Crystal ball: Buzz’s shock wooden spoon call
Melbourne Storm's eight year finals streak is over, the Roosters are a chance of being the team that finally goes-back-to-back this century, and the Bulldogs and Eels will be saved from the wooden spoon - these are PHIL ROTHFIELD's ladder predictions for the 2019 NRL season.
BUZZ'S PREDICTION 16TH
Had an outstanding 2018 but bombed out in the first week of the finals with a really poor performance against the Penrith Panthers at ANZ Stadium.
They've lost superstar halfback Shaun Johnson and will desperately miss the leadership and experience of retiring skipper Simon Mannering.
There is a huge boom on the young five-eighth Adam Keighran from the Penrith Panthers. He is likely to combine in the halves with the experienced Blake Green, who was such a great organiser in his first season across the Tasman. The Warriors will win their share of games but I can't see them getting anywhere near the finals.
BUZZ'S PREDICTION 15TH
A huge disappointment as wooden spooners in 2018 and outside of Blake Ferguson, coach Brad Arthur has done little to improve his roster.
They could struggle again for much of the year and don't get a home game until Easter Monday against the Wests Tigers at the new Bankwest Stadium.
The signings of Shaun Lane on an edge and Junior Paulo will improve the pack.
There's no argument the player under most pressure is Mitchell Moses. Without Corey Norman, he gets the chance to take complete ownership of the team and live up to the huge raps from earlier in his career at the Wests Tigers.
BUZZ'S PREDICTION 14TH
There is massive pressure on coach Dean Pay to get early results and for halfback Kieran Foran to get the Bulldogs off to a strong start.
It was a huge blow to lose Dave Klemmer to the Knights during the off-season but they have a great signing in Corey Harawira-Naera from the Panthers.
The Bulldogs will be looking to the young guns who emerged last year in five-eighth Lachlan Lewis and edge forward Rhyse Martin to mature to even better players.
Keep an eye on the Newcastle Knights imports, halfback Jack Cogger and fullback Nick Meaney. They are good prospects.
BUZZ'S PREDICTION 13TH
Any team with the Trbojevic brothers and Daly Cherry-Evans, along with power players Addin Fonua-Blake and Marty Taupau, should be in the firing line for the finals.
However, depth is their major problem. They are short on quality in so many other areas.
The return of old Des Hasler as Trent Barrett's replacement will be interesting. The Canterbury Bulldogs had nothing in attack in Hasler's final years at Belmore and the tactics he employs will be compelling viewing.
The Sea Eagles have a great draw in that they only play the Roosters, Panthers, Broncos, Sharks and Cowboys once.
BUZZ'S PREDICTION 12TH
On their day the Raiders can beat any team in the competition, but inconsistency lets them down every year.
Their biggest problem is in the halves, where they lack the skill and talent to match it with the more influential playmakers in the competition.
This is cancelled out, to some extent, through the creativity of outstanding hooker Josh Hodgson around the ruck. Still, every side needs a great playmaker to play finals football.
The Raiders have lost big men Junior Paulo and Shannon Boyd but at least will have a far more mobile pack with quicker play-the-balls.
BUZZ'S PREDICTION 11TH
The Tigers probably overachieved last season. They played tough, no-frills football for the first 10 weeks but class told in the end as they bombed out of finals contention.
New coach Michael Maguire faces a huge task to lift them to anywhere near the top eight. The big question mark is whether the old boys Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah have still got it. To perform at the highest level every week at their age is the query.
The underrated Ryan Matterson from the Roosters is a great signing and halfback Luke Brooks showed signs last year that he is ready to emerge as one of the game's best playmakers.
BUZZ'S PREDICTION 10TH
If Garth Brennan can keep his best 17 on the field, the Titans could do anything this year, especially if the off-season mail is right about Bryce Cartwright and he is a hope of re-emerging as one of the game's best forwards.
They have recruited well to add Canberra Raiders big bopper Shannon Boyd and utility star Tyrone Peachey from the Panthers. But they play the Sharks, Rabbitohs and Warriors away in three of the first four rounds, which will be tough.
There'll be huge pressure on boom halfback Ash Taylor to step up and steer this side towards the finals. Look out for another big contribution from fullback AJ Brimson.
BUZZ'S PREDICTION 9TH
The Storm have lost an enormous amount of experience with the retirements of Ryan Hoffman and Billy Slater, and Tim Glasby's move to Newcastle. That's 12 months after losing Cooper Cronk.
Skipper Cameron Smith is another year older but is still a great player. Can he lift this side into the finals yet again?
I've got my doubts. Craig Bellamy might be the best coach in the premiership but he still needs the cattle.
Cameron Munster is a wonderful talent but needs to find more consistency.
The halfback position remains a concern, as was shown in the grand final loss to the Roosters.
BUZZ'S PREDICTION 8TH
I picked them to play in the finals before Ben Barba was rubbed out of the game. His loss is a massive blow but we'll stick with them to play in the semis.
Josh McGuire is a huge signing from the Broncos to play in the middle alongside veteran Matt Scott and Jason Taumalolo.
This side will miss Immortal-in-waiting Johnathan Thurston, but it's a huge opportunity for their 2017 finals hero Michael Morgan.
The Cowboys need him to take ownership of the side and try to spark a backline that was far too sluggish through last year.
BUZZ'S PREDICTION 7TH
On paper, this side should make the finals. If they don't, there's no doubt coach Nathan Brown will be unemployed by the end of the season.
Adding Jesse Ramien and big Dave Klemmer adds strength and strike power. The ever-reliable Tim Glasby is a great signing, too, from Melbourne Storm.
Any side with Mitchell Pearce calling the shots and including the game's hottest player, Kalyn Ponga, will be hard to beat.
They have three of their first five games at home to build early momentum. Nice draw by having Sharks, Raiders, Rabbitohs, Storm, Broncos and Cowboys just once.
BUZZ'S PREDICTION 6TH
Looked capable of winning the premiership at different stages of last season but were found out in the finals.
The biggest taking point of the season will be Wayne Bennett and whether he can improve the side from last season. Has the supercoach and six-time premiership winner still got it?
The Rabbitohs have been quiet on the recruitment front and will be relying on much the same roster as 2018, minus Angus Crichton. So much will depend on the form of old champion Greg Inglis at fullback and whether his dodgy knee is up for the rigours of week-in, week-out footy in the toughest and most brutal body-contact sport.
BUZZ'S PREDICTION 5TH
Can this side recover from the most tumultuous off-season? There is no question rookie coach John Morris has the roster and team "on paper" to be there at the business end of the season.
The loss of superstar wing/fullback Valentine Holmes is a huge blow but the halves are strengthened with the signing of Kiwi champion Shaun Johnson. The Sharks will also miss the strike power of centres Jesse Ramien and Ricky Leutele.
But keep an eye on boom rookie Bronson Xerri, an emerging local product who will keep the pressure on more experienced centres Josh Morris and Josh Dugan.
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BUZZ'S PREDICTION 4TH
If Ivan Cleary is half as good as his reputation, the Panthers will make the top four. Anthony Griffin has left the club in great shape and poised to collect a premiership.
They have lost some tremendous players - Corey Harawira-Naera, Tyrone Peachey and Trent Merrin to the UK Super League. That's a lot of talent to replace. But the club with the strongest junior league nursery in the competition just keeps on producing exceptional locals.
They will be steered around the park by Blues Origin halves Nathan Cleary and James Maloney behind a pack led by experienced campaigner James Tamou and Reagan Campbell-Gillard.
BUZZ'S PREDICTION 3RD
Could have won the competition last year but for injuries to front-rower Paul Vaughan, Gareth Widdop and Tariq Sims at the business end of the season.
The signing of Corey Norman adds even more potency and effectiveness to their attack. They are equipped with the best edge pairing in the game - Sims and Tyson Frizell.
If Ben Hunt steps up and can find more consistency, they will give the premiership a huge shake - I had the Dragons as premiership favourites before the Jack de Belin controversy. Coach Paul McGregor's main concern is replacing 350 games of wing experience without the retired Jason Nightingale and Cowboys signing Nene Macdonald.
BUZZ'S PREDICTION 2ND
The Broncos have lost some handy forwards from last year in Sam Thaiday (retired), Korbin Sims and Josh McGuire.
You don't replace that experience overnight but the Broncos do have the best batch of young forwards in the game ready to step up.
The major bonus from last season is having a fit Jack Bird in the centres. He is a quality all-round footballer who will add plenty in attack and defence.
The spotlight will be on Dally M Coach of the Year Anthony Seibold. He replaces an all-time club legend and will need to make the top four to be considered a good signing. The Broncos don't expect success, they demand it.
BUZZ'S PREDICTION 1ST
With the addition of edge forward Angus Crichton, they could be an even better side than last year's premiership-winning outfit.
Crichton will be an even better player with the opportunities created by the best halves combination in the game - Cooper Cronk and Luke Keary.
No side has gone back-to-back since the Broncos in 1992 and 1993, but the law of averages suggests it's long overdue for another team to do it.
The Roosters will miss Blake Ferguson on the wing but Great Britain star Ryan Hall is a similar, blockbusting type of player who will get heavily involved.