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NRL 2020 Season predictions

As the National Rugby League kicked off this month, we enlisted the expertise of the FOX LEAGUE commentary team, including some former NRL greats, to give us their season forecast for all things footy in 2020…

Hannah Hollis

1 – Harry Grant – He may not be a household name yet, but Harry’s move from the Melbourne Storm to the Wests Tigers in 2020 could be a masterstroke. He’s done his apprenticeship under the Cameron Smith and will be ready to prove himself on the big stage.
2 – Kyle Flannagan – he’s the man to replace Cooper Cronk at the Sydney Roosters, which won’t be an easy task, and he’s got a pretty handy halves partner in Luke Keary.
3 – Latrell Mitchell – all eyes will be on Latrell after his highly publicised move from the Roosters to the South Sydney Rabbitohs, but there’s no doubting his talent and ability.

MOST IMPROVED: I’m tipping a big year for the boys from North Queensland this year. They’ve signed really well with the addition of Valentine Holmes and Scott Drinkwater is primed for a big season.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: I don’t want to say that certain sides overachieved last year because that would diminish the amazing job they did, but there were sides who surprised most fans. I didn’t expect to see Manly climb as high on the ladder as they did in 2019 and in that sense they probably have the most to lose this year.

BIGGEST OFF-FIELD DRAMA: The NRL runs out of tickets! We’ve seen the impact Bankwest Stadium has had on crowds for the Parramatta Eels and I’m tipping Queensland Country Bank Stadium will be the same for the Cowboys. The thirst from fans to attend both stadiums is massive and there’ll be a stack of sellouts this season.

1 – Roosters – they’ve been the best side the last two years and will be tough to beat again this season.
2 – Eels – they’ve got one of the best spines in the competition and have turned Bankwest Stadium into a fortress.
3 – Storm – as long as Cam Smith is leading the side on the field and Craig Bellamy is calling the shots off it, the Storm will be a massive threat.
4 – Raiders – they were the breakout side of 2019 and went within a whisker of winning the lot, so I’m tipping another big year for the men from the nation’s capital.

Bryan Fletcher

1 – Payne Haas – the Broncos enforcer is a man mountain. He stands at 194cm, weighs 119kg and when he decides to unleash he’s unstoppable. With Matt Lodge facing an extended period on the sidelines, Haas is now the go to man for the Broncos.
2 – Billy Waters – he played two games for the Storm last season and has moved to the Wests Tigers where he should see more minutes this season.
3 – Damien Cook – there is no faster player out of dummy half than the Rabbitohs’ hooker. His ability to get his side over the advantage line and link with Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker makes the Bunnies a tough prospect this season.

MOST IMPROVED: There’s plenty of sides who’ll be looking to improve on their 2019 form, but one side I can see some serious growth in is the Penrith Panthers. I can’t see them missing the top eight again this year. With James Maloney no longer at the club it’s up to Nathan Cleary to steer them around the park and I think the extra responsibility will do him the world of good.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: This is a tough one but I’m going to say Manly. They were the surprise team of 2019, finishing sixth, and I don’t want to say they over achieved, but at the start of last year most punters wouldn’t have had them in their top eight. I hope I’m wrong, but I think Manly will find it hard to back up their form of last year in 2020.

BIGGEST OFF-FIELD DRAMA: It’s been a while since the NRL has had a salary cap issue, but 2020 could be the year. There’s been plenty of player movement in the off-season and there will be a number of clubs looking to move players around to balance the books again this year.

1 – Eels – they were outstanding last year and look strong on paper again in 2020.
2 – Roosters – they’re the back-to-back premiers for a reason and could be the first team since the Eels to win three in a row.
3 – Storm – there’s no more consistent team in the NRL than Melbourne and as long as Cameron Smith and Craig Bellamy are at the club they’ll be tough to beat.
4 – Panthers – I like the look of their forward pack and think Nathan Cleary is in for a big season.

Andrew Voss

1 – James Tedesco
– he’s the reigning Dally M winner for a reason and I can see him having another big year for the Roosters. Teddy is currently a superstar of the game and by the end of the season I’m tipping he’ll be a megastar!
2 – Mitch Moses – he has really matured as a playmaker over the last two seasons for Parramatta and if his form continues he could find himself in a NSW Blues jersey come Origin time.
3 – Ryan Papenhuyzen – one of the breakout stars of 2019, Ryan has speed to burn and create something out of nothing for the Melbourne Storm.

MOST IMPROVED: The Newcastle Knights have promised so much in the last two seasons but I think 2020 is the year we’ll see them burst back into the eight. I’m tipping the two P’s – Pearce and Ponga – to lead the Knights into September where anything is possible.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: I have some concerns for the Sharks this season. They’ve lost their leader in Paul Gallen and have had several off-field distractions during the off-season that could derail their start to the season. They may be in for the fight of their lives in 2020.

BIGGEST OFF-FIELD DRAMA: I’m hoping the drama in 2020 will be the lack of headline-grabbing drama for journalists to report on.

1 – Roosters – although they’ve lost Cooper Cronk, they’ve got one of the best halves in the competition in Luke Keary who’ll be ready to explode this season.
2 – Storm – you’re a brave person to back against a side that has the game’s best coach in Craig Bellamy and a future immortal in Cameron Smith.
3 – Rabbitohs – although they’ve lost Greg Inglis and Sam Burgess in the last 12 months, I like the addition of Latrell Mitchell – if he fires, the Rabbitohs will be tough to beat.
4 – Eels – I really like the look of their squad this season and Bankwest Stadium gives them a major advantage over visiting sides.

Lara Pitt

1 – George Williams
– the big name signing for the Grand Finalists. Will he deliver and help the Canberra Raiders go one better? With the loss of Rapana, Leilua and Sezer, there’ll be plenty of eyeballs on the new Raiders number seven.
2 – Api Koroisau – another important off-season move. The Panthers will be hoping the classy number nine can provide much needed leadership and support on field to leading man Nathan Cleary.
3 – Kalyn Ponga – a full preseason back at number one with a fresh set of hands driving the Knights in Adam O’Brien. We should see Ponga light up the NRL.

MOST IMPROVED: The Cowboys – whilst I haven’t been able to fit the team from Townsville in my top eight, they have every reason to be far better than their 14th-placed finish in 2019. A new stadium, signing of star Val Holmes and, by all reports, a fresh approach from Paul Green – the only way should be up for the North Queensland side.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: A Paul Gallen-less Cronulla to miss the eight for just the second time in nine seasons. Consistency will continue to be the problem for the homeless Sharks.

BIGGEST OFF-FIELD DRAMA: NRL announce expansion and shock relocation plans. It doesn’t matter where the NRL decides to expand, whether it’s a second team in Brisbane, a side in Perth, Central Queensland or the moon – there’s going to be one group of very happy fans and a group of unhappy fans.

1 – Storm – they’ve been the most consistent side of the last decade and will again be there when the drums are beating this season.
2 – Roosters – they may have lost Cooper Cronk, but I’m a massive Luke Keary fan and think he’s in for a massive season.
3 – Eels – they have signed well in the off-season and have experienced players in key positions.
4 – Rabbitohs – the South Sydney spine is one of the best in the competition.

Ben Ikin

1 – Brodie Croft – Brisbane need him to be better than he was at Melbourne; will he rise to the challenge?
2 – Tom Trbojevic – if this bloke gets an injury-free run for Manly this year, the Dally M Medal will be well within his grasp.
3 – Luke Keary – can he do, for the Roosters, across a season what he did in the 2018 Grand Final?

MOST IMPROVED: The Knights will be a much better team in 2020 – new coach, fresh ideas and continued improvement from some bright young stars. They have one of the best halves in the game in Mitchell Pearce and one of the game’s best game breakers in Kalyn Ponga. If these two players fire – look out!

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: I can see it being a tough season for the Rabbitohs based on the loss of some world class leadership and go forward. Sam Burgess has been the leader of the Rabbitohs pack and along with John Sutton he will be sorely missed. With those players gone Damien Cook, Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds will be less effective behind a weakened forward pack.

BIGGEST OFF-FIELD DRAMA: It’s the headline we’ve been waiting for the last few seasons, but I’m tipping the biggest drama of 2020 will be the year that the great man, Cameron Smith, announces his retirement from the NRL.

1 – Roosters
– they’ve been the best team for the last two seasons for a reason. Great coach, great squad and super consistent.
2 – Storm – Cam Smith and Craig Bellamy. Nothing more needs to be said.
3 – Raiders – they’ll be smarting after last year’s grand final loss and will be gunning for revenge in 2020.
4 – Eels – they were one of the breakout teams of 2019 and will only improve this season. ■


For the full article grab the April 2020 issue of MAXIM Australia from newsagents and convenience locations. Subscribe here.

Nikita Rokita

Entitlement Dating