The 2016 NRL season ended with the Cronulla Sharks securing their maiden premiership, and the rest of the league breathing a simultaneous sigh of relief (that we didn’t have to put up with their sob story) and an audible groan (now we can’t tease them about it).
Some teams surged and forged new roads for the coming seasons, while others flamed under the pressure of it all.
2017 is pretty much a clean slate. It’s now almost a guarantee that no team can go back to back premierships in the NRL, and it’s highly unlikely that the Sharks would be the side to buck this trend. Everyone theoretically has a chance, it’s just that some sides have more chances than others.
So, using the 2016 rankings from spoon to trophy let’s have a look.
The Knights have had a horror start to 2017. First, Mullen tested positive to steroid use, and then Pauli Pauli was seriously hurt in a multi car pile-up. To top it all off the club then released Korbin Sims (to the Broncos).
The Knights have a few long seasons ahead. They need to worry less about wins and finals in 2017, and more about building a stable footy playing platform.
Perennial faves Sydney spent the majority of the season fumbling around in the mud at the bottom of the ladder. A convergence of off-field bad behaviour, player transfers and injuries saw the Roosters struggling to secure a win. In fact by their first bye in round 12 they had just two W’s on their season chart, an awful start that they simply couldn’t recover from.
Roosters fans will be hoping that the side has knuckled down in the off season, and that Mitchell Pearce will be incarcerated for the safety of small dogs everywhere on Australia Day.
The Eels were amazingly resilient in 2016. Even minus competition points and star players the core of the side continued to turn up and grind their way to victory over many more fancied sides.
Contract wise the Blue & Golds have had a huge amount of turnover, bagging a slew of new names plus one or two returning players. An almost even number of players have left, but the injection of new talent along with key re-signings should keep Parra in good stead in 2017.
Having spent years as perennial finals contenders the Sea-Eagles were truly down in the dumps in 2016. A changing of the guard both in the team and coaching ranks meant the Silvertails were never able to establish a winning rhythm. They somewhat righted the season with four wins from round 17, but the wheels promptly fell off again in the last 5 rounds.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
The Bunnies are a long way away from the premiership side they were in 2014. With key players such as Isaac Luke leaving for greener pastures, and stars such as Inglis beginning to fade, the Rabbitohs discovered in 2016 that their tactic of overpowering other sides through the middle is old news. Not even the return of club hero Sam Burgess could provide respite, with the Bunnies copping 9 straight losses before reshaping to take the wins in the last four games.
St George-Illawarra Dragons
The Dragons did reasonably well to snag 11th spot in 2016, despite being possibly the most boring team in the league. Unable to establish more than two consecutive wins at any given time, the Dragons simply turned up to games to basically make the numbers. The big news for the club is that they have signed Ben Hunt from 2018, but this just means that fans will spend much of 2017 waiting to hear for more key signings.
New Zealand Warriors
They were supposed to be the fairy tale dark horse side in 2016, but with injuries to new recruits and their traditional hot/cold Jekyll and Hyde approach the Warriors were indeed a disappointment. Their best run came in the Origin zone, where they nabbed four wins, but like all the rest of the bottom 8 they simply failed to play consistently good football. Fans will be praying for a better off season and the health of Tuivasa-Scheck and Luke.
Despite the civil war between Coach Taylor and Farah, the financial turmoil on the leagues club end and a very, very young roster the Tigers managed to find a way to haul themselves into 9th place. Easily performing better in the second half of the season, they snagged some key upsets against finals contenders that proved they can be a proper threat in the coming seasons. Many fans and outsiders will be keen to see how they fare in the post-Farah world.
Gold Coast Titans
Everyone, including yours truly, had the Titans pegged as Spooners in the run up to 2016. The signing of walking headline Hayne heightened their brand awareness late in the season, and they were the catalyst for Cronulla coming unstuck in the race for the minor premiership.
If they can prevent their older siblings the Broncos from poaching any more of their talent then they should be in good stead for the next few years.
The Doggies are trapped in the NRL Twilight Zone. Sitting right on the edge of finals contention, but not good enough to be a real contender come the crunch, the Dogs continued with their general amble through the midfield in 2016.
Their victims were mainly from the bottom 8, although they did claim the scalps of the finals bound peers on a few occasions.
Rolling into the finals with three straight losses was an ominous portent, and they were quickly cleaned up by a boisterous Penrith team.
The Men from the Mountains continued on their way up in 2016, ending the season playing footy fast and furious. They were the masters of clutch wins in the first half of the season, often squeaking home with just 1 or 2 points over their opponents.
Their best streak was at the end of season, where they cleaned up for regular games before running over the Bulldogs.
Their high flying footy was finally brought to a halt by the Raiders, but the Panthers had made it clear that they should be considered a finals contender in 2017.
The Broncos dominated the front and back ends of the season, while suffering through their traditional Origin malaise. They were one of the form sides in the opening 10 rounds, before Origin impacted on their starting 17.
They managed to get back on the rails, and rolled into finals central with 5 wins in a row. They downed the Titans with ease, and then went on to sap the Cowboys of all their energy in a gruelling extra time slugfest in Townsville.
Benji Marshall will be a Bronco in 2017, which is weird.
North Queensland Cowboys
The heroes of 2016 were simply unable to replicate their success from the previous year. Strong and consistent throughout the year, their worst period was a three game losing streak.
They lost a close week 1 final to the Storm, and then edged the Broncos in what would prove to be a draining effort. The following week saw a lethargic and tired Cowboys squad up against a resurgent Sharks side intent on glory.
The Cowboys will always be contenders with JT at the helm, but they don’t have long to secure another trophy under his guidance.
A patchy first half of the season had many onlookers pinning less than aspirational outcomes on the Green Machine, and it was truly a season of two sides. Following their round 14 loss to the Broncos something clicked within the squad, and the Raiders proceeded to live up to their name, launching attacking raids away and at home as they comprehensively trounced all comers.
An improvement in defence was key to the second half of the year, and they entered the finals on a 10 game winning streak. Cronulla proved too much in the first week, but the Raiders surged again to fend off the Panthers before falling so achingly close against the Storm.
They finished up minor premiers after Cronulla stumbled, and eased their way through the finals system to reach the last Sunday. Cronulla got the trophy at the end, but the Storm were with them all the way, not just in the grand final but across the year.
In fact while the Sharks were racking up their record streak the Storm were also busy piling on the points, quietly claiming win after win and generally minding their own business.
Even the oft dreaded Origin period had no effect on them, leaving them in good standing to claim 1st place at the end of 26 rounds.
Sharks fans need to acknowledge one thing in 2017 – back to back premierships are the unicorn of the modern NRL. Teams actually have a bigger chance of winning a premiership and then dropping out of the 8 the following year than they do of winning two in a row.
The Sharks 2016 season was a phenomenal story of record wins and some epic end-of-career performances. Gone now is Ennis, and Gallen surely can’t muster up last years effort again.
They’ll remain finals contenders for several more seasons, and may well claim another title in that time, but the chances of two in a row are very, very slim.