As the National Rugby League kicked off this month, we enlisted the expertise of the FOX LEAGUE team, including some former NRL greats, to give us their season forecast for all things footy in 2019…
TOP THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH Kayln Ponga: This kid is an absolute excitement machine. I can’t wait to see how he goes in the halves – the more he gets his hands on the ball the better; AJ Brimson: He was outstanding for the Titans in his debut against the Storm in Round 10 last year. He’s got an old head on young shoulders and plenty of X factor; Jordan McLean: Injury robbed him of putting his best foot forward in 2018, but he’s back fit and firing in 2019 and will no doubt become the Cowboys forward leader.
MOST IMPROVED TEAM The Newcastle Knights were the most improved side last year and I expect them to go one step further in 2019 and make the finals.
THE WOODEN SPOON At this time of year the only safe prediction is to say that the wooden spoon is in the kitchen! Last year I tipped the Eels to make the top four and we all know how that one ended.
BIGGEST CHANGE IN THE GAME Over the last three years we’ve seen a shift towards more structured football, but I’m tipping that will change in 2019 as teams try and break up the Roosters defence.
DALLY M MEDAL WINNER Kalyn Ponga. I thought he was the best player last season and I’m tipping he’ll be the best player again in 2019.
GRAND FINALISTS Roosters vs up for grabs!
2019 PREMIERS You’d be a brave man to tip against the Roosters in 2019. They showed in the World Club Challenge that they are primed for another big season.
FOX LEAGUE STAFFER TO STUFF UP THE MOST I’m going to throw myself under the bus here and say that Gorden Tallis will stuff up the most in 2019.
TOP THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH James Tedesco: A Premiership winner, a Blues State of Origin champion and dual Brad Fittler and Jack Gibson medal winner. 2019 could be the one of the best on record for him; David Fafita: A modern prototype of what it is to be an NRL Hitman. Has a handy off-load, great footwork and speed to burn; Kalyn Ponga: At the start of last year every rugby league fan was asking if the hype around Kalyn Ponga was real and by the end of the year we knew it was.
MOST IMPROVED TEAM Newcastle’s David Klemmer is looking dangerously good, giving plenty of play-room to Mitchell Pearce and Ponga will spell danger to the other side’s defence. The Knights are determined to play finals football and I feel this will be the year that they do.
BIGGEST OFF-FIELD DRAMA The Roosters move into the hallowed ground at the SCG. Prepare for complaints about being too far away from the action as Sydney’s stadium bun fight continues.
TOP FOUR TEAMS Roosters: The Roosters have proven class across the paddock and a thirst for silverware; Broncos: They will be hugely competitive courtesy of their powerhouse young pack of forwards; Storm: Will always feature when finals football is on the horizon; Panthers: They have the Cleary Connection to mastermind a top four finish.
THE WOODEN SPOON I hate to see any team with the spoon, but it could be points stripped for salary cap breaches rather than performance based challenges we see this season.
BIGGEST CHANGE IN THE GAME The off-season chasm of horrible headlines is forcing the game to look at the ethical and economic values and redefine what rugby league will and will not stand for. Challenging and confronting conversations are necessary for change. I think the game will have a clearer policy on who and what set of values are welcome in the NRL.
DALLY M MEDAL WINNER James Tedesco or Nathan Cleary. Eye-catching, clever firebrands who consistently deliver first-class footy.
GRAND FINALISTS Broncos vs Roosters and 22-12 in favour of the Broncos. The Broncos are one of the most professional clubs in the NRL. Anthony Seibold won Coach of the Year by being meticulous and thorough in his approach. He’ll give Brisbane every tool and intelligence they need to win the competition. The rest is luck.
TOP THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH David Fafita: This kid can play. He’s got a massive motor, speed to burn and will be given plenty of minutes in the young Broncos pack. He can also find his way to the try line; Kalyn Ponga: He had a breakout year with the Knights in 2018 and if it wasn’t for a late season injury he would have won the Dally M Medal; Angus Crichton: Came of age last year and made his State of Origin debut. Will have plenty of pressure on him moving from the Rabbitohs to the Roosters, but will handle it with ease.
MOST IMPROVED TEAM The Bulldogs blooded a lot of young players last year and they’ll be better for it this season. Lachlan Lewis and Rhys Martin both had breakout years last year and will be better for the experience.
BIGGEST OFF-FIELD DRAMA I’m tipping the biggest off-field drama will happen in the green room at Fox League. Gorden Tallis and Nathan Hindmarsh will come to blows over the last chicken leg in the box.
TOP FOUR TEAMS Brisbane Broncos: I don’t know what they put in the water in Brisbane, but gee they can produce a young forward. I can’t wait to watch the likes of David Fafita, Payne Haas and Joe Ofahengaue this year; Sydney Roosters: They are last year’s defending premiers and look just as good, if not better in 2019. Penrith Panthers: We’ve heard about Phil Gould’s five-year plan for the last 10 years, but I’m thinking this could be the year where Gus’ plan comes to fruition. South Sydney: Any side with the Burgess brothers, Greg Inglis, Damian Cooke and with Wayne Bennett as coach can’t be taken lightly.
THE WOODEN SPOON Hindy will hate me for this, but I’m going to tip Parramatta.
BIGGEST CHANGE IN THE GAME I don’t know whether it’s wishful thinking, but I’m hoping we’ll see less reliance on the Bunker in 2019 with calls to blow the thing up!
DALLY M MEDAL WINNER Anthony Milford looks fit, has a new coach and a new lease of life at the Broncos. I’m tipping a massive year from him in 2019.
GRAND FINALISTS Broncos vs Roosters – Roosters 26-10. The Broncos may have the best young list in the NRL, but it will be the experience of the Roosters that will reign supreme in October.
FOX LEAGUE STAFFER TO STUFF UP THE MOST Gorden Tallis will struggle in 2019. He’ll be sleep deprived with a new baby due during the season and will have baby brain deluxe.
TOP THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH Kayla Ponga: All eyes will be on him this season to help steer the Knights to a top eight finish; Jahrome Hughes: The man to slip into the shoes of rugby league icon Billy Slater for the Melbourne Storm. I heard very good things about him ahead of this season; Jake Clifford: The Cowboys five-eight to play alongside Michael Morgan. Clifford enjoyed some special games with Johnathan Thurston at the end of last season, spending time with a future immortal can only help his game for the upcoming season.
MOST IMPROVED TEAM The North Queensland Cowboys. They were plagued by injury last season and couldn’t quite find the right gear to click into. This year will be the season the Cowboys rise from the ashes to remind the competition why they were Premiers just three years ago.
BIGGEST OFF-FIELD DRAMA After the off-season the game has had, I’m hoping the biggest off-field drama will be the lack of drama! But you can guarantee that after 10 rounds the drums will be beating for several coaches in the NRL.
TOP FOUR TEAMS Penrith Panthers, Sydney Roosters, Melbourne Storm and South Sydney Rabbitohs. These four teams have ultra-talented rosters and haven’t seen too much change since last season. They’re led by exceptional coaches and will be hard to beat. That said, an injury to a key position or lack of team cohesion could threaten their season. Who can withstand the pressure?
THE WOODEN SPOON Manly Sea Eagles. I see Manly improving from last year, but I can’t see them keeping up with the other sides in 2019.
BIGGEST CHANGE IN THE GAME Without a dramatic rule change (like a bench reduction) I’m not expecting major changes in the game. What we can expect is higher fitness and more endurance as sports science and technology continues to evolve and everyone is looking for the edge.
DALLY M MEDAL WINNER After a career best year in 2018, Cameron Munster is in the box seat to win this year’s Dally M Medal.
GRAND FINALISTS The Roosters will play Penrith in a poetic narrative involving father-son duo Ivan and Nathan Cleary. But the poise and execution of Cooper Cronk will see the Red, White and Blue-sters get the win – Easts by 4.
TOP THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH James Tedesco: He took his game to a new level last year and the confidence he gained during the Origin series plus last year’s Grand Final win, will have him pumped for a massive 2019; Nathan Cleary: It’s hard to believe that Nathan is still only 21. He enters his fourth year in the NRL and does so off a stellar 2018 which saw him make his State of Origin debut. Cleary’s combination with Maloney is crucial to the Panther’s premiership hopes; Jesse Ramien: He burst onto the scene with the Sharks last year and quickly established himself as one of the most exciting young outside backs in the competition. Ramien will be called upon to be a strike weapon at the Knights and he has the talent to back up the expectation.
MOST IMPROVED TEAM The Newcastle Knights are fast becoming every NRL fans second team. They’ve again recruited strongly in 2019 with the additions of David Klemmer, Tim Glasby, Ederick Lee, Kurt Mann and Jesse Ramien. All eyes will be on Kalyn Ponga and how he handles the shift into the halves, but he’ll be well and truly be up to the task.
BIGGEST OFF-FIELD DRAMA After an off-season of controversy, I’m tipping the biggest off-field drama in 2019 to be a positive one – it will be fans trying to secure a ticket to Parramatta games at Bankwest Stadium.
TOP FOUR TEAMS Sydney Roosters: They’ve kept the same squad as last year and have added Blues forward Angus Crichton to their roster; Penrith Panthers: After the coaching controversy last year, the Panthers will be looking to let the football do the talking in 2019. If James Maloney and Nathan Cleary can find their mojo again in 2019 the Panthers will be tough to beat; South Sydney: Wayne Bennett will be looking to make an immediate impact at this new club and will have the Bunnies breathing fire in 2019. If the Burgess brother’s stay fit the Bunnies will be a force to be reckoned with; Brisbane Broncos: The Broncos have one of the best young rosters in the NRL and if Kodi Nikorema and Anthony Milford click in the halves the Broncos have the ability to go all the way.
THE WOODEN SPOON It’s always tough to pick at this time of the year but if you’re judging on last year then the Eels would have to be favourites.
BIGGEST CHANGE IN THE GAME I think we’ll see more tries in 2019 as teams shy away from playing structured footy and start giving the ball some air.
DALLY M MEDAL WINNER James Tedesco had an unbelievable season last year and I’m tipping him to take his game to another level in 2019. He can light the game up from anywhere and is playing in one of the hottest sides in the NRL.
GRAND FINALISTS Panthers vs Roosters. I’m tipping the Panthers to repeat their feats in 2003 and beat the Roosters in the Grand Final 26-16.
FOX LEAGUE STAFFER TO STUFF UP THE MOST Take your pick! I’m sure my name will get thrown up a few times with this one, but if I had to choose one person it would be Nathan Hindmarsh. Hindy is as random as they come.
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