Our experts answer the key questions ahead of the NRL season.

Who will win the competition and why?

Michael Burgess:

North Queensland Cowboys. Because it's about time the back-to-back jinx (no team has defended the NRL Premiership for more than 20 years) came to an end. If not, look for the Melbourne Storm to farewell Craig Bellamy with another Premiership ring.

David Skipwith: Brisbane Broncos. The halves combination of Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford will be even better in their second season together. New recruit James Roberts gives them extra speed and strike power out wide.

Broncos too strong for Eels in opener


Which team will claim the wooden spoon?


The Titans. Thin roster, diminishing fan base, financial pressure and ownership questions. It all adds up to a road to nowhere.

DS: Gold Coast Titans. The loss of several big names including Nate Myles, Dave Taylor and James Roberts, and a season-ending knee injury to halfback Kane Elgey will be difficult to overcome.

Which rookie will emerge as a potential superstar?


Tom Trbojevic. He turned heads in the NYC last year and looks the real deal. The 19-year-old will get opportunities at Brookvale, especially with Brett Stewart's injury history.

DS: Sydney Roosters youngster Latrell Mitchell starts on the wing against South Sydney this weekend but should find a long-term home in the No1 jersey. The Greg Inglis clone has a similar physique and right hand fend to the Rabbitohs No1 and impressed at the Auckland Nines.

What is the key to the Warriors' success?


Injuries. If their spine and other key players can stay on the field for most of the season, they'll surely figure in September.

DS: Improving their defence and reducing errors and penalties will be key objectives for Warriors coach Andrew "Cappy" McFadden. If they can tidy up those areas and remain in the grind in close matches they are a big chance of making the finals for the first time since 2011.

Which of last year's finalists will miss the cut?


The Dragons and Bulldogs will get squeezed out. They remain good sides but others are better.


St George Illawarra Dragons. They will trouble plenty of sides but lack the class to sit among the top teams.

Which team will emerge as the surprise packet/dark horses?


The Warriors. Fingers crossed anyway...

DS: The Canberra Raiders should be much improved in their third season under coach Ricky Stuart and hard to beat at home. Former Titans No7 Aidan Sezer will give the Green Machine direction and allow halves partner Blake Austin more freedom to run the ball.

What will be the main talking point of the competition?


The new interchange rules will dominate discussion in the opening rounds of the season, as teams adapt to the new demands. Later in the year, well, take your pick: shoulder charges, the obstruction rule, player workload, the video bunker...

DS: Off-field dramas threaten to derail South Sydney's campaign, with tension surrounding coach Michael Maguire's methods and intensity. The return of Sam Burgess caused the departure of several players and it remains to be seen whether his presence will be enough to lift the Rabbitohs.

Which Warrior has the most to prove?


It's probably hard to limit to one. There are so many who have to atone for last season, though Shaun Johnson, Ben Matulino and Konrad Hurrell need to have big seasons. Johnson finally has some lieutenants around him, Matulino needs to deliver on his undoubted potential and Hurrell needs to recapture the form of 2013.

DS: Hurrell has a battle on his hands to reclaim his centre spot after a disappointing 2015 season and starts the season in NSW Cup. Has improved his fitness and attitude but needs to show consistency in his performances particularly on defence.

List the top eight in finishing order


Broncos, Storm, Cowboys, Sharks, Warriors, Sea Eagles, Roosters, Rabbitohs.

DS: Broncos, Cowboys, Sea Eagles, Sharks, Storm, Warriors, Raiders, Roosters.