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How your NRL club rates after shutdown

1: EELS

I still rate Canberra the best team, but Parramatta has certainly come through the shutdown in the best shape.

I don't agree with some who rate theirs a dream draw but it's definitely not the toughest - nowhere near what the Raiders have to contend with - while so many games at Bankwest is a huge bonus.

Brad Arthur also gets Reed Mahoney back and what's even better is there hasn't been a sniff of controversy out of the joint in months.

 

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Parramatta look well placed to come out guns blazing. Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images
Parramatta look well placed to come out guns blazing. Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

 

I also reckon this is potentially Parramatta's most complete team since the club's glory days.

The unknown is how they will handle this expectation.

The hype after their opening wins over the Bulldogs and Titans was a little exaggerated given the quality of the opposition, and what's still fresh in my memory is how the Eels went to water against Melbourne in the finals.

This is where Mitchell Moses needs to own this team.

Moses is the NRL's most naturally gifted halfback but he's now at the age where he needs to stand up against the best teams in big games. Consistently.

The next five rounds will tell us where the Eels are at, with the Broncos followed by the Sea Eagles, Panthers, Roosters and Raiders. Let's reconvene after that.

 

The Storm will make the most of their home advantage. Photo: AAP Image/Rob Prezioso
The Storm will make the most of their home advantage. Photo: AAP Image/Rob Prezioso

 

2: STORM

The revised TV schedule, as Roosters supremo Nick Politis has correctly labelled it, has really played to the Storm's advantage by having every home game in Melbourne, while opposition teams will be forced to fly in and out on the same day.

It will also be interesting to see how the Storm adapt to one ref. Despite the focus on reducing the wrestle, it's like everyone is now walking on egg shells and careful not to upset the Storm.

I'll be interested to see how the match officials handle Saturday's showdown against Canberra.

I'm wary of all teams, not just Melbourne (nudge nudge, wink, wink), will try to get away with even more at the ruck with the pocket referee out of the picture. But they won't get away with it if the sideline officials and the bunker spotter do their jobs to help out the bloke in the middle.

 

3: SEA EAGLES

Des Hasler has done a really good job keeping Manly under the radar because for mine this is the most underrated team in the comp.

They showed with that one-point win over the Roosters before the break what a serious threat they will be, although if there is a question mark, maybe it is their attack given they only scored one try in their first two games.

But having State of Origin now post-season will be an added bonus for Daly Cherry-Evans and Tom and Jake Trbojevic.

 

Brisbane will be the stronger for Matt Lodge‘s return to fitness. Photo: AAP Image/Dan Peled
Brisbane will be the stronger for Matt Lodge‘s return to fitness. Photo: AAP Image/Dan Peled

 

4: BRONCOS

Matt Lodge is back, David Fifita has the knee brace off and they might also end up with Ben Te'o.

Throw in the fact the Broncos get to play out of Brisbane and the break has been good for Anthony Seibold.

The raw power and potential of this squad is frightening and if they consistently produce close to what they did in the opening two rounds consistently, they could be the team to beat. I just want to wait to see how they are travelling after 10 rounds before I commit.

As much as Brodie Croft is crucial, Anthony Milford also needs a big year.

 

5: DRAGONS

The shutdown couldn't have come at a better time for the Dragons, who looked shot after butchering wins against the Tigers and Penrith.

Hopefully Ben Hunt and Corey Norman return in a different frame of mind and lead this team out of the embarrassing slumber they are in.

The biggest positive for Paul McGregor is that inspirational skipper Cam McInnes is now back from injury.

What could also really help with their confidence is the revised draw has them playing the Warriors, Bulldogs, Sharks and Titans in the next four rounds before they take on the might of the Roosters, Raiders and Sea Eagles.

It's a broken record talking about the Dragons, but only they can change the soundtrack.

 

The Tigers have high hopes for Harry Grant. Photo: AAP Image/Dean Lewins
The Tigers have high hopes for Harry Grant. Photo: AAP Image/Dean Lewins

 

6: TIGERS

This young hooker Harry Grant comes with big expectation but if the comparisons in style to Cameron Smith turn out to be true, the Tigers can come out of this lockdown in far better shape than they went in.

There was already a lot to like about their young pack, but with a quality dummy half now combining with Luke Brooks and Benji Marshall, I'm really looking forward to seeing how they go against Cronulla on Saturday.

What they do need is to hit the ground running because from round nine onwards the Tigers only play four teams who finished outside top eight last year.

 

7: COWBOYS

Michael Morgan will miss the restart after getting a shoulder clean-out, but hopefully Valentine Holmes bounces back closer to the player he was before he left for the NFL.

Holmes was nowhere near his best in the opening two games, but he is a class act and a hard trainer, so you'd imagine he wouldn't have wasted the 10 weeks.

The Cowboys have also been handed a favourable draw and have a quality squad, so there should be no excuses if they aren't playing finals this year.

 

There will be plenty of pressure on Kyle Flanagan. Photo: Matt King/Getty Images
There will be plenty of pressure on Kyle Flanagan. Photo: Matt King/Getty Images

 

8: ROOSTERS

I know the Roosters got a lousy draw because they have to play the Storm, Broncos, Raiders, Rabbitohs and Dragons twice. But the break couldn't have come at a better time for young Kyle Flanagan.

I have no doubt Flanagan is going to be a very good halfback in the not-too-distant future but what the first two games exposed is how much the Roosters are going to miss Cooper Cronk.

Flanagan would have worked hard with Trent Robinson and Cronk and we'll see how he's progressed come Friday night.

When it comes to Cronk, people always focus on what a wonderful game manager he was. What is often overlooked is just how brave he was taking on the line and the opportunities that created for those around him. It's one area where Flanagan needs to develop.

 

9: RABBITOHS

Losing Cody Walker for two matches is a setback Souths just couldn't afford leading into big games against the Roosters and Melbourne.

Despite this, the Bunnies will bounce back a better team, and the man I think will come out of the shutdown in a far better place is Latrell Mitchell.

The spotlight has been on Mitchell for months now and all anyone seems to talk about is how he needs to pull his head in.

But one thing I've noticed in recent weeks just looking at training vision is that Mitchell looks to have dropped a stack of weight.

I mean this sincerely. He's never going to be stripped like Billy Slater was, but Mitchell is starting to look a lot fitter than the bloke who was running around back in the opening rounds. Can't wait to see him run out against the Roosters.

 

Rugby league will be better for having Kieran Foran back. Photo: AAP Image/Joel Carrett
Rugby league will be better for having Kieran Foran back. Photo: AAP Image/Joel Carrett

 

10: BULLDOGS

Kieran Foran won't play against Manly but the decision to hold him back a week is wise if there is any doubt his shoulder or hamstring are not 100 per cent.

While the Bulldogs got arguably the toughest redraw, the fact that it wiped 10 weeks off the time Foran would have be sidelined more than makes up for that.

If Foran plays the majority of the remaining games, the Bulldogs might even push for the top eight and Foran will win himself a new contract for next year.

You take any player of his quality and determination out of any team and they would struggle.

 

11: KNIGHTS

I don't have the Knights in my eight although I was impressed with how they started under their new coach Adam O'Brien.

But having "home" games in Gosford for the foreseeable future is a significant setback.

The positive to come out of the shutdown is young gun Bradman Best will return this round after recovering from his fractured foot.

Mitch Barnett also would have been out for several months without the break - now he is only going to miss a few weeks after having neck surgery.

Andrew McCullough's arrival is also a bonus after losing Jayden Brailey for the season.

 

We will finally get a good look at Justin Holbrook’s Titans. Photo: Chris Hyde/Getty Images
We will finally get a good look at Justin Holbrook’s Titans. Photo: Chris Hyde/Getty Images

 

12: TITANS

An unfortunate stat that caught my eye this week was that it will have been 356 days this Friday since the Titans last won a game. That was in round nine last year when they beat Brisbane.

At least the revised draw has been kind to them and they will play six of their first seven games in Queensland.

I really hope their new coach Justin Holbrook can turn it around for their long-suffering fans.

 

13: PANTHERS

Have been handed one of the better revised draws, with only nine games against top eight teams from last year. They play the Tigers, Warriors, Cowboys, Sharks and Eels twice.

Even before this, the Panthers were shaping as this year's big improvers along with Brisbane, although losing Nathan Cleary for a two-week suspension could potentially be a massive blow their top four hopes.

I still think Cleary will bounce back better for it, and his combination with Api Koroisau will be one of this season's biggest talking points.

 

14: SHARKS

Cronulla was gifted the easiest redraw but now they will have to do it without Bronson Xerri.

The thing is they still have a team capable of beating any side on their day, providing they turn up to play in the right headspace.

They might also be wishing they treated Josh Morris with a little more respect.

 

 

The draw hasn’t been kind to the Raiders. Photo: Scott Davis/NRL Photos
The draw hasn’t been kind to the Raiders. Photo: Scott Davis/NRL Photos

 

 

15: RAIDERS

I still have the Raiders as my tip to win the grand final, although I made that call before I found out about John Bateman's desire to chase money elsewhere next season.

I might have also underestimated just how tough this new schedule is going to be on the Raiders, who are basically on the road every week given their "home" games are now at Campbelltown.

It's no secret the shutdown period has been awful to them.

But I still think they have the best squad and from what I saw from new halfback George Williams and Curtis Scott, they can be an even better team than last year.

They have also have Jordan Rapana back from Japanese rugby.

 

16: WARRIORS

After watching the Warriors get lapped in the opening round against Newcastle, I thought Stephen Kearney would be under the pump to keep his job.

But the way Kearney has led the Warriors throughout their recent challenges has been inspirational and every rugby league fan would be wishing them well now.

Still, it is an unenviable situation having to be based on the NSW Central Coast so far away from their families.

As the grind of the season rolls on, I have serious concerns how they will handle it. From the outside, it looks unsustainable.

Originally published as How your NRL club rates after shutdown



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