Rocky's Season Predictions.
Friday February 06, 2004

The 2004 NRL season is only footsteps away, and already we've witnessed some fantastic displays of skill and determination, particularly by the Wests Tigers in last Sunday's brilliant victory over the Parramatta Eels in the World Sevens final. Benji Marshall and Scott Sattler lead their team to a 18-7 victory in what was a very promising display of rugby league, which would most definitely be a major confidence boost heading into this years NRL season.

So Will the Tigers prove their critics wrong and become a real force in this year's competition? Well let's put those thick Urkle glasses on, and see into the future shall we?

Brisbane Broncos - After a horrifying finish to the 2003 NRL season, the Broncos are ready to show off some of rugby league's finest thoroughbreds. With the departure of Andrew Gee, Richard Swain, Scott Prince, Mick Coorey and Phill Lee, the Broncos have lost a mix of experience and young talent, however, off season recruit Motu Tony will unquestionably add some desired spark into the Broncos squad. Other newbies include Karmichael Hunt, Tom Learoyd, and Berrick Barns, who have recently had their fair share of raps listed under their names by many excited fans.

The Broncos should do well this season, however it will largely depend on how well they hold up after the origin period. No one expects the Broncos to perform at their peak after a gruelling origin series, however, if they're aiming to make the top 4 or higher, they'll have to overcome the origin virus they've caught over the past few seasons (But more notably last season.) But with Gorden Tallis now focusing solely on the Broncos, after retiring from representative football, the inspirational captain should lead the team through a fairly solid season.

Predicted Finish: 4th.
Players to watch!: Darren Lockyer, Brett Seymour, Brent Tate.

Canberra Raiders - After finishing in the top four last season, Raiders fans couldn't be much happier. Finally their team discovered a way to win away from home, which then provided them with the confidence they needed to win games on a consistent basis. If they are to repeat the success of last season, key players such as Ryan O'Hara, Clinton Shifcofske, Ruben Wiki and Mark McLinden must once again, show the way. Provided they stay relatively fit for most of the season, the Raiders will make the 8.

Predicted Finish: 7th
Players To Watch! Clinton Shifcofske, Ryan O'Hara, Jason Bulgarelli.

Canterbury Bulldogs - The salary cap debacle was a real slap on the face for the Bulldogs. After hearing the news that they were not permitted to participate in the 2002 NRL Final Series, they were devastated. However, they all stuck together for the 2003 season, but the pressure was on, and they didn't live up to expectations.

It's 2004, and with the loss of key players Nigel Vagana and Travis Norton, no one's expecting the Doggs to be a real force in this year's competition. That is why I honestly believe the Bulldogs will be the hardest team to beat this season. The pressure valve has been released, the controversy is over, and the Dogs are ready to bite!

2003 was a rather disappointing year for Both Braith Anasta and Brent Sherwin, but 2004 will be the year where everyone realises just how capable this halves combination really is. Lets throw an aggressive forward pack and a talented speedy backline into the mix, stir it all up, and we're left with a very gifted team.

Predicted Finish: 1st
Players To Watch!: Brent Sherwin, Braith Anasta, Ben Harris

Cronulla Sharks -
Plenty of changes have been made, and the Sharks are ready to put all the controversy aside, and get on with playing football again.

There's a whole new culture surrounding the Sharks, and I sense it's the start of something big. Brett Kimmorley is there for a while, and is widely regarded as one of the best players in the world, plenty of young talent is coming through, and most importantly, they've got a loyal fan base. As soon as they acquire the taste of victory again, nothing will stop the feeding frenzy.

New recruits, Nigal Vagana and Nathan Merrit will most definitely add some much needed spark to the Sharks backline, while Danny Nutley, Chris Beattie, Jason Stevens and Matt Hilder will continue to show how exceptional they are in what is a very authoritative forward pack.

Watch out for the Sharks, they're definitely my pick for the dark horse of this year's competition.

Predicted Finish: 6th
Players To Watch!: Paul Franze, Matt Hilder, Brett Kimmorley

Manly Sea Eagles -
Peter Sharp is out, and they've made a few changes to the team. But unfortunately, I can't see any positives coming out from the changes made. I thought Peter Sharp was good for the club, and the signing of a well noted "trouble-maker" Andrew Walker, is a risky one.

I can't see anything in the Manly team that will guarantee them any success.

Predicted Finish: 15th
Players To Watch!: Jason King, Chad Randall.

Melbourne Storm -
 Craig Bellamy did a magnificent job with his side last season. Matt Orford and Billy Slater were stars, While Robbie Kearns led by example and showed the young pack what winning was all about. However, star playmaker Scott Hill was luckless, injuring his shoulder numerous times.

Not many changes made this season but I predict the Storm to not be as successful as they were in 2003. They're an exciting and talented team when they've got their full team on paper, but unfortunately, it's been a while since they've fielded their strongest side, and I can't see anything changing, especially with Scott Hill's relentless injuries.

I feel, as though something will go wrong this season, Melbourne won't be as lucky this time.

Predicted Finish: 13th
Players To Watch!: Kirk Reynoldson, Matt Orford, Ryan Hoffman.

New Zealand Warriors -
Definitely one of the most exciting teams to watch. When you've got players such as Brent Webb, Clinton Toopi, Stacey Jones, Ali Lauiti'iti, Francis Meli and Henry Fa'afili all showing off their skills, you're always guaranteed a bit of excitement.

My main concern is weather or not the Warriors can do this week in, week out. Too many times have we seen them beat the competition leaders by 20 one week, only to lose to a team out of the top 8 the next.

If they stick to basics each week, they'll definitely be fairly consistent all season. They KNOW how good they look when they throw the ball around, but that seemed like the problem last season. Did it get to their heads? Possibly. Will they learn from it this season? Maybe.

Predicted Finish: 5th
Players To Watch ! Brent Webb, Tevita Latu, Sione Faumuina

Newcastle Knights - They've got plenty of talent, but unfortunately, they're way too reliant on Andrew Johns.

It could be Andrew Johns' last year this season, and if the Knights are planning to rely on Andrew Johns again, then they could be in for a big surprise. It's relatively common for players to lose their touch when they're near the end of their career, and I believe it's just around the corner for Joey. He just won't have that sting in him this season, and as a result, the Knights won't perform as well.

If the Knights are to be successful, they must believe in each other as much as they believe in their captain, Andrew Johns.

Predicted Finish: 9th
Players To Watch!: Kurt Gidley, Steve Simpson.

North Queensland Cowboys - After a very promising 2003 season, the Cowboys are waiting for the 2004 NRL competition with great anticipation. They've managed to pick up the talented ball playing lock, Travis Norton from the Bulldogs, the very aggressive Luke O'Donnell from the Tigers, and a young go-getter from the Storm, Mitchell Sargent. They've definitely got a forward pack that can match it with any in the competition, however I'm predicting the Cowboys to be over-confident, forgetting to do the basics which helped them do so well last season.

Predicted Finish: 11th
Players To Watch! Luke O'Donnell, Matt Bowen, Josh Hannay.

Parramatta Eels - After losing a few players to others clubs, or retirement, the Eels have had no luck since 2001. No drastic changes for season 2004, however talented halfback Michael Witt looks like a future star, but will need more assistance from the forwards if the Eels have any hope of making the finals.

It would appear that it's going to be a further year of re-building for the Eels. There's just not enough hostility and in the forwards, and not enough reliability and strike power in the backs.

Predicted Finish: 12th
Players To Watch!: Michael Witt, John Morris.

Penrith Panthers -
Their hardest task will be not to let the pressure of high expectations get to them. They're young, and fairly inexperienced, so I'm predicting them to fail at this assignment.

They'll most definitely miss the experience and leadership, which Scott Sattler offered to the team, which could be costly in tight games.

They'll be reasonably competitive, but season 2004 will be a big kick up the butt for them.

Predicted Finish: 8th
Players To Watch!: Luke Lewis, Trent Waterhouse, Preston Campbell.

South Sydney Rabbitohs -
While they were competitive in most of the games they played last season, they really didn't have any players experienced or talented enough to spark something special in tight games. No game breaker, no game saver.

The arrival of Terry Hill and Adam MacDougall should lend a hand, but there still won't be an adequate amount of talent and experience for the Bunnies to worry too many teams in 2004.

Predicted Finish: 14th.
Players To Watch!: Mark Minichiello, Justin Smith.

St George Illawarra -
For the last few seasons, they've undoubtedly been the underachievers of the NRL competition. They've got one of, if not the best team on paper. So where have they gone wrong?

Injuries have inundated them, but I believe this year they'll stay relatively free of injury, including the luckless Trent Barrett, their key play maker. Trent Barrett and Brent Firman will gel and become the most feared halves combination in the competition. Combined with speedy talented backs and a huge forward pack, the Dragons are on target for the minor premiership.

Predicted Finish: 2nd.
Players To Watch!: Mark Gasnier, Mark Riddell, Ben Hornby.

Sydney Roosters - After a disappointing grand final loss to the Penrith Panthers, the Roosters are ready for revenge. However, after everyone heard about the Roosters taking the NRL to court over the salary cap, it would appear that every team wants revenge on the Roosters, who are indisputably the most hated team in the NRL. Will they manage?

I think they will. They've got a good coach, brilliant 5/8 and playmaker, and plenty of talent spread along the board. (Wing, Hegarty, Minichiello, Fitzgibbon, Finch, Ricketson etc) and in addition, a loyal fan base. If Fittler stays fit, they'll be competing with the Bulldogs and Dragons for the minor premiership.

Once again, the Roosters will be hard to beat.

Predicted Finish: 3nd
Players To Watch! Craig Fitzgibbon, Jason Cayless, Chris Flannery.

Wests Tigers - They've had no luck since emerging as a join venture in 2000. Plenty of controversy, ill-disciplined players, and embarrassing losses. However, could this year be a turn of luck for the Tigers?

They've gained talented halfback Scott Prince from the Broncos, Scott Sattler from Penrith, Brett Hodgson from Parramatta and Nick Graham from.....well, England. Will these players step up, show their true talent and lead the team to a fairly successful year?.....

I predict the Tigers to use this year as a moulding year, however they'll be much more competitive than last season, winning at least 9 games. It will be a positive year for the Tigers, which could bring them big things in season 2005.

Predicted Finish: 10th.
Players To Watch!: Scott Prince, Brett Hodgson, John Wilson, Dene Halatau.

So, if those glasses see correctly, the NRL ladder for 2004 should look something like this.

1. Canterbury Bulldogs
2. St George Illawarra Dragons
3. Sydney Roosters
4. Brisbane Broncos
5. New Zealand Warriors
6. Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
7. Canberra Raiders
8. Penrith Panthers
9. Newcastle Knights
10. Wests Tigers
11. Nth Qld Cowboys
12. Parramatta Eels
13. Melbourne Storm
14. South Sydney Rabbitohs
15. Manly Sea Eagles

Well off comes those Urkle glasses, and there we have it. Rocky's season predictions. If you're an Eagles supporter, I'm sorry but.............

Did iiiii doo that?


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