Michael Ennis' six questions that could shape NRL season
I LOVE this time of year - everyone is fit, every fan is hopeful and every club is primed for a successful season.
I've been asked all off-season for my tips and thoughts on different teams and players, but for me there are six burning questions that will decide the fate of the 16 teams this season.
Can the Broncos win without Lodge?
MATT Lodge is as important to the Broncos as Jake Trbojevic is to Manly.
There's plenty of bash and barge in the Broncos pack but Lodge gives them an attacking point of difference. Last season he became a link man for the Broncos' halves and gave them another option in the red zone.
Payne Haas, David Fifita and Tevita Pangai Jr are all great ball runners, but there's not a lot of variation to their games.
Lodge, who is out with a partial tear to his ACL, is also the Broncos' enforcer and leader of their pack.
There's no doubting the potential in the Broncos pack, but it's up to players such as Tom Flegler and Joe Ofahengaue to fill the massive shoes that Lodge leaves and I've got some doubts about whether they're up to it.
Will Latrell do the job in the No.1?
NO player has had more written about them in the off- season than Rabbitohs recruit Latrell Mitchell.
Put simply, there are few players in our game who can do what Mitchell can do on the paddock. He's an out-and-out strike weapon.
Mitchell is often compared to one of the true greats of the game, Greg Inglis. GI made a successful transition from centre to fullback and while I think Mitchell is capable of doing the same, I want to see more from him.
When the Rabbitohs were successful in 2014 it was off the back of GI and the energy and effort he provided from fullback.
I want to see more hunger and purpose from Mitchell. I want to see him involved in every set and not drifting in and out of games like he tended to do when in the centres.
If Mitchell can get the miles into his legs and be a dominant force at the back, he has the ability to take the Rabbitohs all the way.
Can the Roosters cope without Cronk?
NORMALLY when a player of the ilk of Cooper Cronk retires, you'd expect the team he's leaving to struggle the following season, but I don't see that being the case for the Roosters.
While Kyle Flanagan (the man who will replace Cronk) will be the first to admit he's not like Cooper Cronk, he also doesn't need to be.
Look at the players around Flanagan - James Tedesco, Luke Keary and Jake Friend are three of the best players in the game in their respective positions and will guide the young halfback through his first year at the Roosters.
Flanagan is also blessed with great edge runners in Boyd Cordner, Angus Crichton and Mitch Aubusson, who'll all make his job easier.
Flanagan is a good organiser, solid defender and has a good kicking game, and I'm sure he'll handle himself in 2020 and the Roosters will again be a forced to be reckoned with.
Will Holmes feel at home in Townsville?
I'VE been asked a lot about Val Holmes during the off-season and I can see him picking up where he left off.
I love him as an athlete and I love his attitude.
Having spoken with Val recently I can say he's a guy who is confident in his ability without being arrogant, he's got no fear of failure and has the heart of a lion.
I remember playing with him at the Sharks - we'd be down and out, and the opposing team would kick deep and you'd turn and think "oh no", but then Val would race back, take it on the full, charge into the defence line and inspire those around him.
Val is a great ball runner and exactly what the Cowboys need to return to the finals.
Are the Raiders clapped out?
AS a player, there is no greater emotional drain than losing a grand final - and the Raiders will have been hurting after last year's loss to the Roosters.
It can be easy for clubs to have an emotional letdown the year after losing a grand final but I don't think that will be the case for the Raiders.
Though the bushfires were a tremendous tragedy during the off-season, they also forced the Raiders to move their training camp to the Sunshine Coast, where the players bunkered down together for two weeks.
That time spent together has reignited the bond between the players and will serve them well this season.
For the Raiders to go one step further in 2020 they'll need another big year from Jack Wighton.
It was a credit to him the way he transitioned from fullback to five-eighth last season.
With Wighton returning to pre-season training in the best nick I've seen him, he is primed for a bumper season.
Where will off-field dramas leave Sharks?
IT'S been an off-season to forget for the Cronulla Sharks with plenty of off-field distractions amid talk of player unrest and injuries to star players.
At least the Josh Morris saga has been resolved, with Cronulla confirming on Wednesday that
it has signed off on releasing the veteran centre to the Roosters after the Sharks' Round 2 clash against Melbourne.
But then there's the speculation surrounding the long-term fitness of Josh Dugan and Matt Moylan.
If the Sharks want to be premiership contenders in 2020 they need to make sure their off-field dramas don't make their way on to the field.
They need Dugan and Moylan, who were both recruited ahead of the 2018 season, and Shaun Johnson, who came to the club last year, to fire.
Unfortunately for Cronulla fans, they've seen more of Johnson, Dugan and Moylan on the sidelines than they have on the field - and with the trio taking up a large portion of the salary cap, they need those three to deliver.
I'm not writing the Sharks off in 2020, but I've got some serious concerns for them.
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