Sunday 20 August 2017 / 10:19 AM

Clubs’ Christmas wishes and NY resolutions

It’s a time to relax, eat, drink and be merry for most of us, but for the NRL’s clubs, coaches and players, the holiday break signals that the new season is just around the corner. Before you get stuck into your Turkey and Tooheys, take a look at your club’s 2014 Christmas wish and 2015 New Year’s resolution.

 

BRISBANE BRONCOS

Christmas wish: A speedy recovery for Darius Boyd. The Broncos’ line-up was taking mouth-watering shape, but a Justin Hodges, Greg Eden or Lachlan Maranta stopgap fullback option just doesn’t cut it if they are to return to the heavyweight ranks.

 

New Year’s resolution: Show more second-half fight – the Broncos won an NRL-low one game after trailing at halftime 2014.

 

CANBERRA RAIDERS

Christmas wish: Their promising but inexperienced likely spine of Jack Wighton, Blake Austin, Mitch Cornish and Josh Hodgson gels immediately; if that happens, the Raiders may not be the wooden spoon certainties everyone is spruiking them as.

 

New Year’s resolution: No more half-century scorelines against them – the Raiders have conceded 50-plus points five times in their last 30 outings, regularly throwing in the towel if they get a few tries behind.

 

CANTERBURY BULLDOGS

Christmas wish: New recruits Brett Morris and Michael Lichaa turn out to be the outstanding buys they appear to be on paper. Likely fullback Morris and young dummy-half live-wire Lichaa could be the ingredients that turn the Bulldogs’ two grand final defeats in the last three seasons into the club’s first premiersip in over a decade.

 

New Year’s resolution: Consistency from halves Josh Reynolds and Trent Hodkinson. After starring in NSW’s breakthrough series win, the Bulldogs duo lost all form at club level before improving again during the sudden-death run to the grand final. Reynolds was one of Canterbury’s best in the decider, but the hobbled Hodkinson produced arguably the worst performance by a halfback in grand final history.

 

CRONULLA SHARKS

Christmas wish: Health and happiness for their forward pack superstars. Paul Gallen (9 appearances), Luke Lewis (8), Andrew Fifita (12), Anthony Tupou (9), Wade Graham (19) and Chris Heighington (19) were missing for major chunks of 2014, while Gallen’s year was sullied by an ASADA ban, an ill-fated and costly drunken tweet, and revelations of a private battle with depression.

 

New Year’s resolution: To put the ASADA saga behind them. The Sharks battled on admirably through 2013-14 in the face of the government department investigation, among other dramas, and have come out the other side surprisingly unscathed with a handful of fantastic up-and-comers and excellent new recruits. But if Gallen, Shane Flanagan and co. head into 2015 with an axe to grind, it will derail another campaign in the Shire.

 

GOLD COAST TITANS

Christmas wish: For their off-field dramas to be over. James Roberts’ ongoing problems, Greg Bird’s sacking as captain and the termination of serial drink-driver Paul Carter have rocked the Titans’ rebuilding process – disruptions a financially struggling club with one of the weakest rosters in the NRL can ill afford.

 

New Year’s resolution: Turn their Robina base into a fortress again. While the Titans’ 6-6 record on the road in 2014 was better than most, they inexplicably lost nine of their 12 home games – including eight in a row heading into the final round – and crowd figures plummeted as a result.

 

MANLY SEA EAGLES

Christmas wish: For Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans to recommit to the club long-term. Both halves megastars are off-contract at the end of 2015 and are in hot demand. If they both decide to move on, it could have a disastrous impact on the season ahead, while Geoff Toovey will virtually have to rebuild his team from scratch at the end of the year.

 

New Year’s resolution: Be nice. The Sea Eagles sailed along at the top of the table despite vociferous rumours that there were significant rifts throughout the playing group, but it ended up taking a heavy toll as they flaked out in the latter rounds and made a straight-sets finals exit. A similar split in 2015 will garner similar results.

 

MELBOURNE STORM

Christmas wish: That 2014 was an aberration rather than a sign of a gradual decline for the ‘Big Three’. Melbourne’s success still undeniably hinges around the form and fortune of Slater, Smith and Cronk, and while far from poor this season, the effects of injury dictated they were a rung or two below their incomparable best. Consequently, the Storm made their earliest exit from the premiership race (the salary cap-affected 2010 season aside) since 2002.

 

New Year’s resolution: Rediscover their trademark consistency. After winning their first three games, the Storm won more than two in a row on just one other occasion, struggling to gather any tangible momentum. The result was the club’s first finish outside the top four (again, 2010 aside) since 2005.

 

NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS

Christmas wish: To stay out of the news. Russell Packer’s jailing, ownership dramas and other Tinkler-related financial snafus, Wayne Bennett’s high-profile departure, Darius Boyd’s abrupt exit and the tragic injury suffered by Alex McKinnon ensured the Knights were constantly in the 2014 spotlight, but also guaranteed they had little chance of success.

 

New Year’s resolution: Adjust to life on the road. The Knights were unbeatable at home as they staged a sensational late-season rally, but their away record in 2014 stood at a woeful 3-9. Making the finals is out of the question if you can only win after sleeping in your own bed.

 

NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS

Christmas wish: For Shaun Johnson’s Golden Boot-winning Four Nations form to translate into week-to-week NRL brilliance. Arguably the most gifted player in the code, Johnson could carry the Warriors to an inaugural premiership – but only if he aims up with Thurston-like consistency.

 

New Year’s resolution: To not put the cart before the horse if they acquire Kieran Foran’s signature for 2016. Snaring the superstar Kiwi Test pivot, who said he will lock down his future before the 2015 premiership commences, would be one of the greatest coups in the club’s tumultuous history – but if it happens, he won’t there for another year. The Warriors would need to refocus on the task at hand with the players they do have.

 

NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS

Christmas wish: A decent rub of the green in September. Hand of Foran; seven-tackle try; Lui’s borderline knock-on – each was heartbreaking in its own right. To exit the way they have in consecutive finals campaigns is soul-destroying.

 

New Year’s resolution: Get into the away-game groove from the start of the season. The Cowboys did not chalk up a road win until Round 19, ultimately cruelling their bid for the club’s first top-four finish since 2007.

 

PARRAMATTA EELS

Christmas wish: An adequate fullback replacement. There’ll be no Christmas miracles leaving a genuine marquee No.1 under Parramatta’s tree, but Brad Arthur’s side at least needs Will Hopoate, Reece Robinson or dark-horse custodian contender Jacob Loko to put their best foot forward in 2015.

 

New Year’s resolution: Forget Hayne. Few clubs could adjust to the loss of a player as influential and consistently brilliant as the NFL hopeful, let alone the Eels, who have relied on him for many years and have just emerged from several seasons in the doldrums. But it represents a new era for the blue-and-golds, who will be forced to play as a unit rather than an erratic one-man band.

 

PENRITH PANTHERS

Christmas wish: An empty casualty ward. It was a watershed season for the Panthers that included the club’s first postseason win and preliminary final appearance in a decade, but how much more could they have achieved if Peter Wallace, Bryce Cartwright, Elijah Taylor and Tyrone Peachey were on deck?

 

New Year’s resolution: Don’t believe the hype. The biggest improvers of 2014 can’t fly under the radar any longer and will carry a target on their head throughout next season. Make no mistake – the Panthers are bona fide title contenders, but they will be in for a reality check if they start patting themselves on the back.

 

ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS

Christmas wish: That their roster isn’t as bad as it looks. Hamstrung by salary cap issues, the Dragons have said goodbye to internationals Brett Morris, Gerard Beale and Kyle Stanley, along with promising prop Jack Stockwell and boom NYC backrower Jack Bird. Arriving in their place are a stack of journeymen taking their seat at the last-chance saloon, and several unheralded roughies. The future of Trent Merrin and Jason Nightingale in the Red V is also on tenterhooks. Gareth Widdop, Benji Marshall and Josh Dugan represent a superb axis to build a side around, but right now they resemble a skeleton staff.

 

New Year’s resolution: Get tough up front. The Dragons’ pack struggled for respect all season, providing limited punch and variety. An engine-room line-up that is likely to read Creagh, Rein, de Belin, Frizell, Thompson, Merrin, with L’estrange, Rose, Cooper and Ah Mau off the bench, does not exactly instil fear in an opponent. It’s up to the Saints forwards to change that perception.

 

SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS

Christmas wish: To avoid a premiership hangover. With the departure of Sam Burgess and Ben Te’o, and burgeoning centre Kirisome Au’va’s likely season-long suspension, the Rabbitohs have more challenges to overcome than most defending champs. Backing up their watershed 2014 success will be a real test of Michael Maguire and his squad’s mettle.

 

New Year’s resolution: Keep one cycle going to break another. Since winning an unprecedented five straight titles from 1925-29, Souths have gone on to secure at least two premierships after each breakthrough success in their glittering history. If they can keep that pattern intact, the Rabbitohs will become the first back-to-back premiers in over two decades.

 

SYDNEY ROOSTERS

Christmas wish: To fill the leadership void. The departure of Anthony Minichiello and Sonny Bill Williams has left a giant hole not only in ability and performance, but in maturity and guidance. In Boyd Cordner, Aidan Guerra, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney, the Tricolours boast plenty of potential leaders – but they need to step into the breach right away.

 

New Year’s resolution: Be good. The Roosters have ranked first or second for penalties conceded in the each of the past three seasons. It worked for them in conjunction with a relentless defensive work ethic in 2013, but it was not as sustainable during their title defence.

 

WESTS TIGERS

Christmas wish: That Jason Taylor was the right choice. The Tigers had a plethora of proven first grade coaches and outstanding prospects on a platter to succeed Mick Potter…before opting for a mentor that lost his last NRL gig for getting in biffo with one of his players at a Mad Monday party gone wrong. The club is banking on Taylor’s role as a Roosters assistant being a more accurate yardstick for his coaching potential.

 

New Year’s resolution: Stay healthy. The Tigers possess the hottest batch of youngsters in the competition and had a genuine shot at a finals berth this year. The sidelining of emerging stars James Tedesco (8 appearances), Tim Simona (14), James Gavet (12), Curtis Sironen (13) and David Nofoaluma (15), along with experienced campaigners Robbie Farah (18), Braith Anasta (13), Liam Fulton (6) and Dene Halatau (7), saw the Tigers sink to a 13th-place finish.

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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