Continuing on with our series on NRL season 2023 predicted finishes, today we look at a cluster of teams who could well make the top 8 if things go their way.
9TH PLACE – MANLY SEA EAGLES
2023 represents a new era for the Manly Sea-Eagles. A lot of fans were surprised to hear the team had identified Anthony Seibold as a replacement for club legend Des Hasler. Seibold will be joined by former NRL head coach, Shane Flannigan as an assistant, resulting in a very experienced team at the helm.
Much has been written about the fitness of star fullback, Tom Trbojevic. However the team’s chances of making an imprint on the competition in 2023 are heavily correlated with whether or not Trbojevic can stay on the park.
Josh Schuster finally gets his crack at five-eighth, which will make him the biggest number 6 in the game. Much has been written about Schuster’s talents, but 2023 is his chance to show fans what he’s got. He will be partnered by evergreen halfback, Daly Cherry-Evans, a figure of stability at a club known for its instability.
Despite losing Kieran Foran and Dylan Walker, the club has been very quiet in the player market, bringing in players that can respectfully be classified as depth signings.
Draw-wise, Manly kick off the season at home to the Bulldogs before heading into a second round bye. From here, they take on the Eels, Rabbitohs, Knights, Panthers and Storm. This draw represents one of the toughest starts to the season of any club.
Sea Eagles Best 17 – 1. Tom Trbojevic, 2. Christian Tuipulotu, 3. Tolutau Koula, 4. Reuben Garrick, 5. Jason Saab, 6. Josh Schuster, 7. Daly Cherry-Evans, 8. Josh Aloiai, 9. Lachlan Croker, 10. Taniela Paseka, 11. Kelma Tuilagi, 12. Haumole Olakau’atu, 13. Jake Trbojevic, 14. Karl Lawton, 15. Toafofoa Sipley, 16. Sean Keppie, 17. Ethan Bullemor
10TH PLACE – CANBERRA RAIDERS
Canberra are a team who can challenge anyone on their day. The Raiders are in a category of teams who can finish almost anywhere, along with Manly and Brisbane. Predicting where this team finish is a high risk venture.
The start of the 2022 season was far from ideal, with an injury to then new halves signing, Jamal Fogarty. Assuming this doesn’t happen again, the team should see the benefit of a full pre-season with Fogarty and Jack Wighton training together.
Fans are expecting a certain level of cohesion from this team, with very few signings year on year. With the exception of Adam Elliot and Ryan Sutton, other losses from 2022 played very little NRL, be it due to injury or form.
The Raiders have a cluster of highly talented juniors, the development of which they need to balance perfectly. Fullback, Xavier Savage could be the tip of the iceberg in terms of players from the 2021 SG Ball Champions to make their NRL debut for the club. In the player market, the club is rumoured to be fiercely pursuing the signatures of both David Fafita and Jeremiah Nanai.
The 2023 season see’s the Raiders travel to Townsville to face the Cowboys first up. This is followed by games against the Dolphins, Sharks, Knights and Panthers. While there’s some winnable games in this schedule, the opening five weeks is a real mixed bag for the team.
— Canberra Raiders (@RaidersCanberra) January 1, 2023
Raiders best 17 – 1. Xavier Savage, 2. Nick Cotric, 3. Matt Timoko, 4. Seb Kris, 5. Jordan Rapana, 6. Jack Wighton, 7. Jamal Fogarty, 8. Josh Papalii, 9. Zac Woolford, 10. Joseph Tapine, 11. Hudson Young, 12. Elliott Whitehead, 13. Corey Harawira-Naera, 14. Tom Starling, 15. Emre Guler, 16. Pasami Saulo, 17. Corey Horsburgh
11TH PLACE – CANTERBURY-BANKSTOWN BULLDOGS
There’s no doubt the Bulldogs are heading in the right direction under Phil Gould’s stewardship. The addition of Parramatta hooker, Reed Mahoney and Penrith second-rower, Viliame Kikau adds to the previous year’s star signings of Tevita Pangai Junior, Matt Burton and Josh Addo-Carr. This roster is really shaping up as a genuine top 8 contender.
Further roster overhaul is expected, perhaps even before round one. English prop, Luke Thompson is on big money and the club has been rumoured to be open to offloading him for some time now. The Bulldogs are reportedly chasing Panthers’ centre, Stephen Crichton hard, along with star Parramatta halfback, Mitchell Moses.
The fullback position is a weakness for the Bulldogs this year. Jake Averillo is expected to get first crack in round one. Kyle Flannigan is a near certainty to be named at halfback, despite the club making very little effort to deny rumours that they’ve been prepared to offload him for a number of years now. Phil Gould has recognised these positional weaknesses if rumoured attempted play signings are correct.
Rookie head coach, Cameron Ciraldo will have a strong support network around him and be given time and patience to get the club back to where they’d become accustomed to in a different epoch. Any injuries to the cluster of recent signings will see the team’s depth severely tested, particularly if Matt Burton goes down.
Draw-wise, the opening month contains at least three games that are quite winnable. The Bulldogs open the season away to Manly before taking on the Storm in Melbourne. These two games are followed by clashes against the Wests Tigers at home and the Warriors away.
Bulldogs best 17 – 1. Jake Averillo, 2. Jacob Kiraz, 3. Braidon Burns, 4. Paul Alamoti, 5. Josh Addo-Carr, 6. Matt Burton, 7. Kyle Flanagan, 8. Luke Thompson, 9. Reed Mahoney, 10. Tevita Pangai Junior, 11. Raymond Faitala-Mariner, 12. Viliame Kikau, 13. Jackson Topine, 14. Josh Reynalds, 15. Ryan Sutton, 16. Andrew Davey, 17. Max King
12TH PLACE – WESTS TIGERS
Many fans will consider 12th too high up for the Wests Tigers, particularly given their last place finish in 2022. Similar to the Bulldogs, the Tigers have signed big names in key positions. The development of Api Koroisau saw him become a key part of Penrith’s recent success and he may turn out to be one of the best signings in Wests Tigers history.
The addition of Koroisau is boosted by the signings of Parramatta back rower, Isaiah Papali’I, English back rower, John Bateman and Newcastle prop, David Klemmer. The team will need big years from fellow forwards, Stefano Utoikamanu and young gun, Fonua Pole if they are going to realise their potential as a formidable forward pack.
Depth in the backs is an issue for this club so any injuries to Adam Doueihi or Luke Brooks will be a real issue. In addition to this, settling on their best outside backs’ selections may take some time. The return of veteran coach, Tim Sheens has fans hopeful of a return to better days.
The Tigers have a relatively friendly opening month of the draw, facing the Titans first up, followed by games against the Knights, Bulldogs and Storm.
— Wests Tigers (@WestsTigers) December 31, 2022
Wests Tigers best 17 – 1. Daine Laurie, 2. Charlie Staines, 3. Tommy Talau, 4. Brent Naiden, 5. David Nofoaluma, 6. Adam Doueihi, 7. Luke Brooks, 8. Stefano Utoikamanu, 9. Api Koroisau, 10. David Klemmer, 11. Isaiah Papali’I, 12. John Bateman, 13. Joe Ofahengaue, 14. Jake Simpkin, 15. Shawn Blore, 16. Fonua Pole, 17. Alex Twal
13TH PLACE – NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS
Newcastle are a club with plenty of question marks above them. Fans generally have a mixed view on head coach, Adam O’Brien and whether or not he is the right man to oversee the side long term.
Halfback Jackson Hastings is a great signing and on paper and Newcastle are the perfect club for him. Hastings thrives when given the full reigns over a team, something he didn’t have at the Wests Tigers. If Kalyn Ponga lines up at five-eighth, Hastings will be crucial in getting the team around the park.
Centre pairing Bradman Best and Dane Gagai make up arguably one of the best positional pairings in the game. Fullback is a glaring hole in this side if Ponga is moved into the halves. Bailey Hodgson is tipped to get first crack in round one, with new recruit Tyson Gamble the obvious halves solution if Ponga is kept at fullback.
The Knights open the season against the Warriors in Wellington and go on to have one of the softer opening draws of any team. Round two pits the side up against the Wests Tigers, followed by games against the Dolphins, Raiders and Sea Eagles, before meeting the Warriors again. With the exception of the Raiders scraping into the top 8 last year, all these teams finished in the bottom half of the ladder last year.
Knights best 17 – 1. Bailey Hodgson, 2. Dom Young, 3. Bradman Best, 4. Dane Gagai, 5. Greg Marzhew, 6. Kalyn Ponga, 7. Jackson Hastings, 8. Jacob Saifiti, 9. Jayden Brailey, 10. Daniel Saifiti, 11. Tyson Frizell, 12. Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 13. Adam Elliott, 14. Kurt Mann, 15. Jack Hetherington, 16. Leo Thompson, 17. Brodie Jones