Monday, March 20, 2023
HomeSportsNRL 2023: The Sporting News' 10 bold predictions for upcoming season

NRL 2023: The Sporting News’ 10 bold predictions for upcoming season

- Advertisement -

The NRL season is fast approaching, with plenty of exciting storylines set to play out over the next eight months.

Penrith will be looking to make it three-straight premierships, Wests Tigers will be looking to end a lengthy finals drought, while the likes of the Cowboys and Sharks will look to build on the momentum built last year.

Elsewhere, the league’s 17th club will be looking to insert themselves under Wayne Bennett’s guidance, while the Dragons and Warriors will be hoping to prove the doubters wrong and push for a top-eight berth. 

The Sporting News have compiled our 10 biggest and boldest predictions for the year below. 

Broncos to finish in the top-four

Perhaps the most bold call on this list, but Brisbane were slated for a top-four finish with two months remaining in 2022, before the wheels completely fell off and the club missed the finals.

But heading into the 2023 campaign, the talented Broncos squad should be close to full-strength and if they can remain that way, they are going to be a hard team to beat.

The side will have a better understanding of what it takes to become a finals footy team and with a settled playing roster being aided by the arrival of Reece Walsh at fullback, this looms as an exciting year for Brisbane fans. 

Herbie Farnworth was electric prior to his biceps injury and is coming into a contract year. Payne Haas, Tom Flegler and Patrick Carrigan have cemented themselves as arguably the NRL’s greatest middle-forward trio.

Adam Reynolds was brilliant when fit last year, while young halves partner Ezra Mam will be better for the experience he gained in his rookie year. The talented crew out outside backs including Selwyn Cobbo and Kotoni Staggs will be another year older and will be seeking a higher level of consistency. 

The only question mark over Brisbane’s premiership credentials stem from the coaching situation, with multiple players speaking out about Kevin Walters in a negative light.

If the club great can get his players on board and buy into his coaching methods, this could be year things really turn around at Red Hill. 

Justin Holbrook, Adam O’Brien to face mid-season axe

It was somewhat surprising to see both coaches survive the axe in 2022, with the on-field results at both the Knights and Titans leaving a lot to be desired.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a great deal of optimism surrounding either club heading into 2023 and it could very well be another tough year for their supporters. 

Both clubs have added quality playmakers in Kieran Foran and Jackson Hastings respectively, it’s hard to see their overall squads competing for a finals berth.

O’Brien has taken the team backwards after a strong start in the Hunter region, while another bottom-eight finish for Holbrook after making the finals in 2021 would be a major disappointment. 

If both sides are languishing outside the top-eight heading into the business-end of the season, expect to see the Tits and Knights cut ties and look to the future. 

Wayne Bennett, Dolphins to avoid the spoon

While many are tipping the NRL’s newest club to finish last on the ladder in their debut season, there is no way that Wayne Bennett is going to let that happen. 

This isn’t to say the Dolphins are going to be a finals team or a premiership contender – they quite simply don’t have enough quality players to pull that off.

But there will be a buzz around Redcliffe for their first year and with some experienced premiership winners arriving from Melbourne, a legendary coach and some talented young stars, the Dolphins should be able to secure enough victories to avoid the wooden spoon.

A bottom-four finish may be likely, but they won’t be finishing in 17th spot – more on that later. 

Bulldogs, Tigers fall short despite strong recruitment drive

The two clubs who have been the most active in the player market heading into 2023 are undoubtedly the Bulldogs and Tigers. 

After a string of disappointing seasons, Canterbury have recruited a stack of quality players, headlined by grand finalists Reed Mahoney and Viliame Kikau. The pair will be joined by experienced forward Ryan Sutton, as well as talented young guns Franklin Pele and Hayze Perham, who are pushing for a spot in the club’s best 17.

For the Tigers, their recruitment drive has been extraordinary. As if the signings of Api Koroisau and Isaiah Papali’i weren’t enough, the club have added further representative quality to their pack with both David Klemmer and John Bateman inking long-term deals.

And while both clubs have done a fantastic job and are taking great steps forward, there are still major question marks over some key positions which could hold them back from a finals spot.

Luke Brooks and Adam Doueihi loom as the likely halves combination for Wests, which doesn’t instil a whole heap of confidence, while their back-five is arguably the worst in the NRL.

As for the Dogs, they are still clearly lacking a quality No.7 to steer the ship alongside Matt Burton, while there are question marks over Jake Averillo as the club’s long-term option at fullback.

There is plenty of reason for fans of both clubs to be optimistic heading into the new campaign, but they might need to cool their jets before they start blocking out their diaries for September and October. 

Storm, Eels to slide after mass exits

Don’t be alarmed – we aren’t saying that Melbourne and Parramatta are going to miss the finals this year.

But after losing some quality players in the off-season, there is reason to believe that they might not be top contender for the premiership in 2023.

For the Storm, they will be without the experienced trio of the Bromwich brothers and Felise Kaufusi for the first time in almost a decade, while the departure of Brandon Smith leaves a massive hole in their forward pack. The club have added Eliesa Katoa and Tariq Sims to their pack, but neither player are likely to have a major impact. 

Melbourne will also head into the season with some injury question marks. Christian Welch and Reimis Smith both spent expended periods on the sidelines during the 2022 campaign and will take a while to get going, while star fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen is no certainty to return to full fitness after a horror knee injury.

As for the Eels, after making the grand final last year and falling short against the Panthers, they have seen some important players head for the exit sign. 

Isaiah Papali’i and Reed Mahoney are the two high-profile stars who have moved on from Parramatta, but their forward pack has taken further hits with the departures of Marata Niukore, Oregon Kaufusi and Ray Stone as well. 

Brad Arthur and Craig Bellamy have a tough task on their hands keeping their respective teams in the top-four picture this year, and it’s more likely than not that they will fall to the bottom-half of the eight. 

Paul Alamoti, Haele Finau to battle for top rookie 

If you aren’t familiar with these two men just yet, chances are you will be by the time the 2023 season is finished.

Canterbury will have at least one fresh face in the centres this year, with the departures of Aaron Schoupp and Corey Allan leaving holes in their backline.

Enter young gun Paul Alamoti, who has been destined for big things since a young age and appears primed to earn a spot in the Bulldogs side this year. At 183cm and 98kg, the rookie teenager could have burst onto the scene last year if not for injury, and there is no doubt that Cameron Ciraldo will have big plans for him. 

As for the Dragons, their position of uncertainty is hooker following the retirement of Andrew McCullough. While the club have signed Jacob Liddle on a short-term deal, there is a belief that his time in the No.9 jumper could be extremely short-lived in the Red V.

Haele Finau has been training the proverbial house down in pre-season and has impressed the St George Illawarra coaching staff, with many believing the former Storm product will be elevated to the club’s top 30 roster before the season begins and is every chance of pushing for a spot in the 17 early in the year. 

When it comes time for the Dally M Rookie of the Year award to be handed out in September, don’t be surprised to see these two names among the nomination. 

Jarome Luai to lose NSW Origin spot to Matt Burton

After coming up short in the 2022 Origin series despite being heavy favourites, Brad Fittler is going to have to make some changes to the NSW Blues lineup this year. 

The first and most obvious selection decision Fittler must make is to bring Josh Addo-Carr back into the side – the Bulldogs flyer never should have been dropped in the first place and deserves his spot back.

But aside from that, the biggest call facing Blues selectors is the five-eighth position. 

Jarome Luai had a strong 2021 series when NSW picked up the victory, but was below his best last year and was part of a losing halves pairing. 

On the flip side, Matt Burton made his debut in the centres and excelled, as well as performing admirably in a disappointing Bulldogs outfit at club level and making his Test debut for Australia in the World Cup.

Burton’s running and kicking game are both superior to Luai and if he starts the season in good form for Canterbury, his time in the NSW No.6 jumper is inevitable. 

Scott Drinkwater to win Dally M Medal

This time last year, Scott Drinkwater was locked in a battle for the five-eighth role at the Cowboys – and it was a battle he eventually lost heading into Round 1. 

But after injury struck in the fullback position, Drinkwater stepped up and showed out, producing a stellar campaign for North Queensland and helped the climb into the NRL’s top-four.

The 25-year-old finished the year with 11 tries, 16 try assists and 14 linebreaks for the Cowboys, becoming a focal point of their attack in the process.

Drinkwater managed to do all of this despite not training at fullback during the pre-season and being parachuted into the role due to injury – so just imagine what he could have in store for 2023. 

While the likes of Latrell Mitchell and Nathan Cleary are perhaps more high-profile candidates, they have rep commitments to juggle and a team full of superstars to compete with for Dally M points each week, while Drinkwater’s full focus will be on the Cowboys and there aren’t an abundance of players who will compete with him in the votes if he is at his best. 

Drinkwater finished equal-fourth in the Dally M Medal tally behind only Nicho Hynes, James Tedesco and Ben Hunt last year and we are tipping that he will come out on top this time around. 

Warriors to claim first wooden spoon

Earlier we mentioned that the Dolphins would avoid the dreaded wooden spoon in their first season – and that’s because we’ve got the Warriors finish in 17th spot this year.

While they have recruited plenty of players, none of them are likely to make a massive impact.

Te Maire Martin, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Luke Metcalf are all very solid players, but there is a reason they were only seen as back-up or fill-in players at their previous clubs.

The club also have a rookie coach in Andrew Webster, an ageing playmaker in Shaun Johnson and a lack of quality depth across the park that is cause for concern.

While a lot of clubs from the bottom of the ladder such as the Tigers and Bulldogs are expected to go up the ladder this year, the same can’t be said for the Warriors. 

Roosters to bounce back to former glory 

The final prediction on this list is that after three disappointing years, the premiership trophy will return to Bondi at the end of 2023.

Trent Robinson is at the helm, Luke Keary will be in his second year back from an ACL injury, Brandon Smith has signed a long-term deal and the emergence of Joseph Sua’ali’i as one of the game’s superstars is only going to continue. 

With so much talent across their squad, the only thing that will stop the Roosters from winning a premiership this year is injury or themselves. 

Penrith, South Sydney and North Queensland will all likely compete for the title as well, but this is shaping up as a massive year for the Roosters. 

The Sporting News’ 2023 NRL ladder predictions

  1. Sydney Roosters
  2. Penrith Panthers
  3. Brisbane Broncos
  4. South Sydney Rabbitohs
  5. North Queensland Cowboys
  6. Cronulla Sharks
  7. Melbourne Storm
  8. Parramatta Eels
  9. Canberra Raiders
  10. Wests Tigers
  11. Canterbury Bulldogs
  12. St George Illawarra Dragons
  13. Manly Sea Eagles
  14. Newcastle Knights
  15. Gold Coast Titans
  16. Dolphins
  17. New Zealand Warriors


- Advertisment -

Most Popular