2020 NRL - 2020 NRL 2020 Season Launch - Captains, 2020-03-05. Digital image by Gregg Porteous � NRL Photos
2020 NRL - 2020 NRL 2020 Season Launch - Captains, 2020-03-05. Digital image by Gregg Porteous � NRL Photos

Cheat sheet: Your last-minute guide to the NRL relaunch

After a near-10-week wait, the glorious game of rugby league is back in our lives.

Sure, we know that Parramatta is on top of the ladder and defending premiers the Sydney Roosters are winless... But can you remember everything that happened in the opening two rounds?

With the help of Fox Sports experts Gorden Tallis, Greg Alexander, Michael Ennis and Braith Anasta, we've compiled the ultimate cheat sheet to bring you up to speed ahead of Thursday's blockbuster between Parramatta and Brisbane.

 

 

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BRONCOS

THE GOOD: That forward pack of theirs has built nicely. I like Thomas Flegler and Patrick Carrigan, so they've got the workers that can succeed. They've got a great balance in the forward pack and once they get a roll on, the backs can do their thing.

THE BAD: Their success still comes down to the club's halves. The playmakers have to steer that team around the park and create opportunities. Brodie Croft looks to be the composed one in the halves while Anthony Milford has to use his flashy ability to secure points.

UNDER PRESSURE: Anthony Milford. All players say the right thing, like "give us another chance", but it sounds like they're going through a job interview. Don't go through a job interview via the newspapers, you have to do it on the field. So the pressure's on Milford because if Croft goes good, they don't need Milford. There's his NRL career out the window.

FOX LAB REPORT: Brodie Croft has started his Broncos career with two wins and three try assists, despite playing just 14 minutes against the Rabbitohs. The Broncos have missed the finals only twice in almost 30 years, but their fans are becoming restless, with no competitions won since 2006. Won just two of 10 games outside Queensland last season so their road form for the rest of the season will prove critical. - Gorden Tallis

Croft impressed in his first two games as a Bronco. Picture by Alix Sweeney.
Croft impressed in his first two games as a Bronco. Picture by Alix Sweeney.

 

CANBERRA

THE GOOD: At the start of the year I had serious concerns over whether the Raiders could go a step further in 2020. But I've changed my mind. I actually think they can win it now. When you look at the six-again rule change, if there is one side that can benefit the most it's Canberra, with Josh Hodgson, Nick Cotric and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad running out of dummy half. Last year they showed they can match it with the big teams and they've shown they're the real deal.

THE BAD: I was worried about key positional changes at the Raiders this year. Even though dynamic winger Jordan Rapana has returned, they've lost that right-hand combination he had with Joey Leilua. It makes me nervous. The amount of times they combined for tries was incredible. The challenge is getting back up after going so close last year and not winning.

UNDER PRESSURE: George Williams. The new halfback from England probably wasn't tested all that much in the opening two games, which Canberra won easily. This season shapes as a huge ask for Williams. Canberra will be there when the whips are cracking but we'll have to wait and see how the No. 7 goes against the top teams.

FOX LAB REPORT: The Raiders haven't made back-to-back finals series since going three-straight in 2002-04 but have had the perfect start to the season with consecutive wins. They haven't won their opening three games of the year since 2005. Rapana returns from a short stint in Japanese club rugby - he has scored 61 tries in the past four seasons. - Braith Anasta

Can Williams be the man for Canberra? Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images.
Can Williams be the man for Canberra? Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images.

 

CANTERBURY

THE GOOD: The return of Kieran Foran can't be underestimated. We all saw the attacking struggles the Bulldogs endured in the opening two weeks of the season and Foran should go some way to alleviating those issues. He is the most creative player at the club and is the standout among the Bulldogs halves - Lachlan Lewis was hooked midway through the 24-16 loss to North Queensland in round two, Brandon Wakeham is promising but inexperienced and Jack Cogger couldn't get a look-in.

THE BAD: Even allowing for Foran's return, points will continue to be a problem for Canterbury. As much effort as Dean Pay's men put in each and every week, their lack of pointscoring capabilities makes the margin for error far too thin.

UNDER PRESSURE: The spotlight will always be on Canterbury's halves, but their contingent of middle forwards need to offer more. Given their lack of bite in attack, playing through the middle must become a more regular avenue for points - Adam Elliott with his skill and footwork shoulders a lot of the responsibility but needs support from the other middles.

FOX LAB REPORT: Had the worst attack last season and have scored just three tries in two games to open the interrupted 2020 season. Foran's return from injury could prove a boost in that area after the Kiwi international recaptured some of his best form last year when he led the Bulldogs with 13 try-assists. - Greg Alexander

Foran will be a key inclusion for Canterbury. AAP Image/Joel Carrett.
Foran will be a key inclusion for Canterbury. AAP Image/Joel Carrett.

 

CRONULLA

THE GOOD: Wade Graham began the season in fine touch, showing the toughness, skill and leadership that has made him one of the best backrowers in the game. Cronulla might be winless so far in 2020, but Graham gave all he could in the season's opening fortnight and remains one of the Sharks' very best.

THE BAD: Chronic injuries to experienced players have become a real problem for the Sharks - Matt Moylan's hamstring problems have yet to go away, Josh Dugan's future is still uncertain, Andrew Fifita is constantly nursing his bad knee and even Graham couldn't stay on the park in their two matches this year.

UNDER PRESSURE: If Shaun Johnson plays, he's under pressure. It was a mixed bag in the first two games of the season for the Kiwi - in a 10-minute period against the Rabbitohs in the season-opener he did just about enough for them to win the game before backing it up with a tough night out in the loss to the Storm in round two. The Sharks will be relying heavily on Johnson and they cannot afford such inconsistency.

FOX LAB REPORT: Have had one of the toughest starts to the season but have come up just short against the Rabbitohs and Storm. Have made the finals for five straight seasons but the loss of 925 games' experience in the forwards over the past couple of years with the departure of Luke Lewis, Paul Gallen and Matt Prior means a lot of pressure mounts on big men Aaron Woods and Andrew Fifita. - Greg Alexander

Johnson is always under pressure. AAP Image/Craig Golding.
Johnson is always under pressure. AAP Image/Craig Golding.

 

GOLD COAST

THE GOOD: From all reports, they've come back from the COVID break in pretty good shape. That's heartwarming for Titans fans because you know they're dedicated. If they've worked so hard behind the scenes, hopefully that can translate to success on the field. The break would have helped them to reset after those opening two losses.

THE BAD: The halves could do a lot better. Ash Taylor has got a lot of repaying to do for that club. He's working incredibly hard but now it has to translate on to the field. Their big-name forwards like Jai Arrow and Jarrod Wallace also need to step up and help lead their club this season. The ones who have disappointed me are the players on the higher salaries.

UNDER PRESSURE: All of them. Their previous seasons haven't been great so they're all under pressure this year to improve. They can't afford to have another bad season. New coach Justin Holbrook should hopefully bring some success and belief to the club this year.

FOX LAB REPORT: The Titans have conceded 11 tries while scoring only two in consecutive big losses to open the season - certainly unfamiliar territory for new coach Justin Holbrook after taking St Helens to a dominant Super League title last season. The Titans have finished above 14th position only three times in the past nine seasons, with 2016 their only finals appearance. - Gorden Tallis

The Titans need the best from Taylor. AAP Image/Dave Hunt.
The Titans need the best from Taylor. AAP Image/Dave Hunt.

 

MANLY

THE GOOD: Manly have already played two of the best teams in the competition and beat one of them despite two of their most important players - Addin Fonua-Blake and Jake Trbojevic - playing a little underdone after coming off shoulder reconstructions. The layoff will have given the two forwards time to get closer to proper match fitness and will be of enormous benefit to the Sea Eagles.

THE BAD: The only real downside I can think of for the Sea Eagles is the fact they scored just one try in their opening two matches - but they were taking on Melbourne and the Roosters, two of the best defensive teams in the competition, and they beat the latter in a stirring, backs-to-the-wall performance. I don't expect this lack of tries to continue.

UNDER PRESSURE: Danny Levi was solid enough in his first two games as a Sea Eagle but hooker is still a bit of a question mark. Regardless if Levi holds the job or somebody such as Lachlan Croker earns the start, hooker is still the spot that will be closely monitored.

FOX LAB REPORT: Unsurprisingly for a Des Hasler-coached side, they have been competitive in both of their opening round matches against two of the heavyweights of the competition. Hasler worked his magic to return the Sea Eagles to a premiership threat in 2019, but much of their success this season may hinge on the fitness of gun fullback Tom Trbojevic. Manly won 10 of 11 games he played more than 40 minutes in last season, but just five of 15 when he didn't. - Greg Alexander

Can Levi rise to the challenge. Picture by Brett Costello.
Can Levi rise to the challenge. Picture by Brett Costello.

 

MELBOURNE

THE GOOD: What's good about the Storm is they're tough and resilient and more consistent than any other team. You know what you're going to get. Their pack is outstanding. Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Dale Finucane, the Bromwich brothers and the master Cameron Smith in the No.9 jersey. Smith is so smart, he'll adjust the team and take full advantage of the rule change.

THE BAD: My concern is the Storm's outside backs and their combination in the halves. Losing Will Chambers and Curtis Scott out wide has exposed a bit of depth in the centres and that could be a concern if they get injuries. The likely centre pairing of Marion Seve and Justin Olam still have a lot to prove.

UNDER PRESSURE: Jahrome Hughes. The spine didn't quite nail it last year. They were swapping between Brodie Croft and Hughes at half and there is still uncertainty with Hughes in the position. There is a lot of work to be done between Cameron Munster and Hughes to get that right. I think they can master it, but they haven't done it yet. The Storm will be a powerhouse again, for sure, but the jury's out on whether they can win the title.

FOX LAB REPORT: Have not capitalised on their dominance over the past four seasons as much as they would have liked, with just one title despite winning almost 24 games more than the next-best team (83 to Cronulla's 64). Their defence seems as resolute as ever through two games in 2020, conceding just one try and two linebreaks in 160 minutes. - Braith Anasta

Hughes will switch to halfback permanently this year. Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images.
Hughes will switch to halfback permanently this year. Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images.

 

NEW ZEALAND

THE GOOD: If there is one positive, it's that Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is in the top five players who will be able to take most advantage of the rule changes. His speed, footwork and agility in and around the ruck will trouble oppositions who are under fatigue. But as good as Roger is, he's not Michael Jordan. He can't carry the side on his own. He needs help.

THE BAD: Even though they've been dealt the harshest blow of any team and now have more than $1 million worth of talent injured on the sidelines, to be brutally honest I thought they were in trouble anyway this year. I don't think they're fit enough or mobile enough in the forwards and they've got an inexperienced No.9 in Wayde Egan.

UNDER PRESSURE: Blake Green. There are question marks over the Warriors halves, in particular the 33-year-old halfback. I've been there as an ageing playmaker without a strong pack and it's an uphill battle. They have to have more creativity.

FOX LAB REPORT: Have had tough start to 2020 and will need a massive turnaround to be in finals contention. They have had only one finals appearance in the past eight seasons and have won just 35 per cent of their games outside New Zealand under coach Stephen Kearney. - Braith Anasta

Tuivasa-Sheck is as good as it gets. Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images.
Tuivasa-Sheck is as good as it gets. Photo by Tony Feder/Getty Images.

 

NEWCASTLE

THE GOOD: I really liked what I saw from Newcastle in the opening two rounds. They kept the Warriors to nil and were too good for the Tigers. They have a good balance of the power game upfront, strike in key positions and a coach who is publicly challenging them with their standards.

THE BAD: Losing Jayden Brailey is a huge blow. Hooker is a critical position and Jayden provided defence through the middle and clean service to Mitch Pearce and Kalyn Ponga. It will be a huge challenge without Brailey, even with Andrew McCullough due to arrive from Brisbane.

UNDER PRESSURE: McCullough or whoever dons the No. 9 jersey in Brailey's absence. Pearce can control the footy side as well as most halves in the competition and Ponga is Newcastle's X-factor, but they really do need some stability and quality service from dummy-half if they are to challenge the NRL's heavyweights.

FOX LAB REPORT: Started this interrupted season with two big wins but rookie coach Adam O'Brien needs to ensure the gap between the Knights' best and worst performances improves on last season if they are to be a finals contender. In 2019, Newcastle lost six games by 24 points or more - the most of any team. They can't do that again and hope to be in the finals series. - Michael Ennis

The Knights have landed Andrew McCullough on a mid-season deal. AAP Image/Darren Pateman.
The Knights have landed Andrew McCullough on a mid-season deal. AAP Image/Darren Pateman.

 

NORTH QUEENSLAND

THE GOOD: I thought they showed they're real competitors this season. I can't understand the criticism of the Cowboys after their Round 1 loss to the Broncos. There was a "referee's challenge" turned down that could easily have gone the way of North Queensland, and everything went against them that night. Once they sharpen their pencil on a few things, they will be super competitive this year.

THE BAD: Someone has to own the team. At the moment, it's not the hooker, it's not the forwards. It's got to be Michael Morgan. He's always been a passenger, in the nicest way possible. But dare I say it, he's got to be like Scottie Pippen and take charge without a Michael Jordan around. Look at Morgan's The Last Dance moment when Thurston gave him the ball in the final second of the 2015 NRL grand final. It was like "MJ" went to Pippen and said: "I trust you."

UNDER PRESSURE: "Val'' Holmes is probably the most under pressure, only because of the brand that he's built. He's come back from the NFL with the spotlight on him. If anything, the COVID-19 break would have helped him along because he trained with his brother-in-law Morgan at times and that would have only bettered their connection.

FOX LAB REPORT: Attack was a concern in 2019, with only the bulldogs scoring fewer tries than the Cowboys and no team making fewer linebreaks or busting fewer tackles. Scored 20 points in back-to-back matches only once last season, however they can look to new recruit Valentine Holmes to improve that as he already has a try and two try assists to his name in 2020. - Gorden Tallis

Can North Queensland get back to the finals. Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images.
Can North Queensland get back to the finals. Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images.

 

PARRAMATTA

THE GOOD: They didn't play their best and still won their first two games this year, which is always a great sign. What I love about the Eels is they've got a really great attacking team. It's a superb back three and I love their halves. They're fast, they're mobile, they're powerful and they've got a lot of variety in attack. They're the modern rugby league team.

THE BAD: The only concern I have is they're a little bit vulnerable in their middle. The new six-again rule should play into their hands in attack, but your big strength can often be your biggest weakness. And it's going to be a big test for their middle forwards. How will they defend under fatigue? What worries me about the Eels is their resilience and tenacity in big games. That is what they need to overcome this year to win a premiership.

UNDER PRESSURE: Mitch Moses. He's the most talented No.7 in the NRL. His kicking game went to another level last year and he was composed in managing games. He has really matured. But how does he go to the next level? His individual performances have been superb but turning those individual performances into a premiership is the definition of a great halfback.

FOX LAB REPORT: A Bankwest Stadium hub is a boon for the Eels in their quest for a first title since 1986. The Eels won nine of 11 matches at the new stadium last season, scoring almost 30 points a game while conceding just over 13 a game. Away from their new home it was a different story, winning just six of 15 and conceding almost 24 points per game. - Braith Anasta

Moses need to step up at halfback. AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts.
Moses need to step up at halfback. AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts.

 

PENRITH

THE GOOD: I really liked what I saw from Penrith in the opening two rounds. I thought Josh Mansour was back to his best. They have got some big, powerful outside backs, plenty of youth, and I love their forward pack when they get physical. Api Koroisau was dynamic from dummy half in the first two weeks. I believe his acquisition takes Penrith to another level.

THE BAD: They have had a few distractions, especially with Nathan Cleary's fine and suspension for breaking isolation rules. The other negative is the halt to the season. I was at Kogarah when they beat the Dragons in Round 2 and they did so many things well and they looked full of confidence. The challenge will be how they hit the ground running again, especially without Cleary for the first two weeks.

UNDER PRESSURE: Dylan Edwards. All the top four teams from last season had strong, ball-playing fullbacks. Dylan is such a competitor, but he needs to find that extra spark and finesse in his game. Half Jarome Luai also needs to step up in this fortnight with Cleary suspended.

FOX LAB REPORT: Missed the finals for the first time in four seasons last year but have started 2020 with back-to-back wins - they have won their opening three games only once (1997). Managed just 17 points per game in 2019, the fourth-worst attack in the competition, but have scored 52 in total against the Roosters and Dragons. - Michael Ennis

Koroisau starred in his first two games back at Penrith. Picture by Brett Costello.
Koroisau starred in his first two games back at Penrith. Picture by Brett Costello.

 

ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA

THE GOOD: The Dragons are traditionally strong starters, so two losses to open the season weren't what they were after. But I thought they showed great resolve to fight back in their second loss to Penrith when the Panthers got the jump on them. They need to build on that effort. The return of Cameron McInnes from injury at hooker is perfect timing.

THE BAD: They must address their defensive issues. That is their biggest challenge. They have a good challenge first-up against the Warriors to turn that early season form around. How they respond to losing arguably their best player, Tyson Frizell, to Newcastle for next season will also be an interesting one to watch.

UNDER PRESSURE: I think it falls on halfback Ben Hunt. He has really got to own this footy side. If the Dragons are to play finals footy, we need to see strong form from Hunt - more in his game management and his desire to run the footy. That is when he is at his best.

FOX LAB REPORT: Two losses to start the season in consecutive years is a concern for Paul McGregor but the 56 points conceded could be more of an issue - it's up from their poor 24 points per game in 2019. Cameron McInnes' return from injury should bolster their middle. Last year he made more than 1000 tackles and missed just 32. - Michael Ennis

McInnes will return for the Dragons. AAP Image/Richard Wainwright.
McInnes will return for the Dragons. AAP Image/Richard Wainwright.

 

SOUTH SYDNEY

THE GOOD: The Rabbitohs' spine combination is the most dangerous in the competition when they're all on. Damien Cook at dummy-half can create something out of nothing and that effort can have a huge impact on the game.

THE BAD: Souths are going to be light on in the forwards without Sam Burgess this year. They're big shoes to fill. They're going to have the same struggles as other clubs in trying to replace key personnel. And they'll want to get the Greg Inglis-style of play from Latrell Mitchell, which will take a bit of time.

UNDER PRESSURE: Look, Latrell definitely has pressure on him but that was the case at the start of the year as well. Adam Reynolds is another under pressure because I feel as if they're in the same boat as the Cowboys in that they need to find a new leader without Burgess there. Reynolds has been a little inconsistent at times.

FOX LAB REPORT: Forwards depth will be tested, even over a shortened season, with John Sutton, Sam Burgess and George Burgess all departing. Since returning to the Rabbitohs in 2016, Sam Burgess has averaged the most metres for the club each season. Mitchell's form was a talking point from their first two matches, with just 10 runs, 108m and two tackle busts, but the break in play and facing his old teammates should have him ready to go in round three. - Gorden Tallis

Reynolds must step up as leader of the Rabbitohs. AAP Image/Brendon Thorne.
Reynolds must step up as leader of the Rabbitohs. AAP Image/Brendon Thorne.

 

SYDNEY ROOSTERS

THE GOOD: They are settling into life without Cooper Cronk and strike weapon Latrell Mitchell on that left edge. Even though they haven't won a game yet, I don't think it is doom and gloom for them. They have a roster that is good enough to be in the top four and I think that is where they will finish up.

THE BAD: They beat themselves against Penrith in round one. Their kicking game wasn't great. There is no doubt that there is going to be a settling-in period without Cronk. As good a summer as Kyle Flanagan has had, he is still only in the early stages of his career. The Roosters will have a good season, but the Flanagan and Luke Keary halves partnership might take a bit of time to jell.

UNDER PRESSURE: The halves pairing of Flanagan and Keary in terms of how long it is going to take them to find their way without having Cronk around. In saying that, I expect them to form a strong combination. It just might take a few rounds.

FOX LAB REPORT: Had a tough start to the post-Cronk/Mitchell era with back-to-back losses in the opening two rounds. No team has won three-straight titles since Parramatta in the early 1980s and only three teams in history have won the competition after losing their first three games - so beating the Rabbitohs first-up could be crucial to the three-peat. - Michael Ennis

Flanagan struggled in the first two games. Digital image by Shane Myers/NRL Photos.
Flanagan struggled in the first two games. Digital image by Shane Myers/NRL Photos.

 

WESTS TIGERS

THE GOOD: The return of Luke Brooks from injury is a huge boost for the Tigers. Their star halfback missed the first two rounds with a calf injury but the enforced layoff will mean he should be back for round three. Brooks' combination with Benji Marshall is crucial to the Tigers' finals hopes, and getting him back will immediately improve the joint venture's fortunes.

THE BAD: Their last game - a 42-24 drubbing at the hands of Newcastle at Leichhardt Oval - was troubling. Extenuating circumstances aside, the disintegration of the Tigers' defensive resolve and their lack of intensity would have been very concerning for Michael Maguire. For a team with finals aspirations it simply wasn't good enough.

UNDER PRESSURE: That loss to Newcastle highlighted the Tigers' greatest defensive weakness - their entire right edge. The Leilua brothers and Marshall were exposed time and again, with Joey Leilua especially struggling with his decision-making and composure. For all the trio offer with the ball, they cannot afford another similar collapse.

FOX LAB REPORT: Ninth on the table, it's the position they have finished three times in the past four seasons, predominately on the back of their inability to build a streak of wins. Wests Tigers have not won more than three straight matches in a season since 2012, and last year they couldn't manage more than two straight. - Greg Alexander

Brooks will return in Round 3. AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts.
Brooks will return in Round 3. AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts.

 

 

Originally published as Cheat sheet: Your last-minute guide to the NRL relaunch