It’s been a strange couple of months since the NRL season was officially suspended following Round 2 in mid-March, but on the 28th of May the season will finally recommence in what will come as a welcome relief for rugby fans – and sports fans alike – around the country. The league announced the return date in April in what many viewed as somewhat premature circumstances, but while there have been a host of logistical issues to sort out, according to Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys, ‘It is full steam ahead for the resumption of the competition on May 28’.
Just a couple of weeks out from that date there are still a number of specifics to sort out, but what we do know is that the shortened season will see each team play just five teams on two occasions and ten teams once, well down from the ten teams they would play twice under normal circumstances. The league is still working on a fixture which ensures integrity of the competition is balanced against a desire to play as many major match-ups and rivalries as possible.
Regardless of who ends up playing who twice, however, the teams which return from the hiatus which began two months will be much the same as those which entered it. The Roosters are still the team to beat. The Storm and the Raiders are still probably the two teams most likely to do that. And there are a host of teams hovering just below, as desperate now as they were in March to upend the status quo.
The Roosters, of course, won the last two Premierships and entered the 2020 season looking to become the first team to win three in a row since the Parramatta Eels in the early 1980s. And though they lost a couple of key players in the off-season, there are still very few within the NRL fraternity who doubt their ability to do just that. Cooper Cronk and Latrell Mitchell have been key cogs in the Premiership winning sides of years past, but Mitchell in particular also takes with him a host of external issues which have plagued his time at the club, and some smart recruiting will ensure their absence won’t be felt as strongly as it might have otherwise been. Still boasting the majority of their dominant side of the past two years, the Roosters entered 2020 as the team to beat, and it’s hard to imagine much has changed during the time off.
The Storm, however, would bristle at the notion of any team being more highly rated than they are. One of the more dominant sides in recent sporting memory, Melbourne’s only team has been an almost permanent fixture in the NRL’s top four for the past decade and a half, and this year doesn’t seem likely to be any different. The captain/coach combination of Cameron Smith and Craig Bellamy boasts experience in spades, and they simply don’t understand the concept of failure. They continue to perform at a high level year in, year out, and with Ryan Papunhuyzen ensured a place at fullback and Jahrome Hughes subsequently at halfback, they have arguably more stability than they did last year and will be hoping to go one better than their Preliminary Final appearance in 2019.
Another team looking to go one better than they did in 2019 is the Canberra Raiders, who went down narrowly to the Roosters in the club’s first Grand Final appearance since the NRL began. And yet, as exciting as their run to the last day of the season was last year, they don’t quite boast the culture of success which is so prevalent at Melbourne. Nobody, however, could argue with the swathes of talent present in the nation’s capital, and if things go right for them throughout the course of the year there is no reason they can’t raise the Premiership Cup, whenever the Grand Final might be.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
And while the Roosters, the Storm and the Raiders may appear like the three front-runners, there are a number of others more than capable of causing a boilover. The aforementioned Latrell Mitchell has joined the fourth of last year’s preliminary finalists, the South Sydney Rabbitohs, and will be a welcome boost to the backline. They are capable of playing as well as anyone on their day, though the loss of Sam Burgess from last year is a big one.
Meanwhile, north of the border, the Rabbitohs’ former coach Anthony Seibold will be looking to improve on the eight-placed finish his Brisbane Broncos managed in his first year in charge, and with plenty of talent – including new recruit Brodie Croft – they are more than capable of doing just that. Fellow Queensland outfit the North Queensland Cowboys will also be keen to improve after a couple of hugely disappointing seasons. They’ve finished 13th and 14th following a Grand Final appearance in 2017, but the talent on their list belies those performances, and the addition of Valentine Holmes and a couple of others means they are every chance of making a dramatic leap up the ladder.
Few could have anticipated the way the 2020 NRL season would begin, with two rounds being played before a hiatus of what will ultimately be almost two and a half months stalled the season. At long last, however, the season is set to resume in late May, and while it will be slightly condensed, it’s still set to provide months of exciting rugby league action. The Roosters have a chance to create history with a third consecutive Premiership, but a number of teams are nipping at their heels, meaning it’s shaping up to be an enthralling season – even if it’s a little later than expected.
This article has been written by James Salmon from BettingTop10 Australia.
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