos 2017 Premiership odds: $8.00

Broncos 2017 Top 8 odds: $1.30


Canberra Raiders

Coach: Ricky Stuart.

2016 was a hugely progressive year for the team from the capital; before the season commenced the Raiders were twelfth favourites for the title. A remarkable year saw the Raiders tot up a mammoth 688 points, 105 more than the next highest attacking points scorers, the North Queensland Cowboys.

Boss Ricky Stuart has assembled an extremely strong, well-balanced side which gained in confidence as the season progressed. Although they just fell short in the preliminary finals at Melbourne, they were in superlative form coming into the finals, courtesy of a ten game winning streak.

Captain Jarrod Croker - with 18 tries and 112 goals - was comfortably the league’s highest scorer. Aided by a hugely impressive debut season from Josh Hodgson and the continued excellence of Blake Austin, they have genuine top-class match winners amongst their ranks.

Key recruits Aidan Sezer and Elliott Whitehead also added a much needed mixture of organisational brilliance and steel to the team. With Joseph Leilua and Jordan Rapana proving to be the most prolific edge combination in the NRL, going forward the Greens were a sometimes an irresistible force.

However, the defence didn’t quite live up to the standard set by the all -conquering attack and the 456 points conceded – ranking seventh in that particular league table – is an aspect of their game in which Stuart will surely be looking to improve upon.

Dave Taylor is currently with the club on a train and trial basis following a stint in the Super League with French outfit Catalan Dragons. On the face of it, the potential recruitment of the ex- Titans, Broncos and Rabbitohs powerhouse would seem like a risky move given his off-field troubles in recent times.

However, if the man mountain can regain the kind of form that earned him eight Origin caps and a place in the Kangaroos squad in 2012, it could prove to be a shrewd move on Stuart’s part.

This is a squad brimming with potential and it is hard to see anything other than the Green Machine once more challenging at the top of the ladder in 2017. They will have high hopes of improving on a surprisingly successful campaign last time out and will be strong contenders to become 2017 Premiers.

Ins: Jordan Turner (St Helens), Dunamis Lui (Dragons), Makahesi Makatoa (Bulldogs).

Outs: Lachlan Lewis (Bulldogs), Sisa Waqa (Rugby Union), Zac Woolford (Bulldogs), Sam Williams (Wakefield), Brenko Lee (Bulldogs), Paul Vaughan (Dragons).

Raiders Ladder prediction: 2nd

Raiders 2017 Premiership odds: $9.00

Raiders 2017 Top 8 odds: $1.40


Canterbury Bulldogs

Coach: Des Hasler

Des Hasler is under mounting pressure as head coach and a solid start to the season is imperative if he is to stand any chance of extending his stay at Belmore beyond this current contract, which ends at the end of 2017.

A recent board meeting saw club legend Steve Mortimer resign his position in protest at Hasler’s continued presence at the club, in an unsuccessful attempt to force the rest of the board members to jettison the beleaguered coach.

The Bulldogs have never failed to qualify for the finals under Hasler’s guidance but more will be expected; an improvement on 2016, where the dogs exited the competition in week one with barely a whimper, will be the minimum expectation for the two-time grand final winning coach. He will be tasked with rediscovering the ‘Dogs of War’ mentality; a culture synonymous with the club’s famed bulldog spirit.

After an inconsistent campaign; not helped by the loss of Brett Morris for four months to a knee injury and Trent Hodkinson’s move to Newcastle. The sight of Michael Ennis playing some career best rugby on his way to the title with the Sharks rubbed salt in the wounds for the struggling Dogs.

However, their strength lies in their powerful pack; in David Klemmer, Aiden Tolman and impact prop Sam Kasiano, the Blue and Whites have plenty of firepower up front. The Dogs who possess conceivably the best pack around; at the forefront of which is Captain James Graham who, with a total of 4177 run metres at an average of 167 per game, was the leading forward in the division.

Nevertheless, the loss Hodgkinson to the Knights was a stark reminder of a pressing need for a playmaker who can take advantage of the groundwork laid by the formidable pack ahead of them.

The most consistent performer of the campaign was Josh Jackson, the right edge back rower had a terrific season and won the Brad Fittler medal for NSW’s best during Origin – the first ever Canterbury representative to receive the accolade.

The lowest scorers in the top eight; a lack of continued pressure and control of games will be a concern. With a mere twenty nine repeat sets all season, an average of just over one per game, the Dogs struggled to impose themselves when up against teams such as Storm and Cowboys. Last year they finished seventh and they will have a fight on their hands to scrape into the eight again this year.

Ins: Zac Woolford (Raiders), Josh Cleeland (Sharks), Rhyse Martin (Townsville Blackhawks), Brenko Lee (Raiders), Tom Carr (Dragons), Francis Tualau (Storm), Richard Kennar (Storm).

Outs: Pat O’Hanlon (Retirement), Sam Perrett (Retirement), Curtis Rona (Rugby Union- Western Force), Tim Browne (Panthers), Tony Williams (Sharks), Richard Coorey (Released), Makahesi Makatoa (Raiders), Jarrod McInally (Queensland Intrust Super Cup), Graham Clark (Released), Jake Kamire (Released), Reubenn Rennie (Released), Lamar Liolevave (Released).

Bulldogs Ladder prediction: 8th

Bulldogs 2017 Premiership odds: $17.00

Bulldogs 2017 Top 8 odds: $2.00

Cronulla Sharks

Coach: Shane Flanagan

The euphoria of the Grand Final victory over Storm has finally abated and the Sharks are faced with the dubious honour of entering the 2017 season as the team to beat.

The loss of two key players - mainstays Michael Ennis and Ben Barba - will no doubt weaken the defending Premiers, but with confidence sky high after finally breaking the fifty year Premiership hoodoo, it is hard to see anything but another top four finish for the club from the Shire.

After amassing an incredible fifteen straight victories, providing five Origin representatives and adopting an expansive, thrilling playing style, 2016 was truly a vintage year for Cronulla. Despite dominating for large periods of the year, a round 26 loss to the Storm consigned the Sharks to a third place finish on the ladder.

The back three of Ben Barba, Valentine Holmes and Sosaia Feki combined to contribute 49 tries to the cause; Holmes finished the season with a superb nineteen try haul that saw him equal club legend David Peachy’s record for tries in a season.

Jack Bird and Wade Graham will be amongst the younger generation that will be expected to counteract the effect of the losses of big names Barba (a failed drug test saw him released by the Sharks and simultaneously banned for 12 games by the NRL) and Ennis who retired at the end of a career in which he racked up a superb total of eighteen finals appearances.

No doubt, they will hoping to recreate last season’s home record - the Sharks’ magnificent performances in their own back-yard saw them win 11 of their 12 matches at the Southern Cross Group Stadium. However, it will be difficult to recreate the fortune with injuries that they enjoyed in 2016;

Barba and Chad Townsend who featured in all 27 matches were amongst ten sharks who managed upwards of twenty five appearances. Next season they will be in the unusual position of being the prized scalp of the league; furthermore, they will also have to guard against the threat of complacency that may now creep in after finally putting to an end the barren period of fifty long trophyless years.

It may well be that the hunger for success has been sated by that famous night at the ANZ back in October. It will be a big season for both the Sharks and for coach Shane Flanagan who will be looking for his Champion squad to kick on in 2017.

Ins: Manaia Cherrington (Wests Tigers), Tony Williams (Bulldogs), Jeremy Latimore (Panthers).

Outs: David Fifita (Released), Mitch Brown (Leigh), Josh Cleeland (Bulldogs), Michael Ennis (Retirement), Connor Tracey (Rabbitohs), Jesse Sene-Lefao (Castleford Tigers), Ben Barba (Released), Jacob Gregan (Knights).

Sharks Ladder prediction: 3rd

Sharks 2017 Premiership odds: $11.00

Sharks 2017 Top 8 odds: $1.45

Gold Coast Titans

Coach: Neil Henry

2016 heralded a drastic and unexpected improvement from the Titans; with the bonus of a welcome yet fleeting finals appearance. The mid-season acquisition of former Dally M medallist Jarryd Hayne after his brief flirtation with the NFL was a highlight, although he struggled to replicate his sparkling performances at full back. Filling in at five eighths was an experiment that didn’t quite pay off as the former Eels man failed to totally gel with his new teammates and a move back to his more familiar full back role this year, as well as the completion of a full pre-season training will hopefully see a return to the sparkling form that saw him develop into one of the game’s brightest talents.

The recruitment of back rower Kevin Proctor is a huge show of intent; the Kiwi international was an integral cog in the Storm’s Minor Premiership winning machine last term and brings a wealth of experience to the side. The addition of Dan Sarginson from Wigan Warriors could also be an astute piece of business; a Grand Final winner in 2016, the latest import from the English Super League will be hoping to emulate the success of fellow ex pats James Graham, Sam Burgess and Josh Hodgson.

Coach Neil Henry has built a hard-working, gutsy outfit and he was rewarded with a first, albeit brief, Finals appearance since 2010. The standout performance of the season was undoubtedly the 18-18 draw with the Sharks that brought the Sydneysiders’ 15 game winning streak to a shuddering halt; proof that this side has the capability to compete with the top sides.

There is a palpable sense of optimism surrounding the Titans; the improved home attendances of 14,000 in each of the final four home games, coinciding with the success of a top eight finish, indicates that this is a club on the up. After putting the difficulties of recent years behind them, they can look towards 2017 as a chance to build upon a satisfying last campaign.

Ins: Dan Sarginson (Wigan), Jarrod Wallace (Broncos), Kevin Proctor (Storm), Paterika Vaivai (Free Agent.

Outs: Nathan Friend (Retirement), David Hala (Released), Nene Macdonald (Dragons), David Mead (Broncos), Cameron Cullen (Sea Eagles), Luke Douglas (St Helens), Josh Hoffman (Eels), Greg Bird (Released), Jed Cartwright (Panthers).

Titans Ladder Prediction: Ninth

Titans 2017 Premiership odds: $15.00

Titans 2017 Top 8 odds: $1.90

Manly Sea Eagles

Coach: Trent Barrett.

The prospect of a third consecutive year without finals football is incomprehensible for a club that once took top eight finishes as a given; the days when the Sea Eagles qualified ten years in a row now seems like a distant memory. The 2016 campaign will be remembered as a year in which an excessive recruitment policy proved to be the downfall of the Brookvale club. The overhaul of playing staff, which included the four major signings of Nate Myles, Martin Taupau, Lewis Brown and Dylan Walker, initially inspired widespread optimism as the season got underway. However, the impressive looking roster struggled to live up to its potential, as injuries and poor form hampered the Sea Eagles progress. The clumsy manner in which the club dealt with the departure of outgoing coach Geoff Toovey provided an unnecessary distraction behind the scenes; while on the pitch inconsistency of selection, combined with the loss of key players Steve Matai and Brett Stewart for large parts of the year played a huge part in the fluctuating nature of results. A seven game losing streak between rounds nine to sixteen proved to be fatal to any hopes that they had in competing in the finals; this period also served to highlight the current gulf between Manly and the top sides.

2017 does not look like offering any more stability to Coach Trent Barrett, who after enduring a baptism of fire in his rookie season, will be required to steady the ship in the short-term. His job will not be made any easier virtue of the fact that fourteen players were released prior to the new campaign; the retirement of club captain Jamie Lyon looks likely to be the biggest blow of all.

Melbourne’s Blake Green has been drafted in to partner Daly Cherry-Evans in the halves and with the expected return to action of Stewart and Matai, in addition to the form of the Trbojevic brothers, Manly still possess quality in abundance. Attempting to restore a sense of calm to the club, consistency to performances and a return to the decade of dominance will be the huge obstacles facing Barrett this year.

Ins: Frank Winterstein (Rugby Union), Shaun Lane (Warriors), Blake Green (Storm), Cameron Cullen (Titans), Akuila Uate (Knights), Curtis Sironen (Tigers).

Outs: Jamie Lyon (Retirement), Tim Moltzen (Retired), Tom Symonds (Huddersfield Giants), Siosia Vave (Eels), Liam Knight (Roosters), Nathan Green (Released), Blake Leary (Released), Isaac John (Released), Jayden Hodges (Released), Rhys Armstrong (Released), Fabian Goodall (Rugby Union). Halaufa Lavaka (Released), Tony Satini (Released), Dylan Kelly (Released), Hugh Pratt (Released), Nicho Hynes (Released), Darcy Cox (Released), Josh Starling (Knights), Jamie Buhrer (Knights), Brayden Williame (Catalans).

Sea Eagles Ladder Prediction: Twelfth

Sea Eagles 2017 Premiership odds: $21.00

Sea Eagles 2017 Top 8 odds: $2.10

Melbourne Storm

Coach: Craig Bellamy.

The Storm may yet reap the rewards from the controversial decision not to take part in the upcoming World Club Championship. The club has cited the taxing travel obligations associated with a regulation NRL season as a non-Sydney team as a reason for the withdrawal and have instead opted to play two trial matches in Australia as preparation to the new campaign.

The impending return of superstar full-back Billy Slater after two injury blighted years will come as a massive boost to a squad depleted by the loss of key personnel in the off-season. During Slater’s absence, young star Cameron Munster has been assigned the unenviable task of filling the boots of the Queensland legend, and he has performed his duties fantastically well. If, as expected, Slater does make his comeback, a move to the backs for the outstanding Munster would look like the obvious choice for his development. With Blake Green’s switch to fierce rivals Manly, the timing of this positional tweak could work out nicely for the Storm.

The roster for 2017 will boast an average age of just twenty two; the invaluable seasoned campaigners that form the core of this team will be complemented well by an influx of talented new blood. Competition for places at the club is fierce; nowhere more so than at five eighths, where Coach Craig Bellamy has no fewer than five players vying for the shirt. Brodie Croft, Jahrome Hughes, Curtis Scott and Ryley Jacks will all provide competition to Munster as to who will partner Cooper Cronk in the halves. Joe Stimson is a new addition to the first-grade squad; a graduate of the under 20’s system, the highly regarded youngster may be the man given the chance to replace the outgoing Kevin Proctor.

A difficult opening draw; in which they face the Bulldogs, Warriors, Broncos, Panthers and, in a repeat of October’s Grand Final, the Sharks will provide an acid test to the Storm’s chances of repeating their traditionally strong start to a season. However, this may be to the Victorians’ benefit, as four home games in the last six of the season may pave the way for another successful year for Bellamy’s side. The sheer match-winning ability of this team, armed with a formidable defence, make it hard to overlook the Storm as competition favourites once more. With the possible reunion of the Holy Trinity of Cronk, Slater and Cameron Smith for one last hurrah, it would be brave to wager against the Melbourne club who will have redemption in mind following the heartbreak of last October’s Grand Final loss.

Ins: Josh Addo-Carr (Wests Tigers), Brandon Smith (Cowboys), Vincent Leuluai (Roosters), Jahrome Hughes (Cowboys), Ryley Jacks (Sunshine Coast Falcons).

Outs: Marika Koroibete (Rugby Union), Josh Kerr (Dragons), Ryan Morgan (St Helens), Blake Green (Sea Eagles), Ben Hampton (Cowboys), Richard Kenner (Bulldogs), Kevin Proctor (Titans).

Storm Ladder Prediction: Premiers

Storm 2017 Premiership odds: $8.00

Storm 2017 Top 8 odds: $1.30

Recommended Bet
Melbourne Storm to win Minor Premiership @ $8.00 $250 Bonus Bet*

Newcastle Knights

Coach: Nathan Brown
After the loss of over 1000 games of experience coming into the season, the admirable decision to fill the void with youth and investment in local talent understandably didn’t generate an instant pay-off. With just one win – coming in Round Six against Wests – 2016 was a season to forget for everyone associated with the Knights. An eighteen game losing streak immediately followed that single success and the awful figures - 800 points conceded and just 305 points achieved at the other end of the park - are two of the most glaring statistics of a miserable campaign.

The previous year had finished with the ignominy of the wooden spoon ‘award’ and in 2016, Nathan Brown’s side managed to sink further; conspiring to equal the 1993 Gold Coast Seagulls’ record of just a solitary win in a season. The 2016 Knights can be bracketed together with the 1999 Wests Magpies for the unwelcome tag of Worst NRL team of all time.

The magnificent home support, averaging 14,457 at each home game, is a huge positive for a club presiding over consecutive last place finishes. Another bright spot in a sea of negativity is the hope that the exposure to first-grade competition will accelerate the progress of young prospects like the Saifiti twins, Brock Lamb, Jack Cogger and Sione Mata’utia. Their hopes of avoiding a hat-trick of wooden spoons may depend on it.

Ins: Jamie Buhrer (Sea Eagles), Rory Kostjasyn (Cowboys), Ken Sio (Hull KR), Josh Starling (Sea Eagles), Jacob Gagan (Sharks).

Knights Ladder Prediction: Sixteenth

Knights 2017 Premiership odds: $201.00

Knights 2017 Top 8 odds: $10.00

New Zealand Warriors

Coach: Stephen Kearney

It was yet another underwhelming season at Mt Smart. With such a top quality roster, it must be incredibly frustrating for the fans to watch a side that can promise so much at various times during the season but ultimately fail to deliver when it matters most. The 2016 season played out to an increasingly familiar script – there was the usual surge in form around Origin, the time to capitalise on rivals losing their top players.

However, it was the late season implosion that was the real talking point when reviewing how the Warriors had fared. For five years in a row now they have managed to deprive themselves of an appearance on the biggest stage. However, 2016 saw the New Zealand side finish the season in particularly catastrophic fashion; needing just two wins from the final four matches – three of which were at home – they somehow contrived to lose the lot.

There were some mitigating circumstances that Coach Stephen Kearney can point to as a reason for the below par year – such as big name signing Roger Tuivasa- Sheck missing all but seven games due to an ACL tear. But on the whole, a squad containing the likes of Isaac Luke, Shaun Johnson, Ben Matulino, Solomone Kata and Simon Mannering should be making the play offs as a matter of course.

A more serene off season should help going into 2017; with the sole big name departure of Thomas Leuluai promising a calmer recruitment policy than in previous years. The acquisition of Kieron Foran could be seen as a gamble, but the thought of him teaming up with Johnson in the centres is a potentially mouth-watering prospect.

There is still the underlying feeling that the enviable talent they possess is going to waste though; and that underachievement is becoming the norm at Mt Smart.

Ins: Kieran Foran (Eels).

Outs: Raymond Faitala-Mariner (Bulldogs), Thomas Leuluai (Wigan), Shaun Lane (Sea Eagles).

Warriors Ladder Prediction: Tenth

Warriors 2017 Premiership odds: $11.00

Warriors 2017 Top 8 odds: $1.55

North Queensland Cowboys

Coach: Paul Green

Like Queensland neighbours Brisbane, the Cowboys were hit massively by Origin participation. Six of their players represented the two states – a club record. With three quarters of the salary cap disappearing over the series, it is an almost impossible task to cater for such monumental loss.

The tail end of the year saw another legendary match up with the Broncos and the expended energy seemed to take its toll in the subsequent game as an error packed performance against the Sharks in the preliminary final put paid to the Cowboys’ hopes of retaining their crown. The reigning Premiers became the team to beat last year and the unrelenting competition may have played a part at the end of a draining, season-long battle.

The inability to secure home advantage may also have been the final straw, proving to be an insurmountable obstacle at the climax of a brutal campaign.

The sight of Dally M medallist Jason Taumalolo taking part in an NFL workout will be a concern to the Blackhawks, with the player’s manager Chris Orr describing a switch as a ‘valid option’ in the future. The NRL has now banned the workouts but with the player presently non-comital to the club post 2017, a move stateside could be very likely, in what would be a hefty body-blow.

The club are continuing to display their proficiency when it comes to cultivating exceptional local talent; a necessary skill in order to counteract the lure of the Southern clubs. The loss of James Tamou will be keenly felt but they have champion pedigree in the form of Johnathon Thurston, Michael Morgan, Lachlan Coote and Matt Scott amongst the ranks; a top six finish should still be within their capability.

Ins: Carlin Anderson (Broncos), Ben Hampton (Storm).

Outs: Brandon Smith (Storm), James Tamou (Panthers), Jahrome Hughes (Storm), Rory Kostjasyn (Knights), Tautau Moga (Broncos), Ben Hannant (Retirement).

Cowboys Ladder Prediction: sixth

Cowboys 2017 Premiership odds: $8.00

Cowboys 2017 Top 8 odds: $1.25

Parramatta Eels

Coach: Brad Arthur

The twelve point deduction for salary cap infringements effectively put an end to the Eels’ season before it had really started. Sweeping changes to the club’s infrastructure will help to ensure that there will be no repeat of the debacle that saw 2016 effectively become a washout for the Parramatta club.

On top of the boardroom drama, the departures of Nathan Peats, Junior Paulo and Kieron Foran contributed to hurt the Eels on the pitch too. The onset of a horrendous injury pile up reaffirmed the idea that nothing could go right for the club; adding more misery to the surrounding mayhem.

Brad Arthur’s organisational skills deserve high praise, helping to stabilise a club in absolute turmoil. It would have been easy for heads to go down and a loss of focus to develop but to their immense credit, they displayed admirable resolve to remain competitive throughout.

They can only lament the fact that without the points sanctions, they would have comfortably made the eight this year. Happily, the Eels can look forward to a prosperous 2017; if nothing else, the action on the pitch can finally take centre stage once again.

Ins: Jamal Fogerty (Burleigh Bears), Siosia Vave (Sea Eagles), Nathan Brown (Rabbitohs), George Jennings (Panthers), Josh Hoffman (Titans), Suaia Matagi (Panthers), Frank Pritchard (Hull FC).

Outs: Tyrell Fuimaono (Rabbitohs), Michael Gordon (Roosters), Kieran Moss (Bradford), Anthony Watmough (Retirement), Kieran Foran (Warriors), Luke Kelly (Rabbitohs), Danny Wicks (Retirement).

Eels Ladder Prediction: Seventh

Eels 2017 Premiership odds: $17.00

Eels 2017 Top 8 odds: $2.30

Penrith Panthers

Coach: Anthony Griffin

The Panthers finished 2016 with a flourish; six straight wins guided them to a deserved sixth place finish. With first choice centres Dean Whare and Peta Hiku due to return from injury, plus the high profile addition of James Tamou, there is a feel that the Panthers could compete at the highest level next term.

Trent Merrin’s extremely impressive debut year, matched by the superb form of Matt Moylan and Peter Wallace were key components in a more than satisfactory season for Penrith. For a team that excels on the back of second phase plays, the extra firepower of Tamou could be an extremely dangerous weapon in the armoury.

They will need to strike a balance between reckless attacking abandon and defensive rigidity. However, the innovative, off-the-cuff football that the Panthers showcase - along with the Raiders - may become a popular blueprint for other teams to follow.

Producing more offloads than any other team led to a pattern of high point scoring, free flowing football that was a pleasure to watch. The 563 points scored was the same as Melbourne’s total but tellingly lacking the latter’s defensive attributes.

The decision to bring Mitch Rein into the fold may assist in the defensive make-up of the team; with a tally of 1022, he completed the third highest tackle count in the competition last term.

With Waqa Blake & Tyrone Peachey filling in superbly as first choice centres, next season they will possess a back five with a strength in depth unparalleled in the NRL. Last term witnessed a solid platform laid for 2017; they could be a surprise inclusion into this year’s top four.

Ins: James Tamou (Cowboys), Tim Browne (Bulldogs), Michael Oldfield (Rabbitohs), Darren Nicholls (Redcliffe Dolphins), Mitch Rein (Dragons), Darren Nicholls (Broncos), Jed Cartwright (Titans).

Outs: Ben Garcia (Catalan Dragons), Chris Smith (Roosters), George Jennings (Eels), Zak Hardaker (Castleford Tigers), Jeremy Latimore (Sharks), Suaia Matagi (Eels), Andrew Heffernan (Hull KR).

Panthers Ladder Prediction: Fourth

Panthers 2017 Premiership odds: $9.00

Panthers 2017 Top 8 odds: $1.36

St George Illawarra Dragons

Coach: Paul McGregor

Coach Paul McGregor has come in for some recent heavy criticism; with ex-players Mitch Rein and Trent Merrin both aiming barbs at the Dragons’ boss. A points haul of 341 in 2016 is part of the ammunition being used by critics unhappy with the team’s playing style and an increasingly disgruntled fan base whose patience is wearing thin with the perceived negative approach.

Indeed, only the Eels and the Knights finished the year with a worse attacking record; the dragons scoring a paltry 36 more points than the abysmal bottom placed club.

McGregor is another coach whose contract is up in 2017 and anything other than a flying start to the competition will leave him facing an uphill battle to convince the board he deserves more time at the helm.

In Nene MacDonald and Paul Vaughan, the Dragons have recruited well; however the departure of Benji Marshall has left the squad light in the half back department and they will need settle on a partner for Gareth Widdup quickly.

One of the major hurdles facing the club is the challenge of making the Dragons an attractive proposition for potential recruits. On the back of an inconsistent 2016, the critical performances may not be the ones out on the field but those which take place on the open market.

Ins: Josh Kerr (Storm), Nene Macdonald (Titans), Cameron McInnes (Rabbitohs), Shaun Nona (Illawara Cutters), Paul Vaughan (Raiders).

Outs: Mike Cooper (Warrington Wolves), Sebastine Ikahihifo (Huddersfield Giants), Ben Creagh (Retirement), Benji Marshall (Broncos), Dylan Farrell (Retirement), Tom Carr (Bulldogs), Mitch Rein (Panthers), Dunamis Lui (Raiders).

Dragons Ladder Prediction: Fifteenth

Dragons 2017 Premiership odds: $81.00

Dragons 2017 Top 8 odds: $5.50

South Sydney Rabbitohs

Coach: Michael McGuire

There was a feel-good factor surrounding the club prior to the commencement of last season, as the Bunnies welcomed back 2014 Clive Churchill medallist Sam Burgess after his ill-fated sojourn into the world of Rugby Union.

It was a huge fillip for a club still reeling from the departures of Isaac Luke, Dylan Walker, Chris McQueen and Glenn Stewart. However, the early promise soon dwindled and a disappointing campaign saw the Rabbitohs endure a first season outside the top eight since the arrival of Coach Michael McGuire in 2012.

Although the Redfern club managed to round off the year in good form following 4 wins, for large periods, they looked a shadow of their former selves. With rumours circulating about a disharmony amongst the squad, some of the insipid, disjointed performances certainly helped to lend weight to that particular theory.

There were a few positives to take for Coach McGuire though – with a tackle count of 8442, his team were the competition’s top tacklers, as well as committing just 20 more errors than Storm, the leaders in this area. Strangely, their notoriously powerful forward game was missing last year - the figure of 35,171 metres gained was even down on a Sam Burgess-less 2015 side.

Robbie Farrah could make an enormous difference towards addressing that aspect of the Rabbitohs’ deficiencies; his high profile switch from the Tigers severed a thirteen year association with the club.

With 176 penalties conceded – the fifth most in the competition – a distinct lack of discipline proved costly. Nevertheless, the climax of the season saw the team display the kind of camaraderie that had been sorely lacking throughout large parts of the season; the response to a heavy defeat to the Raiders in Round 21 was an indication of what could have been as the side regrouped to win the last four.

Unfortunately, it was far too little, too late and they will be left to rue what might have been if only they could have rediscovered that kind of form a couple of months earlier.

Rabbitohs Ladder Prediction: Eleventh

Rabbitohs 2017 Premiership odds: $17.00

Rabbitohs 2017 Top 8 odds: $2.25

Sydney Roosters

Coach: Trent Robinson

How do the Roosters address the frightening decline of 2016?

That will be the uppermost thought in Coach Trent Robinson’s mind as he prepares his troops to make amends for a calamitous year. The losses of James Maloney, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Michael Jennings in addition to Mitchell Pierce’s well documented off-field troubles were keenly felt at Bondi Junction and the depleted squad were rocked further by the injuries to Jared Warea-Hargreaves and Boyd Cordner which ruled the pair out for half of the season.

Behind the scenes, underlying problems, masked by the recent years of success came to the fore in a perfect storm that conspired to derail the Roosters season. The previously turbulent atmosphere around the club suddenly exploded with the onset of a decline in performances on the field.

The year had started with no prior warning as to what was unfold however, the 38-12 victory over St Helens in the World Club Championship had appeared to emphasise the Roosters setting down the marker for yet another strong season. Everything went downhill rapidly after though, with Robinson’s men suffering five straight defeats to start the season; two wins from the opening eleven rounds practically sounding the death knell for the Roosters play-off hopes.

In a spectacular fall from grace, the Minor Premiers in each of the 3 previous years, finished second bottom of the ladder. 2016 was an astonishing year for the club and a chastening experience to boot. Just 2 wins from the first 11 games derailed the Roosters season before it was even halfway over.

How do they recover? Huge question marks remain over their powers of recovery and ability to rediscover the performance levels of the success filled era of 2013-15.
Big things are expected from Latrell Mitchell in particular over the next few years; the Rookie of the year contender was an ever present, and top try scorer for the team, crossing the whitewash fourteen times.

In what is likely to be the start of an inevitable rebuilding phase, Luke Keary’s arrival heralds the start of the new period for the club and he will be required to fill the sizeable void left by Maloney. Michael Gordon, also brought in pre-season to belatedly compensate for Tuivasa-Sheck’s defection to the Warriors, will more than likely play second fiddle to youngster Mitchell for the full-back position.

A massive improvement will be needed to propel the Bondi club back up amongst the competition’s leading lights; they will need to move on quickly and learn from the harsh lessons of a nightmarish campaign. Last year 31 players were fielded, 13 of which played NRL football for the first time; a fact that the club can legitimately point to as evidence that they are laying the building blocks for a bright future.

Ins: Michael Gordon (Eels), Luke Keary (Rabbitohs), Liam Knight (Sea Eagles), Zane Tetevano (Wyong Roos), Paul Carter (Rabbitohs).

Outs: Vincent Leuluai (Storm), Sam Moa (Catalan Dragons).

Roosters Ladder Prediction: Thirteenth

Roosters 2017 Premiership odds: $13.00

Roosters 2017 Top 8 odds: $1.70

Wests Tigers

Coach: Jason Taylor

After the bitter feud between club legend Robbie Farrah and Coach Jason Taylor threatened to overshadow on-field events; the subsequent demotion and sacking of Farrah, took the gloss off what was an extremely satisfactory year at Leichardt Oval. T

he decision to place faith in youngsters Mitchell Moses and Luke Brooks paid immediate dividends as the team enjoyed an upswing in form, winning three games on the bounce. With the pair out of contract in 2017, the club will no doubt be keen to tie the duo down to new deals as soon as possible.

The club do now have a possible problem in the hooker role though losing Farrah, Dene Halatau, Manaia Cherrington in the off-season leaving the Tigers’ options looking threadbare in that particular department.

A creditable ninth place finish, just a solitary point off the finals places represented a solid year for Wests. With the competition’s second worst defence - only the Knights conceded more tries - the Tigers contrived to become the only side to succumb to the Newcastle club in 2016.

The brave mid-season move to drop Farrah, was initially vindicated, however time will tell if it proves to be the right call.

There has been very little movement coming into the club pre-season and the form of star man James Tadesco, together with captain Aaron Woods, Brooks and Moses will be key to their success in 2017.

Ins: Jamal Idris (Free agent).

Outs: Josh Addo- Carr (Storm), Jack Buchanan (Widnes Vikings), Josh Drinkwater (Released), Asipeli Fine (Bulldogs), Lamar Liolevave (Bulldogs), Billy McConnachie (Released), Jesse Parahi (Rugby Sevens), Manaia Cherrington (Sharks), Dene Halatau (Retirement), Robbie Farrah (Rabbitohs), Curtis Sironen (Sea Eagles).

Tigers Ladder Prediction: Fourteenth

Tigers 2017 Premiership odds: $26.00

Tigers 2017 Top 8 odds: $3.50

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