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NRL Team by Team Detailed Season 2021 Preview


NRL 2021 Season Preview

What’s an NRL Coach worth? And why Defence matters!

So what is a quality Coach worth? Experience, expertise and more often than not with longevity comes a successful record. For mine another key factor for success and longer term survival is an ability to understand and be able to coach defence, in my opinion the toughest things to do in this role. Some become very good at it, and understand it and how to coach it – most don’t. The stand out here is Craig Bellamy, not only has his sides played finals 16 out of 17 seasons his teams every season are either top 2 or top 4 in defence. Season after season of player list rotation over 16 seasons he gets it right. Add then to his long term resume season 2020 where the Storm lived out of a suitcase on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, remained undefeated at this new home base, still kept their weekly game defensive average at 13.8 and then went on to win the title!


Why Defence Matters

Most coaches get it, but in my opinion most can’t actually coach it. Even in today’s structured and at times robot like game of physical chess (especially when those at the top of the table are matched up) the obvious begins to stand out with those who can (D) and those who can’t..

As already noted Bellamy’s long term record is just something else. Robinson has fast become another stand out. The penny finally dropped in Canberra at the end of 2018 that being attacking superstars was only half the battle and after some key coaching staff changes and 4 months of intensive off season focus into the 2019 season they to dropped near 6 pts a week off their defence and bingo – made a Grand Final. They again last year maintained this strength, even with such a horrible away draw. Another notable improver has been the Panthers, dropping last season to 11.9 pts a game (from a prior 19.8) and make the GF, they will be an interesting watch this season as the comp reverts to a normally home and away 25 week draw if this defensive quality can be maintained.

Some other interesting observations as we look at the table below. The other notable improver has been the Knights across the last 3 seasons, from 25.3 to last season 18.7. The Titans in the last 12 months have gone 27.1 to 23.2 but if they are to achieve the up table and into top 8 position this season as I expect then that defensive improvement needs to continue. The Sharks limped into the finals last year, but under Morris have defensively blown out across the last 3 seasons, 17.6 > 19.4 then 24.0 last year, if they continue leaking 24 a week with the likely competition for spots in the bottom of the 8 they are going to make it very hard for themselves.

Another of interest is the Tigers. Last season they blew out to 25.3 per week, very much unlike Maguire’s normal methods. They have made quite a number of list changes into this new season and I’m sure have also spent a lot of off season time on structure, patterns and technique to get this back to the 18 or 19 it was in the seasons prior.

The Eels are also an interesting discussion. They had a game average of 14.4 last season, but the season prior 19.7. They had a very soft draw last year due to Covid with 19 games in Sydney and 13 games at home. At the back end of the season when facing some to the teams at the pointy end of the table they conceded blow out scores like 38 (rd16 c Rabbits); 20 (rd18 v Panthers); and then in their final 3 games 24, 36 and 38. I expect this season they are back circa 18 to 20 per week.

The big sliders become obvious, and again highlight why they sit where they sit on the table. Sea Eagles missed the finals last yr, much has been made of them losing many games when Tom Trbojevic wasn’t playing, but defensively they were rubbish conceding 25.5 per week. Cowboys 26 a week, Bulldogs 25 a week and the hapless Broncos 31 a week.

 NRLAv last 3 seasons 
  Av # winsAv D per gameD/game 2020
14Sea Eagles9.323.425.5
 Rating order based on D/game av. 2020

2021 Table Forecast

These ratings are finalised using a whole range of performance data across recent seasons, team list changes (ins and outs), home and away advantage/records, MrG’s personal feel and opinion and then a forecast simulation of all weekly results for this coming seasons based on all of this criteria to finalise and forecast the likely final table positions. I have used this method for the past 8 seasons with it then normally providing an accurate forecast of those expected to perform well (top 2, top 4, top 8) and those who look at significant risk and likely in the bottom half or bottom 4 of the final table. The obvious longer term unknown now is the impact of a new coach, list overhauls and or new major signings, luck with the draw and the obvious unknown impact of key injuries or off field indiscretions, but in the final 8 weeks prior to the new season start I have worked through as much of this as possible to then piece together a ratings assessment.


I have the top 4 rated all but side by side, and then a gap behind then. I then have the Raiders then Titans. Then a mid table log jam of seven teams all rated very closely together fighting it out for bottom of the 8 spots. Things then start to fall away back to Bulldogs, then Dragons then Broncos. As I have said elsewhere over recent weeks I have the Broncos rated as low a team at the bottom of the table as I have had in 10 years of doing this, I think they are a clear cut option for 16th.

The top 4 pick themselves. Panthers and Storm off Grand Final positions, each have a couple of key changes but look to have some quality depth. Both have been very good defensively longer term, and both have significant home ground advantage. The Roosters have been the benchmark for a number of seasons, some questions on whether some of their list are now in the twilight of their career and or what is resolved in the halves to partner Keary, but they also get a few key players back from longer term injury and have an outstanding coach and system. The Rabbits rating has improvement, Latrell Mitchell back, Mansour an in, and they had a number of younger forwards grow into their games last season and aim up. They also showed a key shift in the later part of last season to want to play some serious attack and ball movement, if they continue on this path they become a real contender.


I have the Raiders mid table and similar to last season. They should be advantaged playing many more games back at home this season, but Bateman is a massive out, he’s a game changer. Time will tell but I’m not convinced that they now are as good as they were two seasons ago. I do see major improvement and table climb in the Titans, coach now has a clear run, he’ll prove to be a very good coach, they have recruited very well, cleared out some dead wood and wasted cap space and won their last 5 games to end last season playing some much improved attack.


I have question marks and risk watch noted on the Eels and Knights. As noted previously the Eels had the benefit of a very soft draw last year and then when it mattered quickly backdoored out of the competition. They have had key defensive issues down both outside edges which many opponents have now begun to really target, and have structurally now made the key change of swapping the left and right spots of their halves and back rowers. How does all of this come together? The Knights, made notable improvement under O’Brien last season but with Pearce stepping aside as captain and Klemmer it seems being on the outer I one has to wonder how this all gels week in week out into the season. Their attack needs plenty of work, they’ll also have a period to start the season with out Ponga, and last year showed some horrible inconsistency dropping games that they should have been winning like the Cowboys, Bulldogs, Warriors and Titans who all sat below them on the table. Both could well make the 8, but I have plenty of reasons why I have a cautious watch on them into the opening weeks.

Mid Table Log Jam

Eels, Knights, Warriors, Tigers, Cowboys, Sea Eagles, Sharks.

Not much separates the rating gap or spread across these teams and so these 7 plus the Titans I expect will be fighting it out for three spots to make up the finals. The Warriors and Tigers look to have made some positive recruitment and key list changes, Warriors and Cowboys have new coaches and approach. Sea Eagles are hard to place, they have some key outs (Fonua Blake and Thompson), still yet to resolve a quality #9, a heavy reliance on two or three key players and a cap list that looks out of balance. With their best list on the park, consistently, they can be competitive and challenge for the top 8 but for mine that has plenty of risk in it and defensively last year we saw them fall apart. New coach Payten’s influence at the Cowboys will be a very interesting work in progress, he did an outstanding job with a patchwork quilt Warriors last year and from all reports has done a major make over of how he wants this team to train and play. The Sharks limped into the top 8 last season, personally I think John Morris has done an excellent job in trying circumstances through recent seasons, and he has also been prepared to big some quality kids through, but he’ll need the best out of a few of his senior players and some major overall improvement in defence.

At The Bottom

While the Bulldogs start a new era under Barrett and have some new signings I think they still have a lot of ground to make up and are a work in progress across the next few years. That list still looks bottom 4, and we are still yet to see Barrett make a real mark as a top line coach. Dragons and Broncos pick themselves at the base, the injury loss of McInnes for the Dragons looks significant, he has work rate and defensive commitment which they dearly need, they also are another who look to have an overall play list way out of balance and whack, they are not hard to oppose. I have the Broncos going further backwards on last year if that is at all possible, its a weaker list, key losses, poor recruitment, unsettled 9, 7, 6 and 1 combination, massive defensive problems, unproven coach and a horrible draw.

Longer Term Plays

I have mentioned many times through recent weeks my keenness to back the Broncos for the spoon / least wins a $5.00. The Storm look a positive option for top 4, and the Titans as the Top Queensland team. I could risk the Eels and Knights to miss the top 8. For mine season long bets are about looking for some value over an above how you might price the offer, and so I think the stand out play is the Broncos least wins.

NRL – MrG – Reading The Play

Having coached at a senior level for 16 years including 3 years on the coaching staff of an NRL club Gerard Condon is a long term avid student of the game. He’s coached sides to win titles at a senior level, run the football arm of a successful district club, managed professional players and worked in various development roles, so it’s fair to say the game of Rugby League is certainly in his blood and supports an experienced and unique offering.

Mr G’s NRL previews and betting tips combine this knowledge and ‘read’ of the current weekly form with a statistical and betting analysis to provide his followers with a unique and successful approach. He spends hours each week watching and reviewing each and every game assessing the strengths and weakness of the form to then weigh against that of the betting markets. His previews and betting tips have been published on the internet via two sports forums for 7 years prior to his public offering through Reading The Play.


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