With the 2023 NRL season officially getting underway when the Eels host the Broncos on Thursday, now is the time for players to perform or perish.
Premiership glory on October 1 awaits, but hopes can be quickly dashed due to form, injuries or off-field indiscretions.
Daily Mail Australia has come up with 17 headlines footy fans won’t want to read about their own NRL team this year.
Adam Reynolds sidelined indefinitely
He may be nudging 33, but if the veteran halfback isn’t pulling the strings for the Broncos, Kevin Walters’ side are unlikely to play finals footy. Reynolds’ footy IQ is second to none and the cupboard is bare at Red Hill when it comes to suitable replacements.
The Broncos will be desperately hoping Adam Reynolds can stay off the sidelines and continue to lead the way on the field
Jack Wighton involved in another off-field fracas
At 30, the five-eighth should know better. His recent public wrestle with Latrell Mitchell outside a Canberra nightclub – with a court date to follow in October – sent shivers down the spines of many Raiders fans and suggests Wighton hasn’t grown up. If the brilliant pivot doesn’t feature regularly in lime green over the coming months, Ricky Stuart’s men won’t feature in September.
Bulldogs heavy recruitment drive fails to deliver a top eight spot
The arrival of gun backrower Viliame Kikau from the Panthers has scores of Bulldogs fans excited – and with good reason
Reed Mahoney and Viliame Kikau are big additions at Belmore, adding to proven performers like Matt Burton and Josh Addo-Carr. Not featuring when it matters will be unacceptable for many of their passionate fans, who have endured some lean times in recent years.
Making up the numbers again in the finals
Nicho Hynes impressed at halfback last year, winning the Dally M Medal – but can he take the Sharks deeper into the finals?
After finishing second last season, the Sharks were bundled out of the finals series following back to back defeats at the hands of the Cowboys and Rabbitohs. Do those scars remain? Potential serious injuries to 2022 Dally M Medal winner Nicho Hynes or Matt Moylan will also test their halves depth.
Wayne Bennett left frustrated by lack of squad depth
The NRL’s newest franchise are widely tipped to end up with the wooden spoon, and if their roster is any guide, they may struggle when injuries inevitably follow. Expectations will be low externally, but behind closed doors the ‘super coach’ will be expecting the likes of Jesse Bromwich and Felise Kaufusi to silence the critics.
Gold Coast Titans
Titans spine bent out of shape
Kieran Foran is 32, but his experience in the halves could prove to be invaluable for the Titans
Kieran Foran and Sam Verrills arrive on the Glitter Strip with a point to prove after being made surplus to requirements at the Sea Eagles and Roosters respectively. Both have premiership rings, and if they are not playing consistently, Justin Holbrook may need to look for a new job.
Manly Sea Eagles
Tom Trbojevic breaks down yet again
Tom Trbojevic is arguably the best player in the NRL when firing on all cylinders – another long term injury for the fullback would be a disaster for the Sea Eagles
The six dreaded words Manly fans won’t utter at any stage. If ‘Turbo’ stays fit, they will give the premiership a shake under new coach Anthony Siebold such is the brilliance of the fullback. If he is injured, they will be also-rans.
Craig Bellamy’s 20 year tenure ends in disappointment
Star trio Felise Kaufusi, Kenny Bromwich and Jesse Bromwich will be near impossible to replace as Melbourne’s new look pack looks vulnerable.
A long term injury to fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen is also a setback.
Kalyn Ponga’s move to five-eighth doesn’t pay dividends
Kalyn Ponga has been shifted from fullback to five-eighth by Adam O’Brien – time will tell if the move is a masterstroke for the under pressure Knights
Former coach Nathan Brown tried it a few years ago, and it didn’t work. The more Ponga has his hands on the ball the better, and his combination with halfback Jackson Hastings gives Knights fans some cause for optimism.
Ponga will also be well aware he will be heavily targeted in defence.
North Queensland Cowboys
Cowboys suffer hangover from 2022 success
Plenty tipped Todd Payten’s team to battle for the wooden spoon last year. Instead they defied the experts to reach the preliminary final. They need to repeat the dose to show they are a force to be reckoned with again.
Backrow blues for Eels
The Eels will look to go one better this year – and if they are to win their first premiership since 1986, Mitchell Moses needs to be a central figure
Isaiah Papali’i’s departure to the Tigers will hurt, as was Ryan Matterson’s puzzling decision to cop a three-game ban stemming from a grand final charge rather than pay a $4,000 fine.
At 33, Josh Hodgson is also a significant risk as first choice dummy half given he is recovering from a serious knee injury.
Phil Gould poaches more players for Bulldogs
Nathan Cleary’s Panthers are chasing a historic three-peat this season – and will be hard to beat
Matt Burton, Viliame Kikau and Stephen Crichton all won a premiership with Penrith in 2021. But with the trio all at Belmore from next year – surely more players won’t follow from the foot of the mountains?
Ivan Cleary is chasing a rare three-peat, and while hooker Api Koroisau is a huge loss, they should be thereabouts.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Another preliminary final fade out for Rabbitohs
If Latrell Mitchell is a standout for the Rabbitohs, they could snare their first NRL premiership since 2014
It has become such a regular outcome the past five years, some cynical South Sydney fans almost expect it. If Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker are fit and firing, a first premiership since 2014 could follow at Redfern.
St. George Illawarra Dragons
Off-field dramas seal Anthony Griffin’s fate
Player discipline has been diabolical in recent years for the Red V – and the recent ‘fight’ in Mudgee involving Mikaele Ravalawa and Zane Musgrove after the heavy Charity Shield defeat doesn’t install much confidence that anything has changed. Griffin also knows if he finishes outside the top eight, his tenure will be over.
Luke Keary suffers another head knock
Roosters star Luke Keary has struggled with concussion over the past few years, and the club will be desperately hoping for both his health and their chances that those troubles are over
The five-eighth has done everything in the game – and at 31, again looms as the key figure for the Tricolours.
But a number of concussions in recent years has seen him miss plenty of footy. Chooks supporters will be hoping he can avoid the same fate in 2023.
New Zealand Warriors
Inconsistency cruels Warriors finals hopes
It is a theme that has applied for many years, but savvy recruitment in the form of Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Te Maire Martin is a promising sign. Dylan Walker also will offer an x-factor off the bench.
Tigers finish ninth – again
Wests Tigers favourite son Benji Marshall is desperate to succeed as the club’s assistant coach in 2023, working under Tim Sheens
After ‘winning’ the wooden spoon last year, it would be an improvement. Their loyal fans have been starved of success, and the Tigers last featured in the top eight back in 2011.
With Tim Sheens in charge with club favourite Benji Marshall his assistant, the joint venture club have gone back to the future. Time will tell if it is a masterstroke or another calamity.