2011 NRL Season Preview



As another season draws closer, people all around Australia have begun to talk about the upcoming season. Their thoughts and predictions rebound of each other as we all count down the days until the first kick off on March 11th.
Let’s take a look at the prospects of the 16 teams for 2011 and see who will be the contenders and who will be the pretenders.


It was very up and down season for the Broncos last year. Unfortunately it ended on a downer with the team missing out on a final 8 position. Making the 8 this year will also prove to be a difficult task. Ivan Henjak has been shown the door, but they won’t miss him. As long as new coach Anthony Griffin turns out to be one that the players warm to, he will be worth 2 extra wins at least. One of their best in 2010, Israel Folau has departed and leaves a big hole. Justin Hodges was missed heavily due to an Achilles injury and a lot might rest on how well he returns to the side confidence-wise. Without Hodges, the three-quarter positions are looking a tad weak. Darren Lockyer has announced that he will put his hand up for rep duties once again and assuming he gets picked to play State of Origin, the side might find it tough in the games that Lockyer and Thaiday are missing. The forward pack looks even stronger now with Ben Hannant joining the likes of Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker and rookie of the year Matt Gillett.
$22 for the premiership is on the money as I’m not expecting the Broncos to progress far if they make the finals.

Gains: Ben Hannant, Dane Carlaw
Losses: Israel Folau, Ashton Sims, Korbin Sims, Tariq Sims, Antonio Winterstein, Lagi Setu.

To win premiership – $22 (Betfair)
Value rating: FAIR


The Raiders fairytale charge at the end of last season ground to a halt on the day when star five-eighth Terry Campese was ruled out of action for up to 9 months with injury. They were the form team in the second half of 2010, especially after Campese had just re-discovered his running game. But without Campese, the Raiders 2011 campaign was looking in need of help. Help has come along in the form of 2008 Dally M winner Matt Orford. The diminutive half back is just what the Raiders were looking for having not had a solid half-back since Todd Carney was booted from the club in 2008. Watch out for the Raiders once Campese returns to partner with Orford in the halves. Their forward pack will be as brutal as ever with the signing of Brett White from Melbourne Storm. Josh Dugan will be geared up for a massive season following his selection in the NRL All Stars team. Good results in the first half of the season will be crucial for the Raiders as they are going to suffer without their best player. The club needs to quell any divisions amongst the players following Joel Monaghan’s controversial sacking in the off season. $17.50 for the premiership could be well short of the need considering Campese will be missing for months.

Gains: Brett White, Blake Ferguson, Nathan Massey, Mark Ioane, Matt Orford
Losses: Joel Monaghan, Troy Thompson, Scott Logan, Justin Carney, Marc Herbert, Adam Mogg.

To win premiership – $17 (Betfair)
Value rating: POOR


Defence needs to be the key focus for the doggies as a team. It let them down last year. Brett Kimmorley is obviously a big loss. Trent Hodkinson makes his way into the number 7 for his second season of NRL Rugby League. He still has a lot of improving to do. We know he is one of the slowest halfbacks in the game and he’ll need to make up for this with his kicking and playmaking. I can’t see him being in control like Kimmorley was. Trent needs to step up because without direction out of first receiver, I’m not so sure that the Bulldogs can capitalise on some good work I’m expecting from their forward pack. I think Kevin Moore’s coaching abilities may have peaked, and I’ll be interested to see what combination he goes for in the forward pack. Another important choice to be made is who will wear the No.6 jersey. Ben Roberts? Kris Keating? Aiden Sezer? I would like to see Roberts there on his passing game alone. The big plus for the Bulldogs this year is Ben Barba getting a fulltime spot at fullback. If he holds this position for the season, I’d be happy to back him as top tryscorer for the year. Watch him closely. Currently $13 for the premiership having drifted out a point. If I was going to back them, with a young halfback and uncertainty over the 5/8th position, I’d want about $14-$15 about them.

Gains: Frank Pritchard, Greg Eastwood, Aiden Tolman, Kris Keating, Jonathan Wright, Michael Lett, Trent Hodkinson, Grant Millington.

Losses: Brett Kimmorley Ben Hannant, Luke Patten, Blake Green, Yileen Gordon, Jarred Hickey, Tim Winitana, Daniel Harrison, Kose Lelei.

To win premiership – $13 (Betfair)
Value rating: FAIR


Still yet to complete 12 months as an NRL coach, Shane Flanagan told Rugby League Week of a concern he already has about his team going into the 2011 season.
“The halves are an issue for me,” Flanagan said. “We’ve got a good forward pack but I need to find two people who can lift for me and do a job there.”
It’s no secret that Tim Smith is badly missing form, and whether fans like to admit it or not, Trent Barrett is going to be sorely missed. It all adds up to more pressure on new 5/8th recruit Wade Graham from the Panthers. The forward pack is boosted by the addition of Jeremy Smith from the Dragons, and Paul Aiton might get a chance to prove his abilities if he lands the hooking role which would complete the forwards. Hard working prop Kade Snowden’s contract negotiations have caused more than a little distraction to the team. We’ll have to wait and see how the first half of their season pans out because if it doesn’t go well, there will be changes made.
$81 for the premiership won’t be seeing any of my hard earned.

Gains: Jeremy Smith, Wade Graham, Colin Best, John Williams, Kose Lelei, Ryan Tongia, Andrew Clayton.

Losses: Trent Barrett, Luke Covell, Blake Ferguson, Adam Cuthbertson, Kyle O’Donnell, Grant Millington, Reece Williams, Josh Lewis.

To win premiership – $90 (Betfair)
Value rating: FAIR


The Titans 2010 campaign was ended one game before the grand final, and by keeping a very similar line up for 2011, there is no reason why the Titans can’t go one further in 2011. They have most of what a top teams needs: Raw speed out wide, hard working forwards with a bit of diversity and a star playmaker in Scott Prince. With Matt Rogers retiring, we might be seeing Preston Campbell at 5/8th. I neither like nor dislike Campbell at pivot, as long as his individual game takes a back seat to Scott Prince’s structured plays. Campbell played a full season at 5/8th back in 2003 with the Panthers who ultimately won the Grand Final that year. The thing that I like most about the Titans is the way they can stick to a format throughout a game, playing the same way in the 1st minute as they do in the 80th. Unfortunately things seem to go awry for the Titans come finals time. They finished 3rd in ’09 then were knocked out in straight sets, losing both of their finals games and conceding a total of 67 points. 2010 saw them finish 4th and get as far as the preliminary finals but couldn’t handle the pressure and kissed their premiership aspirations goodbye. The one person in the team to gain the most experience from the 2010 finals series would have been the coach John Cartwright. He’ll be more prepared than ever to take his side to the Grand Final. Currently at $23 on Betfair for the title which is up to $6 higher than other agencies. Also $2.06 to make the top 8. Excellent overs.

Gains: Luke Capewell, Sam Martin, Joe Vickory, Richie Williams.

Losses: Matt Rogers, Jordan Atkins, Aaron Cannings, Ryan Tongia, Josh Graham, Marshall Chalk, Selesi Berdie, Guy Borgas.

To win premiership: – $23 (Betfair)
Value rating: GOOD


Manly always seemed a good chance to finish about 5th last year until late season injuries and suspensions saw them limp into 8th spot and quickly put out of their misery by the Dragons in the first week of finals. For 2011 there is one big question on everyone’s lips: How well will Brett Stewart bounce back physically from a knee reconstruction, and mentally, after fighting off sexual assault allegations in court for over a year. (Stewart was found not guilty.) David Williams also returns to the side after missing the entire 2010 season following a shoulder reconstruction. The halfback for 2011 is Daly Cherry-Evans. Despite never having played an NRL game, he steps straight in to the No. 7 Jersey. Kieran Foran returns in the number 6 and has only played 32 games himself. The lack of experience in the halves might prove to be too much of a barrier for the side to break through. But you can’t write off a team that has 8 internationals in their starting line up with a total of 49 tests between them. If they can sort out their fitness deficiencies they had in 2010 where they struggled some games to see out 80 minutes, they could prove to be a menace come finals time. But as I mentioned earlier, this could be outweighed by lack of experience in the halves. The team will be missing Steve Matai (Round 5) and Glenn Stewart (Round 3) due to carry over suspensions. Jamie Lyon aggravated an ankle injury in the All-Stars game and it’s unsure when he will return. Lyon was Manly’s best player in 2010 and is likely to play State of Origin if he’s fit. If it wasn’t for this, i’d say that $22 for the premiership would be massive value (But likely to be shorter), but at the moment, it seems to be a reasonable reflection of a team with a lot of question marks.

Gains: Daniel Harrison, Tim Robinson, Liam Foran.

Losses: Josh Perry, Ben Farrar, Trent Hodkinson, Chris Bailey, Lama Tasi.

To win premiership – $22 (Betfair)
Value rating: FAIR


Having been branded salary cap ‘cheats’ and stripped of their ’07 and ’09 premierships, it’s hard to think of anything more motivating for the Storm than to show the world that they can win a premiership fair and square. I can’t see them winning much before and after State of Origin games, but other than that, Coach Craig Bellamy will have his side going hell-for-leather. Bellamy gets to keep 3 of his big 4 players for the new season, with Greg Inglis making a well publicised signing with the Rabbitohs. It’s interesting to note that in 36 matches played without Inglis between 2005 and 2010, the Storm won 23 and lost 13. Not to mention in some of those games the likes of Smith and Slater would also have been out due to Origin commitments. In this regard, they may fare just fine without himg. Inglis is not the only key player to have left for 2011. Brett White will be missed in the front row, Ryan Hoffman, Jeff Lima have gone to Wigan along with 2010 5/8th Brett Finch, who was a solid link from the ruck to the backline last year. Gareth Widdop takes Finch’s place, having played 3 games in 2010, despite them being at fullback and in the centres. Im expecting a big season from the forwards, especially the second rowers Adam Blair and Sika Manu. They currently sit at $14 for the premiership on Betfair which is great value. Even if the Storm went into week one of the finals from 8th place, they are a team laden with finals experience and would be a massive threat, especially with Cameron Smith at the helm.

Gains: Adam Woolnough, Maurice Blair, Troy Thompson, Jaiman Lowe, Elijah Niko.

Losses: Greg Inglis, Brett Finch, Jeff Lima, Ryan Hoffman, Aiden Tolman.

To win premiership: – $14 (Betfair)
Value rating: GOOD


This team is littered with talent and untapped potential. Coach Ivan Cleary will go in to his 6th season as Warrior’s coach hoping to get his team into the top 4, and they are more than capable. They flew home in the 2nd half of 2010, winning 9 out the last 12 matches. They finished 5th and were a victim of the controversial Macintyre finals system in week 1. They lost to the Titans and subsequent results saw them knocked out. Playing the Titans on the Gold Coast in the finals was always going to be tough, but I think they were unlucky to have exited that week as they had a lot more to show. They only lost 5 games away from home, so travel might not be such an issue for this team. They were the 3rd best defensive team and this aspect of their game will see them in the top 8 again this year. How high/far they go will depend on what the halves can produce. I was impressed by James Maloney last year. He showed a pretty cool head for a man in his first full season, at 5/8th no less. The forward pack is full of power in Simon Mannering, Russell Packer and Sam Rapira. Don’t forget Micheal Luck, the lock forward who holds the record for most tackles ever in a single game. (74 in an extra time draw) Krisnan Inu joins the team in the centres and needs to show that he can concentrate on a full game. Feleti Mateo is the big signing for the team and his spark as a free roaming attack weapon will be one of the keys to success for the Warriors. He is good at producing offloads and starting up second phase plays and shows good anticipation. Likely to play lock, but can fill in at 5/8th if necessary. $13 for the premiership is ripe for the taking and a good value bet for a side that is capable of improving on last year’s 5th place.

Gains: Feleti Mateo, Krisnan Inu, Steve Rapira, Shaun Berrigan.

Losses: Steve Price, Brent Tate, Ian Henderson, Patrick Ah Van, Jesse Royal, Siuatonga Likiliki, Nafe Seluini, Elijah Niko, Mark Ioane.

To win premiership – $13 (Sportsbet)
Value rating: FAIR


I’m tipping the Knights to be the big improvers in 2011 on one proviso: Kurt Gidley must play halfback alongside stand-off Jarrod Mullen. I liked what I saw at the end of 2010 with Gidley linked to Mullen in the halves. What I didn’t like was their inability to string together 80 minutes of play without defensive lapses here and there. I also rate Neville Costigan as a massive signing for the club. His diverse skill and ability will add fire to the Knights forward pack. Akuila Uate, the top try scorer of 2010, has made his intentions clear that he wants to play for NSW and he will be super determined to impress selectors this year. Mining magnate Nathan Tinkler has offered the club $10 million for 10 years in a privatisation proposal, and if the clubs members vote in favour of it, you would have to think that such a large cash injection could be turned into a plus on the field as well as off it. They are at $28 for the premiership, and although i’m tipping improvements, I won’t go as far as to tip them for the Grand Final win. $2.50 for a top 8 finish is a better prospect.

Gains: Neville Costigan, Beau Henry, Steve Southern, Siuatonga Likiliki, Kyle O’Donnell, Maipele Morseau, Korbin Sims.

Losses: Steve Simpson, Ben Cross, Cooper Vuna, Scott Dureau.

To win premiership – $28 (Betfair)
Value rating: FAIR


The Cowboys have some good names amongst them, but they constantly rely too heavily on Johnathan Thurston. Things were looking good for the Cowboys in 2011 with the signings of Dallas Johnson and Brent Tate. But very cruelly, Tate suffered yet another knee injury in the Four-Nations final and probably won’t rejoin the side until later in the season. You don’t have to be a genius to know that defence lets the side down. Hopefully they can learn something from the defensive dynamo Dallas Johnson. He joins the now Test prop Matt Scott in the forwards, along with Scott Bolton who played hard in 2010. The Cowboy’s record away from home last year is probably the number one aspect that saw them entrenched in 15th on the ladder. (keeping in mind the Melbourne Storm were 16th after having their competition points stripped from them) It was sad to watch when they couldn’t even put away the Sharks at home after leading 18-0 at half time. As I said, they have good names in the side, but modern day Rugby League sees so many teams needing to have good depth for when injuries strike. The Cowboys do not have such depth to stay competitive and will want to hope no injuries come their way.

Gains: Dallas Johnson, Brent Tate, Ashton Sims, Antonio Winterstein, Tariq Sims, Ricky Thorby, Kalifa Fai Fai Loa, Blake Leary, Josh Bateman, Gavin Cooper.

Losses: Luke O’Donnell, Anthony Watts, Willie Mason, Arana Taumata, Ty Williams, Carl Webb, Steve Rapira, John Williams.

To win premiership – $41 (Betfair)
Value rating: FAIR


So many pros and cons here;
Being Grand Finalists in 2009 led to the Eels carrying massive weight of expectation in 2010 and ultimately led to them being labelled ‘also rans’ in the end. I picked the Eels to miss the 8 last year when plenty had them tipped to win the comp. The reason for this is their mentality. It seems this team like to rest on their laurels. In 2007 they made it within one game of the big one, in 2008 they came in 11th. No pressure in 2009 and with a new coach they went all the way to the Grand Final. So the expectation of another big season was on board and they failed, finishing in 12th. So how will they do in 2011 with no pressure? They still have a star studded line up with many names still there from the 2007 squad. Daniel Anderson’s sacking will have an effect on some players in the side. Stephen Kearney now takes up the coaching reigns. All reports so far talk of Kearney instilling discipline in the team, but it’s certain individuals that need to be brought into line. It’s obvious to say that the team can benefit greatly this year by avoiding off field dramas. On the field, some consistency in the game plan should be much sought after. 2010 saw them chopping and changing all over the place. It looked like a case of ‘shutting the gate after the horse had bolted.’ The Eels currently sit at $26 for the premiership. With the majority of big names in the side, $26 would be considered pretty good, but currently it looks as if Daniel Mortimer, who was dropped last year, will partner Jeff Robson in the halves. Jeff Robson has played less than a full season as a halfback and this combination will be a weakness. This brings $26 back to a fair price.

Gains: Carl Webb, Reni Maitua, Casey McGuire, Chris Walker, Jordan Atkins, Brad Murray, Eni Folau, Billy Rogers, Cameron Bruest, Paki Afu.

Losses: Nathan Cayless, Feleti Mateo, Krisnan Inu, Kris Keating, Jonathan Wright, Tim Robinson.

To win premiership – $26 (Sportingbet)
Value rating: FAIR


The Panthers were a surprise in 2010. Not many tipped them to be sitting second at the end of the home and away season. They made an unceremonious exit at the hands of the Roosters in week 2 of the finals after being plagued by injury at the worst possible time. They go into 2011 still with a good arsenal of strike weapons in Luke Lewis, Trent Waterhouse, Petero Civoniceva, Michael Gordon, Michael Jennings and Lachlan Coote. Their backs have speed to burn, and the forwards can go all day. Frank Pritchard will be heavily missed. A few points with this side turn me off them. The halves combination last year was hardly inspiring and Luke Walsh needs to lift. If he doesn’t, the Panthers will once again be forced to rely on tries from kicks which simply won’t be enough. Coach Matthew Elliot’s finals record can’t be worse. He has never won a finals match having coached in 7 of them. The Mountain Men are on offer at $24 for the premiership. To be of any value they will need to keep their best players on the field all year as they don’t hold the greatest amount of depth in their ranks.

Gains: Yileen Gordon, Tim Winitana, Arana Taumata, Nafe Seluini

Losses: Frank Pritchard, Wade Graham, Maurice Blair, Daniel Penese, Gavin Cooper, Josh Bateman

To win premiership – $24 (Betfair)
Value rating: FAIR


Every time a Wayne Bennett coached side has won a premiership, they haven’t finished higher than 5th in the following year’s minor premiership. (Not including the 1997 SuperLeague title). We may see the same again this year, but that certainly isn’t to say they can’t go back to back. The Dragons have been given some massive support in betting in recent weeks, firming to $6 in all markets. But is it good value? I think not. They were dominant in the forwards last year but this year they give away key men in Jeremy Smith, Jarrod Saffy and the intensity of Neville Costigan. They have the depth to make up for losses though, but if the forwards aren’t as good as last year, the backs just might be able to make up for it in attack. For a team so strong in defence, it surprised me that some critics labelled this side ‘boring’. The silence was deafening when they put 32 points on their opponents in a wet Grand Final. The Dragons have The World Club Challenge to deal with on Feb. 27 and then it’s a long trip back to Australia where they play 7 of their first 10 games away from home. The first 4 alone are away which include trips to the Gold Coast and NZ. It’s a tough ask for any team. If they struggle early, their $6 odds may drift. But we saw last year that the bookies stuck with Parramatta throughout most of the season, so even a string of early bad results might see the Dragons firmly planted at under $10. $6 is a bit poor, but don’t take my ‘poor’ rating as saying they can’t win the premiership. The bottom line is that as a Wayne Bennett coached side they can win another premiership this year, but $6 is not enough.

Gains: Adam Cuthbertson, Daniel Penese, David Gower

Losses: Jeremy Smith, Neville Costigan, Beau Henry, Jarrod Saffy, Luke Priddis, Ricky Thorby, Michael Lett, Kalifa Fai Fai Loa,

To win premiership – $6 (Luxbet)
Value rating: POOR


A great team on paper, but I’m nowhere near convinced of them on the field. For a team that finished 9th last year to only sign one player in Greg Inglis in the off season is a bit worrying. His well publicised injuries may prevent him playing a number of games at the start of the season along with his excess weight keeping him from his optimum ability. The Bunnies boast a strong, smart forward pack but have major shortcomings in the halves. I don’t believe Chris Sandow can handle, nor apply pressure. One part of the game where they could be building pressure is in the kicking game. Sandow’s kicking game has major inconsistencies and John Sutton beside him can be just as bad. The two rarely link up for point scoring plays. I was impressed by Beau Champion last year and his departure will also hurt them. The Rabbitohs are at $10.50 for the premiership on Betfair and I think the bookies might be playing on the ‘Greg Inglis factor’ a bit. I think they are big unders for a team that has payed massive dollars for a player who might not be back to his peak until the back half of the season.

Gains: Greg Inglis

Losses: Beau Champion, Colin Best, Jaiman Lowe, Luke Capewell, Craig Stapleton, Garrett Crossman

To win premiership – $10.50 (Betfair)
Value rating: POOR


Runners up in 2010, can the Roosters go one better this year? I think they can. The second half of 2010 defined them as a team and this time they will play that way from round 1. This time they have two key additions in Cowboys hooker Anthony Watts and Raiders winger Justin Carney. Watts suffered an ACL injury and will be working hard to return to the side before State of Origin comes around. It’s likely the halves, Carney and Pearce, will play for the blues and Watts would be able to fill in at half back. I have a very high opinion of Justin Carney. He plays hard and is never afraid to put his body on the line. He has a big future ahead of him if he keeps at it. These two signings just add to the depth of the team, which will be instrumental to their consistency and results this year. Mark Riddell joins from Wigan but barring any injuries he might find it hard to get many games. Todd Carney was obviously the main man last year (Dally M medal winner) but this year I think the main man needs to be Brian Smith. Smith will need to keep on top of his players so they don’t get caught thinking that 2011 will come easy to them. Keep in mind that Smith will have to keep on top of the team’s strategies because they are a more highly rated side this year. 2010 saw them start off the back of the wooden spoon. The surprise factor is gone now and other sides will be waiting for them. $9.80 is their current price on Betfair and I would almost go as far as to say it’s good value, but for the fact they will have their work cut out for them to make the top 4 along with other good sides.

Gains: Anthony Watts, Justin Carney, Mark Riddell, Lama Tasi

Losses: James Aubusson, Lopini Paea, Nick Kouparitsis, Sam Brunton, Anthony Gelling, Jacob Miller, Brad Murray, Jason Baitieri

To win premiership – $9.80 (Betfair)
Value rating: FAIR


Tim Moltzen returns to the side after suffering a knee injury in Round 5 that sat him out for the entire 2010 season. I think Tim Sheens would be mad not to play him at halfback. People talk of the Tigers needing to be able to win close games and in 2010 they did that. After going within one game of the Grand Final the fire to win will be burning white hot now. They keep a side similar to that of the previous year which will be a massive plus. Players like Benji Marshall, Chris Lawrence, Liam Fulton and Gareth Ellis finished last year in career best form and will carry it over to the new season. Look for a big year from Robbie Farah who may find himself in Dally M Medal contention at the end of the year. As a Tigers fan you would have to be feeling pretty good about the team’s prospects as they are genuine challengers for the 2011 title. There is a bit of value in the $2.50 on offer for a top 4 finish with IASbet and The Tigers are currently $8.40 on Betfair to take out the premiership. A solid bet with the Tigers going into the start of a season better prepared than they have been in the last 5 years.

Gains: Ratu Tagive, Teqele Naiyarvovo, Evander Waitoa, Jacob Miller, Matt Utai

Losses: David Gower, Daniel Fitzhenry, Tame Tupou

To win premiership – $8.40 (Betfair)
Value rating: FAIR

Share this:


8 Responses to "2011 NRL Season Preview"

  1. Very in-depth review mike, nice to read a review from someone who knows what there talking about. However i will be placing $1000 on the Eels so wish me luck.

    Yours Truly, Nigel


Post Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.