<big>Foxsports.com.au examines the big issues each NRL club faces as they prepare for season 2012</big>
By David Weiner FOX SPORTS December 06, 20119:40AM
It’s that time of year when NRL players return to the paddock after the off-season, and begin the routine of blood, sweat and tears ahead of the 2012 campaign.
The league landscape has changed dramatically since Manly celebrated the NRL premiership trophy in October and, as we wait eagerly to see how teams front up in 2012, foxsports.com.au asks: what are the biggest questions facing your club as we head into the new year?
We suggest the biggest challenges facing your club over the off-season, in order of where they finished on the table in 2011.
What are your biggest concerns? Join the debate by leaving a comment at the foot of the page.
Something remarkable happened at the end of 2011: Melbourne Storm cracked under pressure. Craig Bellamy’s side would have pencilled in 2011 as a year of redemption; instead, despite their recent dominance, they are still looking for that elusive premiership (after they were stripped of their 2007 and 2009 titles). They’ve been steady in the recruitment stakes, and why wouldn’t you be when you’ve got Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith in your key positions. Can Craig Bellamy continue to get the best out of his underrated squad? Manly and the Warriors pipped them in 2011 after the Storm had looked throughout the year to be the best team in the competition. Will the Storm maintain the rage as ruthless pacesetters in 2012 or have they had their chance?
MANLY SEA EAGLES
Premiership? What premiership? Within days of claiming a brilliant win over the Warriors in the NRL decider, Manly became a club engulfed in turmoil. If William Hopoate’s move to Parramatta wasn’t enough to dampen the grand final celebrations, the club descended into a Des Hasler soap opera. He’s gone, as are a host of staff, and it will be intriguing to watch how club legend Geoff Toovey copes in his first year as head coach. Can Manly buck a recent NRL trend to win back-to-back premierships? Can the feeling of discontent at Brookvale be cured? The stakes are raised and all eyes will be on the likes of Daly Cherry-Evans, Kieran Foran, Tony Williams and the Stewart brothers to see if they can reproduce their 2011 heroics.
Let’s see if Brisbane’s succession planning fares a little better than Australian cricket’s has. All eyes will be on life post-Darren Lockyer at Suncorp Stadium. How do you replace your leader, go-to man and one of the game’s ornaments? You can’t, but one thing the Broncos have never lacked are good youngsters. Corey Norman has shown glimpses of class in his taste of first grade and will likely get first shot alongside Peter Wallace. Or will Anthony Griffin turn to a Ben Hunt, Luke Capewell or even Matt Gillett? Either way, it’s a big year for Wallace, Josh Hoffman and Andrew McCullough with the playmaking duties.
Does anyone like each other at Wests Tigers anymore? Reports of internal ructions have helped to keep rugby league headlines ticking over this off-season, but, when it comes down to business, Robbie Farah, Benji Marshall and co will need to cope with the new tag of premiership favouritism. After spending two years trying to craft Robert Lui into a top-class halfback, the Tigers gave the errant No.7 the flick. Will Tim Moltzen, now happily a Tigers player again, be the solution in the halves? The Tigers have recruited heavily and will be under enormous pressure to find consistency in 2012.
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA
How will the Dragons cope post-Wayne Bennett? The legendary coach turned the club around during his tenure, instilling discipline and a ruthlessness; what will be Steve Price’s hallmark as Dragons coach? Some pundits believe the side might free their shoulders and play a more expansive game in 2012, but there are still a few question marks hovering around the club. How will the likes of Jason Nightingale, Daniel Vidot, Denan Kemp and Chase and Kyle Stanley fare filling the shoes of Darius Boyd and Mark Gasnier? Will Jamie Soward maintain the rage without his mentor? Will the Dragons find the motivation that left them late in 2011?
The Warriors were a team that threatened to promise so much in 2011 … and then did. Their late run of form saw them surge into the season decider, but they’ll have to build on that without long-term boss Ivan Cleary. In steps Brian “Bluey” McClennan, who did a stirring job with the New Zealand national team from 2005-2007 and who has since enjoyed success on the club front with Leeds Rhinos. He could be the perfect man to guide this promising group. The Warriors halves were a phenomenon during their late run in 2011. How will Shaun Johnson cope with the burden of expectation? And how will James Maloney fare given that he has already declared he will move to Sydney Roosters in 2013?
NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS
The 2011 season was a case of what could have been for the Cowboys, as they were perfectly placed on the competition table until Johnathan Thurston’s injury. Strangely, his return coincided with a slump that saw them become finals also-rans. Thurston has Robert Lui, with plenty to prove, by his side in 2012. Will Lui, finally, be the player to complement and assist Matt Bowen and JT with the playmaking duties?
It is a massive year at Newcastle: the Tinkler revolution is in full swing; Darius Boyd and Wayne Bennett arrive from St George Illawarra; and Rick Stone shuffles down to play Bennett’s second-fiddle. On the playing front, club legend Danny Buderus returns for a final swansong, while Bennett has gambled on journeymen Timana Tahu, Adam Cuthbertson and Daine Laurie. They’ll be expecting big things at Ausgrid Stadium, and Nathan Tinkler probably wants success instantly. How will coach and owner interact? It will be fascinating to watch their relationship.
Another season of mediocrity won’t be acceptable at the Bulldogs. Des Hasler’s dramatic arrival has been the most significant off-season shift. Jim Dymock will revert to an assistants’ role, and Hasler will have the chance to return the club back to its best after a couple of ordinary seasons. England star James Graham is the major off-season purchase. What will Hasler do to be able to get more out of a playing roster that plateaued under Kevin Moore?
Who is going to play halfback for the Rabbitohs? Reports suggest new coach Michael Maguire has run the players ragged in the early stages of pre-season, upping the ante to finally get the best out of the boys at Redfern. But everything good at the club in their hot finish to the season came off the back of mercurial Chris Sandow. Who will fill the void in 2012? They are banking on young Adam Reynolds stepping up in 2012, but they’ll also need Nathan Merritt, John Sutton and Issac Luke at one, six and nine to step up big time. Can they build on their exciting end to 2011?
Will Brian Smith’s side rediscover stability after a disappointing 2011? The Roosters have offloaded a raft of “dead wood”, and they will hope that they can build on the consistent brand of football that salvaged the back of this year. Will Brian Smith return Braith Anasta to the No.6 jumper or will Daniel Mortimer be given another chance to resurrect his first grade career? The club have a really promising batch of young forwards; is it onwards and upwards at Bondi Junction without the off-field headlines Todd Carney brought?
The Phil “Gus” Gould era continues in earnest at the foot of the mountains. The players rallied for Steve Georgiallis when he stepped in during 2011, but will they respond now Ivan Cleary takes charge of a side minus the on-field leadership of Petero Civoniceva. After a false dawn in 2010, the Panthers are yearning for success. They haven’t moved significantly in the player market. Can Gould, Cleary and co take the Panthers wake up the NRL’s sleeping giant in the Sydney’s west?
Why will you succeed, Cronulla, where the Raiders and Roosters have failed? The Sharks’ gamble on Todd Carney will be another one of the fascinating plots to follow in 2012. Will it work? Is it worth the risk? Will he bring his baggage with him? The saga continues … Meanwhile, what will coach Shane Flanagan do with his other halves, Wade Graham and Albert Kelly? There is a sprinkling of talent in the Sharks squad, with Bryce Gibbs and Andrew Fifita brought in to offset the loss of Kade Snowden and Luke Douglas. Will Carney bring the flair to go with the Sharks’ determination?
Stephen Kearney’s debut season was nothing short of a disaster. So much was expected of the Eels but they simply did not deliver. They’ve released plenty of 2011 flops, and raided the player market. On paper, they have the attacking armoury to be anything in 2012. The question is; can Kearney get the balance right? Will Chris Sandow and Ben Roberts take the pressure off Jarryd Hayne? Will Nathan Hindmarsh get the support he needs in the forwards? The Eels have not avoided off-season board room turmoil either, and it remains to be seen what impact Paul Osbourne’s departure will have on the club.
How long until the knives come out for David Furner in 2012? The Raiders coach came in for huge criticism from Canberra fans after a hugely disappointing season. Shaun Berrigan is their only high-profile signing, but they still boast talent, on paper, from 1 to 17. Most league fans will have their fingers crossed that Terry Campese can return to his best. If he does, it’s a whole new ball game for Canberra.
GOLD COAST TITANS
Put simply, it can’t get any worse for John Cartwright’s side in 2012. They were the dominant force in the player market, headlined with the recruitment of Jamal Idris and Beau Champion in the backs and Luke Douglas and Nate Myles in the forwards. The Titans needed to add some serious spark to an aging side that was listless for most of 2011. Will the added starch and spark see Scott Prince return to his best? The classy general struggled last campaign, and he’ll need to return to his best in 2012 - especially as the Titans search for their best options in the other key playmaking positions.
Gee that journos name in unfortunate.
westTAHger last edited by
Gee that journos name in unfortunate.
he is lucky his first name is not Iva, and knickname being " tiny"
only time will tell if wests-tigers live up to the expectation.