THE PRE-SEASON COUNTS
What’s your NRL club’s storyline for the summer?
All eyes will be on Wayne Bennett and whether he stays on after being told he’s not required in 2020. Brisbane must find a replacement, and Bennett may walk sooner if he gets an offer elsewhere. Corey Oates is also still unsigned and has said Bennett is crucial in his future.
The Raiders’ English imports arrive this summer. Forwards John Bateman and Ryan Sutton are Canberra’s two biggest signings. Ricky Stuart will look to them to replicate the feats of Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead.
Kieran Foran is expected to be fit for the pre-season but hasn’t been anywhere near his best since leaving Manly in 2015. Canterbury looked a team on the rise at the end of the past season and Foran, alongside Lachlan Lewis, could take them to the next level.
Valentine Holmes’ contract will be key. Cronulla will want to re-sign him before November 1 to stop North Queensland from formally offering him a deal. Holmes was Cronulla’s best this year at fullback as he scored 22 tries and led the NRL in linebreaks.
Tyrone Peachey’s Kangaroos selection means he won’t arrive until after the beginning of pre-season, but just last month he indicated he was having second thoughts. The Titans insist he’ll have to honour his deal, but how happy will he be?
Coach Trent Barrett’s future remains unresolved despite him handing in his resignation in July. Manly must also find a way out of their salary cap mess. Kane Elgey is their only signing and they have to cope with another $330,000 deduction to their player payments.
Cameron Smith’s contract is yet to be finalised despite him making his future a talking point in grand final week. Melbourne will also want to lock Cameron Munster up for beyond 2019 before November 1.
Nathan Brown is still mulling over whether to move Kalyn Ponga to five-eighth and is set to leave the decision with the young star. The club is still in the market for a big-name middle forward and will be ready to swoop if any becomes available.
Stephen Kearney will be hoping for the most stable offseason in years, with few changes at the club. The only challenge could be a Kiwi tour of England, sure to feature several Warriors.
Ben Barba will have his first NRL pre-season since returning a second positive test to an illicit substance at Cronulla in 2016. Barba has been a stand-out player in the English Super League this year and he’ll look to replicate that for a Cowboys side without Johnathan Thurston.
The Eels need a positive preseason and big start to 2019, otherwise the heat will intensify on coach Brad Arthur. The findings from a football department review are due and will be key to how they turn things around.
How the club fills it headcoaching role will be the biggest story of the summer, as the links to Ivan Cleary continue. For now, caretaker Cameron Ciraldo remains the frontrunner to take over.
Will Anthony Seibold re-sign in the summer and put Brisbane speculation to bed before the season starts? The 2018 coach of the year has the Rabbitohs on the right path. Veteran John Sutton is also yet to sign a new deal.
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA
Change is afoot off the field at the Dragons with new chief executive Brian Johnston taking charge. Questions will be asked about how they treat their pre-season after another late-season fade-out.
The defending premiers will start the summer as 2019 favourites, but all eyes will be on the fitness of their big names. Cooper Cronk won’t be at training until January and English winger Ryan Hall will miss the start of next season.
Will coach Ivan Cleary be there in March and how long will the saga roll on? There were reports as recently as this week the Tigers had approached Penrith for a payout, with Cleary contracted until the end of 2020.
IN DEMAND: Cronulla will want to re-sign Valentine Holmes before November 1 to stop North Queensland from formally offering him a deal.
UNSIGNED: Corey Oates could leave the Broncos. Tyrone Peachey. Photo: Phil Hillyard