The Cumberland Throw

The Spotlight – The 2020 Premiership Window

In the ten years since 2010, the NRL Premiership has produced seven different title holders. The powers that be will tell you that this is evidence of the salary cap. Successful teams produce higher profile/salary players, which makes retaining stars difficult.

The periods that teams can retain their strongest squads and legitimately challenge for the title is commonly referred to as a Premiership window.

Of course, clubs such as the Roosters and the Storm seem to have been immune to roster weakening. With four grand final appearances apiece in the last decade, and three and two titles respectively, their windows seem permanently open.

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Outside of those powerhouses, nine other clubs have featured in grand finals over the last ten years.  Though windows have obviously extended to the majority of clubs over this period, within a single season there are typically only four to five genuine contenders.

In examining the strengths, weaknesses and coaches of each roster, I’ve determined the five clubs who I believe to be in that Premiership window for the 2020 season.

Roosters

The tricolours are looking to become the first club to achieve a three-peat premiership since the mighty Eels teams of the early 80s. They’ve retained the core of their back to back team, so who’s to say a third title isn’t possible.

Luke Keary

Team strengths are easy to spot – Tedesco, Keary, Friend, the pack. You get a strong platform, a near faultless defence, and the team is guided intelligently around the park.

It’s difficult to deny the credentials of Trent Robinson. With three titles from only seven years of top grade coaching, the runs are on the board. Though it can be claimed that he’s always had quality players at his disposal during those years, he undoubtedly understands what it takes to win a title.

There are still question marks hanging over the team. You can’t lose a halfback like Cooper Cronk and not be impacted. Flanagan seems promising, but he remains largely unproven. The departure of Mitchell removes firepower out wide but I can’t help but think that they already have someone in mind to add to the roster.

Like all teams, injuries will play a role. Without Cronk, this squad cannot afford to lose Keary or Tedesco for an extended period. If they stay healthy, the Roosters go very, very close. If they don’t, they won’t be there on the big day.

Raiders

In the old days, they used to say that you had to lose a grand final to win one. It provided you with the experience and the hunger to take the next step. Impressively, the cries of being gypped in the 2019 grand final came from outside the Raiders camp rather than from within. To me, that demonstrated the maturity and resolve in the camp.

Curtis Scott

The team strength lies in their depth. Williams and Scott have been added to the grand final team. Outside of the top 17, they can call on the likes of Bateman, Collins, Havili, Oldfield, Sutton, Williams and Young.

Even though he’s previously won a title with the Roosters, the 2019 season was arguably Ricky Stuart’s career best coaching performance. He remained passionate yet found focus and composure when it was most needed. Undoubtedly, he knows that he has a serious football team on his hands.

The question mark over the Raiders might also be their strength. English recruit George Williams is an unknown quantity at NRL level, and that’s a big gamble to take with a halfback. That said, they’ve pulled the right rein with other Super League signings so the chances are that this bloke will be a success.

The Raiders aren’t just looking at a Premiership window, they’ve jimmied it open and have one leg hanging through it. Their roster runs deep enough to withstand the injuries that typify most seasons, and it’s difficult to see them finishing outside of the top four. I’ll list them as title favourites.

Storm

Unquestionably one of the yardstick teams for most of their history, you underestimate the Storm at your peril. Since 2011, Melbourne have finished outside of the top 4 just once. You don’t talk about windows with that club. They reside permanently in a glass house which is impervious to stones..

Like the Roosters, it’s easy to identify the strength of the Storm’s roster. Cameron Smith, Cameron Munster and a powerful pack. Throw in defensive structures and attacking shapes that have served them well for just on two decades, and stability is at the heart of their success.

Harry Grant

Consistent results have cemented coach Craig Bellamy’s place in the upper echelon of rugby league coaches. His long term tenure with the Storm has been a symbiotic relationship. Now in his 18th season with the club, it took him ten years to win his first genuine premiership, but it’s difficult to imagine any other coach achieving the same results as Bellamy over that period.

Can we place question marks over the Storm’s depth? Nobody could replace what Cameron Smith brings to the team, but he’s another year older and the likes of Harry Grant or Brandon Smith could surely expect more game time. Melbourne’s backline could be their Achilles heel, with uncertainty around centre and halfback.

This could prove to be a challenging year for Bellamy. It feels like a rebuild season, and only their consistent history keeps the Storm listed as a Premiership window club. Just.

Eels

Since 1986, have the Eels commenced as genuine Premiership contenders in any season? In truth, probably only 2001. Forget 2009. The Eels should have won the title that year, but it would have been on the back of a freakish run of late season form, with Jarryd Hayne providing much of the momentum. Like the Tigers in 2005, success would have been an anomaly rather than something which was sustainable.

Ryan Matterson

The Eels strength lies in its strike power. The backline is arguably one of the most potent in the premiership. A rookie winger can only become the leading try scorer if he’s a special talent and/or the players inside him are doing an outstanding job. The forwards have been strengthened with the addition of quality recruits – Campbell-Gillard and Matterson.

Coach Brad Arthur is entering his seventh season in charge of the Eels. He inherited a side which “earned” the spoon in consecutive seasons, and were it not for the points stripped in 2016, the team would have qualified for finals football for three of the six years. He’s earned a reputation as a player’s coach and the current squad is arguably the strongest of his tenure.

Based on 2019, there are doubts as to whether the Eels have the defence needed to win a title. They’ll need to find greater resilience when things don’t fall their way in matches, which is a matter of attitude more than individual ability.

Decent depth and versatility within the roster will help the Eels manage any injury challenges. Ryan Carr (full time) and Andrew Johns have strengthened the coaching staff from 2019. A top four finish should be the goal for a team with the talent to reach the grand final.

Sea Eagles

A Sea Eagle flying under the radar. Sounds cliched but it’s exactly what Manly did through the early part of 2019, but by the second half of the season pundits were tipping them as genuine contenders. A similar misjudgement won’t be made this season.

Tom and Jake Trbojevic

Though the stars of the team were undoubtedly DCE and the Turbo brothers, Manly’s strength last year was their capacity to perform without key players at different stages of their campaign. They were very unlucky not to progress to the grand final qualifier, even without Tom Trbojevic.

Prior to 2019, there were plenty (myself included) who had written off Des Hasler as a coaching has-been. I’ve been forced to change my tune. Perhaps there’s something to be said about being in charge of the club you’re passionate about – see also Stuart and Arthur. Whatever the reason, Dessie’s knows how to deliver a Premiership and his methods still appear to be relevant.

Identifying the Sea Eagles’ weakness is a no-brainer. The departure of Koroisau and the “no fault stand down” of Fainu has left a gaping hole in their dummy half stocks. Without the service of a quality number 9, there might be question marks about the effectiveness of powerhouses like Taupau and Fonua-Blake.

Even without a quality hooker, any side which boasts three current Origin stars, a premiership winning coach and a quality pack must be a chance of finishing in the top four. For that reason they remain inside that Premiership window.

 

There we have it. I expect this year’s grand finalists to be found in the aforementioned clubs.

Naturally, supporters of all clubs will begin the season full of optimism about their chances. And sometimes the stars align for opportunities to fall their way. Outside of roster strength and coaches, the draw, injuries, and luck can all be factors. That said, it’s rare that a club will come from the clouds to take the title.

Of course, it’s possible to validate the claims of other teams to feature ahead of some that I’ve named.

That’s the beauty of footy. Everyone has an opinion.

Eels forever!

Sixties

(credit to the NRL and the clubs for the images used)

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Milo

HMMMM sixties v interesting piece of Sunday reading. I cannot disagree with anything written and the top 5 teams have heavy claims to the top 4 and last game in October. It’s just that i am not a fan of 4 of them…..and will say it would be good to beta Manly on GF day as well as Canberra, and heck Melbourne for 09 sake. It has to be about composure and beliefs with each team as well as executing v well on the day. I just hope our blue and golds can bring it home for us v soon.… Read more »

Milo

Yes I agree and they seem to have some players who play at 100% one week and not as good the next. They will miss big Sam and also his leadership.

John Eel

I agree with Milo, Bunnies will miss Sam Burgess. When he was missing last season they were a shadow of the team they were with Sam in. They will also miss Sutton. Not at his best last season but his presence and experience was very valuable to them.

Bennett will be busting a gut to get Arrow for the coming season

However on NRL .com the fans have had their say. Favourite is Roosters followed closely by the Raiders. In third place tied together is the Eels and Bunnies.

Milo

Yes John I forgot about Sutton and yes he too will be sorely missed. I for one do not think souths halves are consistent enough. They may improve this season, but the forward depth will be tested.
I would not know who to tip for a GF match up at this point but Canberra would be up there again and I cannot see why any of the teams above cannot do the same.

Terry

Parra should go close to making the GF this year, but 2021 is the year they win it.

Milo

Yes same here. But this has happened before i think when we had Smithy coach, we made Preliminary finals in 98/99/2000 and people then said similar- and lost 01, they need to take their chances. Back then and it hurts now we missed a few chances even 05.

BDon

They were my 4 sixties, being biased the Eels were there regardless. Manly suffered late in the year from Tom T and Joel Thompson absences, but their pack can be awesome. Fainu may disrupt them, as you say.
Big lesson in Ricky re-shaping his pack. The modern game requires big, athletic blokes, both mobile and agile, no breathers, 100% concentration,and effort on effort. The Grand Final ticked all those boxes in spades. That’s the gold standard, can Storm, Eagles and Eels rise to it? That Raiders pack has got a dose of mongrel as well.

Milo

Agreed. BDon as much as I do not like to say it the raiders have the mongrel in them and that origin type defence. I know they lost last season but there was nothing in it.
Parr’s need to show that type of mongrel type defence and i am not convinced we have it yet….and only being consistent during the games will convince me.

BDon

Milo, I sort of liked Kane Evans’ attitude in 2nd half of year…’if you’re coming thru the middle , I’m gonna smash you’. With Nathan Brown out for a big chunk of the year, we needed someone to step up. The officials didn’t like Evans ‘excessive force’. Evans must have wondered how Tapau on Stone rated.

Milo

Yes Evans found his form again and did very well. His mongrel was what we needed and need again. Brown will be a key again and I hope he has an injury free season BDon

HamSammich

One thing I think we have over these other 4 teams is that our spine is settled. Whilst I’m sure the coaches probably know who their 1,6,7, and 9 are going to be there’s some spine turnover for the other teams. Although our spine is settled it is still inexperienced, especially in big games. Gutherson, Brown, and Mahoney have 2 NRL finals to their name whilst Moses has 4. What would give us a huge boost come finals time is these 4 playing in their respective representative teams. A strong start to the year should see Moses make his SOO… Read more »

John Eel

Good point about the Spine Ham. That may well come into play. I am hoping to see an improvement in our spine this year as they settle into another year together and plenty of tips from the immortal. Also hopefully we will have a serious 14 on the bench this year and enable Gutho to get back to his usual game. Question marks I have over the Raiders is their ability to replicate that effort in defence. Williams is going to be under pressure from the start to lift their attacking ability which was a problem in the GF. Having… Read more »

Colin Hussey

There is one player in the raiders squad that is a player that never seems to stop, and for me a very smart and dangerous player, that is Bateman, there’s not a lot of him and only just shades Ray Stone size wise, but he is pretty much everywhere on the field follows the ball very well and knows how to be dirty hungry in play and winning.

Rowdy

Great prophesying Ham. There’s certainly a touch of the Elijah spirit coming through in your prognostication. The Bible does say concerning the Second Coming that the Spirit of Elijah must come first? So there is a double reason for many readers to hold fast to your words mate. I’m with you bro.
Go Parra!
Come Lord Jesus!

Trouser Eel

I don’t spend enough time worrying about how other teams are performing to comment on their chance at a title. As for the Eels – Injury and the burden of representative football makes a big difference to the outcome of a year. We were pretty lucky last year. Outside of the Browns we didn’t suffer too many lengthy injuries and the number of players called up for state of origin was disproportionate to our standing on the competition ladder. It will be different this year but I think we’ve got depth where we need it. On paper we should get… Read more »

Glenn

This is the first year since 2001 that we finally have a squad capable of reaching a G/F imo. Also our squad has a few players with rep experience, Ferguson,Jennings & RCG plus both Gutho and Matterson were nearly picked for SOO. So a good mix of experience and youthful exuberance. Now all we need is a complete mindset change to defence and we’re nearly there. 2020 mightn’t be our year but 2021 will be.

Colin Hussey

I agree with you on this sixties, looking over the off contract lists up to end of 2022 season, there are several who are over or getting close to 30, & for me while I would not deem using a broad brush for those players as to how long they will play for, I have an inkling going forward and the way the game is progressing, without even considering the intensity we are reading regarding training, its going to be much harder to see players above 30 being able to keep going for games & the training needed. I also… Read more »

Zero58

Very thoughtful analysis Sixties although I can’t agree with everything. I think the Roosters will suffer from that triple whammy. Cronk – Mitchell and the third peat attempt. As back to back premiers they are really inviting other teams to step up against them. That means an extra lift which early on might not be a worry but, later in the season will. Cronk was a masterpiece and his calming experienced will definitely be missed. As with Mitchell, on his day his efforts speak for themselves. He is freakish with the ball and without. His ability to break open a… Read more »

Zero58

Yes.
Storm
Raiders
Parra
Brisbane

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