League: Contenders and pretenders for 2013

By Gary Hamilton-Irvine

With the NRL only one sleep away, The Daily Post reporter Gary Hamilton-Irvine gives his predictions for the upcoming season.

Canterbury Bulldogs

Where to go for the doggies, up or up? They've got the class. They've got the coach. Now all that's missing is the premiership. It should be another good year for the Sydney-based club. Fullback Ben Barba is in a bit of personal trouble but he will return. And if there's one thing rugby league fans love more than Ray Warren's voice it's a freak of the game. Up up.

Prediction: 1st (grand finalists)

Gains: Tony Williams

Losses: David Stagg, Bryson Goodwin, Jake Foster, Jonathan Wright, James Gavet

North Queensland Cowboys

I was reading Rugby League Weekly magazine the other week and one commentator said he gave the Cowboys a two-year window to win the competition starting from last year.

I can see where he is coming from. They certainly have a good mix of old and young talent and have some of the best Queenslanders in the business. Maybe this is the year for the Northern-most side in the competition who are led by one of the best players in the world, Johnathan Thurston. I'm certainly not going out on a limb by suggesting they will have a good season. But I'll say it anyway. They will have a very good season.

Prediction: 2nd

Gains: Anthony Mitchell, Clint Greenshields

Losses: James Segeyaro, Cory Paterson, Aaron Payne

Sydney Roosters

After a disappointing season, a new coach, a returning chief executive and a player clean-out has the Roosters looking like a team set for glory. The club has signed James Maloney, NSW player Michael Jennings and superstar Sonny Bill Williams. But the big names come at a cost, with the club shedding eight players, many of whom were regular first-teamers. Depth will be their main issue this year, but if injuries don't plague the Bondi boys it should be a ripper of a season for the Chooks.

Prediction: 3rd (grand finalists)

Gains: Sonny Bill Williams, Michael Jennings, James Maloney, Michael Oldfield

Losses: Braith Anasta, Justin Carney, Mose Masoe, Joseph Leilua, Peni Tagive

South Sydney Rabbitohs

What I loved about the Rabbitohs last year was how the big names in the club seemed to infect younger players with confidence. Relative newcomers Andrew Everingham, Adam Reynolds and Nathan Peats all flourished last year. Those players will only be better this year and there is plenty of quality around them to assist them on their travels. Another top four finish for the Bunnies I reckon.

Prediction: 4th

Gains: Beau Champion, Jeff Lima, Ben Te'o, Bryson Goodwin

Losses: Dave Taylor, Eddy Pettybourne, Scott Geddes, James Roberts

Brisbane Broncos

Brisbane love royalty. They had The King, Wally Lewis, for a few years and now it's time for Scott Prince to return home to his old club. There has been a lot of chat about how his days are numbered at the grand old age of 33, but Princey is exactly what Brisbane need in the halves. I'm afraid Peter Wallace, the current halfback, has about as much chance of winning you a premiership as a chocolate bar. David Stagg is another quality senior player filling some of the void left by club and state legend Petero Civoniceva.

Prediction: 5th

Gains: Scott Prince, David Stagg, Denan Kemp

Losses: Petero Civoniceva, Gerard Beale, Ben Te'o, Lagi Setu

New Zealand Warriors

The club seems to gain bigger expectations each year. It feels like unprecedented pressure has mounted on the players and club to have a good season in 2013. Such is the backing of a country full of league fans and the big money from millionaire owners. But the good news is, by all sounds of it, pre-season has gone well and the lads are in top physical shape. As long as they can avoid a mid-season or end-of-season collapse, and make the finals, they are as good a chance as any. I look forward to seeing how Thomas Leuluai handles the NRL after proving himself in England. He should do just fine.

Prediction: 6th

Gains: Thomas Leuluai, Dane Nielsen, Todd Lowrie, Dominique Peyroux, Harry Siejka

Losses: Lewis Brown, Micheal Luck, James Maloney, Omar Slaimankhel, Ukuma Ta'ai, Ligi Sao, Toka Likiliki

Manly Sea Eagles

What a ground Brookvale Oval is. I love Brooky. Fans stacking the grassy hill bantering about the golden years and which Stewart brother they like more. Imagine growing up near the beaches of Manly in Northern Sydney and having your old man taking you out to watch players like Bob Fulton and Ken Irvine. Oval parks manage to capture that history somehow. The team is pretty good too.

Prediction: 7th

Gains: Kayne Lawton, Esi Tonga, Justin Horo, Michael Chee Kam

Losses: Tony Williams, Darcy Lussick, Dean Whare, Michael Oldfield, Daniel Harrison

Cronulla Sharks

After a consistent year in 2012, which saw the Sharks in the top four throughout most of the season, fans will be less than impressed with their underwhelming exit in week one of the finals. The loss of high profile players Jeremy Smith and Colin Best will hardly be noticed with new inclusions Luke Lewis, Michael Gordon, Beau Ryan and Chris Heighington coming on board at Shark Park. The side will be itching to make amends for the disappointing way they ended the season, and it's hard to see them disappoint this year.

Prediction: 8th

Gains: Michael Gordon, Luke Lewis, Jonathan Wright, Beau Ryan, Chris Heighington

Losses: Colin Best, Jeremy Smith, Josh Cordoba

Melbourne Storm

How long can this train keep chugging? I could be completely off the mark but I'm picking 2013 as the year where Melbourne fans look back and say "it was a good run while it lasted". The big three - Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith - all turn 30 this year and an injury to even one of them could change the momentum. They have the second best coach in the competition in Craig Bellamy (Wayne Bennett being No1) and he'll do his best to keep them rolling on, but I guess time will tell.

Prediction: 9th

Gains: Junior Sau, Lagi Setu, Brett Finch

Losses: Dane Nielsen, Sika Manu, Richie Fa'aoso, Todd Lowrie, Michael Greenfield, Anthony Quinn, Jaiman Lowe

Newcastle Knights

Dark horse? A bit of a fizzer in 2012 doesn't mean we can write them off this year. They should be in and around the eight come playoffs in September. Danny Buderus turned 35 this year but he'll still be leading from the front. I'm sure their defence will be strong with Wayne Bennett at the wheel but the question is: how many points do they have in them each week? Darius Boyd, Jarrod Mullen and youngsters Ryan Stig and Dane Gagai will need big years if they are to have a sniff.

Prediction: 10th

Gains: Beau Scott, Jeremy Smith, Joseph Leilua, Anthony Quinn, Toka Likiliki

Losses: Zeb Taia, Wes Naiqama, Joel Edwards, Evarn Tuimavave, Junior Sau

Penrith Panthers

There's been a giant clean-out at the Panthers. Changes have run from management level right through to Origin players at the Panthers, and it is a step in the right direction. Losing Michael Gordon, Luke Lewis and Michael Jennings in one fell swoop is tough on any squad but it is a brave move for a club wanting a bold new future. They are a tight unit who will work on high-percentage football this year. Certainly won't win the competition, but I'm sure they will knock over some top sides on their travels.

Prediction: 11th

Gains: Lewis Brown, Dean Whare, Sika Manu, James Segeyaro, Wes Naiqama, Jeremy Latimore, James Roberts, Tom Humble, Shane Shackleton, Mose Masoe

Losses: Michael Gordon, Luke Lewis, Michael Jennings, Travis Burns, Harry Siejka

Canberra Raiders

What to say of the green machine? Just not enough fire power for me. Josh Dugan isn't the man he once promised to be, I don't think. Just can't see them getting all the connections right this year, especially when Dugan and Reece Robinson keep stealing the No1 jersey off each other. Outside the eight I'm predicting. Big fan of the red-head Joel Edwards though, good signing.

Prediction: 12th

Gains: Joel Edwards, Jake Foster

Losses: Bronson Harrison, Michael Chee Kam

St George Illawarra Dragons

Just a boring side really. Out of ideas is what it looked like to me last year. I still stand by what Mark Gasnier said once upon a time - "it is hard to stop playing a style of football which won you a competition". Dead right Gazza, dead right. The same boring-to-watch, waiting for the other team to make a mistake, style of football stopped working for them after their premiership winning year in 2010. Something needs to change this year for the Red V.

Prediction: 13th

Gains: Bronson Harrison, Gerard Beale, Michael Henderson

Losses: Beau Scott, Dean Young, Jeremy Latimore, Ben Hornby, Josh Miller

Gold Coast Titans

You look at the Titans forwards and think massive, stacked full of origin players. Then you look at the speedsters in the backs and think lightning, some of the fastest players in Queensland. Then you look at the halves and you think something is missing. She is going to be a long, hard season without someone to guide them around Skilled Park.

Prediction: 14th

Gains: Dave Taylor

Losses: Scott Prince, Bodene Thompson, Phil Graham, Dominique Peyroux, Michael Henderson, Beau Champion

Wests Tigers

The Tigers have a couple of big holes in their forward pack which are going to leak like New Zealand homes built in the late 1990s. I feel like the off season went a little like this in the Wests Tigers management office: They would have called back-rower Liam Fulton in, sat him down, and told him he was getting a raise. The only catch in his contract would have been he has two new jobs to cover - those left by former teammates Gareth Ellis and Chris Heighington.

Prediction: 15th

Gains: Braith Anasta, Masada Iosefa, Eddy Pettybourne, Bodene Thompson, James Gavet

Losses: Gareth Ellis, Beau Ryan, Chris Heighington, Junior Moors, Tom Humble

Parramatta Eels

Raiders' forward Josh Papalii and returning mormon William Hopoate will be a big boost for the club ... when they arrive in 12 months. The Eels are still a year out from giving the top eight a real go. Unless Chris Sandow and Jarryd Hayne can form a partnership similar to Batman and Robin, I can't see much going right for Parramatta this year. I'm guessing if you're still an Eels fan you're in it for the long run anyway, so good luck.

Prediction: 16th

Gains: Darcy Lussick, Daniel Harrison

Losses: Nathan Hindmarsh, Luke Burt, Casey McGuire, Justin Poore, Shane Shackleton, Esi Tonga, Justin Horo

- Hamilton News

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