As the February heat gradually subsides, fans from all over New South Wales are gearing up for what appears to be yet another exciting NRL season.
However for many Rugby League fans, the focus will be on the NSW Intrust Super Premiership season which kicks off next weekend. The ISP (Intrust Super Premiership) has sides from across NSW and one from New Zealand that are feeder clubs to 12 NRL clubs.
In total there will be 12 teams competing for the Premiership and no doubt all will be hoping to knock of reigning premiers Illawarra as it bids for back to back titles.
With the excitement of seeing future and former stars running out at suburban grounds each week, there will be no shortness of exhilaration for fans in 2017.
The NSW Intrust Super Premiership can already boast of developing NRL stars such as Ben Barba, Jake Mamo and Jacob Host in recent years. As a great bridge between the National Youth Cup (Under 20’s) and First Grade, there will be plenty of quality players that grace our presence in 2017.
Mount Pritchard Mounties (Feeder club to Canberra Raiders)
Predicted finish: 1st
Player To Watch: Magnus Stromquist
Stromquist made a name for himself by being a standout in the Manly Holden Cup team for a good part of his three seasons at Brookvale. However, unable to break into the first grade set up, he moved north after a spell with the Wyong Roos in the ISP and plied his trade in the Queensland Cup for 2016 with the Wynnum-Manly Sea Eagles.
A brilliant defender and real workhorse in the middle of the field, he has quality skills for a big man and could be an x-factor for Mounties.
What We Say: In its five years in the ISP, Mounties have done everything but win a premiership. It came within inches of toppling Illawarra last year and that experience will benefit it in 2017. Some quality signings (including experienced half back Isaac John) will bolster its ranks but it is without Sam William, Kata Ottio and Brenko Lee.
Look for Mounties To rely on its mobile forward pack to monster opposition teams and its backs to use this as a platform for success.
Illawarra Cutters (Feeder Club to St George Illawarra Dragons)
Predicted Finish: 2nd
Player To Watch: Jack Payne
Payne was halfback for the Dragons in Holden Cup last year and is blessed with a beautiful kicking game, both long and short. He is also a great organiser and will look for his shot from the start of the season. With injuries opening the door for the 20-year-old, he will most likely be pushing for a halves place along with Shaun Nona. However, with the Dragons NRL set up not sold on a permanent number 7, if Payne hits form don’t be surprised to see him in the NRL squad before the season is out.
What We Say: The Cutters have lost a lot from the premiership winning side of last year, most of which was head coach Jason Demetriou who left for Brisbane. Adding to this is no Drew Hutchinson (a star in the grand final win) who suffered a torn ACL early in pre-season with the Dragons.
With Mat Head in charge they are in capable hands after he guided the Dragons NYC team to the Preliminary Finals last season.
Will again rely on NRL players dropping down to bolster them as it did last year, however do lack a few quality forwards and this could affect the forward rotation throughout games.
Penrith Panthers (Feeder club to the Penrith Panthers)
Predicted Finish: 3rd
Player To Watch: Jed Cartwright
The cousin of Panthers superstar Bryce Cartwright, Jed came through the Gold Coast Titans Holden Cup system and impressed in his time up there.
A damaging ball runner who plays in the back row, he has a nice offload and will be hoping to utilize that as much as possible.
He impressed in the Auckland 9’s with the Panthers and if he can find that form on a regular basis for the Panthers in the ISP, then success won’t be very far away for Cartwright and the Mountain men.
What We Say: The Panthers have a very young squad and after finishing 6th last season should manage to improve on that in 2017. They have quality all over the park and are blessed that their Holden Cup team produces so many quality players. They will have one of the most talented rosters in the league, the question is whether they can harness that and perform consistently especially if injuries strike or they lose players to the first grade set up.
New Zealand Warriors (Feeder club to the New Zealand Warriors)
Predicted Finish: 4th
Player To Watch: Charnze Nikoll-Klokstad
Warriors ISP player of the year last season and was by far the Warriors best.
The talented fullback has speed to burn and is very good linking up with support players. His ball playing ability from fullback will be vital in taking the pressure off Mason Lino and the other Warriors play-makers throughout the year.
What We Say: The Warriors downfall in 2016 was the constant travel across the Tasman. Unfortunately for them that is not going to change this season so they will need to find an better way of dealing with it.
The sheer size of its forward pack this year and the fact that it’s blessed with some quick and talented outside backs keeps the New Zealand boys in good stead for another push at the Finals in 2017. The new coaching appointment of Stephen Kearney for the First Grade side will hopefully have a positive affect club wide and trickle down to the ISP and new coach Ricky Henry.
Newtown Jets (Feeder club to the Cronulla Sharks)
Predicted Finish: 5th
Player To Watch: Jayden Walker
A hard running, edge backrower Walker will be an asset to the Jets in 2017. With the loss of experienced forwards in Kurt Capewell and Matt McIlwrick he will get his opportunity to ply his trade in front of the Henson Park faithful. Walker has successfully graduated from the Sharks Holden Cup team.
A skillful player that could be a danger player on the edge of the ruck, the Jets and Sharks both have big wraps on the 20-year-old for the future.
What We Say: The Jets will struggle having lost some of its spine with the departures of McIlwrick and Cleeland. The signing of Manaia Cherrington could help that situation if he isn’t selected in the Sharks First Grade squad.
Even so, the Jets might struggle for creativity in the middle of the field with still question marks over positions in the backline.
However, it still has one of the most intimidating forward packs in the league and don’t be surprised to see the Jets monstering teams through the middle of Henson Park in 2017.
Wests Tigers (Feeder club to the Wests Tigers)
Predicted Finish: 6th
Player To Watch: Jeremy Marshall-King
When you’re the younger brother of Benji Marshall, people are going to sit up and take notice. However, people were sitting up and taking notice of Jeremy Marshall-King (JMK) because of his football not his last name in season 2016.
A livewire out of dummy half that has speed and skill, JMK will look to improve on 2016 and help the Tigers to even more victories this season. Despite being just 84kg, he is one of the best defenders at the Wests Tigers.
He also has versatility with the ability to play five-eighth, half back or hooker.
What We Say: The Tigers have signed well for 2017 as it looks to go further then it did last season (knocked out in the preliminary final by Mounties).
They have brought in Matt McIlwrick and have a host of young, exciting backs complimented by an intimidating and mobile forward pack.
If it can keep the consistency of 2016 around, the sky could be the limit for the Tigers.
The youthfulness could be the downfall of the Tigers though with not many experienced heads around. The Preliminary Final loss last year could also be playing on the minds of the players after they let a 18-0 lead slip in the 24-18 defeat.
Wyong Roos (Feeder club to the Sydney Roosters)
Predicted Finish: 7th
Player To Watch: Josh Mantellano
Coming back from two solid seasons with Hull KR, Mantellano is a prolific try scorer and adds some brilliant goal kicking to his bow.
A big, tall and powerful runner, he will be an integral part of a Roos side that will be looking to concede less points (it conceded 500 last season, the 2nd worst of all teams in the top 8).
What We Say: Inconsistency hurt it last year and that will be the Roos Achilles heel again.
They have been blessed with the introduction of some of the Roosters Premiership winning Under 20 players, however the step up to ISP can be a big one.
If it can tighten up the defence, then the attack will sort itself out with Mitch Williams leading it around the park. The first six weeks of the season will be a big indication of how Wyong will fare in 2017.
Canterbury Bulldogs (Feeder club for the Canterbury Bulldogs)
Predicted Finish: 8th
Player To Watch: D’Rhys Miller
Named the 2016 NYC player of the year for the Bulldogs, Miller will start the season off in the ISP competition. A damaging ball runner who has quick feet and knows how to get himself to the try line, Miller could become an x-factor for Canterbury playing outwide on the edge. Another big Canterbury forward that has silky skills to match his strength.
What We Say: Steve Georgallis takes the reigns of the Bulldogs in what will be his fourth appointment in five seasons. His first job will be providing a more consistent football team after the Dogs lost 11 games last season. It’s poor start to the season hindered it greatly and a much improved start will be needed in 2017 if it is to taste success.
Again, the success of this side will largely come down to how its forwards perform, as there is more than enough quality in the backline for Canterbury to achieve extensive success.
North Sydney Bears (Feeder club to the South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Predicted Finish: 9th
Player To Watch: Cheyne Whitelaw
A couple of injured-riddled seasons have hurt the progress of Whitelaw who has been the workhorse of the South Sydney Holden Cup pack.
He continues in ISP with the Bears this season after playing there in 2015 before injury ruined his 2016 campaign, and will be relied upon to make metres up the middle of the field and get quick play the balls to catch the defence off guard.
A powerful ball runner, when he gets a sniff for a try he goes for it, as evident with his eight tries for Souths in the 2014 NYC season.
What We Say: Norths start to the season will determine how they are going to fare in 2017. Due to the cricket season, it will have four games on the road to start the season and won’t play at North Sydney Oval until round 7.
It has the players at its disposal to trouble any team in the league, however they struggled with consistency last season and often turned off when the game was in the balance. If it can eradicate this from its game in 2017, the Bears have an opportunity to play finals football again.
Wentworthville Magpies (Feeder club to the Parramatta Eels)
Predicted Finish: 10th
Player To Watch: Jordan Martin
Found success through the reality TV show “NRL Rookie” and made the move from Mounties up to Wentworthville in the off-season.
A quick and durable winger, he is incredibly hard to tackle and is an astute finisher close to the line.
At 189cm, he has great height for a winger and don’t be surprised to see him collect more than a few kicks in both attack and defense this season.
What We Say: The Magpies are another club that has a relatively new coach at the helm in Nathan Cayless. Taking over last year he recorded six wins in its last eight games. If he can provide that kind of momentum in 2017, the Magpies could play finals football.
However, with Cameron King elevated to the NRL squad, its lacks a proper spine to challenge the top sides and you have to wonder where it will score its points with a young and inexperienced halves combination.
Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles (Feeder club to the Manly Sea Eagles)
Predicted Finish: 11th
Player To Watch: Jake Kamire
An old school, tough prop Kamire played some great cameos off the bench for the Bulldogs last year and will be just as valuable for the newly merged Blacktown Workers side this year. He is a hard runner and often carries two and three defenders with him as well as possessing a brilliant offload.
Could become a real handful when coming on in the last 15-20 minutes of each half.
What We Say: The forming of Blacktown Workers and Manly in the offseason has been seen as a smart move by the Sea Eagles who will benefit from the catchment of Western Sydney locals that will represent its club.
However it will take a lot more than that to turn around the Sea Eagles fortunes. They were downright awful in games last year (none worse than an embarrassing 58-14 drubbing against Wyong in Round 17).
Its squad looks thin on paper and lack the necessary squad depth to challenge.
However they do have some quality and if it can get some assistance from the Manly First Grade team, it may surprise a few people and chalk up some victories.
Newcastle Knights (Feeder club to the Newcastle Knights)
Predicted Finish: 12th
Player To Watch: Tom Hughes
Signed from the Rabbitohs mid way through last season, Hughes can cover multiple positions in the backline and almost single-handedly improved the Knights in 2016.
His pace as well as superb support play has him knocking on the door of NRL selection so don’t be surprised to see him called up during the 2017 season considering the struggles of the Knights first grade side.
What We Say: The Knights fell from Premiers to Wooden Spooners in just one season. The downfall was sudden but not surprising when it lost core members such as Jake Mamo, Brock Lamb and Danny Levi to the Knights First Grade Squad. The position of the Knights NRL side greatly affected the ISP side.
Now with a new coach in Simon Woolford, it is looking to improve on 2016 where it registered just two wins.
The makeup of the side is still up in the air with many players unavailable for ISP selection. This leaves the Knights in limbo and unsure of where it will lead them in 2017.
However with a strong junior base and players experiencing a year of ISP football, the Knights are in a stronger spot then it was 12 months ago.
The Newcastle fighting spirit will come out in waves (particularly at home games) so don’t be at all surprised to see the Novacastrions win 5 or 6 games this season.
The Intrust Super Premiership kicks off on Saturday 4th March with the first game of the season between the Illawarra Cutters and Penrith Panthers kicking off at 2.10pm at UOW Jubilee Oval.
Steele Sports will again be covering the Intrust Super Premiership every weekend. Tune in to steelesports.com.au to hear all the action live from 2.30.