This is my fourth year at the NRL Ladder Predictions.
My previous three attempts haven't been very good.
After last season, it was suggested on my Facebook page (like it now!) that I should compare my predictions against a dartboard.
I've taken that feedback onboard.
While I don't own a dartboard, in that spirit, this season it is ROB vs THE RANDOM LADDER...
I went to www.random.org/lists/, entered the 16 NRL teams and pushed the RANDOMIZE button. The results were the following:
I'm liking my chances against that. Let's see my predictions...
1. Sydney Roosters (Last Year: 2)
In the last five seasons, the Roosters have three minor premierships (2013-15) and second place to probably the greatest club side this century (Storm in 2017). The other season went to the dogs.
My point is, this is a very good week-to-week team that has added one of the best halfbacks in recent memory and arguably the most exciting young player in the competition. They have to win now to validate the investment, and I think they are clear favourites for the minor premiership. Finals footy may be a different story though...
2. Parramatta Eels (4)
I predicted Parramatta to finish 4th last year! And I'm all-in this year too!
3. North Queensland Cowboys (8)
It took a shocking Dragons collapse for them to even make the finals, then the Cowboys surprised everyone with their memorable run to the Grand Final against the odds. This season they welcome back Thurston from injury, in his last year before retirement, and with availability after retiring from Queensland and Australia representative duties. JT and Morgan are going to have plenty of opportunities to create tries too, behind one of the best forward packs in the comp, with Taumalolo now supported by Scott (another injury return) and new signing Jordan McLean.
The travel makes it hard to imagine the Cowboys having the legs to win the minor premiership, hence the 3rd prediction, but they are my early favourites to win on Grand Final day.
4. Brisbane Broncos (3)
The Broncos look a bit vulnerable - their depth out wide is being tested already - but it's the Broncos and Wayne Bennett so it's hard to see them not being up there. It will also help that the should be less affected by State of Origin than usual.
5. Penrith Panthers (7)
In favour of a big Panthers season is that James Maloney seems to make every team better. Against a big Panthers season is that they seem unable to retain any of their young talent, which suggests something awry with the coaching and/or management structures. This prediction is closer to the best case scenario than the worst case scenario.
6. Melbourne Storm (1)
It seems foolish to predict the Storm this low, but they can't totally replace Cronk (surely?) and their other playmaker is halfway off the rails. Plus at some point old man Smith has to get injured, right? Come finals footy, they are up there with the Roosters and Cowboys, but I could see them dropping more than a few matches along the way.
7. St. George-ILLAWARRA Dragons (9)
James Graham - the grubbiest grub that ever grubbed! I haven't been this excited for the signing of an ageing forward since the Steelers signed Bobby Lindner in 1993. The Dragons only need one more win than last season to fulfil this prediction - the acquisition of Graham (and Hunt) should add at least that.
8. Gold Coast Titans (15)
It may seem crazy to have them this high, but... the Titans were 7-10 with an injury-ravaged playing squad before they ended the season with seven straight defeats. Since then they've signed a low profile but high quality coach, lost one high profile but troublesome name, and gained some decent players to add much needed squad depth. They are also the real NRL champions. When you consider all this, they could easily improve from 7-10 to, say, 9-8. That's finals pace.
9. New Zealand Warriors (13)
The Warriors seem the most common team the experts have in the wooden spoon position. Well, not this expert!
If Shaun Johnson doesn't get injured last year, they definitely don't lose their last nine matches, and that makes them a fringe top eight team already. Plus Blake Green has to be an upgrade on The Shell Of Kieran Foran.
10. Cronulla Sharks (5)
Moylan for Maloney is good long-term business, but for this season, it's a downgrade. There is uncertainty about fullback, who will kick goals, and the forward pack is old. I'm predicting a downturn.
11. Newcastle Knights (16)
It's not exactly a big call to say the Knights will be much better. The trick is predicting how much better. Even with the unexpected acquisition of Pearce topping off a decent rebuilding campaign, I think just falling short of the finals is most likely.
12. Wests Tigers (14)
I like their coach, and they've made some decent signings. But they still have a weak squad and can't cover for the loss of James Tedesco.
13. Manly Sea Eagles (6)
The NRL musical chairs probably started with Moses mid-season switch to the Eels last year. The Tigers then got Reynolds for 2018 as a replacement, the Bulldogs replaced Reynolds with Foran, Cronk signed with the Roosters pushing Pearce out to the Knights, Maloney and Moylan swapped clubs, and Green moved to the Warriors to cover the loss of Foran. And when the music stopped playing, the Sea Eagles were left without a half to replace Green. And it's not the only gap.
14. South Sydney Rabbitohs (12)
Souths just look very, very average. And very, very boring. They are the team I'm least interested in this season.
15. Canterbury Bulldogs (11)
The Bulldogs finished 11th last season, which was a decent effort, because they played like one of the worst teams (maybe the worst) on a very consistent basis during the season. I suspect in 2018 we may learn in his absence what a great coach Des Hasler is, although Bulldogs fans will be hoping former Parramatta Eels hero Dean Pay can revive the clubs fortunes.
16. Canberra Raiders (10)
I initially had the Raiders coming back into the top eight - they were 2-8 last year in close games, and even a 5-5 record lifts them to 6th place. Then I read Ricky Stuart is tinkering with his halves combinations, a case of history repeating. The Raiders also have a serious weakness at hooker due to Hodgson's injury. So now I think it's all over for the Green Machine.
Of course, the Random Ladder thinks the Raiders will be minor premiers, so what do I know?