We complete our NRL club-by-club preview series with a look at last year’s stragglers and the competition’s newest team. See what’s in store for the Titans, Knights, Warriors, Tigers and Dolphins in 2023.
Gold Coast Titans
6-18 – 14pts – 13th
Last season’s biggest flops, the Gold Coast Titans at one point looked like they would finish 2022 with the wooden spoon until a late-season surge.
Still, 13th position was clearly a major fail for a club that was widely tipped to be part of the finals action.
Coach Justin Holbrook has done a good job restocking his side and the acquisition of Kiwi international five-eighth Kieran Foran could just be the missing link the Titans need to challenge for the finals this year.
At 32, Foran still has some good football to offer and as a veteran of 262 NRL games his experience in pressure situations will be invaluable for a club that last year lacked the ability to stay in games.
One of the game’s true journeymen, the Titans will be Foran’s fifth NRL club and the change from Manly to another seaside club will no doubt refresh and revitalise him.
Holbrook has addressed another problem by recruiting a quality dummy half in former Roosters hooker Sam Verrills.
Verrills is entering his prime and along with Foran will give the Titans some direction in the middle of the park.
Holbrook will be hoping Foran and Verrills will be able to help bring out the best in barnstorming back-rower David Fifita who is yet to play up to his exorbitant price tag.
This must be the year Fifita, who turns 23 this month, produces the kind of form that made him the game’s most sought-after forward a few years ago.
If there was a player who didn’t let the Titans down last year, it was their long-haired captain, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, who led from the front and represented Queensland and Australia in their title wins last year.
Tino has established himself as one of the game’s hardest players and the Titans can build a successful season around him.
Two exciting young players – AJ Brimson and the electrifying Jayden Campbell – are vying for the No.1 jumper which is a nice problem for Holbrook to have.
Both Brimson, who has played Origin for Queensland, and Campbell, who is the son of Gold Coast legend Preston Campbell, are exhilarating to watch with the ball in hand.
Brimson can play in the halves, but Foran has the No.6 locked down and Holbrook had indicated he will give Tanah Boyd first shot at No.7.
There is a possibility the Titans could at some stage this season have two Fa’suamaeleauis in their pack with Tino’s youngster brother, Zac, also a prop forward, in Holbrook’s 30-man squad as a development player.
He currently plays for the Burleigh Bears.
If the Titans play to their potential and fix up their defence, there 2023 could be a great year for their fans.
Playing roster: AJ Brimson, Jojo Fifita, Aaron Schoupp, Phil Sami, Alofiana Khan-Pereira, Kieran Foran, Tanah Boyd, Moeaki Fotuaika, Sam Verrills, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, David Fifita, Beau Fermor, Erin Clark, Jayden Campbell, Jaimin Jolliffe, Isaac Liu, Joe Stimson, Toby Sexton, Brian Kelly, Patrick Herbert, Chris Randall, Klese Haas, Sam McIntyre, Jacob Alick, Joseph Vuna, Paul Turner, Thomas Weaver, Treymain Spry. (Development players: Iszac Fa’asuamaleaui, Tony Francis, Josiah Pahulu, Keano Kini.)
2023 Gold Coast Titans predictions:
6-18 – 14pts – 14th
The Newcastle Knights will field a new set of halves this season with Kalyn Ponga set to play five-eighth outside prized 2023 recruit Jackson Hastings.
It could prove to be a masterstroke pairing by coach Adam O’Brien who has orchestrated Ponga’s shift into the No.6 after securing the services of former rugby sevens custodian Lachlan Miller from Cronulla.
Miller is one of six off-season additions to O’Brien’s top squad.
The 28, blessed with natural speed and great instincts, is a classy player and an ideal replacement for Ponga who’ll follow the path of a few stars such as Brisbane’s Darren Lockyer who made the transition from fullback to five-eighth.
Miller displayed flashes of his brilliance in a handful of games with the Sharks last season and the club rates him very highly and believes he will shine at fullback in place of Ponga.
“Lachlan is a gifted athlete, with great speed and a player who will add excellent value to our squad,” said Knights director of football Peter Parr.
In his NRL debut, the 2020 Tokyo rugby Olympian ran almost 300 metres and broke nine tackles, a sure sign with time he will be challenging the best fullbacks in the game.
Ponga has spent the entire pre-season building up and training at five-eighth.
It’s a gamble, but one which could reap a finals card for the Knights.
The Knights have parted company with yardage-maker David Klemmer but they have picked up a couple of robust and aggressive forwards in Englishman Adam Elliott and the fiery Jack Hetherington, a physical type who will be great off the bench.
The other impressive part of the Knights is the power and mobility of their forwards.
With the Saifiti twins, Tyson Frizell, Elliott, Hetherington and Lachlan Fitzgibbon, they will not be easy to get over the top of and they will be dangerous with the ball.
Hastings is the key signing.
He is a player who can take control of a game with his clever kicking and long and short passing game.
Playing roster: Lachlan Miller, Dom Young, Dane Gagai, Bradman Best, Greg Marzhew, Kalyn Ponga, Jackson Hastings, Jacob Saifiti, Jayden Brailey, Daniel Saifiti, Tyson Frizell, Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Adam Elliott, Kurt Mann, Jack Hetherington, Leo Thompson, Brodie Jones, Krystian Mapapalangi, Adam Clune, Bailey Hodgson, Chris Vea’ila, Hymel Hunt, Enari Tuala, Phoenix Crossland, Simi Sasagi, Tyson Gamble, Jack Johns, Mat Croker.
2023 Newcastle Knights predictions:
New Zealand Warriors
6-18 – 14pts – 15th
Seriously, where do you start with the New Zealand Warriors and how do you predict how they will go when every season they show some promising signs and then fall back into bad habits?
We all know the Warriors have the talent to compete but for some reason, they have been unable to put together a consistent 80 minutes for several seasons, despite coach and personnel changes.
This season is no different.
A raft of new players, a new coach in Andrew Webster who comes out of the successful Penrith Panthers system as Ivan Cleary’s assistant last year, and finally a return to playing home games at home after two seasons of living on the road.
Webster, who has done an apprenticeship here in Australia and as an assistant coach in the Super League with Hull Kingston Rovers, has taken on the toughest coaching job in the NRL.
The list of those who have tried and failed in the past decade is long and features some quality coaches including Nathan Brown (2021-22), Todd Payten (2020), Steve Kearney (2017-2020), Matthew Elliott (2013-2014) and two-time premiership winner Ivan Cleary who was at the helm between 2006-2011.
One of these years the Warriors are going to get it right, but it won’t be 2023 despite a new enthusiastic rookie head coach and a host of roster changes.
What they do have going for them is a pair of power forwards in Addin Fonua-Blake and Tohu Harris who will command respect and take the team forward upfront.
Bunty Afoa and Richard Barnett will both ensure the engine room is running on all cylinders to give veteran halfback Shaun Johnson and five-eighth Te Maire Martin the room to create opportunities for their speedy outside backs.
Johnson is still an influential player and more than capable of winning close games with his unpredictable running game and clever footwork.
Former Manly playmaker Dylan Walker is a good pick-up for the Warriors, but coach Webster has indicated the 28-year-old, 186-game veteran is likely to start the season off the bench.
Canberra pick-up Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and polished winger Dallin Wantene-Zelezniak will need to inject themselves into the game and go looking for the ball as points will be hard to come by.
It’s hard to get too excited about the Warriors’ chances, at least until they show they can play with more consistency and resolve their defensive deficiencies which have killed them in recent seasons.
Last year they gave up almost 30 points a game to their opposition with a lot of those points coming on the edge.
Playing roster: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Viliami Vailea, Marcelo Montoya, Edward Kosi, Te Maire Martin, Shaun Johnson, Addin Fonua-Blake, Wayde Egan, Bunty Afoa, Mitch Barnett, Josh Curran, Tohu Harris, Dylan Walker, Marata Niukore, Freddy Lussick, Tom Ale, Adam Pompey, Ali Leiataua (development), Bayley Sironen, Brayden Wiliame, Demitric Sifakula (development), Jackson Ford, Jacob Laban (development), Jazz Tevaga, Luke Metcalf, Rocco Berry, Ronald Volkman, Valingi Kepu, Zyon Maiu’u (development).
2023 New Zealand Warriors predictions:
4-20 – 10pts – 16th
One thing about collecting the wooden spoon, it guarantees everyone will lift – from the front office, to the coach and the players.
Throw in a new coach who has won premierships and had success at the top level, some new coaching staff, including a couple of former club legends, and suddenly you have an air of expectation.
One thing I’d be willing to put my house on is that the Wests Tigers will win more than the four games they collected in 2022.
But will it be enough to get them to repeat the North Queensland Cowboys’ charge from 15th place in 2021 to third last year?
Their fans have plenty to look forward to with Tim Sheens as their coach supported by Tigers favourites Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah who are back in the fold to help the club try and turn things around.
That may not be a quick fix but make take a few seasons with the master plan to have Marshall in charge by 2025.
There’s no doubt the Tigers have improved their playing squad when you look at additions like David Klemmer, Isaiah Papali’i and premiership-winning hooker Api Koroisau gives the Tiger’s pack and strong look.
In Koroisau they have a player who is a proven winner, having been part of the last three NRL premiership sides, a rare feat indeed.
We all know how Klemmer loves to play — he averaged 155 metres a game last season and every one of them was straight up the middle.
Papali’i is a great get for Sheens.
He was destructive at times for Parramatta last season and should relish playing alongside Klemmer.
It was only a few years ago that Bateman was the Dally M back-rower of the year.
And what can young Stefano Utoikamanu bring to the table with those players around him to bring him along.
Utoikamanu is a giant at 115kg and 191cm and many are tipping the Auckland-born 22-year-old will be a future representative star.
Sheens has to make a call on who plays at fullback, the elusive Daine Laurie or Penrith pick-up Charlie Staines who has plenty to offer wherever he is used.
Tommy Talau returns from a long injury layoff and will most likely start in the centres with Brent Naden, while Ken Maumalo and David Nofoaluma will be on the wings.
That just leaves the halves, and they pick themselves with Luke Brooks and Adam Doueihi to pair up at the scrum base.
The merged club has not played finals football since 2011 when they finished fourth in the minor premiership.
The closest they’ve come in the 11 years since was ninth in 2019, 2018, 2016, 2012.
Playing roster: Daine Laurie, David Nofoaluma, Tommy Talau, Brent Naden, Ken Maumalo, Adam Doueihi, Luke Brooks, Stefano Utoikamanu, Api Koroisau, David Klemmer, Isaiah Papali’i, John Bateman, Joe Ofahengaue, Jake Simpkin, Alex Twal, Fonua Pole, Shawn Blore.
2023 Wests Tigers predictions:
You can never count out champions, and Wayne Bennett is a champion coach.
Having said that, not even his genius and ability to get the very best out of his players, especially when they have been written off by everyone, will be enough to get the NRL’s newest franchise, the Dolphins, to the NRL finals.
It is hard to see them having enough firepower to compete on equal footing with several of the established clubs without a genuine marquee player in their side.
Bennett has assembled a solid playing group under the circumstances, but he wasn’t able to lure that player with that star quality, that most teams need to win big games.
It wasn’t for the lack of trying when you look at the superstars linked to the club from Newcastle’s fullback Kalyn Ponga to Melbourne’s million-dollar-man Cameron Munster, but in the end, they came up short.
They’ve managed to assemble a forward pack though that will not easily be pushed around and that alone will give them a fighting chance of causing a few upsets.
Ex-Melbourne trio of Jessie and Kenny Bromwich and Queensland Origin star Felise Kaufusi will provide the Dolphins with a tough middle and teams who fail to respect them will pay a heavy price.
Jessie Bromwich will be the Dolphin’s first captain and that honour alone will bring the best out in the New Zealand international who always plays with a lot of passion and heart.
Jarrod Wallace has played Origin, so has former Cowboy forward Tom Gilbert who has made the move home to Brisbane along with another ex-Cowboy Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, a flying machine who will start at fullback.
Bennett has found a hard man in Ray Stone, signed from Parramatta after his 2022 season was ended prematurely after he ruptured his ACL playing against Melbourne Storm in the early rounds.
Stone is the type of player who could thrive under Bennett who has a habit of improving players who are just short of top-level.
He’s also recruited English centre Oliver Gildart and has a few promising players like Tesi Nui from the Brisbane Broncos and Queensland Cup graduate Valynce Te Whare, know as a human wrecking ball.
Allowing for the fact he couldn’t get a superstar; Bennett has shopped pretty well.
He’s given utility Euan Aitken another shot, most likely in the centres, and handed one-time pin-up player Anthony Milford one last chance to find his mojo as a running five-eighth.
Sean O’Sullivan will start at halfback but there is a young gun named Isaiya Katoa who has been impressing everyone and could apply some pressure through the Queensland Cup.
Jamayne Isaako has plenty of first-grade experience and can kick goals, so Bennett has a side that if he finds some chemistry and can cash in the new kid on the block emotion, may spring a few surprises.
To be honest, even Bennett might not know what to expect, but he will do everything he can to make sure his side is as ready as it can be for the club’s historic NRL showdown with the Sydney Roosters at Suncorp Stadium on March 5.
Playing roster: Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Jamayne Isaako, Tesi Niu, Oliver Gildart, Edrick Lee, Anthony Milford, Sean O’Sullivan, Jesse Bromwich, Jeremy Marshall-King, Tom Gilbert, Felise Kaufusi, Kenny Bromwich, Ray Stone, Kodi Nikorima, Euan Aitken, Mark Nicholls, Jarrod Wallace, Brenko Lee, Herman Ese’ese, Isaiya Katoa, Valynce Te Whare, JJ Collins, Mason Teague, Poasa Faamausili, Robert Jennings, Connelly Lemuelu. (Development players: Harrison Graham, Michael Roberts, Jeremiah Simbiken, Jack Bostock.)
2023 Dolphins predictions: