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PREVIEW | 2018 Intrust Super Premiership NSW

The 2018 Intrust Super Premiership NSW is here, with 12 teams once again set to battle it out in Rugby League’s second tier.

The NSWRL’s premier competition will be taken to greater heights this season, with more matches broadcast than ever before. With several Test and NRL stars – including the likes of Chris McQueen, David Nofoaluma and Danny Levi – to feature in Round 1, the competition is not to be missed by passionate Rugby League fans.

Click here for extensive statistical analysis of the 2017 season

While foundation club the Western Suburbs Magpies re-enter the competition in place of NRL affiliate the Wests Tigers, Illawarra are rebranded as the St George Illawarra Dragons. Player movement and coaching restructures have been significant, meaning it’s anyone’s game in the 2018 season.

Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles

Every club has experienced significant change over the off-season but for the second-straight year, it seems like Blacktown take the cake in this regard.

The shake-up to the playing roster began in mid-2017, with the well-publicised departure of former coach Pat Weisner sending a host of talent to rival clubs. It can only be described as an unsettled maiden year for the new partnership, but the Sea Eagles still managed to win eight games, finishing 10th.

This year, Weisner’s replacement Steve Hales has had greater opportunity to stamp his authority on the playing group – and has wasted no time, luring several big names from former club Wentworthville. Among them are John Folau, Honeti Tuha, Vai Toutai, Jacob Loko and Cody Nelson, a group which is certain to have an impact on the side’s 2018 chances.

For this reason, Blacktown’s two early-season games against Wentworthville are sure to have some feeling in them. First the Magpies will play host at Ringrose Park in Round 2, before the sides meet at H.E. Laybutt Fields in Round 5.

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs

What many are calling a rejuvenated club at Belmore is sure to field a strong Intrust Super Premiership side again this year, but some of its 2017 heroes could find themselves a grade higher for much of the year.

The Bulldogs feature several of the key players that took them to the preliminary finals last season, while welcoming the likes of Clay Priest Mason Cerruto, Lachlan Burr and Jeremy Marshall-King into the squad. Marshal-King, however, has already received an NRL call-up – a sign that new head coach Dean Pay is more likely to reward stronger Intrust Super Premiership performances than his predecessor.

That leaves the door open for players such as Josh Cleeland, Rhyse Martin and Priest to push for NRL selection, while young hooker Zac Woolford will get much more time in the No.9 jersey following the exit of Craig Garvey.

Having traded key players over the off-season, the Bulldogs’ Round 3 clash with Mounties will be interesting, while an extremely tight affair will be expected between Canterbury-Bankstown and Wyong two weeks later.


Mounties, like four other clubs, welcome a new coach this season; Ryan Carr, the youngest in the competition.

Carr has big shoes to fill after the exit of Steve Antonelli, but has been quick to snap up players who have proven themselves at this level before. Ed Murphy, Tyler Cornish, Sitiveni Moceidreke, Brad Abbey, Craig Garvey, Ata Hingano and the returning Jarrad Kennedy head up a long list of impressive recruits for the Raiders’ system, along with 2016 Intrust Super Premiership Player of the Year Sam Williams. Williams has emerged victorious in a major halves battle at the club, with Hingano and Henry Raiwalui set to play in the halves for Mounties.

On paper alone, there is no reason to think Mounties won’t play deep into September this year; for that reason, their Round 2 meeting with fellow heavyweights Wyong will certainly be one to watch.

North Sydney Bears

After almost three years, Ben Gardiner has departed the North Sydney Bears to be replaced as coach by former NRL player Shane Millard. He has been handed the task of coaching a young squad, with many of the players last year participating in the since-disbanded Holden Cup.

Among those players is speedster Jalen Reweti, who suffered an ACL injury at the back end of last season. Rehabilitation throughout the pre-season has robbed Reweti of the chance to play for the Bears, meaning his eventual debut will be his first-ever game in senior competition.

The Bears found themselves in a congested mid-table last year, finishing sixth before a heavily-depleted side was eliminated in Finals Week 1 by the Newcastle Knights. They will be hoping to make the finals as a minimum this year, with the main match to watch being in Round 9; the Bears play the Newtown Jets in the first leg of the Frank Hyde Shield at Henson Park.

St George Illawarra Dragons

The Dragons boast one of the strongest line-ups in the Intrust Super Premiership, with many of their players being young guns who should see time in the NRL in the near future.

Jai Field is a first grader who should play at that level for many years to come, however he has been overlooked for the club’s opening NRL clash. His inclusion in the Intrust Super Premiership would be a massive boost for coach Mat Head, who is also set to have the likes of Zac Lomax, Reece Robson and Reuben Garrick at his disposal to start the season.

The Dragons made it to the second week of finals last year, but will be after a top-four finish as a major goal. In saying that, with so many changes on week-to-week basis in the Intrust Super Premiership, coaches cannot look that far ahead and a winning start to the season will be Mat Head’s primary focus.


They left it late to announce John Teina as their coach for 2018, but the Warriors will be hoping that doesn’t disrupt their plans for a big season.

The Auckland-based club has been thereabouts in the Intrust Super Premiership in the past few seasons, constantly reaching the top four without making the grand final. As a club from seniors to juniors, the Warriors seem to have a lot of depth and are always able to put forward a strong squad in the Intrust Super Premiership.

This year will be no different, with the likes of Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Manaia Cherrington, Mason Lino, Junior Pauga, Zac Santo and Johnny Tuivasa-Sheck in their side, which screams premiership threat. They are, however, faced with the challenge of travel more so than any other side, having to travel across the Tasman for every away game – a challenge they have struggled with in recent years. How they perform on the road will be the determining factor of how well the Warriors fare in 2018.

Newcastle Knights

The Newcastle Knights head into the new season looking to build upon their efforts of 2017, a year in which they went within 80 minutes of featuring in a grand final qualifier.

Under the watch of Simon Woolford, the Knights recorded 10 wins and 11 losses – a vast improvement upon their 2016 results, when they left with the wooden spoon.

Key signings at the club’s NRL level means the second-tier squad remains relatively unchanged – and if anything, improved upon what it was last season. Livewire centre Brent Naden heads to Newcastle following a short stint at Mounties, and will bring an added dimension to a backline already boasting plenty of spark.

Fans can be excited about the continued development of NSW Under-20 fullback Nick Meaney, who along with barnstorming prop Pasami Saulo, has been tipped to make his NRL debut this season.

The Knights will feature in the Intrust Super Premiership season opener in their clash with the Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles – a match expected to be played in front of a bumper crowd from 3:45pm (AEDT) on Friday.

Newtown Jets

“Disappointing”, “bland”, “below expectations.”

The self-assessment from Newtown Jets coach Greg Matterson was harsh, but one fitting the side’s below-par performances of 2017 – a year which saw the Jets miss finals football with a 6 wins, 15 losses record.

Despite the frustrations of last season, the coach’s outlook on the 2018 season remained much more positive, hoping the club’s continued relationship with the Cronulla Sharks will lead to better things this year.

Cronulla recruit and NSW True Blue Trent Hodkinson looks likely to figure on a weekly basis for the Jets, pending the successes of the Sharks’ halves at the NRL level. Hodkinson trialled well for his new club, alongside fledging half Kyle Flanagan, who will also wear royal blue in 2018.

While excitement surrounds the Jets season at large, Newtown will be looking forward to their Round 11 clash with the Wyong Roos – the second of a ‘Magic Round’ triple-header at Henson Park.

Penrith Panthers

There’s been plenty of change at the foot of the mountains as the defending premiers head into the 2018 season without their premiership-winning captain and coach.

Star halfback Darren Nicholls pursues his dream for a long-awaited NRL debut at the Dragons, while Garth Brennan was rewarded for his 2017 successes with a first-grade coaching job at the Gold Coast Titans.

Guy Missio takes the coach’s clipboard out west, and while the name may be an unfamiliar one for some of the Penrith Panthers fans, the experienced junior-grade coach holds a strong rapport with the squad.

Despite Nicholls’ departure, the Panthers squad remains otherwise relatively unchanged, with former Bulldogs NYC talent Adam Keighran to offset the loss of the veteran No. 7. Experienced prop Kaide Ellis looks likely to take the captaincy role in his continued search for an NRL start.

All eyes will be on the Dragons-Panthers Round 8 clash at Wollongong’s WIN Stadium as the premiers clash with their former skipper. It will be broadcast live on Channel Nine from 1pm (AEST) on 28 April.

Wentworthville Magpies

The Nathan Cayless-coached Magpies, feeder club to the Parramatta Eels, will be looking to improve on last year’s effort which saw them finish just outside the finals cut-off on 27 competitions points.

For the second consecutive season, Wentworthville finished one spot short of the top eight, with inconsistency leaving them to rue what might have been in 2017. A one-point win against eventual premiers Penrith in Round 8 highlighted the side’s capabilities.

This season the Magpies will be without one of their main attacking weapons from 2017 – fullback Honeti Tuha, who has moved to Blacktown Workers – but will be boosted by the experience of new recruit Brad Deitz from North Sydney and Andy Saunders from the Bulldogs.

Wentworthville kick off their season on Sunday against the 2017 Intrust Super Premiership winners Penrith – a big test first-up for Cayless’ crew.

Western Suburbs Magpies

It’s a new era for the rebranded Wests Tigers’ NRL feeder team, who finished the 2017 season in last position with just four wins. Now, with a new coach in NSW True Blue Brett Hodgson and a new look under the Western Suburbs banner, the Magpies will be hungry for significant improvement.

With their NRL squad injected with big names and seasoned veterans including Benji Marshall, Robbie Rochow and Josh Reynolds following an off-season recruitment drive, their Intrust Super Premiership NSW side also receives flow-on benefits.

The Magpies’ Round 1 side – featuring the likes of David Nofoaluma, Taane Milne, Mahe Fonua, Matt McIlwrick and Chris McQueen – looks one of the strongest in the competition, but names will mean nothing come kick-off on Saturday against the Bulldogs.

Their main focus in 2018 will have to be their defence – in 2017 they leaked more than 34 points per game, unacceptable at any level of the game, and conceded a league-worst 46 tries following penalties (with the next-worst, Newcastle, conceded just 39).

Wyong Roos

Rip Taylor’s Wyong Roos have arguably been the most consistent team in the Intrust Super Premiership over recent years, but is 2018 finally the year they can break their title drought?

Despite taking out the minor premiership in 2017, the Roos’ season finished in heartbreak, falling at the final hurdle in their title fight against Penrith.

There is, however, reason for Roos’ fans to remain optimistic. The 2018 squad once again looks strong, with Luke Sharpe, Chris Centrone, Josh Mantellato, Eloni Vunakece and the evergreen Mitch Williams some of the competition’s most consistent performers.

That experience, and last year’s 20-12 grand final loss, will have to count for something if the Roos, as expected, qualify for the finals. For veteran coach Taylor and some of his experienced troops including heart-and-soul skipper Williams, it’s now or never.

Acknowledgement of Country

New South Wales Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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