NRL – 5 Burning Questions For 2022

The 2022 NRL season is just around the corner and as excitement builds, we’ve got 5 burning questions asked and answered ahead of Round 1.

Are the Dogs of war back?

The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs are the talk of the NRL world heading into the 2022 NRL season. The 2021 wooden spooners have added some strike power out wide and will be led in the halves by impressive youngster, Matt Burton. Add Paul Vaughan and Tevita Pangai Jr. to the middle and you’ve got a team that should improve this season.

They will be better over the next 25 rounds. They simply have to be with the sort of quality added over the summer. However, the Bulldogs are starting a long way behind the pack. Winning only three of their 24 games last year, the Doggies finish four wins behind 15th on the ladder. Trent Barrett’s new-look side has a lot of catching up to do and has been handed a brutal draw early, possibly sending them another two steps back before they begin to move forward.

It’s easy to get excited about the Bulldogs’ 2022 season. At the very least it is going to be more enjoyable than the last. But out at $2.75 to make the Top 8, it’s likely we’re waiting at least one more year before the Dogs of War are truly back in business.

Are Rabbits stew without Wayne & Reyno?

The South Sydney Rabbitohs have waved goodbye to one of the greatest coaches of all time and decided against offering their long-term halfback the deal he was after over the summer. There is no beating around the bush; the loss of Wayne Bennett and Adam Reynolds will be felt around the club all season.

That isn’t to say they aren’t among the premiership contenders, though.

Latrell Mitchell is threatening to become one of the best and most influential fullbacks in the game if he can behave himself. A full season – excluding the Round 1 match Mitchell is missing due to suspension – of Mitchell and Cody Walker together can translate into a top-three attack in the NRL. The duo have already formed a handy partnership, and like last year, will play behind one of the best packs in the competition. The Rabbitohs laid the foundation for their 31.1 points per game (2nd) by finishing the season at the top of the net running metres list. They hammered their opponents in yardage every week and there is little reason to suggest they won’t do the same in 2022.

There is no doubt that the Rabbitohs would be better off with Bennett and Reynolds around. Still, they’re sending out a formidable side and are going to be part of the premiership conversation ($12) all season long.

Who will be left holding the wooden Spoon?

The gap between 16th and 15th last season has already been covered and the Bulldogs face a tough challenge to close it up. A horror start, speculation around the coach and issues around cohesion and combinations could see their $12 to win the spoon shorten in no time. However, it’s the Wests Tigers that are the $3.50 favourites in the least wins market ahead of Round 1.

Every club thinks they can and should improve to start the NRL season and the Tigers are no different. They’re excited by the addition of Jackson Hastings and Oliver Gildart while the development of young players – Stefano Utoikamanu, in particular – adds to the optimism. Big holes remain in the side, though.

Hooker is a spot the Tigers have struggled to consistently fill for years. Round 1 rake, Jake Simpkin, has only played nine NRL matches in his career while Jacob Liddle is nursing yet another injury. The outside backs don’t strike fear into the opposition either. They’re relying on James Roberts to turn back the clock, Gildart to overcome the stigma around English outside backs, David Nofoaluma to bounce back from a poor year, and Ken Maumalo to remain relatively error-free. That’s without considering the possible rotation of Hastings, Luke Brooks and Adam Doueihi through the halves.

The Tigers are in a good position for the future. They have good young players coming through while Isaiah Papali’i and Api Koroisau have been signed on for 2023. However, they look one more bad year away from beginning their rise up the ladder and feel the most likely to be sitting at 16th on the ladder by the end of Round 25.

Which teams will rise?

Every team thinks they will rise up the ladder to start an NRL season and it’s the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks that look best-positioned to rise in 2022.

Nicho Hynes is an excellent addition to the spine while Dale Finucane will sure-up what has been an inconsistent middle defence over the last three seasons. When Cameron McInnes returns from his latest injury, the Sharks will welcome back a guy with the potential to be one of the better #13’s in the competition when fully fit. There is a lot to like about this Sharks roster, and while they will be led by a rookie coach in Craig Fitzgibbon, their cohesion and experience playing together should help them kick on in 2022.

As for a smokey, the North Queensland Cowboys could be anything. They’re among the favourites for the spoon at $4.50 but their $5.50 to make the Top 8 is equally appealing.

They ended 2021 as one of the worst teams in the NRL losing 11 of their last 12 games. However, they sat in the Top 8 before the beginning of that horror run. Jason Taumalolo is likely to play a more consistent role within the side and the names around him in the forward pack are a lot more encouraging than this time last year. It’s a big ask, but it won’t surprise too much to see the Cowboys fly up the ladder.

Which teams will fall?

The Newcastle Knights and Gold Coast Titans shape as two teams that could tumble down the ladder in 2022.

While the Knights did manage to make back-to-back finals appearances, they finished 7th on the ladder with a -143 points differential. Only the Bulldogs performed worse with the ball as Newcastle scored just 17.4 points per game. Kalyn Ponga is fit and firing for Round 1 but joins a new-look halves pairing and an inexperienced hooker. Daniel Saifiti is out for the early rounds, too. The Knights can’t afford another slow start to the season if they’re to make the Top 8 ($3).

“While the expectation is for them to improve and for Kalyn Ponga to play closer to the ruck and on the ball more often, they will struggle to achieve that this week against a beaten pack. Stringing passes and shifts together in training is one thing. Doing it on the back foot against a premiership contender is another.” – NRL Tips & Preview: Round 1

The Titans are in a similar position. They ended the NRL Finals drought in 2021 but did so with only ten wins. The 2020 Sharks are the only side to make the Top 8 with ten wins since 2002, and that was in a 20-game season. Add the uncertainty around AJ Brimson at five-eighth and how well he combines with rookies Toby Sexton and Jayden Campbell in the halves, and David Fifita’s try-scoring heroics might not be enough on their own in 2022 ($1.50 to miss Top 8).

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