The 2021 NRL Season looks set to be a thriller, with defending champions Melbourne Storm on the fourth line of betting line to retain the premiership.
Last year's runner minor premiers and beaten Grand Finalists Penrith Panthers ($5.50) head the betting from South Sydney Rabbitohs ($6.00) and Sydney Roosters ($6.50).
The Storm are at $7.00 ahead of Canberra Raiders, who are an $11 chance for the premiership.
Canterbury Bulldogs, St George Illawarra Dragons and Brisbane Broncos look set to fight it out for the wooden spoon if the odds are correct.
Grand Final Winners - Canberra Raiders
The Raiders will have to cope with the loss of John Bateman, with the second-row heading back to Wigan, and winger Nick Cotric, who has been snapped up by Canterbury.
However, they will have been encouraged by the performances of forwards Joseph Tapine and Hudson Young, while winger Bailey Simonsson will also return having missed the majority of the season through injury.
The Raiders will also welcome back hooker Josh Hodgson who played just nine games last season, although youngster Tom Starling was excellent at dummy-half in his absence which highlights the options Ricky Stuart’s men have.
New arrival from Penrith Panthers Caleb Aekins will offer strong competition at fullback to Charze Nicoll-Klokstad, arguably Canberra’s best player last season.
Added to one of the best halves partnerships in the game with Dally M winner Jack Wighton’s running game complementing George Williams’ kicking prowess, the Raiders look to have the attacking weapons to go with their renowned gritty defence.
They may also benefit from playing more games at their home GIO Stadium, where they could not play from round two until round eight due to the Covid restrictions. They claimed six wins from eight matches at GIO last year.
Minor Premiers - South Sydney Rabbitohs
South Sydney are led by one the best coaches in the business in Wayne Bennett and only came up just short in the Preliminary final against minor premiers Penrith Panthers last season.
Arguably the best attacking outfit in the competition on their day, only Grand Finalists Penrith and Melbourne scored more in the regular season with the Rabbitohs putting 60 points past rivals Sydney Roosters and thrashing Parramatta 38-0.
Winger Alex Johnston who scored five tries against the Roosters, finished as the NRL top try-scorer after crossing 23 times and Latrell Mitchell looked to be growing into the fullback role until a ruptured hamstring ruled him out for the season.
Experienced winger Josh Mansour has joined from the Panthers with the hard-working 30-year-old known for his kick return metres as well as his impressive finishing with 74 NRL tries. Veteran Benji Marshall has also been signed from Wests to add further creativity from the bench.
His work will help lay the platform for their pack which has been boosted by the signing of Jai Arrow from the Titans who will complement Liam Knight, Cameron Murray, Tevita Tatola and Jaydn Su’a.
Bennett’s smarts saw them peak at the right time for the finals, winning seven of their last nine matches and his experience will be vital if the Rabbitohs are to become minor premiers for the first time since 1989.
Most Losses - Brisbane Broncos
Brisbane Broncos capped a terrible 2020 by winning their first-ever Wooden Spoon in a campaign where they won just three matches and were thrashed 48-0 by Wests. They are currently on an 11-match losing streak, the worst run in their history.
After his success with South Sydney, where he won Dally M Coach of the Year, Anthony Siebold was brought in 2018 to lead this group of exciting youngsters but ended up leaving after just two years.
Recruitment played a big part with Brodie Croft, signed from Melbourne at Seibold’s request, failing to impress in a stuttering Broncos attack, and powerhouse prop David Fifita leaving during the season in a big-money move to Gold Coast Titans.
So far in the off season David Mead and Dale Copley have rejoined the club, Isaiah Tass has moved from Canterbury and John Asiata has been brought in from the Cowboys to provide a much-needed go forward in their pack.
Former Brisbane player Kevin Walters will attempt to turn their fortunes around but will be without star centre Kotoni Staggs until midway through the season due to an ACL injury suffered against North Queensland.
A new voice, however, is unlikely to change things for the beleaguered Broncos. After Seibold was relieved of his duties and assistant Peter Gentles took charge, they still were unable to claim a victory in his seven matches in charge.
Their experienced players need to step up such as the likes of Anthony Milford and Walters will need to sort out the spine of the team with the halves partnership and fullback positions (with Daruis Boyd’s retirement) still to be decided.
It should be another tough season for the Broncos.