A good preview of the season ahead, mostly based on some fairly in-depth data analysis. I agree with a lot that is mentioned here. Liking what they have to say about Parra (some good points mentioned too). I don’t think anyone can argue with our rating below, we’ll need something to really click (definitely possible), and for at least 1 or 2 important players to REALLY step up if we are any chance of making the 8.

2018 NRL Season Preview - Betfair

The 2018 NRL season is just around the corner and in analyzing the futures market in the run in to the season much remains the same. I can see improvements from the Raiders after and extremely disappointing season and the Rabbitohs should trend upwards after a season ravaged by injury, but it is honestly very hard to look past the premiers from last season. The Storm have been stalwarts for some time now and I would expect much of the same this season.

The Banker
There is no more reliable team in Australian sport than the Melbourne Storm. In the Craig Bellamy era, the Storm have made the finals every year but the season they were kicked out. They have won at least 14 games a season since 2006, they have finished in the Top 4 in 10 of the last 12 seasons, they have played in seven of the last 12 Grand Finals, they have won four deciders and they have won 19-plus games in five of the last 12 years. Last season they went 20-4, won the premiership, finished as the top attacking team by 36 points and the top defensive team by an incredible 71 (to put that in perspective, 52 points covered second to ninth). The loss of Cooper Cronk is no doubt significant but every indication suggests Brodie Croft is going to be some kind of player. This season Cameron Munster will take on more of the playmaking duties to assist in easing Croft into the role. The return of Ryan Hoffman and the purchase of Sam Kasiano also seem incredibly astute. The Storm train will keep chugging on and will continue to while Bellamy, Cam Smith and Billy Slater are all in town. They are Top 4 certainties and every chance of becoming the first team in two decades to go back-to-back.

The Champion
The game will say goodbye to the incomparable Johnathan Thurston this season and there is nothing that champion No.7 will want more than to leave lifting the NRL trophy with his North Queensland Cowboys teammates. Realistically, there are only three teams that can win it all in 2018: champions Melbourne, favourites the Sydney Roosters and the Cowboys. Just as Cooper Cronk’s farewell gave the Storm that extra edge in 2017, Thurston’s departure may well just be the difference between three evenly matched teams. The Cowboys have the best and deepest roster in the NRL with few holes anywhere across the paddock. They have the most dominant halves pairing in Thurston and Michael Morgan. No forward pack is more imposing than that led by Jason Taumalolo and featuring rep players Coen Hess, Gavin Cooper, Matt Scott and now Australian prop Jordan McLean. Their run into the Grand Final last year was incredibly special and showed what kind of belief and culture Paul Green has instilled in Townsville. With the 15th worst injury toll, the Cowboys had no right to even make the finals. They went within 80 minutes of a title. There is something special brewing up north, something really special.

Rising Fast
Ricky Stuart’s Canberra Raiders were the big disappointment of last season, touted to go on a premiership tilt in early markets after reaching the 2016 preliminary final and pushing the Melbourne Storm. They were never in the hunt, winning just 11 games and finishing 10th on the ladder. The key stat to show where the Raiders truly are was their record in close games: Canberra finished an NRL-worst 2-8 in games decided by a single score. Teams with such an unlucky record in close games inevitably bounce back and the Raiders have a fairly high base to work from. The loss of star hooker Josh Hodgson is big but perhaps not as crucial as most think. He has a tendency to overplay his hand and frustrated his halves no end in 2017. Sam Williams is an excellent buy back for his third stint with Canberra and he should give them more organisation while Aidan Sezer shifts to the nine. Just a return to an average season from the likes of Joey Leilua, Blake Austin and Shannon Boyd will have Canberra fighting for a spot either just inside or just outside the Top 4.

On The Up
The Michael Maguire era came to an end at South Sydney after the 2017 season and despite ending one of Rugby League’s most famous premiership droughts just four seasons earlier, his time was well and truly up. The fresh voice of Anthony Seibold – sofly spoken, intellectual, the opposite of Maguire’s fire and brimstone approach – is just what the Rabbitohs need. Few teams had a worse run with injury last year so expect to see a team chock full of talent kick off the year. Greg Inglis will never return to the unstoppable player he once was but he can become the best centre in the game and will form a strike pairing with new recruit Dane Gagai. Adam Reynolds is one of the most consistent No.7s in the game. Sam Burgess will be better for a year back in the 13-man game. Cody Walker and Damien Cook are two of the most underappreciated ball-runners in the game, sizzling players who play at a dangerous speed. There are some question marks on the right wing and with the prop rotation but with a more even run with injury they shape as a team very much on the up and with a finals berth well within their grasp.

The Slider
The Manly Sea Eagles were the big surprise packets of 2017, finishing sixth with a 14-10 record after starting the year forecast for a bottom four finish. They will not be repeating with a bottom four finish far more likely than a return to the playoffs this year. The warning signs are everywhere. There was the sharp jump last season, that nearly always returns to the mean the year following. There was the 6-2 record in close games, another key indicator a down year is coming. They overshot their real win rate by 1.5 wins. They have a salary cap scandal hanging over their heads. Blake Green, underrated in his importance to the team, has left for the Warriors and Trent Barrett seems no closer to finding a five-eighth than he does in finding Noah’s Ark. Lachlan Croker and Jackson Hastings seem the front-runners. The pack lacks punch. There is no depth across the park. The bottom looks to be falling out at Brookvale.

The market is as accurate as it has been in years when it comes to preseason futures markets but one team that does seem to be overvalued is the Parramatta Eels. The return of Jarryd Hayne says a lot about the Eels. While things seem to have changed significantly last year as the Eels returned to the finals for the first time since 2009, the club seems to have reverted back to its foolish ways in signing Hayne, who has found team success very little throughout his sporting career. He wants to play fullback but will likely play centre and we all know how an unhappy Hayne turns out. Half Corey Norman is reportedly also unhappy while mid-season signing Mitchell Moses won’t possibly play as well as he did after switching clubs. There is not a lot of ferocity about the forwards and there is a glaring hole at hooker. There is talent at the Eels, no doubt, but the pieces of the puzzle don’t all seem to fit.

Bottom of the Pack
The Wests Tigers are in the throes of a rebuild and the loss of their two best players in James Tedesco and Aaron Woods suggests the Tigers still have further to fall. Ivan Cleary is a top quality coach and will be aware that 2018 is a rebuilding year. The culture needed a reset. The roster needs an overhaul. Stylistically things must change. Young talent must be given a chance to develop. The rot has long been engrained at the Tigers and it will take some time to rid the club of it. Some curious recruitment decisions – bringing back Benji Marshall, signing beleaguered Russell Packer, bringing back a host of veterans from Super League – suggest Cleary knows 2018 is very much a holding year. The 13th most difficult draw and the lack of above average talent in any single unit should see the Tigers favoured for the spoon.

The Draw
The Sydney Roosters have been gifted the easiest draw in 2018, playing teams with a combined 262 wins from 2017. They have just nine matches scheduled against Top 8 teams from last year – no other team has fewer than 11 with the Knights and Titans having 14 matches against finalists from last year. Melbourne (268) and Penrith (270) have the second and third cushiest draws. Newcastle – not surprisingly as they don’t get to play themselves – have the most difficult draw, playing a combined 308 wins from last year. New Zealand (303 wins) and the Gold Coast (301) are the other teams with a combined 300-plus win opposition slate. State Of Origin will have less of an impact on the draw this year with each team receiving only one bye and having to play just one match without their Origin stars. Small beneficiaries will be the Dragons, Tigers and Titans who play the Storm, Roosters and Broncos without their large Origin contingents. No team has a more difficult start to the year than Canterbury, who face the Roosters and Panthers twice as well as the Storm, Cowboys and Broncos in the first nine weeks.