With the 2012 NRL season done and dusted, how is your club shaping up for 2013? In Part 1 we looked at what the teams that missed the finals need in order to be competitive next season, and now we see where this year's top eight have room to improve.
Last season's finish: 8th
Who they've lost: Gerard Beale (Dragons), Petero Civoniceva (retired), Ben Te'o (Rabbitohs)
Who they've signed: Nobody
What they need: Their young guns to get older. That may seem a strange answer for a club that struggled to sneak into the finals and has been made $21 premiership outsiders with the bookies at this stage (and it is very early to be betting on the 2013 premiership), but the Broncos have some of the best young players in the NRL and they'll only improve next season. Corey Norman started the year in great touch as Darren Lockyer's replacement at five-eighth, but his form waned as the season dragged on and too much responsibility was put on the shoulders of halfback Peter Wallace. With a quality forward pack and some real talent in the outside backs, the ability of the Wallace-Norman (or Wallace-Ben Hunt) partnership to click in the halves will be crucial to Brisbane's chances. Otherwise, they could be in the market for a specialist five-eighth come 2014. There are already rumours the Broncos are chasing Johnathan Thurston...
Six games that shaped the Broncos' season
Last season's finish: 7th
Who they've lost: Tyson Frizell (Dragons), Colin Best (retirement), John Williams (retirement), Jeremy Smith (Knights)
Who they've signed: Michael Gordon (Panthers), Luke Lewis (Panthers), Jonathan Wright (Bulldogs), Beau Ryan (Tigers), Chris Heighington (Tigers)
What they need: What they needed at the conclusion of the 2012 season was a genuine star at fullback, more quality in the outside backs and a little more experience in the forward pack, and that's exactly what they've got. The signature of ex-Panther Michael Gordon is the biggest coup, completing what is now one of the best spines in the NRL. As well as bringing an explosive running game and the utility value of being to play at the back or out wide, Gordon will also give Todd Carney some competition as goalkicker. NSW Origin standout Luke Lewis is another great signing, while the arrival of Tigers veteran Chris Heighington offsets the departure of New Zealand international Jeremy Smith. Beau Ryan impressed for Wests after switching to the centres this season and is a handy recruit. If all the key players stay fit then things are only looking up for the Sharks, who will suddenly be playing with the burden of expectation next season.
Six games that shaped the Sharks' season
Last season's finish: 6th
Who they've lost: Michael Chee Kam (Sea Eagles)
Who they've signed: Joel Edwards (Knights), Jake Foster (Bulldogs)
What they need: Consistency. When they're on song, the Raiders don't just beat the best, they thrash them. This season they smashed grand final winners Melbourne 40-12 (in Melbourne) and thumped minor premiers the Bulldogs 34-6 (after the Bulldogs had won 12 straight). On the other hand, Canbera also lost to struggling teams like the Roosters, Titans and Knights. So performing week in, week out is an issue. They sizzled in attack – and made the fewest errors in the NRL – but could be leaky in defence, ranking third worst for missed tackles. Tackle-hungry Knights back-rower Joel Edwards will go some way to fixing that problem, but covering some defensive deficiencies in the backline is a larger issue for David Furner's men. Another puzzle could be finding a way to get injury-prone skipper Terry Campese and the ever-improving halves combination of Josh McCrone and Sam Williams all contributing to the cause. Williams had a breakout season at halfback and could become a target for other clubs if he doesn't keep his starting spot when Campese returns. Still, having three quality playmakers isn't the worst headache for an NRL club to have.
Six games that shaped the Raiders' season
NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS
Last season's finish: 5th
Who they've lost: James Segeyaro (Panthers), Cory Paterson (Hull KR), Aaron Payne (retirement), Moses Pangai (Panthers)
Who they've signed: Rory Kostjaysn (Storm), Curtis Rona (Roosters), Clint Greenshields (Catalan Dragons)
What they need: A classy No.9. The retirement of long-time rake Aaron Payne and the departure of James Segeyaro after a breakout season are two significant blows for the Cowboys, who now only really have mid-season recruit Anthony Mitchell in the hooking role. With a quality forward pack – including arguably the NRL's two best front-rowers – as well as great try-scorers out wide and the playmaking combo of Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen, a star hooker is the only missing piece of the puzzle. Huddersfield's Scott Moore has been mentioned as one potential target.
Six games that shaped the Cowboys' season
MANLY SEA EAGLES
Last season's finish: 4th
Who they've lost: Dean Whare (Panthers), Tony Williams (Bulldogs), Darcy Lussick (Eels), Daniel Harrison (Eels), Michael Oldfield (Roosters), Josh Drinkwater (Dragons)
Who they've signed: Michael Chee Kam (Raiders), Richie Fa'aoso (Storm), Ligia Sao (Warriors)
What they need: Not much. Despite a limp end to the season, the Sea Eagles still have a team capable of going all the way again in 2013. The loss of NSW and Test back-rower Tony Williams to the Bulldogs is a significant blow, and his departure is evidence of the salary cap starting to take its toll on one of the NRL's most dominant clubs of the past six years. Manly's real coups have been holding onto so many of their stars, with Brett Stewart, Daly Cherry-Evans, Kieran Foran, Matt Ballin and Steve Matai among those to sign on again this year. Only when a few of their aging veterans depart (or when the NRL salary cap gets a significant boost) can the Sea Eagles really start to look at making new star signings. In the meantime, finding youngsters who can add depth to the squad is the main priority for the club's scouts.
Six games that shaped the Sea Eagles' season
SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS
Last season's finish: 3rd
Who they've lost: Eddy Pettybourne (Tigers), Dave Taylor (Titans), Scott Geddes (retirement), James Roberts (released), Adrian Ha'angana (released)
Who they've signed: Jeff Lima (Wigan), Ben Te'o (Broncos), Thomas Burgess (Bradford)
What they need: Dave Taylor may a big loss but the Bunnies have already gone a long way to replacing him by snapping up Broncos young gun Ben Te'o. Likewise, the arrival of Jeff Lima and Thomas Burgess from England have also made up for the departures of Eddy Pettybourne and Scott Geddes. (Expect England's Super League to be a source of more recruits over the next few years for Souths under ex-Wigan coach Michael Maguire.) The Rabbitohs' key positions – the spine and the forward pack – are largely covered, meaning it's only in the outside backs that there's real room for improvement.
Six games that shaped the Rabbitohs' season
CANTERBURY BANKSTOWN BULLDOGS
Last season's finish: Minor premiers, beaten grand finalists
Who they've lost: Jonathan Wright (Sharks), Jake Foster (Raiders), Luke MacDougall (retired)
Who they've signed: Tony Williams (Sea Eagles)
What they need: More class in the halves. Yes, Josh Reynolds and Kris Keating were two of the most-improved players in the NRL this season, with Reynolds in particular a revelation at five-eighth, but the halves remain the only real area in which the Bulldogs could improve. They should be better for the experience of a grand final defeat, but you can see why Des Hasler went all out in a bid to sign Kieran Foran from Manly. The man he did get from his old club – Tony 'T-Rex' Williams – will only improve what is arguably already the strongest forward pack in the NRL. They're massive premiership chances in 2013.
Six games that shaped the Bulldogs' season
Last season's finish: Premiers
Who they've lost: Dane Nielsen (Warriors), Sika Manu (Panthers), Richie Fa'aoso (Sea Eagles), Rory Kostjaysn (Cowboys), Todd Lowrie (Warriors), Jaiman Lowe (retirement)
Who they've signed: Junior Sa'u (Knights), Junior Moors (Tigers), Lagi Setu (unattached), Brett Finch (Wigan)
What they need: With Craig Bellamy and the 'Big Three' on deck, what more does any team need? On paper, there are several areas in which the premiers can improve, but Bellamy has a knack for turning journeymen players into stars in Melbourne. Ex-Knight Junior Sa'u replaces the New Zealand-bound Dane Nielsen but the Storm could do with more replacements in the forward pack, where they've lost four players from their grand final-winning team. One handy recruit on the way is former Melbourne five-eighth Brett Finch, who returns to the NRL from Super League club Wigan to provide some quality depth in the halves in the absence of Rory Kostjasyn.
Six games that shaped the Storm's season
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