Greg Inglis is set to regain his mantle as the game's best player in 2013
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On the cusp of the 2013 season, we deliver our predictions for a huge year of rugby league ...
The Cowboys finished a disappointing fifth last year. In 2013 they will make the grand final. The premiership window is wide open for the Townsville team. North Queensland boasts an elite playmaker in Johnathan Thurston, the best pack in the competition and a useful backline. It is 'go' time for Neil Henry's men.
The Roosters were the worst-disciplined team last year and finished 13th. However their debutants Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Tautau Moga and Daniel Tupou all impressed, and the addition of James Maloney and Sonny Bill Williams enhances the club. Depth is a problem, but the Roosters could sneak into the play-offs.
When you are the reigning champ, the only way is down. The Melbourne Storm have three of the best half-dozen players on the planet, and the best coach in the game. However, after years of making do with an underpowered pack and scrambling to cover for a lack of depth, the Storm will come undone this year due to a drop in motivation. The mighty Melbourne will finish in the lower reaches of the top eight and bow out before the prelim finals.
Manly and Canberra will also slip, with neither team better than 50-50 to crack the top eight.
Nathan Merritt will notch 22 tries. He will not be selected for Origin.
Player of the year
In each of the last two seasons, seven of the first eight players in the Dally M have been fullbacks or halves. The trend will continue in 2013 when Greg Inglis regains his crown as the game's best player. Hugely powerful, creative and confident, GI showed in the Charity Shield that he is back to his best and ready to wreak havoc.
This will be the year that Ben Matulino is finally recognised as one of the best props in the sport. All that is required is for him to continue his form of the past two seasons, and for the pundits to wake up to his excellence.
Of the less-established brigade, we can't wait to see young wrecking ball Korbin Sims (the equally exotically-named younger brother of Ashton and Tariq) make his debut for the Knights. The Cowboys' giant teenager Jason Taumalolo will be a star this year.
Of the backs, we will see Michael Gordon fulfil his destiny and become a fantastic full-back at the Sharks. Meanwhile, at Flash's former club Penrith, keep an eye on brilliant winger Josh Mansour.
On the skids
It gives us zero pleasure to say that quality backs Lote Tuqiri, Matt King and Timana Tahu look to be running on old legs. Former international prop Brent Kite might struggle in 2013, too.
Chris Heighington is one of the least discussed members of the fleet of new Cronulla recruits, but he could be the most important. The England international is a quality player who will do a lot of the clean-up work that usually falls to Paul Gallen. However, more important is his ability to bond individuals into a team. With diverse faces now at the Sharks, the new boy will be working hard to create cohesion and camaraderie. His impact in the middle won't hurt, either.
Much less high-profile, James Segeyaro is a gun hooker who will be a great pick-up for Penrith.
We're tempted to say Israel Folau – but let's not go there. Instead, given the money he is receiving, we are worried about whether the Titans have erred in snaring Dave Taylor. The big fella doesn't like playing in tight, but we're not sure how much wide ball he will receive in this Gold Coast team. If John Cartwright can get Taylor to realise what his strengths are and keep him focused on his role he could be a boon, but we fear the big fella will be a bust.
Queensland 2-1, even with two games in Sydney, keeping the trophy north of the Tweed for what feels like the 87th straight year.
Headlines we don't want to see
- James Graham bares fangs at 1300SMILES Stadium
- PGA, MMA or LBW? SBW weighs new sporting options
- Matt Elliott and Ivan Cleary switch clubs again
- Jamal Idris shaves head
- Vatuvei plays match in boxing gloves; no difference in ball handling
Headlines we do want to see
- Ray Lewis reveals new Josh Dugan tattoo
- We didn't even know the refs were out there: fans
- Souths unveil latest Burgess brother, Baby John
- AFL signs Arana Taumata
- Ray Hadley rendered mute
First coach sacked
The Dragons have made it abundantly clear that they are scouting for a better-credentialled coach than Steve Price. The affable 35-year-old knows that there is a chopping block waiting for his head. We hope the club gives him a decent go, but the Dragons' first six rounds are tough – Melbourne (away), Brisbane, Canberra (away – the fixture they always lose), Cronulla (away), Newcastle, Wests Tigers (away), then the bye. If they don't win two or more of those matches, Price will be under severe pressure.
Penrith. The Panthers were second-bottom last year, and have lost club legend Luke Lewis, highest-paid player Michael Jennings and speedster Michael Gordon. What have you got up your sleeve, Gus?
How the grand final will play out
We have been big fans of the Bulldogs, but since the Ben Barba news broke we have cooled on the Belmore boys. That means the grannie will be played out between two sentimental favourites – the Cowboys, who have never won a premiership, and the Rabbitohs, who have had a longer dry spell than the Simpson Desert. Souths to win a thriller via a field goal in the 79th minute, concluding a magnificent 2013 in the NRL.
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