Melbourne Storm head into the 2018 NRL season bidding to make it back-to-back premierships, and they look standout candidates in what promises to be a thrilling race to the NRL Finals series this year.
We may only have taken the first step towards September, but when it comes to NRL betting tips for 2018 the Storm have to enter serious calculations along with the heavily backed pair of North Queensland Cowboys and Sydney Roosters, who were supported in advance of the start of the new season.
Storm have history against them when you consider no NRL side has managed to go back-to-back in the Grand Final since Brisbane Broncos achieved the feat in 1992 and 1993. The loss of Cooper Cronk is a blow, but the Storm are a strong and well drilled unit and can give it a good old shake at creating a slice of history.
The Roosters finished second on the ladder in 2017 and are being predicted to go one better this year, or certainly threaten victory in the Grand Final. The Roosters, who were last crowned premiers in 2013, have strengthened with the capture of Cronk from the Storm and James Tedesco and they could well be the team to beat.
North Queensland Cowboys missed star man Johnathan Thurston for a large part of 2017 but still went all the way to the Grand Final. It is no surprise therefore to see even greater expectations this time around. Can the boys from Townsville add to their sole premiership achieved in 2015?
What of the rest? The 2016 premiers Cronulla Sharks will be a force despite losing James Maloney and Jack Bird. They’ve made good recruit decisions with the signings of Matt Moylan, Josh Dugan and Trent Hodkinson and should be involved in the finals picture.
Penrith Panthers, who snapped up Maloney from the Sharks, will be looking for more consistency than last year and if they produce more regular performances they can be firmly positioned inside the top eight.
Parramatta Eels and Brisbane Broncos are two sides with question marks hanging over them. The Eels are weakened by the loss of Semi Radradra, but do still have an exceptionally pacey backline with Jarryd Hayne back amongst it. The Broncos, meanwhile, will have to overcome the loss of Ben Hunt to the St George Illawarra Dragons, who could be a dark horse having also signed James Graham from Canterbury Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs begin a new era under Dean Pay and it will be interesting to see how things change at Belmore, while on the other hand Manly Sea Eagles will be desperate to find regular game-winning form having been unable to back up performances last season week on week. For the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Canberra Raiders, can they do enough to squeeze into the eight?
The battle for the wooden spoon, meanwhile, should feature the Gold Coast Titans predominantly along with the Wests Tigers and Newcastle Knights, although this might be the year the boys from the Hunter Valley improve. Don’t discount the New Zealand Warriors, although home advantage across the Tasman could be enough to ease them away from the bottom rung.