The 2023 NRL season is upon us and anticipation levels are high as teams prepare to take part in the inaugural Pre-season Challenge.
The Challenge will be played over two rounds between February 9-19 and provide NRL fans with their first taste of club football for 2023.
Before we see new recruits, game plans and rules for the first time, however, here are some of the biggest questions being asked ahead of the 2023 NRL season.
Can the Panthers make it three straight ?
The Penrith Panthers made history with back-to-back premierships in 2022 after defeating the Parramatta Eels 28-12 in the highly anticipated grand final between the two sides.
Like most sports, a hat trick is a rare occurrence in League, and you need to go back to 1981-83 when the Parramatta Eels last achieved the feat.
Despite losing Villiame Kikau (Bulldogs) and Api Koroisau (Tigers) over the off-season, the father-son duo of Ivan and Nathan Cleary are showing no signs of slowing down in their quest for three straight. The club’s first mission will be to take down English Super League champions, St Helens, in the World Club Challenge before turning their attention to the NRL season proper.
The BetDeluxe market has understandably come for the Panthers at $4 favouritism.
What about the Roosters?
Good question. Many NRL pundits believe it is high time for the Sydney Roosters to climb the mountain again after successfully doing so in 2018 and 2019.
They finished sixth on the ladder at the end of the 2022 home and away season, having won their final five games to secure a finals berth. They could not progress past the first week of finals after going down to South Sydney Rabbitohs in a spiteful elimination, 14-30.
James Tedesco, Joey Manu and Joseph Suaalii were all named in the Team of the Year. Trent Robinson, Tedesco, Luke Keary and prized recruit Brandon Smith (Storm) lead an all-star cast for the tri-colours this season.
We may be looking back at the $6.50 on offer and considering it an absolute bargain.
Can the Dolphins avoid the wooden spoon?
The Redcliffe Dolphins are the 17th and newest club in the NRL, debuting in 2023 with champion coach Wayne Bennett at the helm.
It’s always tough for new teams to have much success first-up, but can Bennett and the Dolphins, at the very least, avoid the wooden spoon?
While the market doesn’t have much faith – the Dolphins are currently equal-last with West Tigers at $61 for the premiership – we can see a glimmer of hope for the newbies.
Over the last three years, teams have finished on the bottom of the ladder with 3 wins, 3 wins and 4 wins, respectively.
Bennett’s raid of Melbourne Storm should be enough to lead the Dolphins to 4+ wins alone, picking up Felise Kaufusi, Jesse Bromwich and Kenny Bromwich. Add in a few young guns and a sense of youthful enthusiasm, and the Dolphins could certainly avoid the spoon in their first year.
Are the Storm and Eels on the slide?
It’s been a tough off-season for both the Melbourne Storm and Parramatta Eels, as both sides have suffered their fair share of player exits.
Starting with the 2022 grand finalists, Brad Arthur’s men have notably lost Isaiah Papali’i (West Tigers) and Reed Mahoney (Canterbury), while Ray Stone (Dolphins), Marata Niukore (Warriors), Oregon Kaufusi (Cronulla) have left a sizable hole in their forward pack. They’ve certainly added some talent, but whether that makes up for their losses is yet to be seen.
As for the Storm, they’ll be waiting for their first clash against the Dolphins, where they will meet former teammates Felise Kaufusi, Jesse Bromwich, and Kenny Bromwich.
Brandon Smith (Roosters) is another massive loss for Craig Bellamy’s side after he was signed to a long-term contract in Sydney. All will welcome Ryan Papenhuyzen’s return from injury at the Storm, but there is a strong chance both sides could still struggle to make the top four.