Welcome to RealSport’s first NRL power rankings of the year.
Keep in mind, these rankings will not be taking into account preseason games that have already taken place. They’re just too well known as fool’s gold to offer them any sort of weight to shift around the current balances of power.
Without further ado, here are RealSport’s preseason NRL power rankings. The next will come out after Round One.
1. Sydney Roosters
After adding James Tedesco and Cooper Cronk, the Sydney Roosters sit fairly unequivocally atop the NRL’s power rankings before the start of the season.
This year, there can be no excuses for not winning the premiership, although they will face stiff competition from the other members of the top three.
2. North Queensland Cowboys
As we hear often with players returning from injury, Captains Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott will be like new signings for the North Queensland Cowboys.
After surprising the League by making the Grand Final last year, there will be few excuses this year if North Queensland cannot conjure up a similar level of play, especially knowing Thurston’s career status.
3. Melbourne Storm
Brodie Croft looked to fit in perfectly with his premiership teammates as the Melbourne Storm destroyed Super League champions Leeds Rhinos at AAMI Park.
While we’re not taking team preseason form into account, seeing the composed Croft rack up three try assists and a hockey assist from a perfect cross-kick late in the game will certainly lift Melbourne’s spirits.
4. Brisbane Broncos
The Brisbane Broncos return Darius Boyd and Andrew McCullough from season-ending injuries and add Jack Bird into the centres to produce one of the most dangerous attacks in the competition.
However, we’re reserving judgment until we get to see Anthony Milford operate without his career-long halves partner Ben Hunt, who has departed south for the St. George-Illawarra Dragons.
5. Penrith Panthers
It will be interesting to see how the Penrith Panthers operate with such a different-looking team to last year, but at every stop in James Maloney’s career, he’s produced at least a Grand Final appearance with his hands at the wheel.
Giving Nathan Cleary a veteran halves partner to work alongside in contrast to the tumultuous Matt Moylan is a masterstroke from Penrith, and they’ve also lost the baggage dragged along by Bryce Cartwright.
6. Parramatta Eels
This Parramatta Eels squad looked like they had a premiership in them last year, until the experience of the Cowboys won out in the semifinals.
The real wildcard for 2018 will be Jarryd Hayne, who may respond famously at the club he knows best, but if he resembles the locker room cancer he did last year with the Gold Coast Titans, it could easily go the other way.
7. Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
Going for a slight retool, the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks added Moylan and Josh Dugan, while letting Maloney depart. This keeps the club youthful, which may prove smart in the long run, but may tip the scales against them for this season.
The pivot point on which their season lies is how Moylan responds to a different situation, at a different club and again expected of in regards to playmaking. Being a Batman may be more than the 26-year-old is ready for at this stage of his career.
8. South Sydney Rabbitohs
The big bolter of these power rankings is the South Sydney Rabbitohs, who add State of Origin-quality talents Greg Inglis and Dane Gagai into their backline.
Last year was a poor representation of a South Sydney side that were missing their Captain and best player, and had tired of Michael Maguire’s voice. Anthony Seibold’s direction could do wonders for a team who have finally retooled after a premiership.
9. St George Illawarra Dragons
Unfortunately for St. George Illawarra, in asking some of their most pressing questions, they’ve managed to raise a few more.
Gareth Widdop finally has a superstar halve partner, and their forward pack has a veteran leader, but who’s going to play fullback? Is their pack deep enough? Is Paul McGregor going to hang on for dear life for one more year?
10. Canberra Raiders
Canberra Raider's expectations were frustratingly tempered when they lost Josh Hodgson for the year in the World Cup. Their best playmaker and most consistent player gone, the Green Machine is now battling uphill to make finals.
If they’re any chance of a respectable finish, young players such as Aidan Sezer, Shannon Boyd and Josh Papalii will all need to refind the form that made them such a dangerous team a few years ago. At least we’ll finally get an answer on Ricky Stuart.
11. Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
I worry for the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles’ forward pack and playmaking. Daly-Cherry Evans and the Trbojevic brothers cannot do it all, and it looks as if their team has left them to do so.
Addin Fonua-Blake, Darcy Lussick and Frank Winterstein are not names you expect to see in a pack with particularly high hopes, and Jackson Hastings has proven his talent, but that’s not the same as proving himself as an NRL player.
12. Newcastle Knights
Everyone’s hot pick to surprise is the Newcastle Knights, but I’m not convinced just yet. Is Kalyn Ponga really any good? Are Danny Levi and Connor Watson fulltime NRL playmakers? Is most of their forward pack past their prime?
If Newcastle’s plan to force through a contender proves a mistake, they’ll be left with a tonne of salary in the hands of all the wrong players. Just try getting someone to cop even a portion of Ponga’s $2.4 million contract if he doesn’t turn out. Yikes.
13. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
Where all the signs pointed to “rebuild” at the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs last year after missing out on James Tedesco, the Bulldogs customarily looked the other way, and threw together a team that looks like it could be competitive in 2018.
However, as proven, flashing some cash does not convince me. Dean Pay looks like a good hire as HC, but too much is still being asked of guys who may not be NRL players, such as Moses Mbye and Michael Lichaa, and is Kieran Foran still good?
14. New Zealand Warriors
The Warriors’ season has started off as poorly as it possibly could have, with exciting fullback prospect Etene Nanai-Seturo helicoptered out by NZRU, and first grade fullback and Captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck clinging to the chopper’s skids.
They did do some decent work in the offseason though, giving Shaun Johnson Blake Green to work alongside, and bringing Adam Blair and Tohu Harris to the club. As always, this team’s potential is sky-high, but they’ve shown no signs of realising it.
15. Gold Coast Titans
The Gold Coast Titans worked opportunistically this offseason, just like a good club might. They signed up lauded Head Coaching prospect Garth Brennan, who brought Bryce Cartwright with him, with Tyrone Peachey following in 2019.
Other headline signings include Michael Gordon, Brenko Lee and Brendan Elliot, but who knows if this club is any better than second worst in the NRL.
16. Wests Tigers
Many people like the approach the Wests Tigers have taken for 2018, after losing their three best players. I do not.
While painful, the situation really did call for another full-scale rebuild, but Wests have opted to aim for mediocrity at best, with signings like Josh Reynolds, Ben Matulino and Russell Packer. The club’s fans will be lucky if they get even that right.