The NRL is finally preparing for kickoff and Jason Oliver is previewing all 16 clubs, rating the teams and handing out a best bet for the season. The defending premier Penrith Panthers are again among the favourites but have some serious competition around them. Meanwhile, big things are expected out of the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs following their 2021 wooden spoon.
Key Signing: Adam Reynolds
The Brisbane Broncos are on the up. They improved in 2021 and have the leader and game manager in Adam Reynolds to take them to the next level. He’s only going to be able to take them so far himself, though. Brisbane’s success relies on how the young forward pack develops around Payne Haas. If the likes of Keenan Palasia, Jordan Riki, TC Robati and Thomas Flegler can kick on and lay a platform, what is still an exciting backline can cause a few problems.
While Brisbane’s defence has a lot of work to do and the potential to rotate through three decidedly average five-eighths could cause havoc throughout the year, there is enough natural talent in this squad for Reynolds to lead to the Top 8.
Tip: Top 8 Finish @ $2.75
Key Signing: Nick Cotric
Things couldn’t have gone much worse for the Canberra Raiders last year. Injuries decimated the side and the mid-season departure of George Williams made it difficult to develop combinations and build throughout the year.
Jack Wighton’s form didn’t hold up after winning the Dally M award in 2020 and it showed in the Raiders overall attack. They lacked creativity. Again, Williams’ departure hurt in that regard. However, some consistency in the backline and the return of Nic Cotric – who has played the best football of his career for the Green Machine – can get the Raiders back on track. We know that the backline will play behind a solid foundation given the forward pack driving the Raiders.
We’ve seen this group play at a Top 8 level before, and despite the injury to Jamal Fogarty who is set to be the organiser of this side, the Raiders can improve on their 10 wins from 2021.
Key Signing: Matt Burton
The hype train around the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs is heading straight for the 2022 NRL season at full steam. They’ve added a handful of high-profile players to a squad that finished dead last in 2021 and many expect significant improvement.
Too much improvement…
The Bulldogs won three games last season. A lowly Cowboys side that lost 11 of their last 12 games won FIVE more games than the Doggies throughout the year. They need a lot more than a few good players to steady this ship.
Bulldogs Early Draw:
R1 – @ Cowboys
R2 – Broncos
R3 – @ Sea Eagles
R4 – @ Storm
R5 – Panthers
R6 – @ Rabbitohs
R7 – @ Broncos
R8 – Roosters
That is a tough, tough start for a team that is going to need some time to settle in together.
— Jason Oliver (@JasonNRL) February 24, 2022
Many have talked up the Bulldogs as a possible Top 8 side ($2.75). They’re a chance – Matt Burton is good enough to take this squad to another level on his own – but 8th on the ladder typically ends up with 12 wins. Maybe 11. Given their absolutely brutal start to the NRL season, adding another six W’s feels like the best-case scenario.
Tip: Under 9.5 Wins @ $2
Key Signing: Nicho Hynes
There is a lot to like about the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks in 2022. They’ve added some nice pieces in Dale Finucane, Nicho Hynes and Cameron McInnes.
Finucane provides the consistency they desperately need in the middle, Hynes is an excellent playmaker and capable of creating points, and McInnes profiles as the perfect lock forward with the way the game is being played today.
While adding players in key positions can cause issues with cohesion, the Sharks are a well-rounded and cohesive side outside of the new trio. A lot of the 2021 squad returns for 2022 and many players within it have come through the grades at the club. They’ve struggled for consistency in recent seasons but they are strong in both the forward and backs and the new additions should see them improve and return to the Top 8.
Tip: Top 8 @ $1.90
Key Signing: Isaac Liu
The Gold Coast Titans played finals football in 2021 but didn’t really look like a finals side overall.
Only one team has finished 8th on the NRL ladder with 10 wins since 2002 – the 2020 Sharks. That season was reduced to only 20 games…
The drought is over and the Titans performed well in Week 1 of the Finals, but there is no certainty they will be back there again. Last year’s questionable form is one thing, their new-look spine is another.
Jayden Campbell, AJ Brimson and Toby Sexton have been tasked with the creative aspect of the Titans attack and that is going to take time to gel. Campbell has played only seven NRL matches. Sexton, only four. While Brimson is relatively experienced and a State of Origin representative, he’s moving from fullback to five-eighth – a position that doesn’t appear to come naturally to him.
The forward pack is excellent and Isaac Liu is a versatile addition that adds some much-needed consistency and experience. There are going to be some teething issues to start the year, though, and the Top 8 could be a stretch if they don’t figure it out early.
Key Signing: Ethan Bullemor
The Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles’ 2021 season was a roller coaster for all involved. A horror start to the year had them in the conversation for the wooden spoon. By the end of it, they’d landed at 4th on the NRL ladder and featured in the Preliminary Final.
Everything revolved around Tom Trbojevic. He played out one of the best individual seasons of all time to score 28 tries, hand out 28 try assists while running for 209 running metres per game. The 25-year-old elevated the side like nobody else in the competition. The problem is, the Sea Eagles can only go so far when relying so heavily on one man.
Opposition teams will have done their homework over the summer. The Melbourne Storm did well to limit Trbojevic’s impact towards the end of the 2021 NRL season and that has provided the rest of the competition with a few hints on how to best contain him. He’s always going to be a dominant force when healthy, but the Sea Eagles ceiling will remain in the Prelims unless Trbojevic is supported.
Like the opposition teams, Des Hasler will have done his own homework on how to improve the side around Trbojevic. They’ve added Ethan Bullemor who adds some speed, mobility and versatility to the pack and he joins a cohesive team for 2022. There is a good chance that less Trbojevic is more for the Sea Eagles in 2022. The added attention can benefit Jason Saab, in particular, who presents as an appealing option in the Top Try Scorer market.
— Palmerbet (@PalmerbetAU) March 9, 2022
Key Signing: Xavier Coates
The Melbourne Storm seems to have avoided the ‘this is the year the Storm drop down the ladder’ narrative ahead of the 2022 NRL season. Footy fans have finally realised that this club so often has a plan in place for the future and just happened to replace Cameron Smith for 2021 with the two best hookers in the competition – shock.
They’ve lost Josh Addo-Carr but added Xavier Coates to the mix this season. Coates has all of the skills of the modern-day winger and Melbourne is the perfect place for him to develop into a top player at the position. While Dale Finucane and Nicho Hynes had a big impact on the side last year, Brandon Smith can take on a lot of the Finucane load at lock while Ryan Papenhuyzen returns to reclaim his spot at fullback. This is still a very good and very well-drilled side across the field.
Seeing Melbourne crumble in the Preliminary Final is still a shock but not all that surprising when you consider the limited opportunities they’ve had to play through tough periods since Cameron Smith retired. They missed his leadership in those moments but will benefit from the match in the end.
Craig Bellamy could call time on his coaching career at the end of this season so will be putting everything into it. It is likely that his hard work and preparation filters down to the playing group. They look primed for yet another Minor Premiership.
The STORM will enter Round 1 as premiership favourites.
One punter has given them a good crack with $2,000 @ $5.50.
— Palmerbet (@PalmerbetAU) March 9, 2022
Key Signing: Dane Gagai
The Newcastle Knights could be anything in 2022 but health is a significant factor. They’ve been cursed by the injury gods in recent years and desperately need some luck if they’re to play finals football.
Newcastle is relatively strong across the field. They boast a dominant forward pack that is getting better year-on-year while any backline with Kalyn Ponga in it is a threat. His potential to influence games closer to the ruck this season is exciting and can add another element to his game and how the Knights use the ball. It’s important that those changes come early, though. The Knights finished 15th in attack last season and won’t be a factor in the Top 8 without a significant improvement. Dane Gagai is a top tier attacking centre and his pre-pass movement will be especially dangerous with Ponga feeding him the ball which is encouraging.
Still, after winning 12 games in 2021 and with the potential to improve in 2022, they should crack double digits in the W column this season.
Key Signing: Chad Townsend
The North Queensland Cowboys were a Top 8 team roughly halfway through the 2021 NRL season. They went on to lose 11 of their last 12 games to finish 15th ahead of only the Bulldogs…
It still beggars belief that a team with so much talent could perform so badly. Although, while stacked with attacking talent, no side can compete when they’re conceding an NRL-high 32.1 points per game.
The Cowboys welcome Chad Townsend into the mix for this campaign. His signing has been met with ridicule for the most part. However, he presents as exactly the sort of player they need: Somebody to lead the side, organise the young players, and provide experience to a new-look squad.
“The decision to go with Tommy is basically based on defensive abilities.”
The Cowboys were the worst defensive team in the competition last year so I get it.
I’m somewhat surprised Payten actually went with Dearden but I do think he will go a good job.https://t.co/O4X0zsUIF9
— Jason Oliver (@JasonNRL) March 8, 2022
Todd Payten’s men are on the second line of betting to win the wooden spoon at $4.50. Their form to finish last year justifies the concern for their upcoming season, but the team list can be of a Top 8 quality. Their ceiling is September while their floor is the unwanted culinary tool.
Tip: Top 8 @ $5.50
Key Signing: Bailey Simonsson
You know the NRL season is close when the “this is the year the Parramatta Eels end the drought” articles start to do the rounds.
But is it?
It is circled as one that needs to be the year to do it if they’re to lift the Provan-Summons Trophy any time soon. They have a very good forward pack and a good enough backline to score points behind it. Mitchell Moses is entering his prime, Clint Gutherson is one of the hardest-working players in the competition, and new recruit Bailey Simonsson provides Brad Arthur with a reliable option anywhere in the backline. They’ve struck gold on a handful of low-cost contracts and boast some of the best depth in the competition, too. With the likely disruptions due to Covid, depth is more important than ever before.
There will be an element of ‘now or never’ for the Eels given the players they’re losing at the end of 2022. Having been a firm fixture towards the top of the ladder across the last two regular seasons, expect the same again.
Tip: Top 4 @ $4
Key Signing: Sean O’Sullivan
The defending premiers will be without Nathan Cleary for the early rounds of the 2022 NRL season but it won’t be a surprise to see them feature in October.
Penrith have announced Nathan Cleary will miss the first 3 weeks of the season as he continues end stage rehab from a shoulder reconstruction & rotator cuff repair. Would push his return to play just beyond 5.5 months post surgery (usual range 4.5-6 months)
— NRL PHYSIO (@nrlphysio) March 8, 2022
Ivan Cleary has arguably the best forward pack in the competition at his disposal. Isaah Yeo is still somehow underrated. So is James Fisher-Harris. The pair lay the foundations for Cleary and Jarome Luai to dominate and for a stacked backline to run onto the ball.
Matt Burton is a bigger loss than anybody ever expected in the centres but Izack Tago is a highly-touted prospect many think will slot seamlessly into first-grade football. Sean O’Sullivan is an astute addition, too. He’s not flashy but in the role he will be given – spotting up for Cleary when injured or on State of Origin duty – he’s perfect.
The Panthers are young, eager and the roster runs deep. There is every chance they are there on Grand Final Day for the third consecutive year.
Tip: To Make GF @ $2.80
— Palmerbet (@PalmerbetAU) March 9, 2022
Key Signing: Michael Chee Kam
The South Sydney Rabbitohs lost their halfback in Adam Reynolds but what is left can still compete for the premiership.
Cameron Murray, Keaon Koloamatangi, Jai Arrow and Thomas Burgess make up one of the best packs in the competition. Murray, in particular, has two or three gears to get through before he’s playing his best football. While Reynolds is a significant loss, Lachlan Ilias is an exciting replacement while Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker can pick up the slack and still get plenty out of a dangerous backline.
Much of the squad returns outside of Reynolds. Michael Chee Kam is the only major addition and provides rookie coach Jason Demetriou with a bigger utility option for his bench.
There are concerns for life after Reynolds, obviously. But it would be silly to rule the Rabbitohs out of premiership contention while Mitchell is threatening to dominate a full season from fullback if he can learn to behave himself.
— Palmerbet (@PalmerbetAU) March 9, 2022
Key Signing: George Burgess
The St. George Illawarra Dragons are an interesting team to consider heading into the 2022 NRL season.
Tyrell Sloan, Talatau Amone, Zac Lomax and Cody Ramsey are exciting young players in the backline but their relative inexperience promotes concerns around consistency. Ben Hunt finished 2021 in excellent form and can have a big impact on the side. However, he needs a strong pack to play behind. The Red V finished 15th in the NRL in yardage last season and haven’t made too many changes that suggest they will make big strides in that department. Although, George Burgess does have the potential to add some consistent yardage through the middle if he can return to his best.
Their performance in the Charity Shield is encouraging for those that put a lot of stock into preseason fixtures. Most encouraging was the play of Lomax and his developing combination with Mikaele Ravalawa. It’s that attacking talent that should see them pick up enough wins to avoid the spoon.
Key Signing: Connor Watson
It’s never going to look like it when combing through stats sheets and NRL ladders, but the Sydney Roosters 2021 season will be remembered by many as one of the most impressive they’ve ever seen.
To remain so competitive despite losing so many key players to long term injuries is a testament to the club, coach Trent Robinson, and their potential to succeed in 2022. Fit and firing ahead of Round 1, the Roosters are quite rightfully a popular pick for the premiership.
Luke Keary’s return pushes James Tedesco out into his more dominant position out wide. Connor Watson’s arrival gives Robinson a solid backup option at hooker and somebody that can replicate Victor Radley’s role at lock when he’s off the field. With Lindsay Collins back the pack runs deep and will once again put the Roosters in a position to win every week.
No doubt eager to make up for lost time in 2021, expect the Roosters to go pedal to the metal all season and finish up in the Top 4.
Tip: Top 4 @ $1.70
— Palmerbet (@PalmerbetAU) March 9, 2022
Key Signing: Shaun Johnson
Oh boy. The New Zealand Warriors absolutely have a squad that can push for finals football.
Their first-choice pack is huge and will strike genuine fear into the opposition every week. Nobody wants Addin Fonua-Blake, Matt Lodge and Tohu Harris running at them for big minutes. From there, Shaun Johnson is the match-winner the Warriors have lacked since he left and he will win them games they’d have otherwise lost without him during the year.
The backline isn’t quite so fearsome. Although, Johnson’s partnership with Reece Walsh might be all they need to create enough points to win. The questions come once we look up to the coach’s box. Nathan Brown has a history and it’s not a particularly successful one in the NRL. He has the team here to change that reputation if he’s up to it, though.
Tip: Top 8 @ $4.20
Key Signing: Jackson Hastings
It looks as though it will be another long season for the Wests Tigers faithful. However, unlike other long seasons, there is light at the end of this tunnel.
The makeup of the squad is trending in the right direction. Jackson Hastings ripped through Super League and has the potential to be the consistent creative player the Tigers have lacked whether that be in the halves or at lock. Oliver Gildart arrives with a burden of past English backline players hanging over his head but has displayed enough at the international level to be hopeful.
There are some good, young pieces to this squad. It’s the holes around them that sow seeds of doubt ahead of Round 1. The pack is still decidedly average and short on ball skills while the backline is riddled with players typically branded as inconsistent.
Michael Maguire managed to keep hold of his job over the summer but will do well to keep it through to Round 25 unless Adam Doueihi returns early and puts the team on his back.
Tip: Over 7.5 Wins @ $2