Wooden spoon specials and a shock coach axing: Every NRL club’s bold prediction for 2021

Wooden spoon specials and a shock coach axing: Every NRL club’s bold prediction for 2021


Mark St John

From who will take out the wooden spoon to which player stands the best chance of taking out the Dally M Medal we bring you every NRL club’s bold prediction for 2021.

We’ve looked into our crystal ball to predict some of the award winners, statistical leaders and club switches ahead of the new season.

Read on for our bold prediction for every NRL team in 2021.


Prediction : Benji Marshall will break into the Rabbitohs starting side.

Why : At the moment it is very unlikely that Benji Marshall will start for Bunnies given they have such a settled spine of Damien Cook, Cody Walker, Adam Reynolds and Latrell Mitchell. However entering what is likely to be the final year of his brilliant career, Marshall won’t be content just making up the numbers in the squad. The fierce competitor will be doing everything he can to keep the pressure on Walker and Reynolds at training and will be ready to step up when called upon. Marshall is a chance to come off the bench and will likely get a starting spot during the Origin period should Cody Walker and or Reynolds be called up by Brad Fittler. However if he can take his chances Marshall’s attacking brilliance could prove too tough for Wayne Bennett to ignore. This is likely Bennett’s last shot at a premiership and if Walker or Reynolds are not performing he is every chance of bringing Marshall in to shake up the team at some stage.

Wayne Bennett is a big supporter of Benji Marshall.Source: News Corp Australia


Prediction : The Broncos will win a second straight wooden spoon.

Why : New coach Kevin Walters has done an excellent job creating salary cap space by getting some massive contracts off the books, but it is very hard to see how that translates into wins when he hasn’t brought anyone of note in to replace them. Walters has said goodbye to Jack Bird, Joe Ofahengaue and Andrew McCullough who were all underperforming on bloated contracts, but he has only signed John Asiata, Dale Copley and David Mead. With all due respect these are not the players to turn around on-field performances in quick time and the Broncos have actually got worse in terms of experience after the retirement of Darius Boyd and the departure of former Origin players McCullough and Ofahengaue. Brisbane’s main problem last year apart from injuries was a lack of experience, which contributed to them finishing with the worst defence in the competition. The Broncos are starting at the bottom so they might get better in 2021, but so will everyone else, which makes it hard to see a young team climbing off the bottom of the ladder, especially if injuries strike.


Prediction : Curtis Scott will be Dally M Centre of the Year

Why : It is understandable why the Raiders’ star 2020 signing struggled so much last year as he dealt with the fallout from police charges that were later dropped. Scott’s first season in the nation’s capital were marred by the unwanted and unwarranted public attention that came with his court proceedings. Now with his name cleared the 23-year-old can get back to doing what he does best on the field provided he can have a little more luck with injuries that contributed to his poor 2020 season. It is easy to forget that Scott scored nine tries in 24 games for the Storm in 2018, starting in the grand final and he was also mentioned as a potential Blues player that season. Scott is a freakish talent and if he can stay on the field he will have plenty of room to dominate playing behind one of the best packs in the competition and outside reigning Dally M Medal winner Jack Wighton.

Curtis Scott is set for a comeback season.Source: News Corp Australia


Prediction : Matt Burton will be in Bulldogs colours by the end of the Origin period.

Why : Ivan Cleary is playing hardball with Burton because he knows you need a strong squad to win a premiership and if the Panthers want to go one better in 2021, they need depth in key positions, especially in the spine. The Panthers have Stephen Crichton who can cover Dylan Edwards at fullback and Mitch Kenny to cover Api Koroisau at hooker, but they are a little light on if Nathan Cleary or Jarome Luai are on Origin duty or get injured early in the season. Cleary will see where he and the Panthers are at after the Origin period and if they are in the top four and Luai and Cleary are fit and firing then it is hard to see him denying Burton a regular spot in first grade. Burton is an insurance policy for a long season, but if he isn’t needed by the end of the Origin series, Cleary will let him join Trent Barrett at the Bulldogs early.

Matt Burton could be in Dogs colours by the Origin period.Source: Getty Images


Prediction : John Morris will be replaced by Shane Flanagan mid-season.

Why : Given the recent murmurings this prediction might not be as bold as some others, but rightly or wrongly John Morris is on borrowed time at the Sharks. 2016 premiership winning Cronulla coach Flanagan has been in discussions with the NRL about his head coaching ban being lifted by the time a job opportunity becomes available in 2021 and few coaches are under more pressure than Morris. Despite making the finals the last two seasons, Morris fell off-side with some players last year when he tried to move on Matt Moylan and discussed medical retirement with Andrew Fifita and the embattled coach has fallen out of favour with some sections of the board. Morris was denied a contract extension last year while the club waits to see the teams’ early progress in 2021, so if the Sharks get off to a poor start Morris may be moved on to make way for the return of Flanagan on a long-term deal.


Prediction : Cameron Smith will join the team in time for Round 1.

Why : The longer Cameron Smith waits to make a public decision on his future and the closer the season gets the more likely he is to get itchy feet and want to keep playing. His playing career at the Storm looks all but over with Harry Grant and Brandon Smith at the club and Smith unwilling to prevent either from furthering their careers this season at Melbourne. That leaves the Titans as his most likely destination should he decide to extend his record-breaking 430-game career. Smith has relocated his family to the Gold Coast and has close ties to Titans Head of Performance and Culture Mal Meninga from their time with the Queensland Origin team. Josh Addo-Carr revealed that Smith once had a two-week pre-season at Melbourne, so there is no doubt he can get up to speed at short notice as the countdown to the season clicks below four weeks.

The Cameron Smith saga could have a twist yet.Source: Getty Images


Prediction : Josh Schuster will replace Kieran Foran at five-eighth.

Why : There is no doubt Foran will start the season at No.6 for the Sea Eagles, but rookie Schuster will be hot on his heels. The 19-year-old played one game for the Sea Eagles last season against the Tigers with his opposite that night Benji Marshall calling it one of the best debut performances he has ever seen. There was talk Schuster was agitating for a release after Manly signed Foran, but the club clearly sees him as a long-term half. Skipper Daly Cherry-Evans turns 32 this season and Foran will be 31 in July and is on a one-year contract for 2021 and while neither plan on retiring any time soon, Schuster is clearly a natural long-term successor for the pair. Foran hasn’t played over 14 games in a season since 2017, so it is unlikely that he will play every game and Schuster will likely get some time off the bench and in the no.6 jersey at some stage. If he shows as much promise as he did in his debut Schuster can target the starting No.6 role by the end of the season as the Sea Eagles look to build for the future and if he takes his chances he will be difficult to leave out of the side.


Prediction : Ryan Papenhuyzen will win the Dally M Medal.

Why : The Storm fullback can cap off his meteoric rise from relative unknown to NRL superstar in the space of three seasons by taking home the game’s highest individual honour in 2021. Papenhuyzen has scored 20 tries in 42 games for the Storm since his debut in 2019, including 11 last season to go with 13 try assists and 18 linebreaks. The 22-year-old was a deserved winner of the Clive Churchill Medal after leading the Storm to a Grand Final victory over the Panthers to clinch the 2020 premiership. With Cameron Smith unlikely to be at the club in 2021 that should free up a fair few votes each week that Papenhuyzen can snap up. With assistant coach Billy Slater guiding him on the training paddock, Papenhuyzen has the potential to be the best fullback in the game in the coming seasons and with the Storm set to win plenty of games again this year he can have a real shot at the Dally M Medal.

Ryan Papenhuyzen can take home the Dally M Medal in 2021.Source: Getty Images


Prediction : Addin Fonua-Blake will be Dally M prop of the Year.

Why : The 25-year-old was one of the best props in the game in 2019, before a quiet season last year on the back of the Manly teams’ struggles. However his switch to the Warriors has given him the desired distance from some off-field troubles that clearly affected his on-field performance in 2020. The move across the Tasman now has the potential to reinvigorate Fonua-Blake’s career and get him back to his best. He is part of a devastating new look pack featuring Ben Murdoch-Masila, Tohu Harris and young gun Eliesa Katoa, which should give him plenty of roll on to make huge metres for his new club. If Fonua-Blake can curb his aggression and channel it properly and the Warriors can have some success then he is a real chance to take home a Dally M prop gong for 2021.


Prediction : Mitchell Pearce will leave the club to return to the Roosters at season’s end.

Why : Pearce is already on thin ice after losing the Knights captaincy following his infamous texting scandal and in the last year of his contract he is playing for his NRL future. Pearce is on a very lucrative deal and now with a halves partner like Blake Green outside him the pressure will be on to deliver the Knights a top four finish. The arrival of Tyson Frizell bolsters the pack Pearce will be playing behind so there won’t be any excuses for him if he doesn’t deliver consistent results. On the other hand the Roosters have invested in youth with rookie Sam Walker and 11-game youngster Lachlan Lam the options at halfback. There is a view that both players are too green to help the Roosters win until they get more experience over the next few seasons. Pearce will be 32 in April and if the Knights struggle he may look to return to the club he played 11 seasons for in a bid to finish his career where it all started and chase another premiership. His asking price would be a sticking point, but with the Morris boys likely to finish up at the end of 2021, Trent Robinson could opt for a reunion with his old playmaker to partner Luke Keary until his youngsters learn the ropes.

Mitchell Pearce could be headed back to Sydney.Source: Getty Images


Prediction : Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow will overtake Valentine Holmes at No.1.

Why : Holmes is hellbent on developing into a world class fullback, but so far he has failed to impress in the position since returning to the NRL. Holmes found himself moved to the wing for Tabuai-Fidow last season at club level and then was shifted to the flank by Maroons coach Wayne Bennett in favour of Corey Allan for the Origin series decider. Many experts believe Holmes’ best position is on the wing where he has scored the bulk of his 70 tries in 117 games in the NRL, as well as nine tries for Queensland and 12 for the Kangaroos. Tabuai-Fidow is arguably the fastest man in the NRL, but he also has the required skill to be an excellent fullback and his size can be exploited on the wing. If the Cowboys’ attack struggles to ignite this season new coach Todd Payten may have to pull the trigger and make the switch.


Prediction : Mitchell Moses will top the NRL for try assists.

Why : He may not have had his best finish to a season last year, but Mitchell Moses was one of the top players in the competition in the first half of the year, before his injury setback. Wind the clock back a season earlier to 2019 and Moses was one of the leading try assist merchants in the NRL, especially with his kicking game, which eluded him last year. Moses struggled in the bubble last season with assistant coach Andrew Johns unable to work hands on with the Eels halves. Moses’ progress stalled as a result, but he will be better for another pre-season under the guidance of the Immortal. The Eels also boast one of the best back threes in the competition in Clint Gutherson, Maika Sivo and Blake Ferguson, so there is plenty of firepower to set up for tries. If the centre pairing of Waqa Blake and Michael Oldfield can hold their own, the Eels will win plenty of games and score plenty of tries in 2021 and Moses can be the architect of many of them.

Mitchell Moses is set to get back to his best in 2021.Source: Getty Images


Prediction : Charlie Staines will top the NRL try-scorer’s list.

Why : One only has to look at his debut last season to work out that Charlie Staines is a try-scoring machine in the making. Staines scored no less than four tries in his first outing in first grade against the Sharks in a dazzling debut for the Panthers. The 20-year-old has scored six tries in just two games in the NRL after also bagging a double in his second match. With club great Josh Mansour switching to the Rabbitohs in the off-season, Staines is set to start on the wing for the Panthers this year. Being on the end of a backline that won 17 games in a row last year should give Staines plenty of opportunities to add to his impressive try tally, especially if the Panthers continue to be successful.


Prediction : The old Broncos trio of Hunt, Norman and McCullough will dominate.

Why : Quite simply because it has to. New coach Anthony Griffin has let club skipper and arguably the Dragons’ best player in Cameron McInnes leave to join arch rivals the Sharks and he is now out for the season with an ACL injury. That makes McCullough’s signing even more important for Griffin. He has also hinted that Hunt will likely return to the No.7 jersey in 2021, despite the fact he hasn’t played well at club level in any other position but hooker since joining the Dragons. Griffin has also hinted that Norman will be his five-eighth and he and Hunt are on monster contracts, so they need to start delivering as consistent playmakers. The trio played a lot of footy together at the Broncos and perhaps Griffin is looking at their combination as a key ingredient to get the Dragons’ spluttering attack breathing fire once again. If they don’t the knives will be out for Griffin not to mention the three players themselves, so they simply have to make it work.

Its now or never for Ben Hunt and Corey Norman.Source: Getty Images


Prediction : Joseph Suaalii will debut for the club and break into the starting side.

Why : It is a bold prediction given the 17-year-old is not yet allowed to play first grade under the current eligibility rules. However ARLC Chairman Peter V’landys and NRL CEO Andrew Abdo have shown a willingness to review the rules if it is in the best interests of the game and by all reports Suaalii is ready for first grade. The young gun is set to play in a trial for the Roosters’ feeder club the Bears next weekend. The problem for Suaalii once he becomes eligible however is that he is stuck behind established back three James Tedesco, Brett Morris and Daniel Tupou in the pecking order. However the Morris brothers turn 35 this season and it would be unlikely that either would play every game this year, while Tedesco and possible Tupou will need cover during the Origin series. If Suaalii can take his chances in the Origin period or when filling in for the rested Morris boys then he has all the physical attributes to dominate on the end of a formidable Roosters’ backline and he may prove too difficult to leave out.


Prediction : The Tigers will make the top eight.

Why : For a team with the longest finals drought in the NRL stretching back to 2011 this is arguably the boldest of all predictions for the 2021 season, but the hoodoo has to end some time. After inheriting a roster from Ivan Cleary that was full of underperforming stars on bloated contracts, Michael Maguire’s squad is starting to look a lot more balanced finally. New props James Tamou and Joe Ofahengaue will provide the sort of experience and starch up front that the Tigers have been lacking, while new centre pairing Joey Leilua and recruit James Roberts have the potential to be a lethal combination. If Luke Brooks and Adam Doueihi can form a solid scrumbase partnership outside hooker Jacob Liddle then the Tigers have the firepower in David Nofoaluma and Tommy Talau to score plenty of tries. Maguire’s tough stance on fitness should also improve their defence, which will hopefully see them finish at least one spot higher than ninth.

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Wow, some big calls there.:stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

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