March is a great time to be a footy fan – even if your side totally stinks, and your star player has buggered off for more money, there’s always hope this season will be different!
But let’s not kid ourselves – most teams are purely making up the numbers.
The Benchwarmer’s run the rule over this year’s NRL & AFL squads to separate the ‘haves’ from the ‘have-nots’.
The 2018 Premiers: Sydney Roosters
Think of new recruit Cooper Cronk as a tub of Kiwi ‘Back Noir’ shoe polish – reliable, no frills, but when applied, it always delivers a lovely shine!
The two-time Dally M Medallist will bring calmness, direction and organisation to a Roosters side that, despite boasting an immensely talented playing roster, is prone to dropping winnable games.
The Chooks’ backline – headlined by James Tedesco, Blake Ferguson, Latrell Mitchell, and Daniel Tupou – is scary good. They’ll be hard to knock off.
The Big Improvers: St George-Illawarra Dragons
Bravo to the Dragons’ recruitment team. They’ve quietly assembled an imposing squad that’ll give the top-four a nudge.
From all accounts, new recruit James Graham set the benchmark in pre-season training, and forwards Paul Vaughn, Tyson Frizell and Jack De Belin are genuine A-graders.
Ben Hunt gets a fresh start after a quiet 2017, and paired with the ever-reliable Gareth Widdop, they’ll emerge as one of the NRLs’ best playmaker pairings.
The Big Sliders: Brisbane Broncos
The Broncos won’t bottom out – they never do. But they won’t threaten in 2018, either.
The major concern for Brisbane is its halves combination. Kodi Nikorima is a handy utility, but handy won’t win you a Premiership. Anthony Milford’s clearly a very good player, but he’s far more influential when he’s not tasked with running the plays.
A top-eight finish isn’t a guarantee.
The Queensland Teams:
Johnathan Thurston’s retirement tour culminates in a North Queensland Grand Final appearance. Sadly for the Cowboys, James Tedesco runs 80m in the dying seconds (or something like that) to deny Thurston a fairy-tale finish.
The Broncos sneak into the eight, while the Titans find themselves locked in a year-long battle with Wests Tigers for the wooden spoon.
The Dally M Medal Winner: Jason Taumalolo
The Cowboys backrower is a lot like The Terminator – the dude just goes and goes and goes and goes!
Last season, the 2016 Dally M winner averaged over 200m run metres, five tackle busts, and 27 tackles per game – it’s enough to make any SuperCoach salivate!
He’s far away the best forward in the game. Expect another massive season.
The Kings of Origin: New South Wales
Like the final boss in a 90s video game, Queensland is mighty hard to kill off!
But this year, the Maroons (aka Bowser) will be without Thurston and Cronk (Bowser’s spiked club), and that’s a massive free kick for New South Wales.
The next generation of Blues are coming through nicely, namely the Trbojevic brothers, Tom and Jake.
And finally, after years of searching, NSW seemingly has found its long-lost number seven – enter Nathan Cleary.
The 2018 Premiers: Greater Western Sydney Giants
GWS will be hungry to avenge consecutive Preliminary Final defeats, and it has the side to go all the way.
Classy midfielders Josh Kelly and Toby Greene have re-committed to the club, and there’s gun players across every line.
This is the year the Giants’ dynasty begins.
The Big Improvers: Essendon Bombers
For the first time in five seasons, the supplements saga is in the rear vision mirror – the Bombers can finally focus on footy!
Essendon, under the steady eye of John Worsfold, ought to be mighty proud of its seventh place finish last season, given the club lost 12 players to drug bans in 2016.
Expect plenty more attacking, free-flowing footy this season, and Joe Daniher to truly announce himself as a top-shelf power forward.
The Big Sliders: North Melbourne Kangaroos
What exactly is the strategy at Arden Street?
After two Prelims (2014-15), the Roos chopped their mature-age players in favour of youth.
The club went all-in to lure gun midfielders Dusty Martin and Josh Kelly – to no avail – and then failed to pick up a single player in the trade period.
So now what? North’s list remains exactly the same – full of muggles (you know, the non-magical type from Harry Potter). It’ll be a lean year.
The Queensland Teams:
Three-time Premiership captain Luke Hodge rides into Brisbane, sherriff badge pinned to chest, and immediately the hapless Lions sit up and fly right. They’ll improve greatly under Hodge’s leadership, but a top eight berth is still a way off.
As the Giants win the flag, the AFL’s other expansion team, Gold Coast, slump to a miserable wooden spoon. With Gary Ablett gone, the Suns only have one player you’d class as ‘elite’ – Aaron Hay.
Someone please buy first year coach Stuart Dew some paracetamol.
The Brownlow Medal Winner:
There hasn’t been a back-to-back Brownlow winner since St Kilda great Robert Harvey won the Medal in 1997 and 1998, so for that reason, I’m scratching Martin claiming a second Brownlow.
The silky smooth Josh Kelly, who averaged 30 touches disposals in season 2017, is a cracking shout to claim the AFL’s top individual prize.
The GWS mid loves to get forward – last year, he chipped in with 19 goals, as well as racking up seven score involvements per game.