Published March 11, 2021
Having spent the off-season trying to decide if NOT The Footy Show would in fact be able to record a few pre-season podcasts, the answer has presented itself less than a week out from the start of the 2021 NRL Season... and the answer is no!
So here on www.wdnicolson.com you will get a good old fashioned text preview (10 mins before kickoff) of how I see the regular season ladder playing out and which two teams will end up playing for all the biscuits in the 2021 decider.
🎙 THE VERDICT:
1. Penrith Panthers - too deep to not be minor premiership favourites, but I still have reservations on their ability to win big games with their style cramping up under pressure so I see them missing a return trip to the GF.
2. Sydney Roosters - still love any team sporting Tedesco and Keary running things. Simply ran out of puff after back to back premierships and a full off season will have renewed the bodies and the hunger and they are my favourites for the pointy end of the season as the supporting cast is excellent once again.
3. South Sydney Rabbitohs - the pack has improved with Arrow on board and it was pretty good in the second half of last year. The backline is so good 1-7 that they will blow a few also rans off the park this year. Grand Final bound for Uncle Benny’s last hurrah... at Souths.
4. Melbourne Storm - Cam Smith is a dramatic loss as he still kept the Melbourne machine ticking week in week out. Don’t think Canberra or Parramatta are going to be wildly better than last year so out of respect for the remaining 2020 premiers they sit in 4th. Loved Harry Grant at the Tigers but Brandon Smith’s best position is hooker so Melbourne have a quandary as to how to get full value from both. Papy and Munster are weapons and get the Storm into the Top 4 but they won’t repeat...
5. Parramatta Eels - Parra were very good for a long stretch in 2020 but went out of the Semis with a whimper (again) and they aren’t any better on paper in 2021. For that reason I can’t push them ahead of the above four teams, however I won’t rule out a preliminary finals appearance this time around. Good but I don’t see great.
6. Canberra Raiders - 2020 felt like their best chance to go one better than the missed opportunity that was the 2019 decider. Losing Bateman is huge and although Hodgson returns the Raiders don’t feel like the Top 4 certainty of last year. Could go on a run late in the season but it doesn’t smell premiershippy in Canberra.
7. Gold Coast Titans - needed Cam Smith to really secure a Top 8 spot but when you look at what is left below - you can understand why I’ve got them in the Top 8 for the first time since 2015. Tino, Fifita and Brimson - sure there’s holes in a lot of places but this is going to be a fun team to watch.
8. Newcastle Knights - The coach went all Bellamy late in the season and they didn’t trouble the scorers thereafter... I do wonder if the hard ‘Melbourne’ style is repeatable elsewhere if it doesn’t produce the same results so I barely have the Knights getting back to the finals. Then again the next best team is Manly and these two teams have very similar ingredients. Knights join Titans by sneaking into the Top 8 ahead of a bunch of poor teams.
9. Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles - Love DCE, the Trbojevics, Foran and Taupau. This is some veteran core but really struggle to get excited for the rest of the squad. 2020 felt like the Manly we expected in 2019 and I am not convinced Supercoach Dessie is the magician he’s given credit for being. Tommy’s hammies come good and they could easily displace the Titans or Knights.
10. Warriors - just can’t see them in the finals although they got close last year. I would love to be wrong given what they continue to do for the game to continue. Enjoy watching RTS while you can kids.
11. Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks - This could be 2-3 rungs too high if Shaun Johnson isn’t back by Round 6-7. Not a great collection of talent and I think they overachieved last year anyway.
12. Wests Tigers - Just not excited about this team defensively at all. Might score some points with some promising footy but they look so brittle in about 5 or 6 positions and that does not equate to moving up the ladder.
13. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs - might struggle early and come good late if Trent Barrett is willing to let his backline play some footy. So much rests on Flanagan and Allan to create opportunities and they both still feel untested in this role. You are not without hope this year Canterbury fans - hold onto it.
14. North Queensland Cowboys - This 13th spot rank is because this is a roster that is much the same to what produced nothing of note in 2020. They played unimaginative football and below average defence last year... and then they sacked Paul Green and little changed. Todd Payten did a good job at the Warriors but rectifying the ad-lib Cowboys is going to be some task. I think the Top 8 is beyond them but they should wake up and play some far better footy than Green was able to impart after JT.
15. Brisbane Broncos - The drastic turnaround will come but I don't believe it will be under Kevin Walters. Some bright spots in 2021 but they will be few and far between. Long season ahead.
16. St George Illawarra Dragons - They were bad last year and the only change is Anthony Griffin is in as head coach... they will be bad again. Sorry Red V fans.
Grand Final: Roosters v Rabbitohs
Dally M - Nathan Cleary
Rookie of the Year - Charlie Staines
Top Tryscorer - Daniel Tupou
Top Pointscorer - Adam Reynolds
Origin - NSW 3-0
Podcast hopefully to come next week.