NRL PREVIEWS 2022: Who can stop the Panthers?

Panthers hooker Apisai Koroisau will join the Wests Tigers in 2023. Picture: NRL Photos
Panthers hooker Apisai Koroisau will join the Wests Tigers in 2023. Picture: NRL Photos

Who will be the contenders, the pretenders and the surprise packets this season? Chris Boulous runs his eye over the teams in his 2022 NRL previews.

Brisbane Broncos

They have a No.7 - but is that enough to make the top eight? The signature of Adam Reynolds gives the Broncos instant direction and the game's best kicking game. Throw in an injury-free Kotoni Stagg, one of the game's best props in Payne Haas, the experienced Kurt Capewell and a growing list of young stars headlined by Tesi Niu and Selwyn Cobbo and a return to the finals is not out of the question.

Key signing: Adam Reynolds.

Key departure: Xavier Coates.

Last year's finish: 14th

Predicted finish: 11th

Canberra Raiders

The Green Machine will be hoping to put their turbulent 2021 behind them and return to the finals. Their first priority is getting Jack Wighton back playing his best footy which should be helped by the arrival of halfback Jamal Fogarty. A full season of Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad in the No.1 is imperative as is consistent form of Josh Papalii and Joe Tapine through the middle. Does Josh Hodgson have one more big season before he heads to the Eels?

Key signing: Jamal Fogarty.

Key departure: Sia Soliola.

Last year's finish: 10th

Predicted finish: 14th

Canterbury Bulldogs

It's hard to judge how the Bulldogs will go in 2022 with so many new players arriving to Belmore. One thing for sure is they will be a lot better than the past two seasons. They now have a quality playmaker (Matt Burton), speed (Josh Addo-Carr), skill (Tevita Pangai Junior), creativity (Matt Dufty) and go forward (Paul Vaughan). Can they put it all together? Expect the Dogs to be hitting their straps around Origin time and for young guys like Jake Averillo to shine with some quality around them.

Key signing: Matt Burton.

Key departure: Nick Meaney.

Last year's finish: Ninth

Predicted finish: 16th

All smiles: Nicho Hynes. Picture: Cronulla Sharks

All smiles: Nicho Hynes. Picture: Cronulla Sharks

Cronulla Sharks

Craig Fitzgibbon will start his coaching career with a top-four ready squad. The Sharks have arguably recruited the best of any club with Dale Finucane, Nicho Hynes and Cameron McInnes joining a squad brimming with talent. If Will Kennedy and Blayke Brailey continue their development things are looking good in The Shire especially with a return to their home ground. The fitness of former representative players Wade Graham and Matt Moylan is the only concern for the Sharks who just missed the finals last season.

Key signing: Nicho Hynes.

Key departure: Shaun Johnson.

Last year's finish: Ninth.

Predicted finish: Sixth.

Gold Coast Titans

The pressure will be on an inexperienced spine to take the Titans to the next level. Halves AJ Brimson and Toby Sexton along with young gun Jayden Campbell will have the benefit of playing behind one of the stronger packs in the NRL which contains Tino Fa'asuamaleaui, Moeaki Fotuaika, David Fifita and new recruit Isaac Liu. Last year's finals heartbreak will no doubt motivate the young Titans squad to take the next step.

Key signing: Isaac Liu.

Key departure: Jamal Fogarty.

Last year's finish: Eighth.

Predicted finish: Eighth.

Manly Sea Eagles

Can Tom Trbojevic reproduce his 2021 form? If he can, Manly can not only finish in the top four but can pressure for the title. They have the added boost of a largely unchanged squad with Ethan Bullemor adding to an already impressive forward pack. The further development of Josh Schuster and Haumole Olakau'atu could give them the x-factor to challenge for the title. The loss of a couple of fringe first graders puts pressure on the top squad to stay on the park.

Key signing: Ethan Bullemor.

Key departure: Moses Suli.

Last year's finish: Fourth.

Predicted finish: Third.

Melbourne Storm

At times last season they looked unbeatable. Now, after a shock finals exit and some off-season turmoil, could Melbourne be on the slide? Unlikely. With Cameron Munster, Ryan Papenhuyzen, Jahrome Hughes, Harry Grant and Brandon Smith, the Storm still have the best spine in the game. Their forward depth and the loss of a strong leader in Dale Finucane is a concern. They also don't have the luxury of Nicho Hynes lurking in the wings. Is Nick Meaney the latest player to take his game to a new level under Craig Bellamy?

Key signing: Xavier Coates.

Key departure: Nicho Hynes.

Last year's finish: First.

Predicted finish: Fifth.

Key man: Kalyn Ponga. Picture Max Mason-Hubers

Key man: Kalyn Ponga. Picture Max Mason-Hubers

Newcastle Knights

Is this the season Kalyn Ponga develops into one of the game's best player? With no Michell Pearce, the pressure falls on to the No.1 to take the Knights back to the finals. Their forward rotation is their big strength with the Saifiti brothers, David Klemmer, Tyson Frizell and Mitch Barnett giving their new No.7 a great platform to work from. Early ball to centres Bradman Best and Dane Gagai is a big priority.

Key signing: Dane Gagai.

Key departure: Mitchel Pearce.

Last year's finish: Seventh.

Predicted finish: 12th.

North Queensland Cowboys

Is this the year the Cowboys deliver on potential? Can they somehow find a way to unlock the talent of Jason Taumalolo, Valentine Holmes and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow? Can some of their young forwards step up to the next level? Plenty of questions for a team that has struggled in recent seasons. Todd Payton needs to settle on his halves early with Chad Townsend, Tom Dearden and Scott Drinkwater battling for the No.6 and No.7 positions.

Key signing: Chad Townsend.

Key departure: Michael Morgan.

Last year's finish: 15th.

Predicted finish: 16th.

Parramatta Eels

The blue and golds have plenty of reason for optimism heading into 2022. They pushed eventual premiers Penrith all the way in the finals and looked to have rediscovered their mojo at the back of the season. If they can get off to their traditional fast start, they will have their sights set on sending out the four departing players with a premiership. The formula is simple: Mitchell Moses and Clint Gutherson playing off the back of strong and skilful forward pack. Keep an eye on the development of Will Penisini and Haze Dunster.

Key signing: Bailey Simonsson.

Key departure: Blake Ferguson.

Last year's finish: Sixth.

Predicted finish: Third.

Penrith Panthers

The defending premiers go from being the hunter to the hunted. A fully-fit Nathan Cleary is the key to defending their title with his poise and kicking game enough to see them easily return to the top four. Like most premiership winning teams they will have to replace players who have been forced out with Matt Burton, Kurt Capewell and Paul Momirovski leaving the foot of the mountains. 2022 could be the year Stephen Crichton announces himself as the next big thing.

Key signing: Sean O'Sullivan .

Key departure: Matt Burton.

Last year's finish: Second.

Predicted finish: First.

St George Illawarra captain Ben Hunt was awarded the 2021 Dragons' Player of the Year medal. Picture: Geoff Jones.

St George Illawarra captain Ben Hunt was awarded the 2021 Dragons' Player of the Year medal. Picture: Geoff Jones.

St George Illawarra Dragons

Perhaps the team with biggest question mark over them. Anthony Griffin has signed a plethora of rugby league journeyman and combined them with a bunch of quality young talent - and the result is anyone's guess. Keeping Ben Hunt and Zac Lomax on the field is a non-negotiable for a Dragons outfit that should be further improved with the more games Jack de Belin and Jack Bird get under their belts. Dragons fans should be excited by the likes of Tyrell Sloan, Talatau Amone and Jayden Sullivan.

Key signing: Moses Suli.

Key departure: Cameron McInnes.

Last year's finish: 11th.

Predicted finish: 15th.

South Sydney Rabbitohs 

Has Souths premiership window closed? The loss of supercoach Wayne Bennett along with Adam Reynolds and Dane Gagai suggests it might be. But when you look at Cody Walker, Damien Cook, Latrell Mitchell and Cameron Murray it's hard to imagine they won't be far away from the top. The pressure will be on the new No.7 to deliver straight away and take Souths one step further.

Key signing: Michael Chee-Kam.

Key departure: Wayne Bennett.

Last year's finish: Third.

Predicted finish: Seventh.

Sydney Roosters

They lost a lot of players through injury last year but gained a lot of admirers with the courage they showed. Throw in a fully-fit Luke Keary to guide the ship and the Roosters enter the title race again in 2022. The combination of James Tedesco and Joseph Manu as a one-two attacking threat is a tantalising prospect behind a forward pack that is still led admirably by Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. The threat of Connor Watson and Victor Radley through the middle gives the Chooks an added edge.

Key signing: Connor Watson.

Key departure: Brett Morris.

Last year's finish: Fifth.

Predicted finish: Second.

NZ Warriors 

It's hard not to get excited about Reece Walsh and Shaun Johnson playing in the same team. Especially behind a forward pack that contains Addin Fonua-Blake, Matt Lodge and Tohu Harris. The arrival of Johnson will hopefully elevate Chanel Harris-Tavita to the next level. The prospect of some home games in New Zealand is a big boost for a team looking at off-setting the loss of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

Key signing: Shaun Johnson.

Key departure: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

Last year's finish: 12th.

Predicted finish: Ninth.

Wests Tigers 

Two words: Stefano Utoikamanu. Get on his back and follow his lead. The big man has the big job to lead the Tigers back to to the finals. New recruit Tyrone Peachey will bring spark to the middle of the field and hopefully take some pressure off Luke Brooks. Jackson Hastings's arrival alleviates the loss of form five-eighth Adam Doueihi (ACL) who will be missing for the first part of the season. It's no secret the Tigers have been active in the player market for 2023, so plenty of players in the squad will be playing for their future.

Key signing: Jackson Hastings.

Key departure: Moses Mbye.

Last year's finish: 13th.

Predicted finish: 13th.