This is Part 2 of my NRL ladder prediction for season 2023. The Knights have already claimed the dubious honour of the predicted wooden spoon, now it’s time for the teams that will finish 15th and 14th.
15th: St George Illawarra Dragons
The Dragons finished the 2022 season off strong: winning their final three matches and moving their way up to 10th on the ladder. Despite another poor season from St George, Ben Hunt was the most-improved player and was certainly the Dragons’ most consistent performer. Hunt went as far as finishing in the top three on the Dally M leaderboard, just a single point behind James Tedesco.
Hunt was the light at the end of the tunnel for St George last season and hopefully for Dragons fans, he can have others join him and reach the finals for the first time since 2018.
The Dragons’ off-season was one of the driest in the league, as they couldn’t secure anything close to a marquee signing. The worst thing that they could do during the off-season was nothing, and that’s simply what happened. Respectfully, when your struggling club is in need of players, and your best signing from the off-season is Ben Murdoch-Masila, there’s something going wrong.
Don’t get me wrong, Murdoch-Masila’s a good player, however it gives no reason towards why they should improve.
Jacob Liddle is set to take over Andrew McCullough in the 9 jersey, after the veteran’s retirement. Liddle was very versatile on the Tigers, however, it’s doubtful they’ll be able to get anything spectacular out of him.
Anthony Griffin is entering his third season as head coach and his head may be on the chopping block very soon. Since taking the reins, Griffin hasn’t taken them far and a poor start to the season is almost certain to lead to a firing.
Expect Griffin to make mass changes if positive results don’t come out of the first few games, as it’s his only possible way out of life support. There’s no reason for Illawarra to improve this season and the club is a filthy mess, which is why I have them finishing 14th.
14. The Dolphins
The NRL’s brand new toy will be introduced this season, as the Dolphins will be added as the 17th team. There have been many mixed emotions regarding how the NRL has handled this introduction and how Wayne Bennet’s crew have handled this themselves. No one can predict how their first season is actually going to pan out, however not many have given them too high of hopes.
This is fair, as it’s very hard for any new side to be overly competitive in their opening year, especially when you’ve only been given 18 months to prepare. It’s almost impossible for any new team to organise and create a strong squad in that amount of time.
The Dolphins spent a lot of their time scouting their X-factor player, which they were unable to find, although they’ve built a roster which could show surprises. Cameron Munster was supposed to be the rock who would hold this team together, and unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d know that Munster has already re-signed with Melbourne.
I’m sure an A-list player will arrive in the future, however for now they’ve got to try to make as much of an impact as possible in their first season. The Dolphins won’t be good enough to make the finals, however if they’re able to finish outside of the bottom six, I’d grade that as a success.