NRRRL: Casino Cougars second-rower Michael Schipp will be one to watch in NRRRL this season.
NRRRL: Casino Cougars second-rower Michael Schipp will be one to watch in NRRRL this season. Brian Olive

NRRRL preview: Players to watch and who we think will win

Ballina Seagulls

KEY GAINS: Zac Beecher (rugby) Jack Durheim (Marist Brothers) Jamie Lyon (NRL)

BIGGEST LOSS: Andrew Battese, Dylan Montgomery (Byron Bay)

PLAYER TO WATCH: Halfback Kel Sheather

CAPTAIN-COACH: Jamie Lyon

WHERE THEY FINISHED LAST YEAR: 2nd

PREDICTED FINISH: Premiers

COMMENT: Ballina will have a smaller side this season and despite losing some of its best players they have recruited well.

Former NRL centre Jamie Lyon is a big addition with the team likely to land another experienced front-rower to bolster its forward pack.

Marist Brothers lock Jack Durheim on the run in NRRRL against Cudgen at the weekend.
Lock Jack Durheim will play at Ballina in NRRRL this season. Vicki Kerry

Byron Bay Red Devils

KEY GAINS: Todd Carney (Queensland Cup) Andrew Battese, Dan Gibson, Dylan Montgomery (Ballina) Michael Thomas (Mullumbimby) Kyle Kennedy (Marist Brothers)

BIGGEST LOSS: Darryl Butcher (Marist Brothers), Simon Kelly (Cudgen)

PLAYER TO WATCH: Halfback Todd Carney

CAPTAIN-COACH: Todd Carney

WHERE THEY FINISHED LAST YEAR: 11th

PREDICTED FINISH: 3rd

COMMENT: Massive recruitment drive including former NRL star Todd Carney and a handful of Ballina's best players.

The Red Devils will be the big improver's this year and the clash with Ballina in May will be a must-watch.

Todd Carney in Byron Bay after taking up a coaching role with the Red Devils.
Todd Carney will captain-coach Byron Bay in NRRRL this season. Marc Stapelberg

Casino Cougars

KEY GAINS: Roy Bell (Mullumbimby) Esi Tonga (Canberra)

BIGGEST LOSS: Chad Taylor (Group 2)

PLAYER TO WATCH: Second-rower Michael Schipp

CAPTAIN-COACH: Roy Bell

WHERE THEY FINISHED LAST YEAR: 7th

PREDICTED FINISH: 5th

COMMENT: Former NRL player Esi Tonga will bring much needed size to the Cougars while a returning Roy Bell will add some class in the backline.

His combination with halfback Trevor Bolt should be one of the best in the competition and have them pushing for a finals spot.

Cudgen Hornets

KEY GAINS: Simon Kelly (Byron Bay) David Sheridan (Tweed Seagulls)

BIGGEST LOSS: Connah Mills (Tweed Seagulls)

PLAYER TO WATCH: Front-rower Caleb Ziebell

COACH: Mark O'Grady

WHERE THEY FINISHED LAST YEAR: 4th

PREDICTED FINISH: 6th

COMMENT: A changing of the guard at Cudgen with captain-coach Pat Rosser moving on.

The core group will still be together with the club expected to bring up more of its junior players this season.

Evans Head Bombers

KEY GAINS: Simon Perkins (Ballina), Dennis Ritchie (Macleay Valley Mustangs)

BIGGEST LOSS: none

PLAYER TO WATCH: Second-rower Jordan Sly

COACH: Tyler Iverson

WHERE THEY FINISHED LAST YEAR: 9th

PREDICTED FINISH:11th

COMMENT: The Bombers will continue to rebuild this year having brought in experienced coach Tyler Iverson.

They have a couple of handy recruits, however depth and injuries will test them.

Tweed Coast halfback Tahne Robinson had his kicking game on point in the NRRRL grand final.
Tweed Coast halfback Tahne Robinson is big loss for the Raiders this season. Ursula Bentley@CapturedAus

Kyogle Turkeys

KEY GAINS: Tim Ring (Casino) Owen Avery (Northern United)

BIGGEST LOSS: none

PLAYER TO WATCH: Second-rower Blake Davies

COACH: Shane Robinson

WHERE THEY FINISHED LAST YEAR: 8th

PREDICTED FINISH: 10th

COMMENT: New coach Shane Robinson has had success at junior level and that could prove valuable with Kyogle fielding a young side.

Most of the team have been together for a few years now and they will need to start the season well to stay in touch with the better teams.

Lower Clarence Magpies

KEY GAINS: none

BIGGEST LOSS: Dan Randall, Hugh Stanley (South Grafton)

PLAYER TO WATCH: Fullback Rob Howard

COACH: Ray Mercy

WHERE THEY FINISHED LAST YEAR: 10th

PREDICTED FINISH: 12th

COMMENT: The club has struggled for a number of years now and it looked like they were at breaking point early in the off-season.

The experienced Ray Mercy has stepped into coach but it looms as another long year for the Magpies.

Marist Brothers Rams

KEY GAINS: None

BIGGEST LOSS: Jack Durheim (Ballina), Kyle Kennedy (Marist Brothers) Evan Hickling (Northern United)

PLAYER TO WATCH: Centre Josh Patston

COACH: Michael Woods

WHERE THEY FINISHED LAST YEAR: 6th

PREDICTED FINISH: 8th

COMMENT: The Rams have lost a stack of players this season and will have to rely on youth from the lower grades to replace them.

They still have some talent in key positions but will need all hands on deck to challenge for the finals.

Marist Brothers second-rower Sio Alefosio has added a harder edge to the Rams forward pack since returning in NRRRL.
Second-rower Sio Alefosio has signed with Mullumbimby in NRRRL. Ursula Bentley@CapturedAus

Murwillumbah Mustangs

KEY GAINS: Toby McIntosh (Burleigh Bears)

BIGGEST LOSS: Sam O'Dea (retired)

PLAYER TO WATCH: Hooker Joe Besgrove

COACH: Nathan Jordan

WHERE THEY FINISHED LAST YEAR: 3rd

PREDICTED FINISH: 2nd

COMMENT: Finished strong last season and have most positions covered with plenty of depth.

The Mustangs are another side where the core group has been together for a few years now and they are a title contender with fullback Toby McIntosh returning to the fold.

Murwillumbah Mustangs halfback Wayde Kelly.
Murwillumbah Mustangs fullback Wayde Kelly. Matthew Elkerton

Mullumbimby Giants

KEY GAINS: Sio Alefosio (Marist Brothers) Jason McGrady (Gold Coast)

BIGGEST LOSS: Matt Ashton (England) Roy Bell (Casino) Michael Thomas (Byron Bay)

PLAYER TO WATCH: Halfback Jason McGrady

COACH: Dallas Waters

WHERE THEY FINISHED LAST YEAR: 5th

PREDICTED FINISH: 7th

COMMENT: The Giants made some big improvements last year and should be thinking semi-finals again this season.

A lot of their points came off the back of halfback Roy Bell while the speed of fullback Matt Ashton will be difficult to replace.

Northern United

KEY GAINS: Evan Hickling (Marist Brothers) Clarence Kelly, Bill King, Luke Simpson (Byron Bay), Justin Shillingsworth (Ballina)

BIGGEST LOSS: Mark Binge (Byron Bay)

PLAYER TO WATCH: Halfback Wally Kelly

COACH: Fred Waters and Alwyn Roberts

WHERE THEY FINISHED LAST YEAR: 12th

PREDICTED FINISH: 9th

COMMENT: They have a lot more strike in the backline this year but being able to match it with the better forward packs will be a concern.

The class of centre Clarence Kelly and five-eighth Evan Hickling might win them some extra games they would have lost last year.

Tweed Coast Raiders

KEY GAINS: Dom Murray (Cudgen)

BIGGEST LOSS: Tahne Robinson (Tweed Seagulls)

PLAYER TO WATCH: Second-rower Kalani Hensby.

COACH: Brent Kite

WHERE THEY FINISHED LAST YEAR: Premiers

Predicted finish: 4th

COMMENT: The Raiders were the fairytale story last season winning its first premiership with a team made up mostly of their local products.

It's forward pack will lead the way again while halfback Tahne Robinson is a huge loss and they might struggle to capture the same attacking flair without him.