NRL power rankings: Paul Crawley assesses each club’s forward pack
NRL power rankings: Paul Crawley assesses each club’s forward pack

Power rankings: The forward pack to lead the way

THE big boys don't always gets the loudest cheers for their hard work, but every rugby league fan knows you don't have success unless your forwards are doing their job better than the opposition.

So in the countdown to the 2020 NRL season, PAUL CRAWLEY continues his series of power rankings.

We've already looked at the all-important spines and backlines, now here is our best-to-worst verdict on every engine room.

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Jared Waerea-Hargreaves almost won the Clive Churchill for his Grand Final heroics. Picture. Phil Hillyard
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves almost won the Clive Churchill for his Grand Final heroics. Picture. Phil Hillyard

1st SYDNEY ROOSTERS

8 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves

9 Jake Friend

10 Siosiua Taukeiaho

11 Boyd Cordner

12 Mitchell Aubusson/Angus Crichton

13 Victor Radley

CRAWLEY SAYS: There are three standout packs - the Roosters, Raiders and Storm. While there's a split hair between them, I still put the Roosters on top given they are again the reigning premiers. I also see the potential for their pack to go to another level. Not only is this an outstanding starting six motivated by an amazing team bond and thirst for success, there is unbelievable depth. Some really exciting young players are banging down the door.

Waerea-Hargreaves and Taukeiaho had huge seasons and Friend won't surrender his dummy-half spot to Sam Verrills without a fight. Crichton will also be itching to get a permanent starting spot, while Radley will be aiming to break into the NSW team. You can throw in Isaac Liu, Lindsay Collins and the Butcher brothers, Nat and Egan. No team has won three straight premierships since Jack Gibson's legendary Parramatta side in the early 1980s. This squad sure looks up to the challenge.

Josh Papalii was one of the most improved players in 2019. Picture. Phil Hillyard
Josh Papalii was one of the most improved players in 2019. Picture. Phil Hillyard

2nd CANBERRA RAIDERS

8 Josh Papalii

9 Josh Hodgson

10 Sia Soliola

11 Elliott Whitehead

12 John Bateman

13 Joe Tapine

CRAWLEY SAYS: Two years ago, Papalii looked to be on his last chance at the Raiders. While there was never a question about his talent or toughness, there was concern about his motivation. But the change in Papalii last year typified an attitude adjustment that swept through the club. It helped having Hodgson fit for the entire season, while Bateman exceeded everyone's expectations.

The trick for Ricky Stuart now is making sure the Raiders don't slip back into bad habits, like they did after finishing second in 2016. You can't imagine that will happen with the Pommy connection of Hodgson, Bateman and the underrated Whitehead driving a forward pack that looks ready for another shot at the title.

Cameron Smith is still the key to Storm’s forward pack. (AAP Image/Michael Dodge).
Cameron Smith is still the key to Storm’s forward pack. (AAP Image/Michael Dodge).

3rd MELBOURNE STORM

8 Jesse Bromwich

9 Cameron Smith

10 Nelson Asofa-Solomona

11 Kenny Bromwich

12 Felise Kaufusi

13 Dale Finucane

CRAWLEY SAYS: While there are plenty of question marks over the Storm's backline, you can't fault their starting pack, or their bench. Cameron Smith remains the key and he was as good as ever last season. But if Smith did go down, Brandon Smith is a pretty handy back-up, while young Harry Grant is said to be a dummy-half with an enormous future.

They also have an outstanding backrow in underrated Kenny Bromwich, who was close to the pick of their forwards last year. Although the Storm had a disappointing finals series, you can't ignore the fact they were runaway minor premiers. Which is why this forward pack is still the equal of any.

Brisbane’s young forwards David Fifita and Payne Haas are exciting to watch. Pics Adam Head
Brisbane’s young forwards David Fifita and Payne Haas are exciting to watch. Pics Adam Head

4th BRISBANE BRONCOS

8 Matt Lodge

9 Jake Turpin

10 Payne Haas

11 David Fifita

12 Alex Glenn

13 Tevita Pangai Jr

CRAWLEY SAYS: This imposing young Broncos pack has all the talent in the world. But there is not enough experience or leadership to rate them alongside the Roosters, Raiders and Storm. The fact Lodge was being considered as captain only reinforces my concern. Still, I can't wait to watch the development of Haas, Fifita and Pangai Jr. A club would be considered lucky to have one of these young guns in its pack. Having all three doesn't seem fair.

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Cameron Murray is arguably one of the best middle forwards in the competition. Picture: Brett Costello
Cameron Murray is arguably one of the best middle forwards in the competition. Picture: Brett Costello

5th SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS

8 Liam Knight

9 Damien Cook

10 Tevita Tatola

11 Jaydn Su'A

12 Ethan Lowe

13 Cameron Murray

CRAWLEY SAYS: You can't replace a forward as great as Sam Burgess, although the fact he played with a nasty injury last season means it probably won affect the Rabbitohs as much as it could have. Sutton is also a massive out, while George Burgess at his best was a real weapon. The pack still looks really solid but it doesn't have a genuine leader. While Murray is already as good as any middle forward, he is not the enforcer who will put the fear of God into the opposition. I'm also not sure Knight is that player yet, though he could be.

Addin Fonua-Blake and Martin Taupau may just be the best front row combination in the NRL. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)
Addin Fonua-Blake and Martin Taupau may just be the best front row combination in the NRL. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

6th MANLY SEA EAGLES

8 Martin Taupau

9 Manase Fainu/Cade Cust

10 Addin Fonua-Blake

11 Curtis Sironen

12 Joel Thompson

13 Jake Trbojevic

CRAWLEY SAYS: If Fainu had not been stood down while he faces police charges, I would have this pack just below the Roosters, Raiders and Storm. Taupau and Fonua-Blake match any of the starting front-row combinations and Trobjevic ... well, enough said. As for their edge backrowers, Thompson holds his own against most and Sironen is coming off his best season. He isn't far off pushing his case for rep selection. But without a top-shelf dummy-half to pull it all together, it is going to be tough. Des Hasler will be pulling his hair out over the decision to let Api Koroisau go.

Reagan Campbell-Gillard will be looking to return to form at Parramatta. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett).
Reagan Campbell-Gillard will be looking to return to form at Parramatta. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett).

7th PARRAMATTA EELS

8 Junior Paulo

9 Reed Mahoney

10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard

11 Shaun Lane

12 Ryan Matterson

13 Nathan Brown

CRAWLEY SAYS: Like many, I didn't like the way Matterson went about getting out of his Wests Tigers contract. But he is now at Parramatta and can add a point of difference to this pack. Matterson was the Tigers' best last season and already close to Origin standard. Another who will be looking to get back in the Blues' frame is Campbell-Gillard, who will give Parra more intimidation up front. Throw in Brown, who will stand toe-to-toe with any forward, wrecking ball Paulo and the improving Lane and it's a solid starting pack. Mahoney was also outstanding at dummy-half last year and is still only 21.

Trent Merrin will bring some much needed experience to the club in his Dragons return. Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
Trent Merrin will bring some much needed experience to the club in his Dragons return. Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

8th ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS

8 Paul Vaughan

9 Cameron McInnes

10 James Graham

11 Tyson Frizell

12 Tariq Sims

13 Trent Merrin

CRAWLEY SAYS: This is still a really good starting pack without Jack de Belin, while the return of Merrin gives the Dragons more experience. But when Paul McGregor replaced his starting middles last season, everything fell apart. I don't see how bringing in Merrin is going to change that. I also worry about Graham's longevity after he copped another two head knocks while playing for Great Britain at the end of the season. Vaughan, Frizell and Sims are all representative forwards and the way McInnes played in 2019, he would have to be next in line for NSW if anything happened to Damien Cook.

Panthers giant Viliame Kikau is one of NRL’s most damaging ball runners. Picture: Jonathan Ng
Panthers giant Viliame Kikau is one of NRL’s most damaging ball runners. Picture: Jonathan Ng

9th PENRITH PANTHERS

8 James Tamou

9 Api Koroisau

10 Zane Tetevano

11 Viliame Kikau

12 Isaah Yeo

13 James Fisher-Harris

CRAWLEY SAYS: The pack won't be the problem if the Panthers don't make the finals. It might not be as imposing as some but the addition of Koroisau is a huge bonus, while Tetevano and Capewell are handy pick-ups. Tetevano is ready to stamp his place as a starting prop alongside Tamou, who has been a real soldier in tough times. Fisher-Harris is a gun and Yeo appears to have tremendous character which his teammates respect, while Kikau is already among the game's most damaging forwards yet nowhere near his full potential. There will also be good competition for starting spots from Moses Leota and Liam Martin.

If Jason Taumalol can stay fit, the Cowboys should improve in 2020. Picture: Evan Morgan
If Jason Taumalol can stay fit, the Cowboys should improve in 2020. Picture: Evan Morgan

10th NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS

8 Jordan McLean

9 Jake Granville/Reece Robson

10 Josh McGuire

11 Gavin Cooper

12 Shane Wright

13 Jason Taumalolo

CRAWLEY SAYS: Matt Scott has followed Johnathan Thurston into retirement, so this is a new era for the Cowboys. But with the rampaging Taumalolo, McLean and McGuire, they should still hold their own against any pack. After watching Taumalolo lead the way for Tonga in the Test win over Australia, I still can't believe the Cowboys finished 14th last season. If he stays fit, anything is possible. I also think young Robson from the Dragons is going to be a great buy. Mal Meninga has had his eye on Robson for a while and sees him as a future representative hooker.

The Knights have the forward pack to push for a top eight finish, but struggled in 2019. Picture: Brett Costello
The Knights have the forward pack to push for a top eight finish, but struggled in 2019. Picture: Brett Costello

11th NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS

8 David Klemmer

9 Jayden Brailey

10 Daniel Saifiti

11 Lachlan Fitzgibbon

12. Mitchell Barnett

13 Tim Glasby

CRAWLEY SAYS: Until round 15 last year, the Knights' forwards showed they could hold their own against the best teams. What happened after Origin had more to do with attitude than anything else. That is going to be the challenge for new coach Adam O'Brien; to knock the excuses out of a squad that on paper has enough quality to finish in the top eight.Klemmer, Saifiti and Glasby are all Origin standard but it was Barnett who won the Danny Buderus Medal last year 2019 as the team's best player. What does that tell you? Brailey is a tough and clever dummy-half who plays with tremendous commitment. His arrival should take some pressure off Pearce.

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Andrew Fifita needs to step up after the loss of Paul Gallen and Matt Prior. (AAP Image/Craig Golding).
Andrew Fifita needs to step up after the loss of Paul Gallen and Matt Prior. (AAP Image/Craig Golding).

12th CRONULLA SHARKS

8 Andrew Fifita

9 Blayke Brailey

10 Aaron Woods

11 Briton Nikora

12 Wade Graham

13 Jack Williams

CRAWLEY SAYS:I have the Sharks well outside my top-eight packs but it won't surprise me if some of these exciting young forwards tear apart some reputations. It's just that losing Paul Gallen and Matt Prior after the retirement of Luke Lewis has changed the make-up of what for years was arguably the competition's toughest and most feared pack. Now it is up to the new generation to stamp its authority. This is where Fifita and Woods must stand up and consistently lead the way, while Graham could do with a change of luck on the injury front. But there are plenty of good young forwards emerging in Nikora, Williams, Braden Hamlin-Uele, Scott Sorensen and Billy Magoulias.

Josh Jackson is one of the toughest players in the NRL. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)
Josh Jackson is one of the toughest players in the NRL. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

13th CANTERBURY BULLDOGS

8 Aiden Tolman

9 Jeremy Marshall-King

10 Dylan Napa

11 Joe Stimson

12 Corey Harawira-Naera

13 Josh Jackson

CRAWLEY SAYS: The Bulldogs should have plenty of confidence after winning seven of their final 10 games last year. This is a no-frills forward pack but it is not short of outstanding leadership. Jackson and Tolman showed the way as the Bulldogs upstaged some more-fancied sides leading into the finals. Stimson has arrived from Melbourne and brings with him a winning attitude. There are also enough young players pushing for a start to ensure the competition brings out the best in everyone. After a shaky start last season, Dean Pay looks to have unlocked something in a squad that should show further improvement.

The Titans really missed Ryan James after a season ending ACL injury. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images).
The Titans really missed Ryan James after a season ending ACL injury. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images).

14th GOLD COAST TITANS

8 Jarrod Wallace

9 Nathan Peats

10 Moeaki Fotuaika

11 Kevin Proctor

12 Ryan James

13 Jai Arrow

CRAWLEY SAYS: There is enough talent and experience in this pack to be challenging for a top-eight finish. And with new coach Justin Holbrook putting every player on notice, it wouldn't surprise to see the Titans go a lot better than I am going to give them credit for right now. The fact is they had some big-name players who didn't aim up last year. James was also a huge absence through injury for most of the season. Arrow's future has been a major talking point but James, Proctor and Peats are also off contract at the end the year, so motivation shouldn't be a problem.

The Warriors need Tohu Harris fit to suceed in 2020. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)
The Warriors need Tohu Harris fit to suceed in 2020. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

15th NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS

8 Agnatius Paasi

9 Wayde Egan

10 Leeson Ah Mau

11 Isaiah Papali'i

12 Tohu Harris

13 Adam Blair

CRAWLEY SAYS: Harris is as good as the best edge backrowers and he missed a stack of 2019. I rate him as the second-most important player at the Warriors behind Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. Egan also promises to be an outstanding acquisition. When Anthony Griffin was coaching him at Penrith, he rated Egan's dummy-half work as highly as any young hooker in the game. These two players alone should make a huge difference. That is my positive take on the Warriors. Ability is not why I have still rated their forwards 15th on my list. I would just like to see them surprise us all and play to their potential.

Luciano Leilua was a good pickup for the Tigers, but they still lack a big name forward. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett).
Luciano Leilua was a good pickup for the Tigers, but they still lack a big name forward. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett).

16th WESTS TIGERS

8 Alex Twal

9 Josh Reynolds

10 Josh Aloiai

11 Luciano Leilua

12 Luke Garner

13 Matt Eisenhuth

CRAWLEY SAYS: Tigers fans will howl me down given they finished ninth last year. But I'm not having a crack at them for how hard they try, that is what I admire about them. It's just that when I judge them man-on-man against the rest of the teams, they don't have the big names to match most of the other packs. Losing the experience of Robbie Farah will also be significant, especially with young Jacob Liddle recovering from another injury. Ryan Matterson's departure was just another kick in the teeth. The positive is there are some good young players and plenty of competition for starting positions. The Tigers always give their best, I'm just not sure it is going to be enough.

News Corp Australia


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