Today we’ll gaze into the 2023 NRL top 8, an exercise fraught with risk, given the unpredictability of the competition.
5TH PLACE – SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS
South Sydney have been there, or thereabouts, for the last four years. Many could argue that they over performed in 2022, however this has happened far too often now to be a fluke.
The fitness of, superstar fullback, Latrell Mitchell is paramount to any success over the top teams. To the clubs credit, they seemed to have recognised this last year by commissioning an in-season trip to America to help heal a hamstring injury with cutting edge sports science methods. Similar to, Chicago Bulls legend, Dennis Rodman, Mitchell needs time away from training and the limelight once in a while to perform at his best; Ultimately, few doubt that Mitchell can often provide moments that no other player can. Consistent performances week to week from him are key to the Rabbitohs success in 2022.
Signings-wise, the Rabbitohs have been largely inactive. Respectfully, no big names have left or been signed by the club for the 2023 season. This should ensure a level of cohesion that some of the bottom teams will take a long time to achieve.
The argument could be made that their inability to beat Penrith when it matters most has been the only thing between this team and multiple premierships. Sure, you can make this point about any losing grand final team, however the Rabbitohs lost the 2020 preliminary final to the Panthers, before a narrow loss to them in 2021 grand final and then tumbled out one game before the grand final again in 2022 after losing to… you guessed it, the Penrith Panthers.
With the above reality in mind, games against the Panthers in 2023 will have almost as much rivalry as any games against, historical rivals, the Sydney Roosters. The Rabbitohs play the Panthers twice and the Roosters once in the first 8 rounds. All three of these games should represent games with a huge amount of intensity. Fans should be circling all three games in their calendars as must watch.
Rabbitohs best 17 – 1. Latrell Mitchell, 2. Izaac Thompson, 3. Isaiah Tass, 4. Campbell Graham, 5. Alex Johnston, 6. Cody Walker, 7. Lachlan Ilias, 8. Hame Sele, 9. Damien Cook, 10. Tevita Tatola, 11. Keaon Koloamatangi, 12. Jai Arrow, 13. Cameron Murray, 14. Siliva Havili, 15. Tom Burgess, 16. Davvy Moale, 17. Jacob Host
6TH PLACE – NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS
The Cowboys came from nowhere in 2022 to finish the season in third by winning 17 of their 24 games. There’s something special about Todd Payton, and 2023 could well be the year where fans start to realise just what a high quality coach he is; Warrior’s fans certainly see him as the one who got away.
The Cowboys are a club with the potential to be huge. They’re a one town team, with a dedicate fan base, a world class stadium and a world class high performance program. In many ways, this club represents the prototype of what an NRL club should be.
The departure of Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Tom Gilbert (both to the Dolphins) should respectfully have a fairly minimal impact on the squad. Fans are keen to see if club son James Tamou still has what it takes however he has ultimately been signed on a relatively low contract so there’s little risk outside of taking up a spot in the clubs top 30 squad.
Halfway, Chad Townsend surprised even the most ardent NRL fan in 2022. Whether or not he can repeat this form in 2023 is a question mark around the team. The first choice halves pairing of Townsend and Tom Dearden represents one of the more unheralded pairings in the NRL. Fullback, Scott Drinkwater started 2022 in reserve grade to then go on to be one of the driving forces behind the Cowboys’ push to the finals.
The contact situation of, young star, Jeremiah Nanai will inevitably become more of a talking point the more time goes on. Nanai could have demanded big money on the open market but made a mature decision to sign a one year deal and work on his game in an environment where he feels most comfortable. Canberra are reportedly chasing his signature with venom and the money on offer may prove too good to refuse. At this stage, the Cowboys are still the front runners for his signature long term, particularly with the recent rise in the NRL salary cap.
Coincidently, Canberra are the Cowboys’ opponents in the opening round of the season. All things weighed up, the Cowboys have one of the softer early season draws in the competition. After playing Canberra, the team goes on to play the Broncos, Warriors, Titans, Bulldogs, Dolphins, Warriors (again) and then the Knights. They will need to use this opportunity to go into the middle of the season high up on the ladder as things get a lot more difficult from there.
3️⃣7️⃣ days until our trial vs. Dolphins
4️⃣3️⃣ days until our trial vs. Broncos
5️⃣7️⃣ days until our season opener vs. Raiders pic.twitter.com/At9vH099z4
— NQ Cowboys (@nthqldcowboys) January 6, 2023
Cowboy’s best 17 – 1. Scott Drinkwater, 2. Murray Taulagi, 3. Peta Hiku, 4. Valentine Holmes, 5. Kyle Feldt, 6. Tom Dearden, 7. Chad Townsend, 8. Jordan McLean, 9. Reece Robson, 10. Reuben Cotter, 11. Jeremiah Nanai, 12. Luciano Leilua (stood down), 13. Jason Taumalolo, 14. Coen Hess, 15. James Tamou, 16. Griffin Neame, 17. Mitch Dunn
7TH PLACE – CRONULLA SHARKS
The Sharks second place finish in 2022 has a lot fans excited about the pending season. The recruitment of Craig Fitzgibbon has proven to be a good one, despite the backlash received from elements of the media after the club parted ways with previous coach, John Morris. From the outside looking in, this club appears to have a great culture, with a group of players who have bought into what Fitzgibbon is looking to achieve.
In terms of signings, the Sharks have largely been a non-player in the transfer market. With the exception of Oregon Kaufusi’s addition from the Eels, the best 17 is largely the same as in 2022. This has fans expecting a level of cohesion that should naturally come with so much time on the field together.
Club legend, Wade Graham has recently signed a one year deal for the 2023 season. How the club manages his next career steps is a point of interest for fans. Speculation was rife that he would be joining French Super League club, Catalan Dragons, however the Sharks eventually came to the table with a one year offer. Fitzgibbon treated the retirement of, fellow club legend, Andrew Fifita with respect and grace so he has experience in this area.
The Sharks possess one of the most potent backlines with, reliable fullback, Will Kennedy joined by Ronaldo Mulitalo, Sione Katoa, Siosifa Talakai and Jesse Ramien. This backline is good enough to rival any in the game.
Draw-wise, the Sharks have a real mixed back to begin the season. The opening games against South Sydney and Parramatta could go either way. Realistically, winning one of these would be considered a pass mark, however, tongues will be wagging if they can manage to bag two victories from these games. From here, things get a bit easier, at least on paper, as the team faces off against the Raiders, Dragons and Warriors before heading into their first bye.
Sharks best 17 – 1. Will Kennedy, 2. Sione Katoa, 3. Siosifa Talakai, 4. Jesse Ramien, 5. Ronaldo Mulitalo, 6. Matt Moylan, 7. Nicho Hynes, 8. Toby Rudolf, 9. Blayke Brailey, 10. Braden Hamlin-Uele, 11. Briton Nikora, 12. Wade Graham, 13. Dale Finucane, 14. Cameron McInnes, 15. Teig Wilton, 16. Royce Hunt, 17. Oregon Kaufusi
8TH PLACE – BRISBANE BRONCOS
This is a team with so much natural talent that they really should be pushing for the top 4. Players such as Herbie Farnworth, Reece Walsh, Kotoni Staggs, Selwyn Cobbo, Payne Haas and Patrick Carrigan could all command upwards of 700k on the open market. The days where players would stay at the Broncos for “unders” are largely gone so this team needs to start fulfilling their potential in 2023. Anything less than a top 8 finish is a failure.
The jury is still well and truly out on head coach Kevin Walters. A poor start will see the claws come out from a powerful ex-playing group and arguably the largest NRL fan base.
The battle to hold onto players will be almost as interesting as the team’s on field performance. Both Selwyn Cobbo and Herbie Farnworth have made clear their desire to play fullback long-term, however it’s expected that Reece Walsh will get first crack after returning from the Warriors. Whilst Walsh’s highlights real is very impressive, there are still a lot of fundamentals that need to be improved upon, namely his defensive positional play. Walsh was caught out far too many times at the Warriors and was often criticised for not putting his body on the line when it came to pivotal moments in defense.
The return of Patrick Carrigan can’t be underestimated. The team essentially fell off a cliff in his absence and he is the only player to rival Adam Reynolds in the debate for most important player in this team. Payne Haas’ mental state is also a factor after some well documented off field events.
Draw-wise, the Broncos have the toughest start possible, taking on defending premiers, Penrith Panthers away from home. This is followed by another tough game against the Cowboys at home. From here things get substantially easier, at least on paper, as the team faces the Dragons, Dolphins, Tigers, Raiders and Titans. Weathering the first couple of rounds is crucial for this side.
We've seen the potential but Skip knows there's still a lot of work to do with this group 👊 pic.twitter.com/1fUXNytK61
— Brisbane Broncos (@brisbanebroncos) January 6, 2023
Bronco’s best 17 – 1. Reece Walsh. 2. Corey Oates, 3. Kotoni Staggs, 4. Herbie Farnworth, 5. Selwyn Cobbo, 6. Ezra Mam, 7. Adam Reynolds, 8. Tom Flegler, 9. Billy Walters, 10. Payne Haas, 11. Kurt Capewell, 12. Jordan Riki, 13. Patrick Carrigan, 14. Cory Paix, 15. Keenan Palasia, 16. Brendan Piakura, 17. Corey Jensen