Part of projecting the “strength of schedule” is doing a ladder projection for 2022, because ultimately teams rise and fall year to year, so there is only so much we can use the 2021 finishing positions. Here is our take on each teams projected rosters and recruitment leading in 2022, and their likely finishing position.
SYDNEY ROOSTERS #1
With Luke Keary back in the fold, the Roosters outfit looks lethal again in 2022. Although the Morris twins have departed, the Roosters have plenty of depth with Joseph Suaalii, Paul Momirovski, Billy Smith and Kevin Naiquama competing for 2 starting positions, and the luxury of either having State of Origin representative Lindsay Collins or internationals Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Siosiua Taukeaho coming off the bench, oh and did we mention Victor Radley and Angus Crichton in the back row. As long as this team can stay relatively healthy, they are a lock for the top 4 and a genuine title threat in 2022.
PENRITH PANTHERS #2
The defending premiers will be seeking back to back titles in 2022 and they’ll be in a strong position to do so with 13 members of their 2021 Grand Final winning side returning. They’ll be sweating on the fitness of star halfback Nathan Cleary following offseason shoulder surgery but he should be good to go for the early rounds if not round 1. If Nathan stays fit then it’ll be hard to bet against this Panthers side finishing any where outside of the top 4. The main question marks will be around their back line following the departure of Momirovski, Burton and Naden. We expect Staines (who has been remarkabley unimpressive) to occupy the right wing spot and talented youngster Izack Tago to take the vacant right centre role.
MELBOURNE STORM #3
Smith, Slater and Cronk out – Munster, Grant, Papenhuyzen and Hughes in – the Melbourne Storm seems like that team that will never be bad and 2022 feels like no different. Round 1 should be a little dicey with half the team out suspended, but after that it should be smoothe sailing for the men in Purple who also happen to be blessed with the softest schedule of any team in the opening 8 weeks. The glaring weakness for the Storm in 2022 is the forward pack, who have lost Dale Finucane and Tui Kamikamika, with Nelson Asofa-Solomona also a big question mark and Kaufusi, Bromwich and Bromwich on the back end of their career. Nevertheless, they should be strong again in 2022 and will be a formidable challenge for any team.
MANLY SEA EAGLES #4
The Manly Trbojevic’s were an attacking juggernaut in 2021 with Dally M winner Tom Turbo posting stats seemingly impossible prior to the PVL era. Defensively they were inconsistent and exploitable on the edges, conceding at least three tries to just about every team they faced and that was exposed in the finals giving up 40 to Melbourne and 36 to Souths. It seems fairly obvious that their top 4 hopes rest solely on the health of Tommy Turbo but if they want to give the finals a shake they’re going to have to improve their defence.
SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS #5
With the departure of Adam Reynolds and Dane Gagai, who were two of the Rabbitohs best in 2021, the Rabbits slide to #5 – still a very respectable finishing position but not quite as good as 2021. Perhaps the biggest loss of all is Wayne Bennett, a narrative which has not got a huge amount of air time so far this offseason. It will be interesting to see how the veteran players perform under a rookie coach and without their field general. The “floor” for this team is very low in 2022, but we are backing them to get the job done.
BRISBANE BRONCOS #6
The amateurs smokey pick of 2022, the Broncos have the potential to be big improvers this season with the key addition of Adam Reynolds to steer the ship coupled with a healthy spine and Katoni Staggs. Reynolds is the piece the Broncos having been missing after multiple years of musical chairs in the halves, he should provide a much needed stability in the spine, an outstanding kicking game and the ability to manage games effectively. He’ll likely be playing on the right with a fit Staggs outside him which could prove to be a game winning pairing. The biggest question mark is who will fill the 5/8 role? Will talent win out with both Gamble and Kelly proving they are without doubt NRL standard last season or will Billy Nepotism win the day. If it’s the latter we may need to revisit this prediction.
PARRAMATTA EELS #7
The cracks are appearing in the armour of the Parramatta Eels, who find themselves losing a host of their best players after this season. While they say they are committed to performing in 2022, the middle third of the season is going to test their resolve after a soft early schedule, and they will exclusively face top 10 projected teams from round 19 to the end of the season. We could very well see players jumping ship early and the Eels slipping out of the playoff race.
CANBERRA RAIDERS #8
A drama filled 2021 slowed the Raiders down but the green machine still only narrowly missed the top 8 with only for and against keeping them out. The Raiders spine was thrown into flux last season following the early departure of George Williams, the subsequent Josh Hodgson drama and CNK out injured for most of the season. The addition of Jamal Fogarty should provide some needed stability in that spine as a solid game manager with an above average kicking game that will allow Wighton to play his running natural game (and hopefully not kick one out on the full every week). Do we think the Raiders a premiership contenders? No, but they can certainly grab a top 8 spot with a solid forward pack, some exciting young backs in the mix and a strong spine should be enough to play finals footy.
CANTERBURY BULLDOGS #9
Many “experts” will have the Bulldogs down as top 8 smokeys in 2022, but we feel they will just fall short in 2022, with 2023 being their year. 2022 is about building partnerships and team chemistry with what is a completely overhauled roster, and a nightmare early season schedule is going to make it tough to recover in 2022. Nevertheless, we should see some sparks and potential for 2023, and exciting times ahead for Doggies fans who have been miserable.
GOLD COAST TITANS #10
Everyone’s 2021 smokey was no doubt a disappointment and in hindsight it doesn’t seem too surprising. They’re a young team who suffer from a real lack of direction in their spine and I’m not sure how that improves in 2022. They’ve added no key pieces outside of Isaac Liu and while their forward pack is capable of causing havoc on their day, the spine looks very inexperienced with a combined 41 games between Campbell, Sexton and Clark with only an additional 17 games in the halves for Brimson. Another big question will be over wrecking ball David Fifita and his usage in this side. The beast scored 17 tries last year including two hat tricks but he tended to disappear when his team needed him most against tough opposition, so much so that he was relegated to a 55min bench role at the back end of the season. This team is still poised to be a threat in the years to come but I think they still be a year or two away for now.
NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS #11
I dont know how they have done it, but the Knights premiership window seemed to open and closed so quickly a fly couldn’t even get in. While having some great players on paper, the reality is that not a single one of them is capable of dragging a side by the scruff of the neck through the tough times. They will more than likely put points on against the “cellar dwellers”, but they are all sizzle and no steak and lucky to be this high on the ladder.
CRONULLA SHARKS #12
I expect similar things to what we saw last year from Cronulla. An inconsitent team that could score points against lesser to equal opposition one week and lose to the Bulldogs the next while rarely troubling better sides. The Sharks have made some decent additions this season adding Finucane and McInnes but the real question mark will be over the expected new halfback Nicho Hynes. Hynes had a breakout year in 2021 but I have doubts over his ability to take that form away from a Melbourne team where he was surrounded by stars in the spine to take the pressure off him to now being the leading man for Cronulla. Will he be Matt Orford or Brodie Croft? My guess is some where in between but I struggle to see him reaching his 2021 form.
WESTS TIGERS #13
No doubt about it, the Tigers are an ascending club, but only because where they have been for the past few years is below the bottom of what is acceptable for an NRL franchise. They have been mismanaged for years, and signed players based on a retention and recruitment policy which could be described most simply as “lets find the most washed players we can and pay for their retirement”. Anyway, back to 2022, the Tigers get Jackson Hastings and Oliver Gildart from England to fill two positions of desperate need, and offload some serious dead wood from the roster. 2023 is their year to make a run, this year we just want to see some flashes of consistency from the halves and forward pack so the outside backs can take advantage.
NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS #14
The Warriors are a hard team to predict as they enter year 3 on the Central Coast. On their day they can match a lot of top 8 sides and cause problems but they struggle with a real lack of consistency and direction. A lot of their hopes lie on the return of the prodigal son Shaun Johnson who they hope will firstly be able to stay healthy, and secondly pair well with wunderkind Reece Walsh. They’ll also be keen to get new club captain Tohu Harris back after the first month of the season as he recovers from a torn acl. If there’s a case for hope here it’s that the Warriors do have a fairly soft opening draw with only 3 games against top 6 teams from 2021 before origin begins.
NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS #15
As much as it pains me to do this to the boys, frankly the only thing keeping them out of the wooden spoon is how poor the Dragons are shaping up to be. The Cowboys have some serious cash invested in a number of players who, frankly, are not suited to the modern game and have no real way of alleviating that. I still have absolutely no idea if Todd Payten is a genius or a Seibold, and I don’t think I am going to find out this year. A win for 2022 would be managing to retain and develop players like Nanai, Luki, Dearden and Hamiso to make a push in 2023/24 once they manage to get some of the dead wood off the books.
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS #16 (WOODEN SPOON)
We’re going to see moneyball in action in the NRL apparently as the yearly April premiers begin their 2022 campaign and as you can see we’re very high on them. They were the spoon favourites last season but surprised many by sitting inside the top 8 for most of the year before falling apart after origin with constant off field drama and injuries to key spine players. It’s hard to have faith in them this season either with little added while a lot of other teams have improved around them. Ben Hunt is no doubt the key to this team because despite the Dragons struggles he’s been one of the few constant performers in this side.
Realistically, this year looks to be split pretty clearly into a top 10/bottom 6 in terms of targeting soft matchups for Fantasy, with the Knights, Tigers, Warriors, Sharks, Cowboys and Dragons presenting the opportunities for maximum attacking points for players that are so inclined.
Realistically, the Panthers, Roosters and Storm are the only matchups you should really be “worried” about, with the balance of the top 10 likely presenting neutral matchups for your fantasy options.
Go out there and target players with soft matchups in the early rounds, as we have proven in the significant number of cases (via our article found here: https://amateursfantasysports.com/2021/11/09/strengthofschedule/) that there is a statistically significant difference in soft draw vs neutral or hard draw, particularly for attacking players.
Now go out and get attacking players from these teams with the soft schedules and watch the Fantasy Football success roll in.