The Sydney Roosters narrowly finished atop the table in the 2018 NRL season, creeping ahead of the Storm in the final round and finishing just a solitary game ahead of the Warriors in eighth in what was an incredibly close season.
Throughout the finals series, however, they showed that they were every bit the best team in it, dismissing all challengers they came across with aplomb. This season, they are tipped to be the team to beat again, but nipping at their heels is a long list of talented teams. Let’s take a look at the top contenders heading into 2019.
The Roosters, fresh off their fourth victory in the World Club Challenge in mid-February, will head into the 2019 season full of confidence and eager to become the first team since the league went national to win back-to-back Premierships. Despite their triumph last season, the Roosters will most likely be an even better side this year. Angus Crichton is a huge addition, the 23-year-old back rower set to make an immediate mark in a forward pack that is already one of the best in the league. Englishman Ryan Hall could be an important addition once he recovers from a knee injury, while all three of James Tedesco, Joseph Manu and Latrell Mitchell have the capacity to take their games to yet another level. The Roosters roster is a scary prospect for any side, and they are deserved favourites as we enter another season.
The Broncos are an enigma. In 2018, they finished sixth after an up-and-down season, and were promptly belted by the Dragons in the first week of the finals. A disappointing end to the year no doubt, but heading into 2019 there is plenty of reason for fans to be optimistic. The Broncos have a young but extremely talented forward pack, while Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima have the potential to be a dangerous halves combination. They will also receive a boost from the returns of Matt Gillett and Jack Bird, each of whom missed a large portion of the 2018 season due to injuries. Brisbane had a difficult off-season with Anthony Seibold taking over the coaching reigns from Wayne Bennett in controversial fashion, but the talent they have on the field is undeniable, and if they can put it all together they may just be one of the best chances to challenge the Roosters.
The perennially successful Melbourne Storm deserved plenty of credit for making it through to the Grand Final last year despite the loss of Test halfback Cooper Cronk – who would ultimately play a vital role in the Roosters’ victory over his old side on Grand Final day – but that would have been of little solace after they failed to defend their 2017 Premiership. This year, they will again have a huge hole to fill after the retirement of Billy Slater, and how either Jahrome Hughes, or Scott Drinkwater fares as his likely replacement will have a major impact on how deep into the finals they are able to go. With Cameron Smith still hanging around, and plenty of capable support in the form of Josh Addo-Carr, Jesse Bromwich and Will Chambers to name a few, the Storm should find themselves there or thereabouts at the pointy end of the season.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
The South Sydney Rabbitohs won’t have to wait long for their chance at revenge against a Roosters side that knocked them out of the finals in 2018, with the Round 1 match-up between the two sides sure to be quite the spectacle. You can check out the full Round 1 fixture and odds here: https://www.odds.com.au/sport/rugby-league/nrl/.
The Rabbitohs were a good team last year, finishing the season in third place, and this year they will probably be even better – though not necessarily due to changes in on-field personnel. The most successful coach in Australia Rugby League history, Wayne Bennett, will attempt to lead the Rabbitohs to a 22nd Premiership in 2019 after moving across from the Broncos, and with a squad as talented as the one he has at South Sydney, it would be of little surprise if he managed to do exactly that.
Who looks the strongest team in the NRL?
There’s no doubt that the Sydney Roosters head into the 2019 NRL season as the team to beat – they were the best side last year and have made some valuable additions to their squad in 2019. As 2018 highlighted, however, the league is as close as it’s ever been, and there are plenty of teams more than capable of challenging the reigning Premiers. The Broncos are capable of beating anyone on their day, the Storm have a culture of success and the experience to go deep, and the Rabbitohs have added the game’s best coach to a great roster. Add to that the probable improvement of the likes of the Panthers, the Dragons and the Sharks, and it wouldn’t surprise to see yet another bottleneck at the top of the table come the end of the season. Bring it on.