After what seems like an eternity of an off season, rugby league is finally back!
You can always tell that the league season is just around the corner. The weather gets a little bit more humid, there are countless meaningless one day internationals being played in cricket and the Superbowl is ready to be contested between two of the best US NFL teams. However, none of that compares to the excitement of the NSW Intrust Super premiership being back.
The 2017 season has been a long time coming for all of the Intrust NSW Super Premiership team, but none more so than the Mount Pritchard Mounties who fell in the grand final in agonizing fashion 21-20 to the Illawarra Cutters.
The Mounties will no doubt be searching for revenge but won’t be the only team that will be looking to knock Illawarra off its perch. Illawarra don’t just have that to contend with, they also parted ways with its head coach Jason Demetriou who has taken up an assistant coaches job with the Brisbane Broncos under super coach Wayne Bennett. Dragons Under 20’s coach Mat Head takes up the duties and there is intrigue as to whether he can have the type of success he had in 2016 when he guided the Dragons NYC side to a surprise Preliminary Final berth.
We also can’t forget the regular suspects. Newtown, Canterbury, Wests Tigers will all be up there hoping for a chance at Premiership Glory come September. Having all had solid seasons in 2016 it will be hoping that a new year brings new possibilities as well as more than a few fresh faces.
Day by day we will predict where each team will finish in 2017, starting with 16th.
16th: Newcastle Knights.
It’s hard not to see the Knights finish anything above cellar dwellers in 2017 after the club’s poor performance as a whole last season. The issues with the first grade set up and the need for young players to be blooded straight into the first grade set up has severely hampered this Newcastle ISP side that was premiers in 2015. They lack a quality spine with issues at fullback and in the halves.
The NRL team hasn’t signed any huge names which means the majority of Newcastle’s team will be made up of fringe first graders and youth players.
If the Knights are to have any extensive success in 2017, its defence has to improve. In 2016 it leaked 699 points at an average of 31 points per game.
However there is hope for the Knights. the hunter region has an abundant amount of local juniors who constantly produce quality footballers. It only seems a matter of time until the Knights are able to reproduce a crop of players similar to the likes of Andrew and Matthew Johns as well as Kurt and Matt Gidley who graced the fields of Newcastle in the late 1990’s.
Player To Watch: Brock Lamb was exposed to a fair bit of first grade last season and his development improved through 2016. Both him and fellow youngster Jack Cogger will feature in the Knights ISP side and will need to perform to the best of their ability.
With Lamb’s game featuring a brilliant dummy as well as a potent short kicking game, he could become a real weapon in the ISP if he can play regularly. Similarly, Cogger is a player who has a solid kicking game but likes to take on the defensive line as much as possible. Both players if not needed by the Knights in NRL action could become valuable cogs in the Knights ISP hopes.
Verdict: With a youthful side and not too many former NRL players dropping down, the Knights will struggle in 2017. If it can repair its defence it should be able to compete in a lot more matches than last year. A lot of its success will depend on how the Knights go in the NRL and whether its ISP squad is able to be settled from Round one.
Despite the prediction of wooden spooners, look for the Knights to show improvement on last year’s effort.
Signings: Josh Starling (Manly Sea Eagles), Jacob Gagan (Cronulla Sharks/Newtown Jets)
Departures: Akuila Uate (Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles)