The NRL is back! The 2018 season looks set to be the most exciting and wide open in years. Every side has cause for optimism looking at the talent across the league. From Melbourne Storm to Newcastle Knights, all 14 teams have a case for a Finals spot. With the new season nearly upon us here is a look at the 16 teams fighting it out to be crowned champions.
With Wayne Bennett at the helm and an abundance of representative stars, the Broncos will be hoping to at least match their top 4 finish from last season. The loss of Ben Hunt means Kodi Nikorima will partner Anthony Milford in the halves – How this partnership clicks will be a key factor in how well Brisbane do in 2018. The Broncos remain one of the top sides in the competition, but having not lifted the Premiership since 2006, they will be hungry for success again in 2018.
St. George Illawarra Dragons
After narrowly missing out on the Finals in 2017, the Dragons appear better equipped this term with the additions of Ben Hunt and James Graham – with Hunt set to make his debut against his former club in the season opener. Graham’s leadership qualities will benefit the forward pack and in Gareth Widdop they have one of the best players in the competition. The Dragons will be hoping that their new additions can help them improve on last season’s 9th place finish.
Things can only get better for Newcastle in 2018. After 3 wooden spoons in a row they have made some excellent signings including Mitchell Pearce, Herman Ese’ese and Kalyn Ponga. The Knights squad is much improved and it will be fascinating to see whether their high profile recruits will take them to the finals for the first time since 2013.
Manly Sea Eagles
The Sea Eagles finished 6th in 2017 and with little changes to their roster they will be hoping to reach the finals once again. The performances of the Trbojevic brothers and Daly Cherry-Evans will have a big impact on how they go on in 2018. If this trio fire then the Sea Eagles should have another good year.
North Queensland Cowboys
The 2017 finalists welcome the return of co-captains Johnathan Thurston and Matthew Scott from injury. Add in new recruit Jordan McLean and the Cowboys have a side that can go one step further in 2018. This season will be Thurston’s last and with the squad the Cowboys have assembled he will have his heart set on bowing out of the game a Premiership winner.
The 2016 Premiers have added Matt Moylan and Josh Dugan to further reinforce an impressive squad. The Sharks have strength in depth and have numerous options in different positions, especially in the halves and at full-back. This is a squad that should be pushing for the Premiership title come September.
The Eels finished in the top 4 last season, but struggled in the finals. The addition of Jarryd Hayne is a boost to a side hoping to prove they are genuine Premiership contenders. With a squad packed with exciting players such as Clinton Gutherson, Corey Norman and Mitchell Moses they will be hoping to build on a highly impressive 2017.
Could the Storm make it back-to-back Premiership wins in 2018? The departure of Cooper Cronk will make the challenge harder, but in Brodie Croft they have an excellent replacement. With Billy Slater and Cameron Smith still leading the way there is no reason why the Storm can’t dominate once again in 2018.
Gold Coast Titans
The Titans have a new coach in Garth Brennan and they will be hoping to improve on their 2017 campaign. With plenty of new additions to the squad, including Michael Gordon and Bryce Cartwright they will hopeful of producing a few more victories this time round.
Lots of attention will be on the Roosters in 2018. The signings of Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco to an already star-studded roster means the pressure will be on Trent Robinson’s side to win their first Premiership in five years. Under Robinson they have had four top-two finishes in since 2013 and given the talent at his disposal the expectation in 2018 is very high.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Anthony Seibold is the new man at the helm for Souths – as the rebuilding begins after a disappointing 2017. The return of Greg Inglis is a huge boost and the signing of Dane Gagai has enhanced their backline. After picking up their sixth straight Charity Shield last month they will be hoping to start the season well against New Zealand Warriors at Perth Stadium.
There have been an abundance of changes at Canterbury with a new coach in Dean Pay, captain in Josh Jackson and the acquisition of playmaker in Kieran Foran. It will be interesting to see whether the changes can improve the fortunes for the Bulldogs. They start off a tough encounter against reigning champions Melbourne in Perth.
Penrith made a late run in 2017 to make the finals and have added a key addition in James Maloney to their squad in the close-season. Maloney will partner Nathan Cleary in the halves, a partnership that will have a huge bearing on how well the Panthers do. A squad that contains mix of representative players and youth, they will be keen to achieve a top eight spot more comfortably this term.
The Wests Tigers have had a major overhaul heading into 2018. With plenty of big name players arriving and departing it will be interesting to see how quickly they can gel. There is enough quality across the squad but consistency maybe their downfall.
New Zealand Warriors
The Warriors will be hoping for more consistency and have made some good acquisitions including Adam Blair, Tohu Harris, and Gerard Beale. The Warriors have also added Blake Green to their roster in hope that his presence will help Shaun Johnson produce his best form. The re-signing of captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is a huge boost as well for coach Stephen Kearney – who will be under pressure to deliver in 2018.
After falling one game short of the Grand Final in 2016 they failed to make the top 8 last season. With very few signings and Josh Hodgson ruled out for the season, the likes of Blake Austin will have to fire. A great team to watch when on-form but inconsistency was their problem last season.
The 2018 NRL season kicks off on Thursday when St. George Illawarra Dragons take on Brisbane Broncos. Don’t miss it!