2021 NRL Season Preview

A renewed sense of optimism and hope has swept over the NRL landscape ahead of Thursday’s season-opener.

With the slate wiped clean and a handful of familiar faces in completely new places, this year’s season promises to live up to the hype as each team aims to be the last club standing in October.  

If you’re a seasoned footy fan, you’ll know there’s no better feeling than cashing in on a well-thought-out futures bet on the Premiership winner or even the wooden spoon.

To save you some time, we’ve analysed each team, the odds, and some key player movements to help you back a winner this NRL season!

Brisbane Broncos

  • Last Season: 3-0-17 (16th)
Grand Final Winner$51.00
To Make the Grand Final$23.00
Regular Season Winner$4.25
To Miss the Top 8$1.03
To Make the Top 4$11.00
To Make the Top 8$4.00
Most Losses$3.50

New Arrivals: David Mead, John Asiata, Dale Copley

Key Departures: David Fifita, Jack Bird, Joe Ofahengaue, John Asiata, Andrew McCullough, Darius Boyd, Matt Gillett.

You only have to take a look at the long list of departures to get a feel for the Broncos this year.  

After earning their first wooden spoon in club history, new head coach Kevin Walters has wasted no time pressing the reset button in hopes of restoring Brisbane’s once-proud winning culture.

Household names like Andrew McCollough (Dragons) and Darius Boyd (retirement) are no more, leaving an unmistakable sense of uncertainty heading into Round 1.

Unlike the Broncos of old, Brisbane has spent next to no cash during the offseason outside of signing John Asiata and Dale Copley, bringing new meaning to the term ‘Baby Broncos’ as Walters now has to rely on a talent-laden pool of local recruits.

Overall, we should learn plenty about the Broncos in the first month of the season with key games against the Eels, Titans and Storm on the horizon.

After hitting rock bottom last year, things certainly can’t get any worse, but for the time being, a top-eight spot still seems overly ambitious for a club lacking star talent.

Best Bet: No Bet

Canberra Raiders

  • Last Season: 12-0-8 (5th)
Grand Final Winner$10.00
To Make the Grand Final$5.00
Regular Season Winner$11.00
To Miss the Top 8$2.80
To Make the Top 4$1.50
To Make the Top 8$1.40
Most Losses$51.00

Key Arrivals: Caleb Aekins, Ryan James, Albert Hopoate, Harry Rushton.

Key Departures: Nick Cotric, John Bateman

There is no question the Raiders are capable of returning to the finals if they can avoid suffering the enormous injury setbacks that hampered their 2020 campaign.

Last year’s COVID chaos took a toll on Ricky Stuart’s side, eventually resulting in a disappointing loss to the Storm in the Prelim.
Unfortunately, the injury bug has already reared its ugly head with Jarrod Croker battling a shoulder injury, but if the co-captain can make it through the rest of the year unscathed, the Green Machine remains one of the teams to beat.

Depth and experience have been the top two contributing factors to the Raiders’ success over the last two years. Unlike other teams, Stuart’s men also have a relatively comfortable start to the season with games against the Tigers, Sharks, Warriors and Titans.

There are a few questions left to be answered on the wing with Nick Cotric and John Bateman departing, but for the time being, Canberra’s premiership window remains wide open providing everyone stays healthy.

Best Bet: Raiders to Make the Top 4 @ $2.50

Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs

  • Last Season: 3-0-17 (15th)
Grand Final Winner$41.00
To Make the Grand Final$19.00
Regular Season Winner$51.00
To Miss the Top 8$1.28
To Make the Top 4$9.00
To Make the Top 8$3.50
Most Losses$5.50

Key Arrivals: Nick Cotric, Kyle Flanagan, Corey Allan, Jack Hetherington

Key Departures: Kieran Foran, Jake Cogger, Isaiah Tass, Tim Lafai, Aiden Tolman

For the first time in a long while, the Bulldogs have been making headlines for all the right reasons.

After last season culminated with a 42-0 shutout to the Panthers, the Dogs wasted no time flashing some cash to help kick-start Trent Barrett’s new three-year term.

The former Manly coach has spent most of the offseason experimenting with a new-look roster that now features former Raiders winger Nick Cotric and forgotten Rooster Kyle Flanagan – an exciting prospect for Bulldog fans after their team averaged only 14 points a game last year.

Those two names, plus Corey Allan, should see the Dogs pull off a handful of upsets similar to last year’s memorable wins over the Knights and Bunnies, but a finals appearance still looks a stretch despite in the early stages of a long rebuild.

Best Bet: No Bet

Cronulla Sharks

  • Last Season: 10-0-10 (8th)
Grand Final Winner$34.00
To Make the Grand Final$17.00
Regular Season Winner$41.00
To Miss the Top 8$1.33
To Make the Top 4$7.50
To Make the Top 8$3.25
Most Losses$9.00

Key Arrivals: Aiden Tolman, Luke Metcalf

Key Departures: Bryson Goodwin, Cameron King, Scott Sorensen

The Sharks turned out to be a feisty side on more than one occasion last year as they battled their way to a surprise top eight spot.

Reality quickly sunk in as Cronulla suffered a 12-point loss at the hands of Canberra in the Elimination Final, but there’s no question this side is capable of improving under the guidance of John Morris.

While the Sharks have bounced out of the finals in back-to-back years, they do have a strong roster of players returning in their prime.

Blayke Brailey, Briton Nikora, Ronaldo Mulitalo and 2020’s fifth-leading try-scorer Sione Katoa all proved their worth last season and are no doubt among the league’s most exciting players.

The fact the Sharks failed to beat a top-eight side last year is of obvious concern, as is Shaun Johnson’s ongoing Achilles injury.

Even so, this is a dangerous side full of playmakers that should find themselves in plenty of close games more often than not.

Tip: Sharks to Make the Top 8 @ $3.25

Gold Coast Titans

  • Last Season: 9-0-11 (9th)
Grand Final Winner$15.00
To Make the Grand Final$7.50
Regular Season Winner$15.00
To Miss the Top 8$2.00
To Make the Top 4$3.40
To Make the Top 8$1.73
Most Losses$34.00

Key Arrivals: David Fifita, Patrick Herbert, Tino Fa’auamaleaui, Sam McIntyre

Key Departures: Jai Arrow, Dale Copley, Tyrone Roberts, Ryan James, Young Tonumaipea, Bryce Cartwright.

The Titans will be hoping to pick up where they left off after wrapping things up with five wins on the trot.

Since then, the Gold Coast has enjoyed a busy offseason signing several key names to the forward line in hopes of returning to the finals for the first time since 2016.

The loss of Jai Arrow is significant, but for a team that scored the fourth-fewest points in the league last year, key additions like David Fifita, Fa’auamaleaui, and former Warriors up and comer Patrick Herbert certainly makes the Titans the most interesting team heading into the season.

You might have heard, but expectations are high for the Gold Coast this year and it’s not hard to see why.

This team is trending towards a top-four finish, and potentially, a long future of success under Justin Holbrook.

Best Bet: Titans to Make the Top 8 @ $1.73

Manly Sea Eagles

  • Last Season: 7-0-13 (13th)
Grand Final Winner$21.00
To Make the Grand Final$10.00
Regular Season Winner$23.00
To Miss the Top 8$1.75
To Make the Top 4$5.00
To Make the Top 8$2.00
Most Losses$17.00

Key Arrivals: Kieran Foran, Andrew Davey, Christian Tuipulotu, Josh Aloiai

Key Departures: Addin Fonua-Blake, Luke Metcalf, Joel Thompson, Corey Waddell

The jury remains out on Manly after what was a very forgettable (and forgivable) 2020 season.

Injuries made life almost impossible for Des Hasler’s side down the stretch as the Sea Eagles lost four of their last five games on the way to missing the finals.

With a new season comes new hope, but there’s already a sense of pessimism surrounding Brookvale after being hamstrung quite literally by another Tom Trbojevic injury.

Fortunately, the star fullback is set to miss only the first month of the season, but judging by Manly’s opening slate, that might be ample time for the Sea Eagles to dig themselves a hole.

On the plus side, Kieran Foran’s return to the club does give Manly a solid five-eighth to rely on, while former Tiger Josh Aloiai looks a promising forward for the future.

As far as expectations go, it all comes down to health. If Hasler’s top stars remain fit, Manly could easily soar as high as the top four. If the injury bug bites again, they remain a fringe top-eight side at best.

Best Bet: Manly To Miss Top 8 @ $1.75

Melbourne Storm

  • Last Season: 15-0-5 (2nd)
Grand Final Winner$6.00
To Make the Grand Final$3.00
Regular Season Winner$5.50
To Miss the Top 8$4.25
To Make the Top 4$1.80
To Make the Top 8$1.18
Most Losses$81.00

Key Arrivals: Reimis Smith, George Jennings

Key Departures: Suliasi Vunivalu, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Cameron Smith

We should learn plenty about this new-look Storm side in the first few weeks of the season.

Games against the Rabbitohs, Eels, and Panthers make up the Storm’s first month of the season as they embark on a new path without long-time captain Cameron Smith in the fold.

While several fans and experts are doubting the Storm’s top-four credentials, it’s worth remembering Melbourne has been in this position several times previously.

The Storm hardly missed a beat following Billy Slater’s retirement or the departure of Cooper Cronk, and with Harry Grant looking a capable Smith replacement, it would be foolish to bet against this side.

Obviously, some growing pains are expected as the Storm adapt to Grant’s style, while the absence of Vunivalu on the wing will no doubt be felt.

With Craig Bellamy still steering the ship though, Melbourne is not only a team to beat, but also a serious chance to return to the Grand Final.

Best Bet: Storm to Make the Top 4 @ $1.70 & the Storm to Make the Grand Final @ $3.00

Newcastle Knights

  • Last Season: 11-1-8 (7th)
Grand Final Winner$21.00
To Make the Grand Final$10.00
Regular Season Winner$23.00
To Miss the Top 8$1.75
To Make the Top 4$5.00
To Make the Top 8$2.00
Most Losses$21.00

Key Arrivals: Tyson Frizell, Bailey Hodgson, Dominic Young, Jack Johns

Key Departures: Andrew McCullough, Sione Mata’utia, Aidan Guerra, Herman Ese’ese, Tim Glasby

The Knights are in the same boat as the Raiders and Manly in that they need to stay healthy to be a serious contender this season.

All things considered, Newcastle did extremely well to play finals last year, but a long offseason filled with drama and injuries understandably has fans feeling a little anxious.

Much of this year depends on Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce playing a full season and, for the lack of a better term, consistency.

On their day, the Knights are capable of beating any of the top four sides, but as we saw last year in losses to the Bulldogs and Warriors, Newcastle does tend to show up to a handful of games well after the opening whistle.

On a more positive note, the Knights boast one of the top forward lines in the league, while the emergence of Bradman Best last season and the addition of Tyson Frizell should see Newcastle ranking towards the top of the league in points.

If the Knights can overcome Ponga’s early-season absence and stay healthy for the remainder of the year, anything short of the top six would be a massive underachievement.

Best Bet: Knights to Make the Top 8 @ $2.00

New Zealand Warriors

  • Last Season: 8-0-12 (10th)
Grand Final Winner$26.00
To Make the Grand Final$13.00
Regular Season Winner$26.00
To Miss the Top 8$1.45
To Make the Top 4$7.00
To Make the Top 8$2.50
Most Losses$17.00

Key Arrivals: Euan Aitken, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Kane Evans, Addin Fonua-Blake, Iliesa Ratuva, Bayler Sironen

Key Departures: Isaiah Papali’, Patrick Herbert, Taane Milne, Adam Keighran, Lachlan Burr, Gerard Beale

The Warriors should appreciate returning to the norm at some point after having to relocate to Australia for the truncated 2020 season.

With New Zealand in lockdown, the Kiwis will start their campaign on the Central Coast, but with a little luck, they should venture back over to Auckland in Round 5 for the first of nine home games.

While last season brought the sacking of Stephen Kearney, the Warriors still did enormously well to finish the season in 10th after wanting to abandon the competition entirely at one point.

This year, New Zealand has been a popular pick to make the eight, largely due to the hiring of former Knights head coach Nathan Brown.

The roster has also received a facelift with Ben Murdoch-Masila and Addin Fonua-Blake joining the forward line to compliment an already lethal attack made up of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and emerging star Ken Maumalo.

On paper, the Warriors are stacked from top to bottom and are easily worth consideration to make the top four.

So long as New Zealand’s COVID restrictions are lifted in time for their long-awaited return home, a return to the finals is a very realistic expectation.

Best Bet: Warriors to Make the Top 8 @ $2.50

North Queensland Cowboys

  • Last Season: 5-0-15 (14th)
Grand Final Winner$26.00
To Make the Grand Final$13.00
Regular Season Winner$34.00
To Miss the Top 8$1.42
To Make the Top 4$6.00
To Make the Top 8$2.60
Most Losses$15.00

Key Arrivals: Kane Bradley, Lachlan Burr

Key Departures: John Asiata, Gavin Cooper, Tom Opacic, Tuki Simpkins

New Cowboys head coach Todd Payten is hoping to make fans forget all about Paul Green’s tenure when he steps into the coaches’ box for the first time in Round 1.

North Queensland battled its way through injuries all over the field to finish 14th last year, a far cry from the expectations many fans held after the signing of Valentine Holmes.

Perhaps the one highlight of last season was a big win over the Broncos in the final round, but that was hardly any consolation after defeating only one top-eight club (Newcastle) all year.

Looking ahead, there are plenty of positives to draw upon, but they largely involved Holmes and captain Michael Morgan playing all 25 games.

Payten has stressed the importance of the Cowboys implementing speed and creativity into their game plan, but like all good things, a new system is no doubt going to take time.

With a backlog of teams likely vying for a fringe spot in the eight, the chances of the Cowboys just missing out seem relatively high.

Best Bet: No Bet

Parramatta Eels

  • Last Season: 15-0-5 (3rd)
Grand Final Winner$15.00
To Make the Grand Final$7.50
Regular Season Winner$15.00
To Miss the Top 8$2.05
To Make the Top 4$3.40
To Make the Top 8$1.73
Most Losses$34.00

Key Arrivals: Keegan Hipgrave, Tom Opacic, Isaiah Papali’i

Key Departures: Andrew Davey, George Jennings, Kane Evans, David Gower

Last season was a tale of two halves for the Eels.

Parramatta opened white-hot with five wins on the trot, only for the scoring to dry out close to finals time on the way to a disappointing loss in the Semi’s to South Sydney.

The most worrying part for the Eels last season was their complete mental collapse as things wore on.

Parramatta struggled to string together a consistent 80 minutes from about Round 12 onward, a problem head coach Brad Arthur has been tasked with solving throughout the offseason.

The good news is the Eels have suffered next to no turnover, which should go a long way to helping them rediscover some of the dominance we saw from them in the running game last year.

As far as expectations go, the top eight seems realistic.

There’s no shortage of talent in Parramatta right now, it’s more a question of whether they have the spine and the mental resiliency to compete with the likes of the Storm, Rabbitohs and Roosters.

Best Bet: Eels to Make the Top 8 @ $1.73

Penrith Panthers

  • Last Season: 18-1-1 (1st)
Grand Final Winner$5.00
To Make the Grand Final$2.50
Regular Season Winner$4.25
To Miss the Top 8$6.25
To Make the Top 4$1.60
To Make the Top 8$1.10
Most Losses$101

Key Arrivals: Robert Jennings, Scott Sorensen, Paul Momirovski, Matt Eisenhuth

Key Departures: Josh Mansour, Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, Caleb Aekins, Jack Hetherington

The Panthers face one of the toughest tests in football this season: avoiding a hangover.

While they didn’t win the ‘chip, Penrith’s bar has been set to a lofty new height after seriously over-achieving last year.

The Panthers are the current co-favourites to win the Grand Final, an incredible turnaround for a club that many pegged to miss the top eight only 12 months ago.

On the plus side, Penrith should be better for their touch-up in the Grand Final against Craig Bellamy and the Storm, but unfortunately, most of the players that actually received that lesson have since left the club.

Up to 700-games worth of experience has vanished from Ivan Cleary’s roster, placing most of the load on the back of Nathan Cleary, Stephen Crichton and future star in the making, Charlie Staines.

History tells us the Panthers don’t perform well to pressure and they could very easily be found out nice and early this year in Round 3 against the Storm.

There’s still enough talent to suggest Penrith can make another run to the finals, but how this young side responds to growing expectations remains to be seen.

Best Bet: Panthers to Miss Top 4 @ $2.25

South Sydney Rabbitohs

  • Last Season: 12-0-8
Grand Final Winner$5.00
To Make the Grand Final$2.50
Regular Season Winner$4.50
To Miss the Top 8$5.00
To Make the Top 4$1.70
To Make the Top 8$1.12
Most Losses$101

Key Arrivals: Jai Arrow, Josh Mansour, Benj Marshall, Jacob Host,

Key Departures: James Roberts, Bayley Sironen, Corey Allan, Ethan Lowe, Joseph Suaalii

This might be the best roster Wayne Bennett has coached in his entire career.

After bowing out in the Prelim last year to the Panthers in a thriller, the Bunnies are back and reloaded with weapons as they look to make a serious push towards some hardware.

The highlight of the 2020 season was a dominant 60-8 win over the Roosters, a potential sign of things to come with Jai Arrow, Benji Marshall, and former Panther Josh Mansour joining an already loaded roster.

A healthy season from Latrell Mitchell and another dominant season from last year’s leading try-scorer Alex Johnson no doubt makes the Bunnies the team to beat.

Best Bet: Rabbitohs Grand Final Winner @ $5.00

St George Illawarra Dragons

  • Last Season: 7-0-13 (12th)
Grand Final Winner$51.00
To Make the Grand Final$23.00
Regular Season Winner$51.00
To Miss the Top 8$1.22
To Make the Top 4$11.00
To Make the Top 8$4.00
Most Losses$4.00

Key Arrivals: Jack Bird, Andrew McCullough

Key Departures: Euan Aitken, Jason Saab, James Graham, Jacob Host, Korbin Sims, Tyson Frizell

The above list of departures really paints the picture here.

A bit like the Broncos, new head coach Anthony Griffin has embarked on a fire sale this offseason, opting to unload some of his more experienced names in favour of a complete rebuild.

The top eight appears well out of the question for the Dragons right now, but at least they’ll again have an excuse outside of injuries for a change.

With former captain and soon-to-be Shark Cameron McInnes rupturing his ACL, the Dragons find themselves well short of on-field leadership.

To make matters worse, the opening round sees St George take on Cronulla, while the final month has the Dragons taking on Penrith, Sydney and the Rabbitohs.

A change of coach can do wonders for a club, but with so much experience and talent gone, the hopes aren’t exactly high for the Red V.

Best Bet: Dragons Most Losses @ $4.00

Sydney Roosters

  • Last Season: 14-0-6 (4th)
Grand Final Winner$6.00
To Make the Grand Final$3.00
Regular Season Winner$5.00
To Miss the Top 8$4.75
To Make the Top 4$1.90
To Make the Top 8$1.16
Most Losses$101

Key Arrivals: Adam Keighran, Joseph Suaalii

Key Departures: Kyle Flanagan, Sonny Bill Williams, Mitchell Aubusson

For the first time in over three years, the Roosters aren’t the Premiership favourites heading into Round 1.

The writing was on the wall nice and early last year when the Roosters lost 60-8 to the Rabbitohs in the final round of the season – a sign of things to come as they went out in straight sets to the Panthers and Raiders in the finals.  

Trent Robinson’s side is obviously capable of bouncing back though as the Chooks have retained most of the roster that saw them dominate between Rounds 3 to 19 last year.

Although Aubusson’s absence will be noticeable, Roosters fans can rest easy knowing the Morris brothers are back alongside a healthy Victor Radley.

Regaining Boyd Cordner later in the season should also help steady the ship, while there’s plenty of upside to like about new recruit Joseph Suaalii.

After what was a relatively quiet offseason, the Roosters are primed to remind everybody that their premiership window is far from shut.

Best Bet: Roosters to Miss Top 4 @ $1.85

Wests Tigers

  • Last Season: 7-0-14 (11th)
Grand Final Winner$41.00
To Make the Grand Final$19.00
Regular Season Winner$51.00
To Miss the Top 8$1.28
To Make the Top 4$10.00
To Make the Top 8$3.50
Most Losses$6.00

Key Arrivals: James Tamou, James Roberts, Joe Ofahengaue, Stefano Utoikamanu, Daine Laurie

Key Departures: Robert Jennings, Matt Eisenhuth, Harry Grant, Sam McIntyre, Chris McQueen, Benji Marshall, Paul Momirovski

It’s been a very slim decade for Tigers supporters as the club hopes to avoid missing the finals for a tenth consecutive season.

The addition of former Rabbitoh James Roberts should help strengthen the forward line, but there has been far more traffic departing the club than there has been coming into the ranks over the last few months.

Last season the Tigers burst from the gates with a couple of wins over the Dragons and Sharks, while they also did well to hang tight with the Raiders, Rabbitohs and Panthers.

They should again prove themselves to be a handful at times this year, but the absence of proven scorers like Harry Grant and the veteran Benji Marshall leaves a relatively young club looking very short on leadership.

Best Bet: No Bet

Tips, recommendations and commentary are for entertainment only. We provide no warranty about accuracy or completeness. You should make your own assessment before placing a bet.