NRL 2018: Off-season power rankings

Before a ball is kicked in the 2018 campaign, RealSport have crunched the numbers to bring you the off-season power rankings.

While power rankings will fluctuate each week based on their very nature, it is important to have as good an idea as possible about where each team will start the season in relation to the other 15 clubs in the NRL.

With that in mind, the RealSport rugby league writers have crunched the numbers, wracked their brains and counted on all ten fingers at times to put together an off-season power rankings that should, hopefully, reflect the relative strengths and weaknesses of each team headed in to the season.

Moving forward, these rankings will be updated weekly, so be sure to check back and see how injuries, performances and plenty of other factors affect your team’s power ranking each week once the season commences.

  1. 1 Sydney Roosters

    Despite their strong campaign, finishing second on the ladder across the regular season, 2017 will likely go down as a disappointment for the Sydney Roosters given their lacklustre exit from the finals series.

    Big things were expected of the boys from Bondi and not even making the Grand Final will have stung supremo Nick Politis deeply, which is why they have thrown everything they have at luring star halfback Cooper Cronk to finish his career at the club rather than retire straight in to a media role.

    Cronk could add the extra poise and class required to get this Roosters side over the line, but there will need to be a bit of shuffling by Trent Robinson to work out how his side will be set up.

    Luke Keary appears likely to join Cronk in the halves while Mitchell Pearce could either be sent packing, shifted to hooker or moved to lock forward, depending on which rumours you believe. How this issue is resolved will go a long way in determining the Chooks 2018 campaign.

    The addition of former Wests Tigers fullback James Tedesco adds another level of quality to the Roosters backline as well.

  2. 2 North Queensland Cowboys

    While they didn't prove much of a match for the rampant Melbourne Storm in last year's Grand Final, the Cowboys will welcome back Johnathan Thurston, possibly the best player in the world and one of the better prop forwards in the league Matt Scott.

    The addition of two legends goes a long way to broaching the gap with the Storm, who will also have to contend with the loss of Cooper Cronk which, on balance, probably puts the Cowboys in contention for the number one spot before a ball has been kicked in anger.

    Coach Paul Green will have his work cut out trying to wedge a number of talented players in to the spine of the team with Thurston joined by Michael Morgan, Lachlan Coote, Te Maire Martin and Jake Granville in vying for the key positions. Martin could be the man to miss out on a starting berth despite his precocious talent, but a spot on the bench could allow him the freedom to blossom in Townsville.

  3. 3 Melbourne Storm

    The defending premiers will have to overcome the loss of star halfback Cooper Cronk, but with Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Cam Munster and a raft of talented players across the board, it would take a fool to write them off from being the first team to go back-to-back in the modern NRL era.

    In Smith the Storm boasts a formidable leader and arguably one of the best players of his generation while Slater came back onto the scene from injury last season and looked in career-best form, leaving two of the former 'big three' in a great position ahead of 2018.

    Joining them, Cameron Munster looks set to go to another level while wingers Josh Addo-Carr and Suliasi Vunivalu will have lost none of their cutting edge on the flanks, meaning there will be plenty of tries for the pair again this season.

  4. 4 Parramatta Eels

    2017 represented a return to the very best of the blue and gold as the Eels surged through the regular season on a wave of talent and emotion.

    While things didn't end on the right note, bundled out of the finals in straight sets, the building blocks are in place at Parramatta and coach Brad Arthur has every right to be excited about the vibrant and fresh squad he has at his disposal.

    In Clint Gutherson the Eels boast one of the brightest young stars in the game and if he continues his steps in the right direction, he could prove to be one of the very best players in the game.

    Alongside Gutherson, Bevan French, Corey Norman and Mitchell Moses are all dynamic attacking stars and will expect big things this season.

  5. 5 Brisbane Broncos

    The Brisbane Broncos have lost plenty of talent from their 2017 squad, but a poll of our rugby league writers still think the Wayne Bennett coached side will be amongst the top four or five clubs in the league again in 2018.

    No matter what happens, the Broncos rarely drop too far off the league leaders and with stars like Anthony Milford and Darius Boyd joined by Jack Bird from the Cronulla Sharks, there are plenty of good players at their disposal.

    The Broncos fell at the second last hurdle last season when they were comfortably dispatched 30-0 by the Storm in the preliminary final and they'll be hoping to go one step further and snare their first Premiership triumph since 2006 next season.

  6. 6 Penrith Panthers

    All the talk in 2017 was about how the young Panthers were just about set to come of age and dominate the NRL. After a pretty poor start, they were able to turn things around and scrape in to the bottom of the top eight and make some waves in the finals, but overall, better things were expected.

    A young halves combination, with Tyrone May forced to play a lot more footy than expected alongside Nathan Cleary did well enough, but both players should be set for bigger things this year while Matt Moylan may have a point to prove after a troubled end to 2017 and a turbulent off-season.

    Wary of the expectations of last year, it's still hard to see how the Panthers don't continue to improve and challenge for a top-four spot this season.

  7. 7 Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks

    The Sharks have certainly made some of the biggest splashes in the player transfer market during the off-season but could the captures of Matt Moylan, Josh Dugan and Aaron Gray help the Shire club grab their second Premiership crown?

    With Jack Bird moving to Brisbane, Shane Flanagan faces an interesting job in squeezing players in to their preferred positions through the spine and backline. That job could get more difficult if they manage to bring Mitchell Pearce in from the Roosters as they are rumoured to be trying to do.

    Inspirational skipper Paul Gallen is going to go around for one more season and he will do everything he can to keep the forward pack moving in the right direction, but if things don't click early, 2018 could quickly become a rebuilding year for the Sharks.

  8. 8 Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles

    The Sea Eagles snuck in to the bottom of the top eight last season and our writers tend to think they'll be there or thereabouts again in 2018.

    With five-eighth Blake Green's future still up in the air over a potential move to the New Zealand Warriors, much of what happens on the northern beaches could come down to who they're able to put in the halves alongside Daly Cherry-Evans.

    Most of Manly's off-season work so far has been about retention and they'll be fairly comfortable with the makeup of their squad as it is, but with a year of experience under Trent Barrett locked in, improvement will be the bare minimum expectation.

    In DCE, the Sea Eagles have one of the very best halves in the game, capable of winning a game with moments of individual brilliance.

  9. 9 St George Illawarra Dragons

    If things had gone to script last season, the Dragons would have snuck in to the bottom of the top eight, denying the Cowboys a dream run to the Grand Final.

    Unfortunately, rugby league is a fickle game and when the Dragons failed to get up for a last-round clash with the Bulldogs and lost, their season was over and fingers were quickly being pointed across the camp.

    The Dragons enjoyed a great start to the season on the back of Gareth Widdop, Paul Vaughan, Jack de Belin and Russell Packer but as the results fell away, concerns over the man management of Paul Vaughan grew and they won't have allayed much over the off-season.

    Bringing in Ben Hunt could pay huge dividends if he can rediscover his best form, but if their forwards don't make yardage and their backs don't convert chances, another mid-table season is on the cards.

  10. 10 Canberra Raiders

    No team was more disappointing in 2017 than the Canberra Raiders. From pre-season Premiership contenders to missing the top eight, things just never really clicked for Ricky Stuart's men and there will need to be a big turn around if they are to push themselves back up the ladder this season.

    Their gains are solid but unspectacular at best as are the players on the way out, so much of the focus in Canberra will be on how they can get players like Blake Austin, Jordan Rapana and Joey Leilua back to their 2016 form.

    There is plenty of talent in the nation's capital, but as they showed last season, there will need to be more than raw talent on show to get the job done.

  11. 11 South Sydney Rabbitohs

    2017 obviously fell below expectations at Redfern and head coach Michael Maguire paid the price with his job, but can a change of management bring about a Rabbitoh revolution in 2018?

    Anthony Seibold is the man tasked with turning around the traditional giant and with Dane Gagai one of the only 'ready-made' NRL stars joining the squad, much of his work will need to revolve around getting the best out of existing talent.

    In Adam Reynolds the Bunnies boast a sensational halfback capable of providing direction and creativity with ball in hand or with his boot while Sam Burgess remains one of the better forwards in the game.

    It's hard to see things turning around quickly for Souths, and another season of struggle could be on the cards.

  12. 12 Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs

    Another side that ended the year with a coach sacking, could the Bulldogs benefit from turfing Des Hasler aside for unproven coach Dean Pay?

    The Bulldogs have been at the forefront of the big recruitment moves for 2018, bringing in Kieran Foran, Aaron Woods and Fa'amanu Brown while sending James Graham, Sam Kasiano and Josh Reynolds amongst others on their way out the door.

    With concerns about their salary cap compliance still up in the air, more players could be forced out of the club in order to accommodate the fresh faces which could lead to a tough year for the battling Bulldogs and Dean Pay, who could be thrown in the deep end.

  13. 13 Wests Tigers

    Another side which made more headlines with recruitment and retention decisions that it did with good performances on the field, the league writers at RealSport think the Tigers may make a small move in the right direction under the leadership of Ivan Cleary.

    Luke Brooks will need to provide a better creative platform alongside Josh Reynolds while covering for the loss of James Tedesco and Aaron Woods will be big jobs.

    The return of Benji Marshall will be an interesting side story, but it could be another long season for the beleaguered Tigers.

  14. 14 Newcastle Knights

    What can you say about the poor old Knights?

    2017 saw the club notch a third consecutive wooden spoon but the signs of a turnaround at the Knights started to shine through. 2018 should see further moves in the right direction under the leadership of Nathan Brown.

    Herman Ese'ese, Tautau Moga, Jacob Lillyman and Connor Watson all represent good buys for the Knights amongst a few other new faces and should help complement the existing talent at the club.

    It'll be another year where they lose more than they win, but taking strides up the ladder should keep the faithful in check in the Hunter.

  15. 15 New Zealand Warriors

    For most sides, 2017 ended at the end of Round 26, or after the finals but for the Warriors, it ended when Shaun Johnson was injured in a round 19 loss to the Penrith Panthers.

    Having failed to win another game beyond that point, the Warriors showed that despite the plethora of quality players at their disposal, they are ridiculously reliant on the mercurial and somewhat injury-prone halfback.

    The Warriors have added plenty of good, solid footballers, but as we have seen in the past, keeping them motivated and on the job will once again make up the bulk of the work for the Kiwi side.

  16. 16 Gold Coast Titans

    Titans fans everywhere will want to forget the disastrous 2017 campaign, but the problem facing them is the continued reports of disruption amongst the playing staff, namely star Jarryd Hayne.

    Neil Henry paid for his results and a lack of cohesion with Hayne with his job, but our writers here predict things won't turn back the juggernaut in the right direction.

    The Titans could face their toughest season yet, and with calls for the franchise to be dumped, folded or moved, it'll be a pretty bad year to be a Titans fan.

    Which teams do you think have been ranked too high, too low or just right in our off-season NRL power rankings? Let us know in the comments below.

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