Who are the NRL’s big hitters this season? Part 1

NRL Big Hitters: Syndey Rooster's Sam Walker watches on during a NRL training session in Sydney, Australia
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A look at the NRL’s big hitters starts with the Sydney Roosters, Penrith Panthers, and the Melbourne Storm. With the NRL 2022 season kicking off this week we run through the teams shaping up to be the league’s title contenders that could be crowned premiers come October. Does your team look like one of the NRL’s big hitters heading into Round One? Here are the first three teams that are in contention for the title.

The NRL’s Biggest Hitters This Year

Sydney Roosters

The Roosters will be hoping to finally have a season that is not decimated through injury. Last year both co-captains Cordner and Friend had to retire early in the season through injury. They were joined by veteran Brett Morris before the season was over. They also spent almost all the season without Lindsay Collins and Luke Keary while Manu, Radley, Verrills and Hutchinson spent long periods out of the side.

The silver lining of this injury crisis is that many of their young players have much more experience playing at this level than they would have expected at this stage in their career. Sam Walker (main picture seen above) did an admirable job of steering the ship with Luke Keary missing and will have added some bulk to his slight frame in the off-season to prove more effective in defence. Others such as Egan Butcher, Fletcher Baker and Joseph Suaalii gained valuable experience. This will serve them well as they fight for a regular spot in the matchday 17 this season.

Trent Robinson has also committed for another five years to the club. This just months after owner Politis said he wanted Robinson to become the for the Roosters what Sir Alex Ferguson was for Manchester United. He is one of the premier coaches on the NRL and will have a plan in place to go for a third title in five years.

Key player:

At times last season, it felt like James Tedesco was carrying the Roosters on his back. However, the return of star playmaker Luke Keary should help ease that burden. He will add leadership that was at times missing in such a young side as veterans dropped like flies. Returning Keary will look to lead the Chooks attack and bring it back to the levels we are familiar with. His combination with Sam Walker will be fascinating to watch and it will be on the back of this that the men from Bondi will build their title hopes.

Penrith Panthers

The reigning premiers come into this season with a squad that is potentially not quite as strong as the one we saw last year. With the success of winning a premiership comes a greater strain on the salary cap. Departures have included the likes of Burton, Momorovski and Capewell. However, they still possess some of the greatest players in the league. In Cleary and Luai they have perhaps the strongest halves partnership in the NRL and there is Origin experience in that forward pack in Yeo, Martin and Koroisau alongside To’o on the wing. The starting lineup is littered with quality but there could be some cracks that begin to open if the Panthers suffer lots of injuries.

Furthermore, this team now has the experience of winning the league and all the challenges that come throughout the season. They learnt how to deal without their star names during the State of Origin period, although the loss of Burton makes this a slighter greater challenge this year, and they know what it takes to not only win a grand final but to do so after losing to the same opposition in the first week of finals footy.

The chasing pack will see this team as the NRL’s big hitters and so they will constantly have a target on their back. Can they deal with this pressure and go back-to-back?

Key player:

Nathan Cleary will be hoping this year to impress Mal Meninga enough to secure a spot in a Kangaroos side. With the World Cup pushed back a year Australia can compete and will likely travel as favourites. His partnership with Luai was exceptional in both the NRL and the State of Origin. On top of that, he came second in the Dally M Player of the Year awards to Tom Trbojevic.

This year could be the year the Penrith co-captain finally gets his hands on the award and is crowned the best player in the NRL. His work in attack and his kicking game will once again be critical to keeping pressure on the opposition and coming away with points. The sight of the halfback forcing yet another line dropout will likely be a feature of the upcoming season.

Melbourne Storm

Every year you will hear people saying that the Storm’s premiership window has closed and this year is no different. This is a side that seems to forever be one of the NRL’s big hitters.  Once again they have lost high-quality players in Addo-Carr, Hynes and Finucane while Coates is the only big-name arrival to the side. The Storm though will have different ideas and they still have a roster that is capable of beating any opposition. Brandon Smith and Harry Grant are the two best hookers in the competition and Hughes took his game to another level last year.

They have got the famous “white-powder scandal” to put behind them and the bans that go with it. Once those are over, this team will be looking to regain their crown. Lots of players on this side have already shown that their plans for 2023 involve other clubs. The players and fans will want them to leave this club with one last premiership ring in their collection. Finally with a coach like Craig Bellamy steering the ship you can be sure that no player is focused on anything but the job at hand.

The culture at this club is so impressive as well. Year after year they front up and put in a stellar campaign. They are a team of winners with a mentality that means you can never count them out. Led by Jesse Bromwich and Christian Welch this year they will be physical and incredibly accurate.

Key player:

Could this be the year Cameron Munster shows his form in the Origin arena consistently throughout the season? If so, then Storm fans could be celebrating success come to the end of the season. Munster has shown that in big games that he can boss proceedings and be the best player on the field.

The five-eight though is often a victim of inconsistency throughout the season in both attitude and performance. He can sometimes go missing or make decisions that have serious ramifications for him and his team. Reports coming out of Victoria are that Munster has matured throughout the preseason. This could be the year all that is put behind him and he becomes the player his potential shows he can be.

 

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