The 2010 Year in Review

Filed in Other by on December 11, 2010

Brisbane Broncos

Finish: 10th

Expected Finish: 9th

Assessment: Brisbane finished as expected by most this year though the faithful are no doubt devastated at missing the finals for the first time since the ’91 season. They were sitting on 11-9 with a month of the season remaining and had beaten the Dragons, Melbourne and the Gold Coast twice but they turned in some shockers like their 30-22 round eight loss to Newcastle. Consistency was a big problem for Brisbane and they relied too heavily on their top tier players. Defence was their biggest problems with Brisbane recording the second most missed tackles per game along with conceding the second most line-breaks and metres per game. They have the youth and have recruited well enough to improve in 2011 but there is no doubt those in Brisbane were most disappointed with the 2010 season.

Coaching Situation: Ivan Henjak was always going to do it tough following in the footsteps of Wayne Bennett and that task was made all the more difficult after guiding the Broncos to their first September holiday since 1991 as Bennett guided the Dragons to their first premiership in 31 years. A preliminary final in 2009 may buy him time though 2011 is sure to be his final chance, if he survives that long. Bennett becoming a free agent in 2012 should see Henjak see out the season.

Best: Sam Thaiday again led from the front, Corey Parker was outstanding in doing all the grunt work and Darren Lockyer proved himself an ageless champion whose importance defies statistics. Hooker Andrew McCullough also came along nicely while Israel Folau managed 20 tries in 20 games in his final season in the NRL.

Worst: Despite playing a number of Origin in 2008-09, Peter Wallace didn’t develop this year while Ashton Sims and Lagi Setu, both on sizable contracts, did little but eat up cap space in their combined 21 games. After a year at the Warriors, Denan Kemp returned to the Broncos but could not find the magic that led him to the pointy end of the try scoring list in 2008.

Injuries: Brisbane lost Justin Hodges for the year in the preseason, blunting their attack. while Darren Lockyer missed the last month of the season and as a result the Broncos lost four straight to finish the year by a cumulative score of 52-128.

Find: The Broncos found plenty of young talent with Andrew McCullough, Josh Hoffman and Corey Norman all making significant contributions for the Broncos this year but Matt Gillett was their best find with the bullocking backrower/centre winning the Dally M Rookie of the Year award.

Time to Go: The Broncos recruited Scott Anderson as low-rent help up front but he did nothing and it is time for Brisbane to cut him loose.

Turning Point: Darren Lockyer’s injury. Losing six of their first eight put them behind the eight-ball but the Broncos were in the finals hunt until Lockyer went down against Parramatta. Brisbane never won another game and their 18-year playoff streak came to an end.

Canberra Raiders

Finish: 7th (Eliminated week two of the finals)

Expected Finish: 10th

Assessment: The Raiders premiership window is well and truly open with the stars of the 2008 premiership winning Toyota Cup side merging with senior players like Campese, Shillington and Tongue. After losing four straight in round 14, they seemed done and dusted. The Raiders then got hot, however, winning eight of their last nine to make the finals. The Raiders then won their first finals match in a decade by beating Penrith. In doing so, Canberra became the only team to win six straight matches this season. While ending in disappointing fashion with a home finals loss to the Tigers and a serious knee injury to Terry Campese, Canberra should view 2010 as a year where the club made great strides forward. If they can find a playmaker to cover for Terry Campese’s absence, their premiership window opens next year and for the first time in 15 years they are legitimate title threats in 2011.

Coaching Situation: There were rumblings that David Furner could be in trouble as the Raiders stumbled through the early part of 2010 but the Raiders fast finish to finals qualification combined with the fact the chief executive of the Raiders is Furner’s brother Don, there should be no coaching change in the foreseeable future.

Best: The Raiders had plenty of outstanding contributors this year. Josh Dugan was simply brilliant from the back, leading the NRL in tackle breaks and averaging 158 metres a match. Terry Campese found the form that won him a World Cup jersey in 2008 at the backend of the year and was top class. Over the opening rounds, Joel Thompson was arguably the best centre in the game until going down hurt. David Shillington has developed into an elite prop who looks to have sewn up a Queensland jumper for time immemorial.

Worst: Halfback was the big concern all year for the Raiders and Josh McCrone did little to alleviate that worry. He could turn in a spectacular performance but he lacked consistency and he could often go missing when the Raiders needed him most.

Injuries: Terry Campese suffered a brutal knee injury in the Raiders final game. He may have missed only 20 minutes of the season but they were the twenty most important minutes. Skipper Alan Tongue could manage only twelve games after injuring both his wrist and his calf. Bustling centre Joel Thompson went down with osteitis pubis when playing in great nick, missing the last four months of the season. Joel Monaghan started the season late with a broken hand. Josh Miller battled various injuries all season and managed only ten matches.

Find: Reece Robinson had become a bit of a journeyman after stints at Brisbane and South Sydney and he was hardly sighted at Canberra this year until the back end of the season but he made the most of his opportunity with 5 tries in 5 games including a big haul against the Cowboys. He added some real zeal to the Raiders attack and will be in the mix for a wing position next year.

Time to Go: There was plenty of excitement about the return of Adam Mogg to the Raiders but the game had clearly passed him by. He made the right decision to retire.

Turning Point: Terry Campese’s knee injury in the semi-final against the Wests Tigers. The Raiders were finishing fast and the Tigers were fading once again but Campese’s knee injury left the Raiders with little direction in a match they were expected to win. Jarrod Croker’s missed penalty in the same game was the final blow.

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs

Finish: 13th

Expected Finish: 1st

Assessment: 2010 was a massive disappointment for Canterbury who, after a preliminary final in 2009, were one of the preseason favourites and expected to go deep into September. It wasn’t to be, however, with Canterbury aging markedly over the offseason and it showed. Brett Kimmorley took an eternity to get into gear while Andrew Ryan had lost his incisiveness. Injuries didn’t help either. There is no doubt Canterbury were unlucky at times, losing seven matches by 10-points or less, but it was the lack of attacking flair that hurt Canterbury the most. The Bulldogs had a very predictable attack and when the likes of Ennis, Morris and Kimmorley are not at their best, which they were not this year, that becomes very easy to contain. Slow wingers like Turner and Goodwin did the Bulldogs no favours nor did Kevin Moore’s reluctance to start Ben Barba. 2010 was a monumental failure for the Bulldogs but the club has responded with a very good recruiting class for 2011 and Canterbury should have few problems bouncing back.

Coaching Situation: Kevin Moore is safe at Canterbury though the sharp decline of the Bulldogs this year will see him under pressure if the Bulldogs don’t bounce back next season. Canterbury have had only three coaches since 1990, however, and are not prone to making rash coaching changes.

Best: David Stagg was again amazing in his ability to consume work and kept Canterbury in plenty of games. Ben Barba was lightning when given the opportunity. Luke Patten was still very good in his final season and was a fine return man and support player.

Worst: Michael Ennis had a shocking season after a sensational 2009 and his future as a Bulldogs skipper is now being questioned after an error-prone and ill-disciplined season. Josh Morris went missing for much of the year while his defence was extremely poor. Ben Hannant had his worst season in first grade and his prolonged negotiations regarding a release divided the club and was an unwanted distraction. Ben Roberts again played like a moron. Steve Turner and Bryson Goodwin were both extremely disappointing on the flanks.

Injuries: Canterbury lost five-eighth Ben Roberts for three months though regular readers of mine will know I consider that a blessing. Ben Hannant played 19 games but he underwent midseason surgery and played the backend of the year hurt. Without Hannant’s go-forward, the Bulldogs had no platform to work off. Nearly all of the Canterbury pack suffered minor injuries at some point.

Find: Ben Barba has been highly touted for years and proved himself a first grader with a very good season where he played 21 matches, starting 10 at five-eighth. Barba scored 15 tries, topping the Bulldogs try scoring list, and was one of the few Bulldogs to provide spark in attack. He will get first shot at the fullback role in 2011.

Time to Go: Canterbury needed to cleanout many of their overpaid second-tier forward who tried hard but really didn’t provide a lot to the team. Jarrad Hickey, Danny Williams, Buddy Gordon, Tim Browne and Mickey Paea all needed to go. The first three have been released already while Browne and Paea should be playing plenty of NSW Cup next season.

Turning Point: Losing to Newcastle in the opening round was not the start the highly touted Bulldogs needed but the real death blow came when the Bulldogs lost six straight between rounds 8 and 15. Canterbury staged a mini comeback but a 36-32 loss to the Roosters in round 19 put an end to their playoff hopes.

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks

Finish: 14th

Expected Finish: 15th

Assessment: It has been a sharp fall from a preliminary final in 2008 to the doldrums of 2009-10 but that is where the club is at. They could pull together only seven wins in 2010 and there off-field situation was even more catastrophic with coach Ricky Stuart resigning/getting fired and chief executive Richard Fisk leaving after major disagreement with chairman Damien Irvine. Financially, the Sharks are the poorest club in the NRL and there is talk they may go broke in coming seasons. Cronulla once again had the worst attack in the NRL by a significant margin while their defence was the second-worst with the Sharks conceding 30-plus points nine times. It is tough to see 2011 getting any better for Cronulla, whose main priority at present seems to be survival. Misery is being a Sharks fan.

Coaching Situation: Ricky Stuart announced that he would not be at the club in 2011 early in the season and after a short period as a lame duck coach he resigned, handing over the reins of the limp beast that is the Cronulla Sharks to Shane Flanagan. Flanagan won only two of his seven matches in charge (though they were against the Grand Finalist Roosters and preliminary finalist Titans) but will be given at least a year to show his credentials if, for no other reason, than the Sharks cannot afford to fire him.

Best: Paul Gallen and by a stretch. Gallen is the heart and soul and bollocks of the Sharks and he again turned in another sensational year in the face of plenty of adversity. He also cleaned up his game a little while losing none of his toughness. Nathan Gardner, Kade Snowden and Luke Douglas all deserve honourable mentions for very good seasons.

Worst: It is not an easy job to find the worst at Cronulla with so many candidates from Ricky Stuart for his poor recruitment, Blake Ferguson for his treachery and Ben Pomeroy for his awful hands. Adam Cuthbertson probably gets the nod though. Despite being on a contract reported to be near $200,000 a season, Cuthbertson managed only 12 games. He was consigned to the NSW Cup because of his refusal to cut out his stupid offloads and Shane Flanagan has vowed that Cuthbertson won’t ever play first grade under him after disobeying instructions. Tim Smith, John Morris, Albert Kelly and Anthony Tupou all came very close to becoming the Sharks worst though.

Injuries: As hard as it is to believe, the Sharks had few major injury worries throughout the season. Winger Luke Covell was the only player to miss any significant time, suffering a knee injury but returning for the end of the season after undergoing radical new knee surgery.

Find: Without doubt, fullback Nathan Gardner was one of the few highlights of the doomed season for Cronulla. He was deemed to short to play first grade but has excelled when given the chance and is now a key component of the Sharks attack and will be the centrepiece of their future.

Time to Go: Shane Flanagan needs to put the broom through the Sharks playing stock. Tim Smith should never play first grade again with Flanagan having to go back to Scott Porter. Adam Cuthbertson will be cut free. Collis and Pomeroy may be the worst centre pairing in the NRL. John Morris, Albert Kelly and Taulima Tautai give Cronulla nada.

Turning Point: 2010 was always going to be tough and Cronulla were never going to recover from three straight losses to open the season.

Gold Coast Titans

Finish: 4th (eliminated preliminary final weekend)

Expected Finish: 3rd

Assessment: The Titans have improved for the fourth straight season and while progress has been slow it has definitely been there and they leave 2010 disappointed in going down to the Roosters in the preliminary final but confident they have the team in place to advance to the Grand Final in 2011. The Titans started well, flattened out and then came good in the latter part of the season, suggesting John Cartwright has learnt plenty and it can be assumed he will learn not to overcook his team again if they win a week off in the finals. The Gold Coast are aging but they have the pack and the halfback to be at the top end of the premiership hunt for the next two seasons at least.

Coaching Situation: John Cartwright has the greatest job security in league with Titans chairman Paul Broughton declaring “I think that John Cartwright will emulate Bennett in that he will become the first 21-year one-team coach.” Cartwright again improved the Titans this year and is millions to be fired anytime soon.

Best: Scott Prince was named the top player in the game by this author a fortnight back so there is no doubt he had a wonderful season, also winning the Dally M Halfback of the Year award. The entire Titans pack had outstanding seasons. Ashley Harrison and Nathan Friend were tireless in defence, Luke Bailey offered plenty of punch up front and Anthony Laffranchi was wonderful both ways.

Worst: The fullback and three-quarter line was the concern for the Gold Coast all year. Kevin Gordon was the only one of the back five to have an outstanding season. Preston Campbell and William Zillman both had patchy years while Clinton Toopi, Steve Michaels, Sam Tagatese, Joseph Tomane and Jordan Atkins were all well below first grade standard the majority of the time.

Injuries: The Titans lost Greg Bird for a month with a hamstring injury but it was a blessing in disguise for the Titans, who shifted Mat Rogers to five-eighth and went on to win five straight and seven of eight before losing to the Roosters in the preliminary final. Key playmaker Scott Prince broke his thumb and suffered a sternum injury and missed a number of matches. Mat Rogers missed five weeks early in the season with a knee injury. The Titans three-quarters line was left in tatters when David Mead was ruled out for the season after suffering a foot injury in round 16 while Joseph Tomane played no further part in the season after sustaining a shoulder injury against the Raiders in round 13.

Find: The Titans are the oldest team in the NRL and there weren’t a lot of opportunities for young players to get a chance but young behemoth Ryan James looks like he could be anything. Big, strong and athletic, James is a brute. He only played four games and he will need time but he can have a big impact off the bench in 2011.

Time to Go: The Titans need to get rid of centre Clinton Toopi and fast. He is a liability and the Gold Coast can do much better than the washed-up former Warrior.

Turning Point: The Titans were 9-8 after losing to the Broncos with Greg Bird injured in the process, staring down the barrel of only sneaking into the top-eight having lost six of their last eight. John Cartwright shifted Mat Rogers to five-eighth, the Gold Coast pulled off a shock 11-10 extra-time victory over the Dragons with Rogers kicking the winning field goal and the Titans went on to win seven of their next eight to finish fourth on the ladder before being eliminated by the Roosters in the preliminary final after winning a week off.

Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles

Finish: 8th (eliminated first week of the finals)

Expected Finish: 8th

Assessment: Manly are a team on the slide after peaking in 2007-08 and doing very little to refresh the roster. Manly were there or thereabouts for much of the season but aside from impressive early season wins against Melbourne and the Dragons and a thrashing of the Tigers in round 20, Manly never really played like they were a premiership threat. This year they limped into the finals and were duly smoked by the Dragons as injuries, ill discipline and age took its toll. Until Manly insert some youth into the pack, they are not going to be legitimate title contenders for a few seasons at least. The premiership window officially closed for Manly this year and it won’t be reopening until at least 2013.

Coaching Situation: Des Hasler is well liked on the Northern Beaches of Sydney and he still has plenty of credit in the bank after taking the club to a Grand Final loss in 2007 and a premiership in 2008 so is unlikely to be going anywhere anytime soon. Manly are also loathe to making coaching changes with Graham Lowe, Bob Fulton, Peter Sharp and Des Hasler the only coaches at the club since 1990.

Best: Jamie Lyon was a clear choice as Manly’s best player. He was brilliant in both attack and defence, scoring 11 tries and setting up another 11 in 22 matches. His defence was also flawless. Young halves Trent Hodkinson and Kieran Foran played above expectations. Shane Rodney is an underrated player who averaged 102.1 metres and 25.1 tackles in only 57.4 minutes of game time.

Worst: Manly have a big name pack but few lived up to their reputation. The decline of Brent Kite continued, Josh Perry may as well have stayed at home, Glenn Stewart had his quietest season to date while Anthony Watmough was not particularly damaging as ball runner, failing to live up to his reputation as a rep-quality player.

Injuries: Manly were hit hard by injuries early on with David Williams missing the entire year after damaging his shoulder in the off-season while Brett Stewart suffered a serious knee injury in the season opener and did not play again. Jamie Lyon missed a fortnight with an ankle injury and Manly were trounced on both occasions. Shane Rodney had his season ended 6 minutes into the Eagles round 24 clash with the Warriors.

Find: Sadly for Manly, their best revelation in Trent Hodkinson is moving to Canterbury in 2011. Hodkinson had a sensational debut season and was rewarded with his first rep jumper when being called on to play for City Origin. Manly will also take heart in the debut of William Hopoate, who looks to have plenty of skill and speed.

Time to Go: Steve Matai is too ill-disciplined and brings very little to Manly. His feistiness in attack certainly doesn’t overcome his penchant for giving away penalties and engaging in grubby behaviour while it is a myth that he is a good defender with Matai making only 9 tackles per match compared to 2.4 misses this year. For some reason, Matai is about to be re-signed by the Eagles.

Turning Point: The loss of Brett Stewart in the opening week had long lasting ramifications for Manly’s attack, from which the team never recovered from, but it was the last two rounds that proved decisive. Manly lost to both the Roosters and Canterbury with Glenn Stewart, Steve Matai and Jason King all getting suspended, leaving the club too short on troops for their finals match-up with the Dragons.

Melbourne Storm

Finish: 16th

Expected Finish: 2nd

Assessment: Few forecast the decline of the Storm in 2010 and absolutely nobody had any idea how brutal the fall would be. Melbourne were playing like premiership contenders again through the opening six weeks before they were unceremoniously kicked out for systematic breaches of the salary cap. They were still forced to turn up each week, however, and the players and coaching staff did the club proud by playing hard to the very end, finishing with a 14-10 record including a 9-3 record at home and a 6-2 record at their new stadium. It is playing with hypothetical’s to guess how the Storm would have finished but they most likely would have been involved until at least preliminary final weekend. The cleanout of talent will no doubt have an impact but the Storm should again return to the finals in 2011. They have too much talent, too good a coach and too much at stake to miss out.

Coaching Situation: Craig Bellamy did a magnificent job to keep the Storm competitive to the very last round in the most trying of circumstances. After four straight Grand Finals and two premierships, Bellamy has the Melbourne job as long as he wants it.

Best: It is tough to gauge the form of Storm players this year with nothing to play for but Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk were again all outstanding. Ryan Hinchcliffe replaced Dallas Johnson as the workhorse of the team. Aiden Tolman also had a very good season in his last with the club.

Worst: Todd Lowrie was expected to become the new Dallas Johnson after a stellar 2009 for Parramatta but he had a poor year at the Storm and finished it as a bench player who played only 44.2 minutes per match.

Injuries: There were no major injury worries for Melbourne, who used their inability to accumulate premiership points to rest players and sort out niggling injuries. Cooper Cronk missed the start of the season as did Sika Manu while Matt Duffie and Chase Stanley both suffered season ending injuries in the last month of the year. Aiden Tolman missed a month in the middle of the year with a knee injury.

Find: The Storm found two quality wingers in Justin O’Neill and Matt Duffie, who the club will rely on next season after the salary cap enforced cleanout. O’Neill scored 9 tries in 9 games and showed wonderful athleticism while Duffie debuted with a two-try performance in the Storm’s first game after being kicked out and finished the year with 8 tries in 14 matches.

Time to Go: The Storm would have preferred to have kept most of the players they let go but the decision to release Greg Inglis was the smartest. He showed no respect for the club in turning up for the season overweight and with a good crop of young outside backs the Storm can adequately replace him.

Turning Point: Thursday, April 22 when David Gallop announced that the Melbourne Storm would be stripped of all premiership points and would not compete for any for the remainder of the season due to salary cap breaches.

Newcastle Knights

Finish: 11th

Expected Finish: 16th

Assessment: The Knights season was in shambles in the preseason when both Danny Wicks and Chris Houston were arrested on drug trafficking charges. Both subsequently quit the club as the distraction lingered over the Knights until season kickoff. Despite only finishing 11th and making the finals in 2009, Newcastle overachieved in 2010. Playing without depth in the forwards and widely touted to finish last, Newcastle dug deep to finish 10-14 with wins over the Roosters, Gold Coast and Manly. The club showed tremendous spirit and with a more stable environment they could make another finals run in 2011.

Coaching Situation: Rick Stone may not have a massive reputation but he should be held onto by Newcastle for many years. He took over in acrimonious circumstances at the backend of last season when Brian Smith fled to the Roosters and has done a tremendous job in building a gritty culture. He never panics and he has the respect of the locker room. He should be safe.

Best: Fijian winger Akuila Uate was outstanding for the Knights, leading all players with 21 tries and all wingers with 139.5 metres per game. Uate was electric and gave Knights fans plenty to cheer about in 2010 and plenty to hope for in future years with Uate having Australian potential. Kurt Gidley was also outstanding, doing everything for the team as he always has. The Knights went 4-3 when he was shifted to halfback.

Worst: Scott Dureau was required at halfback for much of the season and was, for the most part, dreadful, providing only 4 try-assists in 11 games to go with 14 errors and 3.5 missed tackles a game. When Dureau wasn’t playing, Ben Rogers was called upon. He was just as bad. Zeb Taia failed to develop after a very good 2009 while Antonio Kaufusi was the worst pickup of 2010.

Injuries: Skipper Kurt Gidley missed the opening four games with a knee injury. Club legend Steve Simpson managed only eight games before being forced to retire after a chronic knee injury got the best of him. Adam MacDougall suffered his regular ailments with a full season from him being long odds. Cory Paterson and Evarn Tumivave both missed significant time with a shoulder and achilles respectively.

Find: One criticism of the Knights is that they didn’t really uncover any young talent and with the Toyota Cup team finishing 12th there may not be many juniors coming through. Capable prop Con Mika was probably their best discovery of 2010.

Time to Go: Antonio Kaufusi has only been at the club for nine matches but the Knights should dump him now. He does nothing but eat up cap space. He provides nothing on the field and is a liability and a lazy bum.

Turning Point: The horrendous offseason ruined the Knights hopes in 2010. Danny Wicks and Chris Houston quit and were not replaced while skipper Kurt Gidley damaged his hamstring in the All-Stars game and missed the first month of the year. Newcastle were always behind in the count from as far back as last December.

North Queensland Cowboys

Finish: 15th

Expected Finish: 14th

Assessment: The Cowboys were a disgrace this season, winning only 5 matches despite having the best halfback in the world and eight other players who have played Origin or Test football. The Cowboys were again the worst defensive team in the competition, allowing a mammoth 27.8 points per game, missing 36.9 tackles a match. For nearly the entire season, they were limp. The forwards refused to work hard, Thurston couldn’t get the backs going and there was unrest all year. They were bad and consistently bad with wins against the Roosters and Titans their only highlights. The team is undergoing both an on and off field restructure so how they perform in 2011 is anybody’s guess but it should be an improvement on this year. They can’t go any worse.

Coaching Situation: Neil Henry can consider himself lucky to have signed a five-year deal because he almost certainly would have been shown the door after two abhorrent seasons with the club that has netted a 16-32 record if there wasn’t a massive payout involved. Henry will be given one last chance in 2011 and he is at least going to make a fist of it, putting the broom through the underperforming Cowboys roster. There is talk that his dictatorial style has created a rift with players and if it has and isn’t amended then Henry will find himself on the unemployment queue midway through 2011.

Best: Matthew Scott was by a significant margin the Cowboys best in 2010, making 122.5 metres and 22.3 tackles per match. Nobody at the Cowboys came close to his workrate or effectiveness.

Worst: Johnathan Thurston underachieved immensely and seemed to throw the towel in very early on and Luke O’Donnell’s ill discipline saw him play only 13 matches but the worst player of the season at North Queensland has to go to Carl Webb. On a big contract, Webb managed only 63.2 metres and 12.5 tackles a game in his 18 appearances. It was a shocking effort and a poor example from a senior player.

Injuries: Lynchpin Johathan Thurston missed a week after injuring his shoulder in the round 5 loss to the Tigers and then did more damage to it in the round 22 loss to the Cowboys, an injury that put him out for the remainder of the year. The Cowboys did not win a match without Thurston. Luke O’Donnell’s career in Townsville ended with a knee injury in round 23. Matt Bowen returned after serious knee surgery in round 9. A groin strain ended Steve Rapira’s season after round 15 while Willie Tonga ended the year on the injured list as did Ray Thompson.

Find: One of the few bright-spots for the Cowboys in 2010 was a number of young players who got valuable first grade experience. Pigmentless forward Dane Hogan looks a very good player who goes hard and will turn into a very good player. Michael Morgan and Ray Thompson both showed some spark when given a run in the halves.

Time to Go: Where do you start with a club that is cancerous? Carl Webb, Willie Mason and Luke O’Donnell have all been moved on as have Ben Harris, Steve Southern, Ty Williams, John Williams and Grant Rovelli. Antonio Kaufusi and Manase Manuokafoa were both released midway through the season. All are good releases with Anthony Watts and Steve Rapira the only players of any value to go. It might be time to move Michael Bani and the Ah Mau boys on as well.

Turning Point: The Cowboys started poorly, winning only twice in the first eight rounds, and it only got worse with the low point being a 58-12 hammering in Melbourne. At no stage did the Cowboys look like finals contenders.

Parramatta Eels

Finish: 12th

Expected Finish: 5th

Assessment: I rated the Eels lower than nearly every pundit but even I didn’t expect Parramatta to go 10-14 and miss the finals. After a Grand Final run in 2009 and the subsequent recruitment of big names Justin Poore, Timana Tahu and Shane Shackleton had most pundits gooey in the nether-regions for Parramatta. They all learned the hard way that Parramatta, as a club, can never be trusted. For the majority of the season, they were pathetic. Board leaks embarrassed club legend Nathan Cayless and had coach Daniel Anderson on the hot seat all year. Any number of players refused to put in. There was an alleged rift between certain groups of player and between players and the coaching staff. The result was a disastrous, forgettable year where the Eels did not come close to fulfilling expectations. Parramatta had the second worst attack in the NRL and no team conceded more metres. The Eels are at the crossroads and their recruitment for 2011 suggests they are a long way from winning a premiership.

Coaching Situation: A year after taking the Eels to a Grand Final, Daniel Anderson was fired by a Parramatta board that has been an unsettling influence on the club since ousting Denis Fitzgerald and his team in early 2009. Roy Spagnolo and crew, despite denials, have attempted to purge the club of any remnants of the Fitzgerald Era and that included Daniel Anderson, who was told of his firing via email. Storm assistant and Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney has accepted the job and should be given time to show his wares. Kearney is highly touted but will have his work cut out for him at the Eels.

Best: Nathan Hindmarsh, to the surprise of nobody, was again the Eels best in 2010.While the alleged premiership hopefuls crumbled around him; Hindmarsh continued to perform at an elite level with 45.3 tackles and 85.4 metres a match. He was a tireless leader and the one player that kept the Eels alive for much of the year.

Worst: Aside from the board and the chief executive, both of whom caused problems all season, there were plenty of poor players. Justin Poore was the big priced off-season signing but was Parramatta’s fourth best prop and there was talk of him being dropped to the NSW Cup two months into the year. Timana Tahu was another big name recruit who flopped. Daniel Mortimer had a fabulous debut season but couldn’t get anything going this season. Feleti Mateo was having a particularly ordinary season, chiefly compared to what he is capable of, until he signed with the Warriors and became bitter that the Eels were chasing Quade Cooper. Krisnan Inu lived up to my low expectations of him.

Injuries: Former Rooster Shane Shackleton did not make it through the first match, tearing his hamstring from the bone, sidelining him for the rest of 2010. Winger Eric Grothe couldn’t get his knee right and only turned in eight fairly lifeless performances.

Find: Justin Horo got plenty of playing time this year and he showed exceptional explosiveness and a keen nose for the ball. In limited time, Horo worked hard and proved himself a big hitter as well as a fine line runner. He should win a starting spot in the Eels backrow next year.

Time to Go: Eric Grothe managed only eight appearances and has not played consistently well in many years and should be moved on by the Eels. It is also time to get rid of Timana Tahu. Tahu was somehow recalled to the Blues team this season but his first season back in rugby league was most disappointing and given his role in the demise of Daniel Anderson, he should be moved on.

Turning Point: The Eels were hanging about for most of the season and had started to show shades of 2009 by heating up after impressive wins against North Queensland, Penrith and Canterbury but the Eels were subsequently put back in their box when smoked by the Roosters 48-12. Parramatta went on to lose five of their last six and miss the finals.

Penrith Panthers

Finish: 2nd (Eliminated week two of the finals)

Expected Finish: 11th

Assessment: Penrith were the big overachievers in 2010 after running second in the minor premiership with a 15-11 record. With no big name recruits, Penrith were expected to again plod through another season but they became an offensive force, the number one attacking unit in the NRL. The Panthers did remarkably well to finish as high as they did on the ladder but they will no doubt be disappointed at going bang-bang in the finals. They became a little predictable at times so they will most likely have to re-examine their kick-happy attack if they are to be a competitor in 2011.

Coaching Situation: “Zen Master” Matt Elliott is probably safe after guiding Penrith to second on the ladder and the Panthers first finals campaign since 2004. Elliott’s failure to win a finals game, however, has him on a shorter leash than expected. He should see out 2011, however, as he has survived grimmer times at the club.

Best: The Panthers had plenty of stars this year. Luke Lewis was everywhere and was awarded the Dally M Lock of the Year. Michael Gordon went from a steady winger to an Origin flanker capable of lighting it up at fullback when given the opportunity. Halfback Luke Walsh led the NRL in try assists. Lachlan Coote was electric before going down hurt. Kevin Kingston laid the platform all year with his dummy half running. Petero Civoniceva and Tim Grant were both effective up front.

Worst: Travis Burns and Daine Laurie were both recruited by the Panthers this season but both failed to deliver with Burns offering very little in terms of creativity at five-eighth while Laurie gave the Panthers nothing but grief and trouble.

Injuries: Fullback Lachlan Coote missed the final six weeks of the regular season and the first final with osteitis pubis and played hurt for a number of weeks beforehand. Luke Lewis missed a fortnight. Petero Civoniceva broke a hand and was sidelined for six weeks. Wade Graham battled injury all year, starting the season off with a dicey shoulder. Michael Jennings seriously hurt his knee early in the final against the Roosters and will undergo off-season surgery.

Find: Kevin Kingston has been a journeyman hooker but he came into his own at Penrith and given the opportunity as an 80-minute starting rake, he excelled, giving Penrith some go-forward to work off.

Time to Go: Daine Laurie. He is a lazy, whining, selfish grub. He spent more time bitching about playing NSW Cup this year than he did on the field, playing only 69 minutes of first grade this year. He brings nothing but trouble to Penrith, who should release him forthwith.

Turning Point: The injury to Lachlan Coote. Michael Gordon played very well at fullback but Coote’s injury coincided with Penrith’s loss of form with Penrith losing 3 of 6 without him but going 4-7 down the stretch once Coote’s injury became apparent.

South Sydney Rabbitohs

Finish: 9th

Expected Finish: 7th

Assessment: The Bunnies were talking a big game in the preseason but their season was scuppered by a glut of injuries. No team could have coped with the injury toll that felled Souths and made it to the playoffs. While the Bunnies faithful will no doubt be disappointed at missing the finals, the club should be quite happy with its ninth placed finish under the circumstances. The positives for the club were that Souths had the second best attack and made more line breaks than any other team but defensively the Bunnies were weak with Souths missing more tackles than any other team. With a fair run in the injury stakes, they are well placed for a finals run in 2011.

Coaching Situation: John Lang would be disappointed that the Bunnies missed the playoffs with such a talented squad but his close relationship with CEO Shane Richardson and his general popularity at the club should see him remain coach in 2011 with a handover to a younger coach expected in 2012 or 2013.

Best: The three standout players for South Sydney this year were hooker Issac Luke, forward Sam Burgess and workaholic backrower Ben Lowe. Luke was at the top of the Dally M leaderboard throughout the first half of the season as his dummy half running set the Bunnies alight. Sam Burgess had few problems adapting to the NRL and will only improve with a year under his belt. Before going down with injury, Ben Lowe had become a regular starter in the Souths pack, prepared to do all the grunt work for little recognition.

Worst: South Sydney would be a legitimate contender if they had a halfback. Chris Sandow was again poor with Sandow winning the Willie M Medal this year for the worst player in the NRL. The Bunnies should look elsewhere.

Injuries: The entire South Sydney pack was ravaged by injury at some point or another. Luke Stuart (fractured hand), Ben Lowe (foot) Scott Geddes (broken leg), Dave Taylor (collarbone), Eddy Pettybourne (jaw), Roy Asotasi (shoulder) and Issac Luke (shoulder) all missed significant time while Ben Ross did not make the field with neck problems and Michael Crocker played only seven matches due to an array of injuries, about his regular season quota these days. The Rabbitohs also lost key playmaker John Sutton to a shoulder injury and leading try scorer Beau Champion to a hamstring problem.

Find: Dylan Farrell scored three tries when debuting against the Wests Tigers including the golden-point match-winner and he looks the perfect replacement for Colin Best.

Time to Go: Rhys Wesser showed glimpses of his old Penrith self but the majority of the season was fairly uninspiring with the premiership winner making 28 errors and offering little in terms of attack. Wesser will be back in 2011 for the Bunnies but they would be better served looking elsewhere.

Turning Point: Injuries took their toll and by the backend of the season South Sydney were lacking depth across the park. South Sydney went 3-6 after the round 17 bye with unlucky back-to-back losses to the Roosters and the Dragons in rounds 18 and 19 the real killer blow for the Bunnies.

St George-Illawarra Dragons

Finish: 1st (Premiers)

Expected Finish: 4th

Assessment: The Dragons were the best team all season and they were deserving of the joint venture’s first premiership. Once the Storm got tossed, the Dragons ascended to the role of premiership favouritism and they were never really challenged by any team. Wayne Bennett moulded the Dragons into a hardened and determined unit and it showed with the 2010 Dragons the 4th best defensive team of the last 13 years. They had class across the field and they played a winning style of football. They have lost some depth for 2011 but will go into next year as the firm title favourites.

Coaching Situation: Wayne Bennett delivered the Dragons their first premiership in 31 years. He has the Dragons job as long as he wants it but with Bennett coming off contract at the end of the 2011 season, he could be gone quicker than the Dragons faithful would have hoped. Expect the Dragons to throw plenty at Bennett to keep him.

Best: The Dragons had a litany of stars in 2010. Darius Boyd won the Dally M Fullback of the Year and the RLPA Player of the Year award. Jamie Soward was again magnificent as a kicker, an organiser and a try-scoring threat. “Horse” Weyman led from the front. Brett Morris again feasted on plenty of tries. Dean Young never stopped trying. Ben Creagh was one of the best wide-running forwards in the NRL.

Worst: There weren’t too many underperformers for the Dragons this year but Jeremy Smith was probably the most disappointing while Mark Gasnier took his time getting back into the swing of the NRL though he did have a very good Grand Final.

Injuries: Hooker Nathan Fien broke his ankle in the season opener against Parramatta and was out until round 22 when he returned against the Roosters, playing a key role in the Dragons premiership run. Prop forward Dan Hunt ruptured his achillies tendon warming up against the Raiders in round 11 and missed the rest of the year. Matt Cooper hurt his hamstring in Origin and missed a few weeks as did Beau Scott with a knee injury. An ankle injury kept Jeremy Smith to only 15 matches. Michael Weyman battled a groin injury over the backend of the year but fought through it.

Find: Trent Merrin is one of the most exciting young props in the game, the latest off the prop forward production line in southern Sydney and Wollongong. Merrin got little game time in the decider but still showed plenty of potential this year and is a prop for the future.

Time to Go: Luke Priddis played as well this year as he has in any of the last four seasons but after losing his spot to Nathan Fien on the verge of the semi-finals, he rightly decided it was time to walk away from rugby league.

Turning Point: The Dragons topped the table all season but back-to-back losses to the Gold Coast and Brisbane in rounds 20 and 21 had the choking cat-calls out. The Dragons responded with a gritty 19-12 win over the Roosters, who entered the match with five straight wins, at a packed SCG and they lost only one more match on their way to the 2010 premiership.

Sydney Roosters

Finish: 6th (Eliminated in the Grand Final)

Expected Finish: 13th

Assessment: After a disastrous 2009, I didn’t think the Roosters could bounce back as well as they did in 2010. I fancied most were fools for rating the Roosters but it is me who was the fool with the Pearce-Carney-Anasta combination propelling the Roosters to their first Grand Final since 2004. The Roosters ranked 3rd in attack and 5th in defence with the Roosters ranking top four in line breaks, tackle breaks and offloads. The Roosters had two five-game winning streaks and are well placed in 2011 if they can avoid any serious injuries to their key playmakers.

Coaching Situation: Brian Smith is being revered as a hero after taking the Roosters from the wooden spoon to a Grand Final in a year. Smith should get at least a few years service from the Roosters 2010 run.

Best: Todd Carney won the Dally M Medal and was very good at fullback before excelling at five-eighth. He is a unique footballer in that he is equally adept running, passing and kicking and he was very good outside of Mitchell Pearce, another of the Roosters best. Nate Myles had his best season in first grade while Braith Anasta seems to be excelling now he is comfortable with who he is and is not trying to impress rep selectors. Shaun Kenny-Dowall was one of the best centres in the NRL this season.

Worst: Jason Ryles and Phil Graham both joined the Roosters with hopes of kick-starting their careers but neither really shone. Both were far from awful but Ryles didn’t make a big impact while Graham scored only 8 tries in his 23 appearances and is now reportedly off to Parramatta.

Injuries: Mitchell Pearce missed four weeks early in the season with a shoulder injury but recovered in time for a call-up to Origin II. Young centre Kane Linnett missed three weeks with a knee injury late in the year. Phil Graham missed the Grand Final with a sternum injury. Aside from that, the Roosters played 2010 relatively injury free.

Find: Kane Linnett had a disappointing Grand Final but he made the left centre spot his own after only 13 games and he should be the front runner for a starting berth in 2011.

Time to Go: The Roosters have a glut of bad hookers and Nick Kouparitsis is the first that needs to be axed though James Aubusson won’t be far behind him. Lopeni Paea has also been released, a move long overdue.

Turning Point: Signing Brian Smith and Todd Carney and releasing Willie Mason. The entire culture of the club turned around last offseason with the cancerous Mason gone and disciplinarian Smith in charge. Smith also helped get Todd Carney off the drink and the result was a Dally M Medal winning player and an inspiring story of redemption. The Roosters made the Grand Final because of the work done last offseason.

New Zealand Warriors

Finish: 5th (Eliminated in week one of the finals)

Expected Finish: 12th

Assessment: In hindsight, 2009 can be written off. The team was distraught after losing teammate Sonny Fai and the Warriors proceeded to struggle throughout the year after being touted as a Grand Final contender in the preseason. The Warriors bounced back this year, doing what we all thought they would do in 2009. Ivan Cleary’s men ranked 4th in attack and 6th in defence but they were quite easy to gauge. They beat teams who didn’t make the eight but only had two wins against top-eight teams. The Warriors were a top-end middle-tier team but the loss of Tate and Price may see them slip next year.

Coaching Situation: Ivan Cleary was considered the most likely coach to be axed heading into 2010 but with the Warriors defying expectations and making the finals for the third time in Cleary’s five years at the helm, Cleary should continue on through 2011. Cleary has the locker room and is well respected at the club. He is safe.

Best: Manu Vatuvei has become the Warriors most important player and had a wonderful year where he scored 20 tries in 19 games and terrified his opposition. The Beast scored a try in 14 of his 19 matches, a remarkably consistent season for a player once maligned for having confidence issues. He rates among the top three wingers in the game.

Worst: The form of three-quarters Kevin Locke, Bill Tupou and Jerome Ropati was very disappointing while prop Russell Packer had some attitude problems and didn’t build on his promising 2009.

Injuries: Former skipper Steve Price could not overcome a foot injury and was forced to retire without playing a single game in 2010. Australian international Brent Tate missed a month with a broken jaw in the middle of the season. New halfback Brett Seymour missed most of the first ten weeks with a broken thumb. Skipper Simon Mannering only played two games in the first ten weeks due to a hamstring injury. Manu Vatuvei battled through a hamstring injury in the middle of the season. In-form prop Sam Rapira missed ten weeks through the middle of the year with a knee injury that was first thought season ending. Micheal Luck missed a fortnight with a gruesome leg gash.

Find: Lewis Brown played 15 matches in 2009 but came along in leaps and bounds in 2010 as a tough and uncompromising yet skilled backrower/centre with good smarts and a will to win. He had such a good season he has been selected in the New Zealand squad for the Four Nations.

Time to Go: Jeremy Latimore came across from Parramatta with high hopes but he has not found a role at the Warriors and will not be in their best seventeen next year.

Turning Point: The Warriors ability to win in Australia. They had struggled in previous seasons but went 7-6 away from Mt Smart this year with their best win coming at Penrith Park where they ground out a 12-6 victory over the Panthers that told the Warriors they could match it with the big boys.

Wests Tigers

Finish: 3rd (Eliminated preliminary final weekend)

Expected Finish: 6th

Assessment: The Wests Tigers finally put it all together in 2010 and despite being ravaged by injury for much of the season they made a preliminary final and were eliminated by just a solitary point by eventual premiers St George-Illawarra. The Tigers were again an attacking force, ranking 6th in attack, but it was their defence that was the backbone of their successful season. The Tigers ranked 3rd in defence, their highest ever ranking, and combined with a high dose of self belief, the Tigers were one of the top teams of 2010. They should be near-on premiership favourites for 2011. They had a simply wonderful 2010 with their change in attitude towards defence a foundation the Tigers can build a premiership on.

Coaching Situation: Tim Sheens has been at the Tigers since 2003 and despite 2010 being only the second time he has led the Tigers to the finals, Sheens is safe. He is well liked at the Tigers and he still has plenty of credits built up from the 2005 premiership. Sheens did a good job this year in fixing up the Tigers defence and is going to be in charge for a while yet.

Best: Robbie Farah had another stellar season, working hard in defence and creating plenty in attack. Gareth Ellis went from very good in his debut season in the NRL to outstanding this year. Chris Heighington was only a touch below Ellis while backrow partner Liam Fulton was a key reason for the Tigers improvement this year, adding plenty of skill in the middle of the ruck. Benji Marshall had a combined 35 tries/try assists and played a lot smarter in 2010 than he has in previous years.

Worst: Daniel Fitzhenry has played way too much and didn’t provide anything. Wade Mackinnon did not provide the spark expected when he came across from the Warriors. Beau Ryan had a disappointing finish to the 2010 season with some stinkers at the backend of the year. Blake Ayshford had a quiet 2010 after a very nice 2009.

Injuries: 2009 Dally M Winger of the Year Taniela Tuiaki missed the entire year after an awful ankle injury sustained in the final round of the 2009 season. Tim Moltzen did a knee in round 5 and was out for the rest of the year. Bryce Gibbs missed the last three weeks of the season with a knee injury. Liam Fulton missed six weeks with an ankle injury. Chris Lawrence broke a jaw and did a knee but returned in remarkably quick time. Todd Payten rolled his ankle on a tennis ball in the lead-up to the Tigers preliminary final loss to the Dragons. Keith Galloway missed a month with a hand injury. Halfback Robert Lui missed seven matches early in the season with an ankle injury.

Find: Simon Dwyer had a very good first year for the Tigers, playing his role very well as an impact forward off the bench. He’ll struggle to dislodge any of Heighington, Ellis, Fulton or Payten for a starting spot in the backrow but he’ll continue to play an important role at the club. He already has the biggest hit of 2010 on his resume.

Time to Go: Jason Cayless, Daniel Fitzhenry and Tame Tupou all returned to the NRL this season but all three were disappointing. Cayless made only 3 appearances and did nothing of note, Tupou didn’t make it to the NRL and Fitzhenry is not fast enough or skilful enough or big enough to be a first grade winger.

Turning Point: After losing four straight early in the season including an embarrassing 50-10 defeat to South Sydney, Tim Sheens took his team into camp and the Tigers came back with a 23-6 win over Newcastle. The Tigers put four wins on end and didn’t lose consecutive matches for the remainder of the regular season before being eliminated in the preliminary final by a Jamie Soward field goal.


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