General 2016 NRL Club Ratings



How your NRL club’s forward pack stacks up in 2016

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The job for each club’s forward gets tougher in 2016, with the NRL reducing interchanges from 10 to eight and introducing a shot clock in the name of opening the game up.

How the big men adapt will make for compelling, not to mention essential viewing when it comes to your club’s premiership hopes.

With the form guide out and no prisoners sought nor taken, we run the rule over the forward packs lining up across the board in 2016.

1. Broncos

Starting pack: Adam Blair, Andrew McCullough, Sam Thaiday, Alex Glenn, Matt Gillett, Corey Parker

Strengths: Mobility, agility, ball playing. Wayne Bennett has been preparing his all-international ‘big’ man rotation for a reduced interchange for two pre-seasons now.

The results were there to see late last season when they were running rings around their Souths and Roosters counterparts one week, then defending like rabid dogs the next against the Bulldogs and Cowboys in the decider.

Strong enough to have gun Morons prop Josh McGuire return from injury via the bench, as Joe Ofahengaue and Jarrod Wallace also rise through the ranks.

Weaknesses: Both Corey Parker and Sam Thaiday are getting on a bit, not that you’d know it after both turned in career-best form in 2015.

2. Cowboys

Starting pack: Matt Scott, Jake Granville, James Tamou, Ethan Lowe, Gavin Cooper, Jason Taumalolo

Strengths: The best ‘middle’ in the NRL in Scott, Tamou and Taumalolo with Granville — the most dynamic hooker in the game — running off the back of their play-the-balls. Gavin Cooper’s ability to hit a hole on the left edge should be taught in Sunday school.

Weaknesses: Neck injuries to Tamou and Scott hampered them at times in 2015. They’ve both had surgery to correct the issues with the hope they’ve been put to bed for good.

Jason Taumalolo has had the propensity to drift in and out of seasons slightly, but is just as likely to take his game to another level again in 2016.

3. Bulldogs

Starting pack: James Graham, Michael Lichaa, Aiden Tolman, Josh Jackson, Shaun Lane, Greg Eastwood

Strengths: More aggro than a kicked beehive with David Klemmer and Graham running amok, and Sam Kasiano’s ball playing defies belief for a man of his size. Jackson is an Origin player, pure and simple, and you could do worse than pick rangy back-rower Shaun Lane for a breakout year.

Weaknesses: It’s literally, the big question mark over the Dogs in 2016. How the game’s monster pack handles the quicker pace expected with two less interchanges.

Both Graham and Klemmer have overdone in it in the angry stakes with well documented implications, while concerns over Tony Williams’ form — more church mouse than T-Rex in recent years — also puts Des Hasler in a pickle.

4. Roosters

Starting pack: Jared Waerea-Hagreaves*, Jake Friend, Sam Moa, Aidan Guerra, Boyd Cordner*, Sio Siua Taukeiaho

Strengths: With a full contingent on the park this is the most rounded pack in the game. JWH, Dylan Napa and Sam Moa would scare white off rice, Cordner, Guerra and Taukeiaho run with as much guile as menace and there’s offloads galore. This lot has also been the benchmark for defence since 2013.

Weaknesses: Injuries. Waerea-Hargreaves won’t be back from his ACL rupture until round six, Boyd Cordner (pectoral) has three months on the sidelines.

How they fare without Mitchell Pearce steering them around early in the year is also one for Trent Robinson to deal with.

5. Rabbitohs

Starting pack: George Burgess, Damien Cook, David Tyrrell, Kyle Turner, Sam Burgess, John Sutton.

Strengths: The Burgess boys. Sam is the closest thing the NRL has to a Roman gladiator, besides Russell Crowe himself, and will be the most influential forward in the game if he hits the levels he left with.

Twins George and Tom will be keen to bounce back from underwhelming 2015 campaigns, and have more than enough talent to do so.

Weaknesses: Size. Like the Bulldogs, the Rabbitohs look most susceptible to the new interchange rules, especially without Issac Luke sniping around the ruck.

Kyle Turner’s worries with concussion also cast unwanted doubt over a talented youngster, though Paul Carter’s addition midway through last year is handy cover.

6. Storm

Starting pack: Jesse Bromwich, Cameron Smith, Jordan McLean, Kevin Proctor, Tohu Harris, Dale Finucane

Strengths: Fit, agile and drilled like SAS foot soldiers, Craig Bellamy’s forwards can rattle through his game plan in their sleep.

Jesse Bromwich is on the podium for world’s best prop, Cameron Smith sits in a similar position for the greatest hookers of all time, while Tohu Harris and Kevin Proctor are lethal on each edge.

Weaknesses: Depth. As always Bellamy will work wonders with what he’s got, but a back-up contingent featuring names like Glasby, White, Nicholls and Kaufusi simply isn’t as impressive as the clubs ahead of them. Ryan Hinchcliffe’s departure also leaves a sizeable hole.

7. Warriors

Starting pack: Ben Matulino, Issac Luke, Jacob Lillyman, Bodene Thompson, Ryan Hoffman, Simon Mannering

Strengths: Ball-playing. Give them some room and watch the Steeden fly. Matulino is as dangerous as he is underrated outside of New Zealand, while Hoffman, Mannering and Thompson threaten on the edge.

Throw Issac Luke into the mix and as always, the Warriors can strike from anywhere on the park.

Weaknesses: Discipline. Points and metres come far too easily against the Warriors when they’re off their game.

Half the battle here is earning the right to use their creative skills, which by rugby league law comes after a platform has been laid up the middle. If they can work that out this pack will thrive in 2016.

8. Sharks

Starting pack: Andrew Fifita, Michael Ennis, Sam Tagataese, Luke Lewis, Wade Graham, Paul Gallen

Strengths: Experienced and tougher than Bear Grylls’ boots, no team loves a dogfight more than this lot. Michael Ennis’ decision making out of dummy half was a revelation in 2015, while Graham and Lewis offer plenty with the ball on the fringes.

Weaknesses: Probably lacking a gear the elite packs have, as they found out when the Cowboys belted them out of the comp last year. Andrew Fifita still has an unnecessary penalty in his game, and the big men have been known to get in the way of their halves in the past.

9. Sea Eagles

Starting pack: Nate Myles, Matt Parcell, Jake Trbojevic, Jamie Buhrer, Lewis Brown, Martin Taupau.

Strengths: Potential. With only two names remaining from last season in their best starting pack, how quickly this Manly forwards contingent gels is the question.

But any combination featuring Martin Taupau is dangerous, particularly if Nate Myles and Lewis Brown continue the form that has made them rep mainstays over the years.

Expectations are high on this lot, and pressure will mount if they don’t hit the ground running.

Trent Barrett’s roster does look to be in need of one more big man with fears Brenton Lawrence won’t be the same player he once was after a serious back injury.

10. Panthers

Starting pack: Reagan Campbell-Gillard, James Segeyaro, Sam McKendry, Elijah Taylor, Bryce Cartwright, Trent Merrin

Strengths: Another team with a high turnover of players, Trent Merrin’s arrival brings a truckload of skill and mobility to the mountains, adding to the already healthy stocks provided by Bryce Cartwright and utility Tyrone Peachey.

Weaknesses: Grunt. Plenty falls on the shoulders of Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Sam McKendry following the retirements of props Brent Kite and Nigel Plum.

Along with Jeremy Latimore and Roosters recruit Suaia Matagi, they’ll have to aim up or they’ll end up under the bus against bigger sides.

11. Dragons

Starting pack: Russell Packer, Mitch Rein, Lesson Ah Mau, Tyson Frizell, Joel Thompson, Mike Cooper

Strengths: Second-rowers Frizell and Thompson were in the NSW Origin frame with good reason last year, at their best they can match anyone.

Accurately described as ‘soft’ by then-coach Steve Price in 2014, the Dragons turned the competition on its head early last year with defence packed with dynamite.

Weaknesses: Trent Merrin’s departure leaves a hole in the creativity department, with the majority of their forwards honest toilers rather than game breakers.

Russell Packer’s return to the game offers a class option if he hits the straps he’s capable of but otherwise the Dragons are short on star power up front.

12. Raiders

Starting pack: Frank-Paul Nu’uausala, Josh Hodgson, Paul Vaughan, Josh Papalii, Sia Soliola, Shaun Fensom

Strengths: Englishman Josh Hodgson looms as a long term No. 9 for the Green Machine, and will only get better with another season in the NRL.

Young prop Paul Vaughan is one of the most promising running around, while their back-row is as skilful as it is bruising.

Weaknesses: Papalii is overdue to step up and truly deliver on his potential after five years in the game, while the Raiders bench doesn’t provide the same depth or quality seen at other clubs.

13. Eels

Starting pack: Junior Paulo, Nathan Peats, Tim Mannah, Manu Ma’u, Beau Scott, Anthony Watmough

Strengths: Plenty of menace in the back-row with Manu Ma’u and Beau Scott accompanied onto the field by a health warning for opponents.

Nathan Peats’ spark around the ruck should only grow brighter under the reshaped interchange laws, while Danny Wicks was impressive in his first NRL season in some time last year.

Weaknesses: Anthony Watmough’s returns during an injury plagued 2015 were well below expectations, and the Eels can’t afford to have him on one leg again.

Their back-up hooking options for Peats — an issue for the past two years — still don’t look to be remedied and their front-row stocks also look a tad skinny.

14. Titans

Starting pack: Luke Douglas, Nathan Friend, David Shillington, Ryan James, Chris McQueen, Greg Bird

Strengths: No shortage of experience up front for Neil Henry, with over 1000 NRL games packing into the scrum.

Greg Bird is still a rep class player, 26-year-old Chris McQueen is by no means finished at that level and enforcer Ryan James isn’t that far off.

Weaknesses: Discipline. James and Bird were among the most penalised players in the competition last year, and Bird has spent too much time sidelined through suspension.

You also have to wonder how much bang they’ll get for their buck out of veteran recruits Friend and Shillington under the new interchange laws.

15. Tigers

Starting pack: Aaron Woods, Robbie Farah, Sauaso Sue, Curtis Sironen, Chris Lawrence, Dene Halatau

Strengths: Aaron Woods established himself as one of the game’s premier props despite playing in a struggling side last year.

Robbie Farah’s retention means the Tigers still have a senior man to guide young halves Luke Brooks and Mitch Moses, while Tim Grant adds another big body to the forward rotation.

Weaknesses: Woods needs help in the middle, and it’s on the likes of Sue and Grant to ensure their new captain isn’t left carrying the can.

On the edges more is also needed of Sironen and Lawrence, who were both below their best in 2015.

16. Knights

Starting pack: Kade Snowden, Tyler Randell, Korbin Sims, Robbie Rochow, Tariq Sims, Jeremy Smith

Strengths: The Sims brothers pack a hefty punch both in attack and defence, and Pauli Pauli’s arrival from the Eels brings size and a handy offload.

With a number of seasoned forwards moving on last year there’s plenty of room for the youngsters to stake their claim, led by potential captain Robbie Rochow.

Weaknesses: Over 1000 games worth of experience walked out the door at Newcastle, the majority of it in the forwards.

Nathan Brown’s clean-out is a necessary one given the wooden spoon looms large in the trophy cabinet, but the lack of big names or experienced heads up front is a telling one for the club.
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NRL 2016: How your club’s spine stacks up against the rest

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Spine: Andrew McCullough, Ben Hunt, Anthony Milford, Darius Boyd

Strengths: Pound for pound, the best spine in the game. McCullough is your no-nonsense rake who knows how to use the big boppers, while the other three are current or future Origin stars. The combination of Milford and Hunt will only get better with time.

Weaknesses: Boyd hasn’t really hit his peak since returning to the club and injuring his Achilles early last year. A bit of the flash seems to have disappeared.


Spine: Issac Luke, Shaun Johnson, Jeff Robson, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

Strengths: This is truly one of the most lethal spines in the NRL this year. The additions of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Luke have put the heat right back on Andrew McFadden to do something special with this team.

We saw the combinations Johnson and Tuivasa-Sheck have already begun working on at the Auckland Nines and they have the rugby league world excited.

Luke will bring plenty of experience from South Sydney and will provide an anchor for his star halfback and fullback to work around.

Weaknesses: Jeff Robson is 33 years old and is nearing the end of his professional career. His form for Cronulla last year was solid but he’s not the quick, flashy type of player that Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck are.

McFadden has the option of using Tuimoala Lolohea in the halves alongside Johnson if he wishes.


Spine: Jake Granville, Johnathan Thurston, Michael Morgan, Lachlan Coote

Strengths: Johnathan Thurston. The other three players are very good — particularly Morgan — but it’s hard to get noticed when you’re competing with the best in the business.

Granville must also take a lot of the credit for the club’s success last year, with his darting runs from dummy half a highlight of the Cowboys’ season.

Weaknesses: Paul Green needs to put faith in Granville as an 80-minute player. The team went flat during the grand final when Rory Kostjasyn was introduced for the benched Granville.


Spine: Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Blake Green, Billy Slater

Strengths: Experience. Even five-eighth Blake Green has played more than 150 professional games, and combined the club’s spine has racked up more than 1000.

You can’t put a price on that sort of wisdom. Three of the four are current internationals.

Weaknesses: Age. With that sort of experience comes the numbers fans don’t want to read — these four have a combined age of 125, and three of them are the wrong side of 30.

They aren’t as zippy as they once were, and Billy Slater is returning from nine months on the sidelines following shoulder surgery.

It’s a matter of using their outstanding football smarts to overcome the inevitable heavy legs that come with those extra years.

5 — EELS

Spine: Nathan Peats, Corey Norman, Kieran Foran, Michael Gordon

Strengths: The two halves hold the key to Parramatta’s fate in 2016. Norman has been a solid player for many years and is set to thrive alongside the class of Foran.

We saw in the Auckland Nines just how creative and dangerous Norman can be with ball in hand.

Foran’s role will change slightly from the player he was at Manly, but these two players have the potential to lead the Eels to a top eight berth.

Weaknesses: Four very good individual players will need to gel quickly for the Eels to get the most out of their roster.

Foran and Gordon are new to the club but with their experience, getting on the same page shouldn’t be a problem.


Spine: Michael Ennis, James Maloney, Chad Townsend, Jack Bird

Strengths: All four men in Cronulla’s spine this year are genuine ball players. Bird played last season at five-eighth where he honed the skill, and will complement his lethal running with the tricks he picked up in an outstanding debut year.

Ennis was back to his best last year and will appreciate two genuine halves either side of him in 2016.

Weaknesses: Townsend and Maloney are an untried combination and are both newcomers to the club. Bird is also switching to an unfamiliar position and will need to adapt quickly.


Spine: Robbie Farah, Luke Brooks, Mitchell Moses, James Tedesco

Strengths: The ability in this spine is phenomenal. Farah, while 32 years old, is still an Origin hooker and has plenty left to give.

Brooks and Moses have had big raps on them for many years and if they can deliver on the hype, there’s no knowing just how potent they can be together.

Tedesco was arguably the club’s best player last year and is being touted for Origin this year if he can stay fit.

Weaknesses: The defensive failings of the two young halves has been well documented. Moses and Brooks were both towards the top of the NRL’s missed tackle count last year and however you want to spin it, they need to improve for the sake of the team.

Farah was kept on a leash last year but from all reports Jason Taylor is open to playing a less structured brand of footy in 2016, which could unlock his natural attacking game.


Spine: Josh Hodgson, Blake Austin, Aidan Sezer, Jack Wighton

Strengths: Two natural footballers will be thrown together in a halves partnership that could make or break Canberra’s season.

Austin showed us just how good he can be last year, and Ricky Stuart will build a team around the crafty ballrunner.

Sezer will no doubt take the No. 7 jumper despite playing as a five-eighth at Gold Coast, and will need to play a level-headed role to let Austin shine. Wighton is also a rising star and can go to another level in 2016.

Weaknesses: It’s hard to pick a weakness in this spine. The club has upgraded their halfback with Sezer replacing Sam Williams, and will otherwise enter the season with the same core of a team. It’s just a matter of Austin and Sezer figuring out who does what.


Spine: Michael Lichaa, Moses Mbye, Josh Reynolds, Brett Morris

Strengths: Having an international back occupying the No. 1 jumper is a good start. Throw in a talented young halfback and an energetic five-eighth and Des Hasler has the makings of a very handy spine.

Morris is the experienced head who can lead the team from the back, while Mbye is touted as one of Queensland’s next big things.

Weaknesses: Reynolds has a bag of talent and his heart can never be questioned. It’s up to Hasler to rein in his energetic No. 6 and get the best out of him from week to week.

Reynolds’ brain snaps can cost the team at crucial stages and he needs to focus his energy on the job at hand.

He was clearly stung by being relegated to the bench late last season and will be desperate not to let it happen again.


Spine: Mitch Rein, Benji Marshall, Gareth Widdop, Kurt Mann

Strengths: The international experience in Marshall and Widdop served the team well last season and by all reports their partnership has gone up a gear heading into 2016.

Rein is an underrated hooker and provides some energy and pace with his runs from dummy half.

Weaknesses: Mann looks like being thrown the No. 1 jumper as Josh Dugan moves to the centres and it will be interesting to see how the side handles the switch.

Mann was good but never outstanding at Melbourne and has big shoes to fill in Wollongong.


Spine: Damien Cook, Adam Reynolds, Luke Keary, Greg Inglis

Strengths: A team with Greg Inglis at the back is always dangerous. While he wasn’t at his peak during 2015, a fit Inglis is a big assets to any side.

If Damien Cook can reproduce his form with the Bulldogs last year the Bunnies’ forward pack will be served well.

Weaknesses: Three of the four players above were down on form last year. Adam Reynolds and Luke Keary haven’t lived up to the hype placed on them, and now Keary seems to be feuding with both club owners and the coach.

Inglis was also uninspiring and needs to lift as the leader in what can be a formidable spine.


Spine: James Segeyaro, Peter Wallace, Jamie Soward, Matt Moylan

Strengths: Anthony Griffin will essentially mix and match whatever spine he believes will get the job done for the Panthers.

In the halves he can drop both the senior playmakers and promote young gun Te Maire Martin, while moving Moylan from fullback into the No. 6 is also an option.

Martin gave a glimpse of his ability at the Nines and wouldn’t look out of place in the NRL. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak is a more than handy replacement for Moylan at the back if a switch is made.

Weaknesses: The form of the above spine is questionable. Apart from Segeyaro, these players have struggled for fitness over the past 12 months.

Moylan’s 2015 was cut short with an ankle injury and he has only just returned to the paddock. Soward is in danger of missing the cut if he can’t improve on last year’s performances, and it’s no secret Wallace isn’t the coach’s favourite.

On their day they will be one of the best in the competition, but on recent form this is a lacklustre spine.


Spine: Apisai Korosiau, Daly Cherry-Evans, Dylan Walker, Brett Stewart

Strengths: The old head at the back Stewart never lets Manly down. He’s one of the club’s remaining veterans and still provides so much in both attack and defence.

DCE has his future settled now and can crack on with playing some footy without the added distractions.

Once touted as Australia’s future long-term halfback, Cherry-Evans can climb back up the ranks with a big 2016 season.

Weaknesses: Dylan Walker is an experiment in the halves, having played most of his professional football at centre for South Sydney.

Barrett is short on five-eighth options, and has the option of throwing young Tom Trbojevic the No. 6 and leaving Walker in the backline. It won’t be easy filling the hole left by Kieran Foran.


Spine: Jake Friend, Jayden Nikorima, Jackson Hastings, Blake Ferguson

Strengths: Youth. That’s about as much as you can take out of the Roosters’ spine at this stage. Until we see them play a game together we won’t really know how good or bad they will be.

Weaknesses: Inexperience. Yes, it’s very similar to “youth”, but age can be a double-sided sword.

A few months ago it was Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney manning the halves, now it’s Hastings and Nikorima.

They are both talented young players, but untested at this stage and the partnership could just as easily fire or fizzle.

Ferguson is also moving from the centres to fullback and the move could be as equally rewarding or disastrous.


Spine: Tyler Randell, Trent Hodkinson, Jarrod Mullen, Jake Mamo

Strengths: The recruitment of Trent Hodkinson could finally allow Mullen to get back to playing his best footy.

Hodkinson will become the dominant playmaker and Mullen can concentrate on his own game, running the ball and kicking.

Weaknesses: Randell and Mamo have played a handful of NRL games between them and must now occupy two key positions in Newcastle’s line-up.

They have both showed glimpses of talent but must step up to take charge of a team that finished at the bottom of the ladder last year.

The other options for the fullback spot include Australian international Sione Mata’utia and also Jaelene Feeney. All Nathan Brown has to do is take his pick.


Spine: Nathan Friend, Tyrone Roberts, Ashley Taylor, Josh Hoffman

Strengths: With the turmoil the club has endured in recent times, perhaps the recruitment of Nathan Friend was a masterstroke.

Friend is the experienced man in a fairly inexperienced team, and can drag this spine with him as the club strives to turn adversity into success.

Weaknesses: The knee injury to Kane Elgey was exactly what the club didn’t need.

Neil Henry was already facing an uphill battle and now he’s down a star playmaker.

Ashley Taylor has talent but is untried and inexperienced at NRL level. There’s a lack of star power in this spine.
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Warriors Orange Peeler
Guessing the Warriors spine came second because of Jeff Robson plus the fact that the Broncos have had time to gel...


And they wouldn't put a Kiwi team in first place, that would be too unaustralian.
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