The Melbourne Storm are again the team to bet hard in NRL futures with The Wolf declaring them Top 4 certainties and genuine hopes of going back-to-back.
Here are The Wolf’s NRL tips for the 2021 season.
The flag to fly south again
Melbourne are the defending premiers yet have been severely underestimated, again, by the market. It is hard to articulate with enough force how good a bet the Storm are this year in many markets. They are Top 4 morals so the $1.85 is an astonishing price. They are going to be extraordinarily hard to beat in the minor premiership. The loss of Cameron Smith is obviously big but the club has Harry Grant and Brandon Smith, the Queensland and NZ hookers. Much like how the club transitioned from Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk, the Storm are more than prepared. This is a new team and they are stacked with star rep players in every spine position, a fearsome pack and genuine strike power out wide. More important than all, they have the greatest coach the game has known. Melbourne are legitimately panels ahead of the rest of the competition.
Bunnies next best
Melbourne will be back in the Grand Final. They just have too much class. The Bunnies and Roosters sit well above all other contenders and the Rabbitohs are the team on the up. They have the best balanced spine in the game. Latrell Mitchell is better for a season at fullback and is clearly stripping fitter. Damien Cook is an outstanding runner and the new rules suit him more than anyone. Wayne Bennett is in his last year at the Bunnies and the players love him so will be well motivated. No team has recruited more astutely, particularly with Josh Mansour adding some much-needed kick return. The Bunnies are major players this year.
Roosters in the four
There are three good things to make the Top 4 this year. The Storm have finished in the Top 2 the last five seasons and in the Top 4 in 12 of the last 14. They don’t miss under Bellamy. The Roosters have finished Top 4 in seven of eight seasons under Trent Robinson. They show no signs of going backwards. Souths have made three straight preliminary finals, have improved their roster and are better suited to the new rules than any side. There are no big jumpers coming from the back. These three are all finishing in the Top 4.
Melbourne/South Sydney/Sydney Roosters @ $5.85
Penrith to plummet
Penrith are an extraordinarily overrated proposition in 2021. They had every break possible last year on their way to a one-loss regular season and a minor premiership. Any regression in injuries and luck – and both are to be expected – and the Panthers will drop down quickly. They overshot their true win tally by a whopping 4.5 wins last year and have also lost veterans James Tamou and Josh Mansour, as well as a ton of depth. Taking Penrith on should reap some rewards.
…as will Parra
Being against Parramatta is a highly wise position to take in 2021. The Eels we are likely to see is more likely to be the debacle that finished last season than those which started the year with a bang. The Eels were big beneficiaries of both a soft drawn and extraordinary luck in 2020, the latter signalled by an 8-1 record in close games. Parramatta’s recruitment has been laughable. This team is a fringe Top 8 proposition at best.
Manly on the up
Manly have been supremely underestimated by the market this year. They are probably short of the depth to be considered a genuine contender but anything outside of the Top 8 would be a real disappointment. The Eagles have very much attempted to structure their team like Melbourne with a strong head coach and a stars ‘n’ scrubs mentality. The Sea Eagles definitely have the top-end talent to compete. There are concerns around depth and Tom Trbojevic’s durability but in a competition with a long tail Manly look the goods to win at least half their games.
Dragons in the doldrums
If the Dragons can do something stupid, they seem intent on doing it. Hiring Anthony Griffin was a questionable decision. His hiring of Matt Elliott and Peter Gentle was extraordinarily insular. The treatment of Cameron McInnes, who will now miss the season with an ACL, was poor and to replace him with Cameron McInnes-light Andrew McCullough and give him a three-year deal was extraordinary. Ben Hunt being named skipper is the cherry on top. The Dragons roster is a mess and that is unlikely to be overridden by coaching.
Early xmas gift in Queensland
Are the Sportsbet bookmakers giving away money? It certainly seems to with this bet. The Titans are a team well and truly on the up. They have done an outstanding recruiting job not only in their big-name signings led by David Fifita but in clearing out so much deadwood. They are extremely well coached and AJ Brimson has emerged as an elite fullback. Brisbane are off a wooden spoon and a complete mess while it is hard to see the Cowboys jumping out of the bottom four. Christmas has come early.
This market is a lottery but there is a little angle here. Todd Payten looks set to play Holmes on a wing and not at fullback. Holmes has a great tryscoring record as a winger, scoring 70 tries in 82 games when playing on the flank at all levels. He is worth a ticket at the big price.
Stake in Jake
The only genuine tryscoring threat the Bulldogs have. He has just three tries in 13 games but will get a lot more of the ball this year at five-eighth. He won’t need many tries to top the Bulldogs list so missing a handful of games early in the season is not expected to be a problem.
Riki top Bronco
Riki had one start and four bench appearances last year and managed to score a ripping try against Penrith. Brisbane will not score many tries this year and Kevin Walters strikes as a tinkerer who will rotate through his three-quarter line. Riki could win this with 7-8 tries, very achievable for a hard-running edge forward.
Charlie to fly
Flyer who has scored six tries in just 120 minutes of NRL action, an astonishing return. The club has so much faith in him that they moved on veteran Josh Mansour. The Panthers don’t have any other genuine flyers so Staines looks good value.
Paps on top
Storm fullback Papenhuyzen has scored 20 tries in 42 games – 17 in 29 starts – and takes over the goalkicking for a team that has the most potent attack. His kicking is not great but he is the best of some ordinary options and will get plenty of opportunities.