NRL Season 2015 – Free Preview

NRL Season 2015 – Free Preview

NRL Season 2015 Preview

NRL 2015 Top 8 Forecast

Table Forecast

These ratings are finalised using a whole range of performance data across recent seasons, including forecast simulation of all results for this coming seasons to finalise the forecast final table positions.

This same format method forecast 7 of the final top 8 correctly last yr, the miss was the Knights who clearly had a tough season.

The forecast rankings for teams 6 to 12 on the above ladder are all very close, supporting the fact that there is a long tail of depth and competition in the season ahead. The Sharks were hard to position given they are another who have come off a difficult year given all of the ASADA, coach and list issues/changes. Some manual assessment based on their rankings and results in 2013 has been used to weight their positioning, remembering that they finished 16th last year.

Season 2015

I’m certainly confident that barring the unknown (major injury or alike) that the top 4 ranked sides will be the benchmark and the pointy end of the table for much of the season. The Rabbitohs are up against history in going back to back but do look a very strong list with some positive fine tuning to their likely attack play. One of the biggest issues for many defending premiers is just how strongly the hunger and fire in the belly burns as the wear and tear of the new season ages, but they again look a major player. The Roosters also look strong, although a recent premiership team they have to date been able to manage their player list (and junior development) with near perfection, the addition of Ferguson will again make they a highly competitive outfit. The Cowboys have been close through recent seasons and showed last year with their performance against top 8 sides that they are a top of the table list who can make a mark. They’ll have the benefit of key players like Thurston returning refreshed from a ‘true’ non rep off season and they’ll welcome Coote back from a 12 month injury. The difference between them being a top 4 and title contender will be them improving their road record. I have the Bulldogs also ranked as a top 4 player, Hasler’s record speaks for itself, and they have some positive tweaks to their player list and a huge advantage with their draw and home game advantages.

Rankings 7 to 9 are very close (Panthers, Sea Eagles, Storm, Warriors, Broncos), all five teams rated within 1% point of each other. The Sharks, Knights and Eels are then close behind these, so there is plenty of depth and luck with the draw, rep selections, key injury and alike can as we know play a significant part in how these mid table positions unfold.

The Tigers are interesting. Clearly they have some quality kids coming through but they have also been prone to injury, they have lost a couple of handy players and they have had an ongoing battle through recent years with depth outside their top 12 to 14 top grade players. They have a new coach and new promise but the wear and tear of a long season invariably takes its toll on thin player lists. The Dragons look very much the same, they continue to have list changes without appearing to move forward and the loss of Morris and Bird will hurt. Both the Tigers and Dragons also only play 8 ‘true’ home games with history proves a major negative / losing factor against them.

The Raiders have made a number of signings, but the majority are key backs where as their longer term need through recent seasons has been quality play makers and forwards. They will this season rely on rookie halves and a questionable combination at #9, #7, #6 and #1. The Titan’s speak for themselves, they already had a thin player list and given the recent headline issues they now look likely to have a further number of players missing long term weakening them even further. It’s hard not to see them on the end of many floggings and long odds on for 16th spot.

Season stand out players? I thought there were a number who look in for big seasons. The halves at Souths look very talented and confident with their best football in front of them, in particular Reynolds who has a classy kicking game and I think may well end up right in the mix for NSW this season. Ferguson (Roosters) is going to be a superstar, he is big, strong powerful and is going to create havoc down the right edge for most opponents. Moylan (Panthers) and Copley (Broncos) also look something special, kids with rare talent and skills who can be game changers and about to have the game at their feet.

Tipping and Betting through the opening rounds

Be wary, last year’s form and favourites more often than not don’t eventuate into the obvious through the opening rounds. Player list, coaching changes and alike all factor into some significant swings in performance and form leading to the obvious upsets. Through recent seasons the Underdog has won anywhere between 50% to 60% of all games across the first 5 to 6 rounds, with the Underdog an even better record at covering the line. Rounds 3 and 4 can also throw up some surprise results as teams who have started poorly rebound under pressure.

The following table outlines the record for each team across the last two seasons At The Line.

ATS NRL record

Forecast rankings, key analysis and summary for each team

1st Roosters

Key Gains/Losses: Ferguson (gain) S B Williams (loss)
Draw: 5 vs Top 4, 6 vs Bottom 4
Home: 12 games, Away: 12 games, Travel: 4 games
2014: vs Top8 50%, Away 50%

One of the expected benchmark teams. Premiers two years ago, Minor Premiers last season but failed in the final few weeks of the finals. Have a good draw with just 5 games vs top of table sides and 6 games vs bottom 4 ranked sides, positive home ground advantage and only 4 distant travel games. Ferguson will be a massive in, he is a future superstar and will become a stand out right edge weapon. With representative halves, quality #9, two Origin centres and a quality forward line up they will be a major force.

2nd Rabbits

Key Gains/Losses: G Stewart, Grant (gains), S Burgess, L Burgess, Te’o (loss)
Draw: 7 vs Top 4, 6 vs Bottom 4
Home: 13 games, Away: 11 games, Travel: 5 games
2014: vs Top8 60%, Away 79%

Title holders who’ll grow in confidence and belief as winners. A power game has been the hallmark of their play through recent years but with Keary establishing himself in the halves, Sutton moving to the left edge and Glen Stewart to the right I can see a lot more ball play and attacking focus this season. With Luke at #9 and Inglis at the back they have points written all over them.

3rd Cowboys

Key Gains/Losses: Granville, Hannant, O’Neill (gains), T Sims, Rona (loss)
Draw: 4 vs Top 4, 5 vs Bottom 4
Home: 12 games, Away: 12 games, Travel: 12 games
2014: vs Top8 73%, Away 23%

The window of opportunity looks open for them. Granville will add some zip to their #9 rotation, Coote will return after not playing all of last yr and they’ll benefit from Thurston and Scott having a full off season prep. They have a great record against quality sides (winning 8/11 vs top 8 last yr) but have to turn around their dismal Away record (3/13). Strong winning home ground advantage and only 4 games against likely top of the table ranked sides should see them competing for a top 4 spot into September.

4th Bulldogs

Key Gains/Losses: B Morris, Kaufusi, Rona (gains), Ennis, Finucane (loss)
Draw: 6 vs Top 4, 7 vs Bottom 4
Home: 15 games, Away: 9 games, Travel: 3 games
2014: vs Top8 47%, Away 67%

For mine have the gift draw of any team into this season, with 15 home games (advantage of some opponents moving games to Homebush), only 9 true Away games and of these they only travel 3 times. In addition, they have 7 games against bottom 4 ranked sides. Morris, Kaufusi and Rona are key additions. They struggled in attack at times last season an issue I’m sure Hasler has spent the off season working on. Grand Finalists last yr, a master coach, a good player list and on paper a sensational draw they again look top 4 contenders.

5th Panthers

Key Gains/Losses: Koroisau (gain)
Draw: 7 vs Top 4, 6 vs Bottom 4
Home: 11 games, Away: 13 games, Travel: 4 games
2014: vs Top8 50%, Away 40%

2015 will be a test to see how far they have improved after a strong season last yr but laced with the benefit of a weak draw (and only winning 50% of their games vs top 8 sides). They play a high % low risk game plan which at times can be devoid of points and attack but coach Cleary has crafted a pattern around what he has at his disposal and is a proven winner. They have some quality youth who should be about to shine, a lot of depth and an even draw. With the benefit of last year’s experience and belief they again look top 6 contenders.

6th Sea Eagles

Key Gains/Losses: Maeto, L Burgess (gains), G Stewart, Watmough (loss)
Draw: 7 vs Top 4, 5 vs Bottom 4
Home: 11 games, Away: 13 games, Travel: 5 games
2014: vs Top8 47%, Away 44%

The Eagles have been very resilient through recent years but it’s hard not to think they might well be a risk and on a slide of some sort into 2015. Watmough, Stewart and King are three significant forward losses and I think up front will be their Achilles heel this season. Clearly at this stage of the year they have uncertainty over the futures of Foran, Cherry-Evans and possibly Toovey, each issues that could destabilise their performances. On paper they still have lots of quality and points across their back 7 and Brookvale is normally a key Home advantage, a further test will be 7 games against top 4 ranked sides. I have they placed top 6 but with a significant question mark.

7th Storm

Key Gains/Losses: Finucane, Learoyd-Lahrs (gains), Hoffman (loss)
Draw: 6 vs Top 4, 5 vs Bottom 4
Home: 11 games, Away: 13 games, Travel: 13 games
2014: vs Top8 54%, Away 54%

The Storm have a tough draw to begin the season with, coupled with Smith being absent for a likely 3 to 4 of the opening rounds. Although sliding across recent years from top two to mid table they still have a very competitive list, some quality youth coming through, the key influence of Bellamy, Smith, Cronk and Slater and a significant Home ground advantage. I have them ranked 7th and they’ll be competitive and somewhere mid table / bottom of the top 8.

8th Warriors

Key Gains/Losses: Hoffman, Allwood (gains), Maeto (loss)
Draw: 6 vs Top 4, 7 vs Bottom 4
Home: 12 games, Away: 12 games, Travel: 12 games
2014: vs Top8 36%, Away 38%

A significant change for the Warriors this season is them to play 12 true Home games at Mt Smart (having only played 8 games there last season). Hoffman will add some class and leadership to their forward offering while Johnson is an untapped star at #7. Key weaknesses that they’ll need to change has been brittle edge defence and their inability to aim up under pressure in the key games that matter (losing run at season’s end last yr when a finals berth was on offer). They do have a positive draw (7 games vs bottom 4 ranked teams) but also have to be winning on the road, in particular in Sydney. Finished 9th last yr, I have them ranked 8th into 2015 and a top 8 chance.

9th Broncos

Key Gains/Losses: Bennett (coach), Milford, Blair, Boyd
Draw: 8 vs Top 4, 6 vs Bottom 4
Home: 12 games, Away: 12 games, Travel: 11 games
2014: vs Top8 31%, Away 38%

Bennett, Boyd return, Milford a quality get, but for mine they have a lot of work to do to once again be a top of the table contender and I expect this year to be more about righting the ship than being a major contender. The Broncos have limped into the finals in each of the last two seasons to not then give a yelp, they won only 4 of 13 last season vs top 8 sides (and lost 6 of their last 7). For mine they were too often worked over through the middle and offered only pedestrian attack. They also have a tough draw with 8 games against top 4 ranked teams. Mid table for mine, I have them missing the top 8.

10th Sharks

Key Gains/Losses: Flanagan (returns), Ennis, Barba, Bird (gains)
Draw: 6 vs Top 4, 7 vs Bottom 4
Home: 12 games, Away: 12 games, Travel: 4 games
2014: vs Top8 33%, Away 25%

The Sharks were hard to rank and position given they have come off such a disrupted and unusual last season. Flanagan returns as head coach, Ennis, Barba and Bird are key signings. They have plenty to improve, winning just 3 games when Away last yr and consistently leaking 26 points a week in defence. They do looked to have strengthened up their depth, in particular on their edges (much needed) but I’m yet to be convinced that Barba can make it in a front line role with considerable questions over his size, defence and injury. Mid table positions will be competitive and I have the Sharks rated in the middle of all of this with much to prove.

11th Knights

Key Gains/Losses: Stone (coach), T Sims
Draw: 5 vs Top 4, 8 vs Bottom 4
Home: 12 games, Away: 12 games, Travel: 6 games
2014: vs Top8 23%, Away 25%

Knights come off a very trouble yr with the McKinnon and Tinkler issues all but putting paid to their season. Stone steps back in as coach, they pick up Tariq Sims and have some quality youth coming through. They’ve had issues up front and through the middle across the last few seasons and some defensive issues in their halves but when on they certainly have points in them. They struggled in key areas last season performing poorly vs top 8 sides (3/13) and when on the road (3/13) but as they look to turn that around this season they will be helped with a positive draw with only 5 games vs top 4 ranked sides and a healthy 8 vs bottom 4 sides. With their best on the park they do have speed and points in them across their back 7 but we’ll need to watch to see how their season starts and what improvement they may have made.

12th Eels

Key Gains/Losses: Watmough (gain) Hayne (loss)
Draw: 7 vs Top 4, 6 vs Bottom 4
Home: 10 games, Away: 14 games, Travel: 6 games
2014: vs Top8 46%, Away 33%

Clearly the key issue here is the Hayne factor, and if and how the Eels can recover and move forward. Hayne was a game changer, a rare talent and dam hard to replace, and the facts behind his influence at the Eels are somewhat staggering with them losing 25 of the last 30 games when he has not played. Watmough is a key signing, an Origin rep with high work rate who will tighten up their middle. They have an excellent record at Home, but an equally poor record when Away (5/15). Big watch this season to see if and how they move forward without Hayne.

13th Tigers

Key Gains/Losses: No gains of note; Blair, Austin (loss)
Draw: 7 vs Top 4, 6 vs Bottom 4
Home: 8 games, Away: 16 games, Travel: 3 games
2014: vs Top8 33%, Away 40%

Jason Taylor steps in as coach and I would expect the Tigers to now be playing far more structured patterns of play in particular in attack. They have made no key signings of any note and as has been the case through recent seasons look to have thin depth outside their top starting line-up. They only won 4 games against top 8 opponents last season and were poor (again) when on the road (40%). Defensively they have also been poor across recent seasons, last yr leaking an average of 26 points a week. Hard to have them placed anywhere other than bottom 8 and likely around 13th spot.

14th Dragons

Key Gains/Losses: No gains of note; Morris (loss)
Draw: 7 vs Top 4, 5 vs Bottom 4
Home: 8 games, Away: 16 games, Travel: 4 games
2014: vs Top8 17%, Away 33%

Another list that looks to have questionable depth and carries no new key signings. The Dragons won just 2 of 12 games vs the top 8 last year and lost 10 of 15 when on the road, which again they will do often this season choosing to play 16 Away games. Morris is a key loss, as is the potential of Bird (Sharks) and the possible instability of rep player Merrin leaving. Dragons area bottom 4 side for mine with a lot of rebuilding to do.

15th Raiders

Key Gains/Losses: Austin, Nuuausala, Soliola, Waqa (gains), Milford, Learoyd-Lahrs, Robinson (loss)
Draw: 5 vs Top 4, 6 vs Bottom 4
Home: 12 games, Away: 12 games, Travel: 5 games
2014: vs Top8 25%, Away 33%

The Raiders spent most of the second half of last season in contention for the spoon and it’s hard to see how they are anything more long term this season than a bottom 4 side. Milford is a key loss, and he was singlehandedly responsible for many of their quality moments or wins last season. Nuuausala will certainly help in the middle but with a reliance on inexperienced and or rookie players in the critical roles at #9, #7 and #6 they are going to be under pressure week in week out. They are another who across recent seasons have consistently leaked points at will in defence, 26 to 28 points on average last yr will get you beat most weeks. Bottom 4.

16th Titans

Key Gains/Losses:
Draw: 5 vs Top 4, 5 vs Bottom 4
Home: 12 games, Away: 12 games, Travel: 11 games
2014: vs Top8 31%, Away 50%

Coach Henry looked well up against it all prior to recent weeks with an obviously thin play list but that all now looks miles away from where their season now looks headed. The likely loss of 5 players including a key #9 and two Origin reps to an already weakened list has to make season 2015 very much an uphill battle. Hard to see anything other than a very long season and 16th spot.

Round 1

Rd 1 Game Handicaps (MrG’s personal assessments)

+2.0 Broncos v Rabbits

0.0 Eels v Eagles

-2.5 Knights v Warriors

+6.5 Titans v Tigers

-2.0 Cowboys v Roosters

-2.0 Panthers v Bulldogs

-6.5 Sharks v Raiders

+3.5 Dragons v Storm

Individual Game Tips

Rabbits, Eels, Knights, Tigers, Roosters, Bulldogs, Sharks, Storm

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