THE predictions are in and the winner of the 2018 NRL premiership is … North Queensland!
That’s the verdict from the rugby league experts at Fox Sports, who are tipping last year’s runners-up to go one better in 2018.
NRL greats including Matty Johns, Gorden Tallis, Greg Alexander were on hand at the Fox League 2018 launch today, and we asked them for their predictions for the upcoming season.
Each expert was asked:
— Who will win the 2018 NRL premiership?
— Who is the dark horse for this year’s title?
— Which team is most likely to go backwards?
— Which player will be the best buy of 2018?
Read on to see what the Fox Sports NRL experts predict for the 2018 season
Premiers: I think it’s going to be hard to break the status quo. I think Melbourne Storm and North Queensland are still a step ahead of the rest. Roosters will go close with Cronk and the new signings but it takes a while to get those combinations. I’m going to go Storm v Cowboys grand final. Why not? Storm back to back.
Dark horse: I’m not saying the Gold Coast are going to be a top four side. But I honestly believe the Gold Coast are going to surprise a lot of people. I think the Gold Coast will improve dramatically. I’ll tell you why, they’ve got Ash Taylor who I believe is going to be the best player in the game. Whether it will be next year, year after … it’s just a matter of time.
Most likely to go backwards: I see the Broncos going backwards. I think Ben Hunt is maybe a bigger loss than they think it’s going to be. St George IIIawarra is an interesting one. I haven’t got them in my eight so I think they slip back a little bit. They’ve got Ben Hunt and James Graham who will go well, so they might surprise.
Best buy: Mitchell Pearce. I think the town and the team suit him. I’ve bumped into Mitchell a few times, he’s buzzing, he’s happy. I think the change will do him good.
Premiers: Cowboys. The return of Johnathan Thurston in the line-up along with Matt Scott and the signing of Jordan McLean at the moment puts them as my favourites
Dark horse: I don’t think in this competition there can be a dark horse. Everyone has claims on a top eight spot. You have to separate those teams in the end. I really don’t think there is a dark horse. My prediction is the Knights will grab a top eight spot.
Most likely to go backwards: I think the Sea Eagles will miss the eight this year. Then there’s the Warriors, can they go lower than they were last year? Yes. They can run last so I think they’ll go backwards as well.
Best buy: James Maloney. That’s an easy one. One of my favourite players over half-a-dozen years. He’s slotted in perfectly at Penrith, he’ll be fantastic.
Premiers: Roosters. I think they purchased really well to get Cooper Cronk, with the organisation and game management he brings to a football team. They’ve got young Latrell (Mitchell), they’ve got (Blake) Ferguson, they’ve got a great forward pack — two of the meanest front-rowers in the competition.
Dark horse: The two biggest improvers of the competition will be the Titans and the Knights. I think (Wests Tigers coach Ivan) Cleary has this ability for magic dust and the other day when they beat the Cowboys, they beat them pretty easy. Those three sides have all recruited really well which is a credit to those coaches.
Most likely to go backwards: I think it’s the Warriors. I can’t see them improving. They’ve had every coach go over there. They’ve had good coaches too in Ivan Cleary and Daniel Anderson. It comes down to Shaun Johnson, he needs to step up. When Foran went over last year that would have been the best spine they’ve ever had. I just don’t see them improving with the player losses they have had.
Best buy: Jordan McLean and Mitchell Pearce.
Premiers: Cowboys. They went on such a courageous run through the finals and they did so without all of their superstars. And I think that playing group learned so much about their own leadership and talent, especially with Gavin Cooper, Michael Morgan and Ethan Lowe. Now they have the best player in the game Johnathan Thurston back and I hope they can finish what they started so bravely in last year’s finals run.
Dark horse: Raiders. They lost so many games by one or two points last year but the differential was really tight.
Most likely to go backwards: Warriors. I just can’t see a solution there. They’re so important to the competition and they have so much talent and so much potential but … the Warriors.
Best buy: Kalyn Ponga. He has everything. He has all the toughness, all the talent, all of the skill and I think he is really enjoying his new home in Newcastle.
Premiers: Cowboys. Just as it was Smith, Cronk and Slater’s destiny last year it will be Thurston’s destiny to get another premiership this year.
Dark horse: I don’t think there is a dark horse simply because there is a big three. I think Cowboys, Storm, Roosters are standouts. They only won the comp two-years ago but I think they’ll have one more shot in them and I think they’ll be there down the pointy end of the competition and they have a big player roster of experience so it doesn’t seem right to call them a dark horse but I think they will be there in the penultimate weekend of the competition.
Most likely to go backwards: I have Manly being the team plummeting. I think they overachieved last year and will finish 15th — from top eight to bottom four finish. To soften the blow, I think the gap between I think the cluster of teams near the bottom of the top eight will be very close.
Best buy: James Tedesco. I think if he stays fit, the dynamic he brings to the Roosters attack will be something so exciting and make Tigers fans cry on a weekly basis.
Premiers: Cowboys. Thurston no Origin, Scott back, Jordan McLean into the side. The emergence of Coen Hess and add Jason Taumalolo, the best middle forward in the world.
Dark horse: St George Illawarra. I’m still not sure how well Gareth Widdop will go or what Paul McGregor does with him and that will be key. Ben Hunt will be really big for them and they’ll be a top eight contender.
Most likely to go backwards: Sometimes it’s hard to tell at this stage but the side I that will struggle is Gold Coast Titans. I still think they have issues with their playing roster.
Best buy: Kalyn Ponga. Absolute star in the making. Should have seen more of the football at NRL level up to this point. He’ll be at number one and will make a huge impact on the Knights.