The 2020 NRL season gets underway in March with defending champions Sydney Roosters looking to win the competition for a record third consecutive year - but can they pull off the three-peat? Dave Kuzio gives us the full rundown with his best bets for 2020.
Since the NRL competition was set up in 1998, up until last year no team had ever won back-to-back Grand Finals. The Roosters became the first ever team to do so as they defeated Canberra Raiders in the NRL Grand Final at the ANZ Stadium.
To win it for a third year in succession would be an amazing achievement, but I don’t think that will happen. The Roosters have lost arguably their best player in Latrell Mitchell, he will be difficult to replace and it’s safe to say a lot of teams have strengthened well as they look to wrestle the title away from the Chooks.
This could be one of the tightest competitions in the history of the NRL as I predict at least six teams are capable of raising the Provan-Summons Trophy come the end of the season.
NRL Tips – Grand Final Winner: Canberra @ 7/1 Ladbrokes
Not only have the Roosters lost New South Wales star Mitchell, they will also be without Cooper Cronk who decided to retire at the end of last season. Some people will say that the Chooks can replace Mitchell, the same cannot be said about Cronk. The former Melbourne Storm scrum-half is the one player that made the Roosters tick during their Grand Final wins.
He played the whole of the 2018 Grand Final with a broken scapula and made sure he wasn’t tackled once. That takes courage and that is hard to replicate, he will be a massive loss for the Roosters and the main reason they will not win the competition.
My pick to win the 2020 NRL Grand Final is the Green Machine – Canberra Raiders. They came agonisingly close to winning their first NRL title and their first Australian championship win since they won the Premiership in 1994.
The Green Machine were outstanding in 2019, the English contingent of John Bateman, Elliot Whitehead, Josh Hodgson and Ryan Sutton played their part as they ended the regular campaign in fourth place, before defeating Melbourne Storm and South Sydney Rabbitohs on the road to the Grand Final. They fell at the final hurdle as they went down 14-8 to the Roosters.
They won’t fall at the final hurdle this year. They may have lost the likes of Aidan Sezer and Jordan Rapana to Huddersfield Giants and rugby union respectively, but they will be as strong as ever. They have recruited the talented George Williams from Super League side Wigan and his partnership with Bateman could be the key to ending their title drought.
NRL Tips – Minor Premiership Winner: South Sydney @ 14/1 BetVictor
There is more pride taken in Australia for winning the Minor Premiership than there is in the Super League. But in the end, it really counts for nothing if you don’t go and win the Grand Final. No one ever remembers who finished top, they just remember who won the Grand Final.
You can fully expect the usual suspects to be fighting it out for the top four places. The likes of the Roosters, Rabbitohs, Storm and the Raiders are the favourites to occupy those top four places, but Manly, Parramatta, Cronulla and Brisbane are all in with a shout as well.
The Roosters have won the most number of Minor Premierships with four. On two of those occasions they managed to go on and be crowned champions.
This year it will be the Bunnies. They may have lost Sam Burgess to retirement and his brother George to Wigan, but they have managed to snap up Mitchell and he is capable of winning games when he is only 50% match fit. He is that good.
The Bunnies also welcome back Bryson Goodwin after a spell in Super League, while Troy Dargan, Edene Gebbie, Jaxson Paulo and Steven Marsters have also been recruited. They will be very difficult to stop in 2020.
NRL Tips – Big Prediction: St George to finish in top 4 @ 11/2 Paddy Power
On paper, this looks like being one of the hardest seasons to pick a winner from. I fully expect the usual suspects to be in the mix, but every year there is a dark horse. In 2020, it will be St George Illawarra.
The Dragons have failed to make the play-offs in six of the last eight years. They last won the Grand Final in 2010 when they won the Minor Premiership and the Grand Final in the same season.
Under Paul McGregor they have had a difficult time of it, they ended last season in 15th place and have since lost the likes of Gareth Widdop, Reece Robinson, Jeremy Latimore, Mitch Allgood, Jai Field,Lachlan Maranta and Luciano Leilua.
Despite losing a lot of personnel, they have recruited really well. Trent Merrin returns to the club following spells with Penrith Panthers and Leeds Rhinos. Brayden Wiliame, Issac Luke and Tyrell Fuimaono have all joined the club, while the introduction of Shane Flanagan on to the coaching staff will add some experience to their cause.
NRL Tips – Dally M Medal Winner: John Bateman @ TBC
The Dally M Medal is awarded every year to the player voted the best in the competition. The current holder of this prestigious award is Sydney Roosters full-back James Tedesco.
Tedesco is a quality player and if he plays to his full potential then the Roosters will be in the mix come the end of the season. This award is quite often handed out to a full-back, hooker or half-back. This year I believe it will go to a back row forward.
Jason Taumalolo won it as a joint recipient from lock along with Cooper Cronk back in 2016, but the last back row forward to win the award on his own was Gavin Miller for Cronulla back in 1989.
This year the accolade will go to John Bateman from Canberra. The hard-tackling, no nonsense forward from Bradford, England won many admirers in his first season in the NRL. The Dally M second rower of the year in 2019 will only get better, as long as he stays fit then he will be the catalyst to what the Green Machine can achieve.