Burning issues: Does Bennett still have the magic in him?

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Every NRL club has big issues facing it ahead of the 2023 season – but none more than the Dolphins. But can their trump card, the Supercoach Wayne Bennett, find the answers?

From fixing failed game plans to dealing with off-field issues, switching positions and even teams, club hopes could rest on sorting these questions.

We reveal the burning issues at every club.

BRONCOS

Can Walsh handle marquee status?

All eyes will be on Reece Walsh in his return to the Broncos after his 18-month stint at the Warriors where he showed glimpses of magic, benefiting from the mentoring of champion fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. NRL defences were on guard for Walsh last season and the Broncos hope he can be the match-winning X-factor they crave at fullback.

Let’s get defensive

Brisbane have to get their defence in order. After conceding a whopping 695 points in 2021, the Broncos showed improvement this year, but when the whips were cracking in the final eight weeks, they collapsed badly. Defence is attitude and the Broncos need to get mentally tougher to avoid another late-season implosion and reach the finals after three consecutive failures.

Change of ruck

The Broncos need some creativity around the rucks to complete their playmaking spine. Reece Walsh, Ezra Mam and Adam Reynolds are a classy trio of playmakers, but they need quality service and a good reader of play at dummy half. Jake Turpin struggled last season and the jury is out on Billy Walters as a No.9. Cory Paix could be the answer to get the Broncos rolling around the rucks.

BULLDOGS

Who is the captain of the Kennel?

The shock retirement of club captain and forward pack mainstay Josh Jackson has left a leadership void at the Dogs. Jackson may have been tapering in his influence with the ball, but he was immense inside the dressing room as a voice of reason, experience and respect.

Who steps up in his absence, will be critical. Without a senior figure and obvious replacement as captain, a leadership team of Luke Thompson, Josh Addo-Carr, Matt Burton and Reed Mahoney must emerge as the figureheads that others follow.

Spinal tap

The 1, 6, 7 and 9. The Dogs will boast their best spine in several seasons with the arrival of Reed Mahoney from Parramatta.

That class could prove crucial in servicing Kyle Flanagan. Flanagan has impressed the Dogs coaching staff with his focus, fitness levels and desire so far this pre-season. Unlike this time last year, it seems Flanagan is being backed to wear the No.7 in round one.

Similarly, Jake Averillo has spent the entire pre-season at fullback, and not at centre or in the halves.

Key will be Matt Burton, who despite his obvious talent, won’t have much time to form combinations following his recovery from a World Cup lay-off.

The man under pressure

The best of Tevita Pangai Jr could prove season-defining for Canterbury. The power forward has talked up a big game in wanting to show his best for the club in 2023. He has vowed to be in the best shape of his career.

If Pangai Jr can be the devastating forward he wants to be, it could be enough to drive the Dogs to the finals.

COWBOYS

Are they the real deal?

The Cowboys shocked the league in 2022 but they will fool nobody next season and there will be enormous expectation on Payten’s troops to fire again. Given that they made the preliminary final this year, anything less than a grand-final appearance in 2023 will be seen as a form of regression.

Can captain Chad survive?

Former Sharks halfback Chad Townsend was one of the buys of the 2022 season but he will be 32 when the new premiership kicks off.

Veterans in their 30s can lose their mojo in the blink of an eye in the NRL and the Cowboys will be hoping Townsend continues to sidestep Father Time.

The co-captain enters the second season of a three-year deal and is renowned for his professionalism, so Townsend will be hungry to add to the premiership ring he won at Cronulla in 2016.

Will ‘Jumping Jeremiah’ stay?

The classy Nanai is arguably the best teenage forward prospect in the code, but he is off-contract next season and that rings alarm bells for the Cowboys.

After 17 tries in a remarkable first full season, Nanai can name his price and NRL rivals are already dangling the carrot with offers upwards of $800,000 a season.

Securing the Queensland Origin sensation to a long-term deal can help set up a premiership dynasty for the Cowboys.

DOLPHINS

Will the new boys flop?

That is the biggest question facing the NRL’s new boys. On the back of massive Covid disruptions, the NRL rushed to introduce the Dolphins for the 2023 season and gave them just 12 months to get ready for their launch.

While they have fared well off the field by compiling a strong sponsorship base and corporate support, the Dolphins haven’t had enough time to put together a quality playing roster – arguably the most important part of a club.

They are up against it and need some sort of immediate success to create a strong supporter base.

Has Bennett still got it?

It has been a long time since Wayne Bennett spent a season on the sidelines – probably around 40 years.

After leading South Sydney to the 2021 grand final, where they lost to Penrith, Bennett sat out the 2022 season to put the Dolphins together.

While he has won seven titles, it has been nearly 13 years since Bennett led the Dragons to what was his last premiership. He has lost two grand finals (Broncos 2015, Rabbitohs 2021) in that time.

The Dolphins couldn’t have picked a more experienced coach to launch the club and now he has to prove that he still has the Midas touch at 73.

Can they land a superstar?

The biggest talking point of the Dolphins’ launch has been the club’s inability to sign a genuine marquee player.

Despite having a clean salary cap, and making huge bids for the likes of Cameron Munster, Brandon Smith and Kalyn Ponga, the Dolphins failed to land a big fish.

They are now looking for a superstar to head their 2024 campaign and prospective fans may start to go cold on the Dolphins if they aren’t winning and don’t secure a big-name player that pulls crowds.

DRAGONS

Will Griffin survive?

The Dragons board and senior executive have put their own heads on the chopping block by not making the tough call with Griffin during the off-season.

We saw last year when Wests Tigers gave Michael Maguire a stay of execution over the summer how it ultimately blew up in their faces. When they ended up sacking him mid-season it was too late to save them, with the club finishing with the wooden spoon.

On the surface the Dragons appear to be in a very similar predicament, and if it turns to mud some very senior people are entitled to be put under the microscope by the fans.

Will Lomax realise his true potential?

It’s become a bit of running gag around the game how everyone always goes back to Freddy Fittler spruiking Zac Lomax as “the gifted one”.

The fact is Lomax is now 23 and it’s about time he delivered on that enormous potential, or otherwise he could wake up one day and wonder what the hell happened.

At his best Lomax is State of Origin standard, but he needs to get the mug tactics out of his game first; like that silly incident last season when he tried to get under Tyson Frizell’s skin and it backfired on him badly.

What we’d all love to see is Lomax come back in 2023 and cut the crap out of his game, just concentrate on being the best footballer he can be. You know what Freddy said is right, but only Lomax can deliver on the promise.

Massive spinal issues

So much will still depend on Ben Hunt. The veteran halfback had a fabulous year in 2022 and he’ll need to do that next season for the Dragons to have any hope of challenging to top teams.

Even more pressure goes on his shoulders with Cody Ramsey’s illness, Talatau Amone subjected to the no-fault stood-down policy and Jayden Sullivan suffering another hamstring injury.

With either Ramsey or Tyrell Sloan at fullback, a fit Sullivan (or Moses Mbye) at five-eighth, and Jacob Liddle the dummy half, on paper it doesn’t look like they have the big guns in the most crucial positions to match the genuine heavyweights just yet.

Still, this is a side that has a stack of players who could easily come out and shock us all by going to the next level in the next year or two.

So if the Dragons can sort out their off-field issues they could be one still end up being one of the real surprise packets in 2023.

Though it could just as easily go pear-shaped if the unrest lingers.

EELS

Will the Hodgson/Moses combination fire or fail?

For those questioning if Josh Hodgson can fill the void left by Reed Mahoney at hooker, let’s remember it was only two seasons back Parramatta legend Peter Sterling came out and declared the former Canberra No.9 had overtaken Cameron Smith as the game’s best dummy half.

Unfortunately what followed was back-to-back knee reconstructions that have left the now 33-year-old’s career at the crossroads heading into 2023.

It is easy to forget how good this bloke is when he is fit and firing, and make no mistake if Hodgson can regain close to his best then the Eels will benefit enormously by his experience and creativity.

What also remains to be seen is how Hodgson will combine with star playmaker Mitchell Moses. It’s no secret both men like to run the show, but in this instance you’d imagine it will be Hodgson who is forced to make some changes to his natural game. Regardless, it’s a combination that will probably take some time to gel.

Has the Eels’ premiership window slammed shut?

It is hard to see how Parramatta will be a stronger squad when comparing the players who have departed up against the new arrivals. Yet it’s worth remembering before Isaiah Papali’i arrived, who would have thought the former Warrior would have become the player he did under Arthur’s coaching? And you could say that about just about every player in the Eels squad last year.

So come this time next year we might be all sitting back and talking about J’maine Hopgood and Jack Murchie in the same manner, as among the buys of the year, and with a player as talented as Hodgson taking over at dummy half anything really is possible.

Yet it is the unknown that will make Eels fans most nervous.

Will Moses’ future cause friction?

It’s never ideal having a starting half coming off contract, and it certainly doesn’t help that Mitchell Moses is one of the the most in-demand players on the open market.

For the sake of everyone concerned the sooner this is all sorted out the better.

Regardless of what decisions are made the Eels just can’t afford to let this drag on too far into the new year.

Having secured the future of halves partner Dylan Brown, the Eels have put tremendous work into developing both him and Moes and understandably this could easily cause some real friction among the playing group and management, as well as with the Parramatta faithful if it is not handled respectfully by all parties.

KNIGHTS

Will Jackson Hastings fit in?

Hastings is a rare talent but has found issues at most of his clubs. He fell out with Tim Sheens at Wests Tigers. Hastings needs to find a permanent home and Newcastle looks like the best long-term destination. Forming a new halves combination with Kalyn Ponga will be cruicial to their hopes.

Will Ponga be a success in the front line?

Newcastle has wanted to move Ponga to No.6 for the past two years. Yes, he needs the ball in his hands as much as possible but will the extra defensive workload dull his attack? Will he be a ‘spot’ in defence? No doubt Ponga has the size and strength to handle the move – but he can expect to lose some of his model looks.

Can the Saifiti brothers lay a platform?

Daniel and Jacob are now in the NSW State of Origin system. They have each taken their game to another level.

But do they need to find more so Hastings and Ponga can show off their traits? Hastings needs to play behind a robust pack.

Newcastle’s pack looks strong but will require the Saifiti brothers to step up more than ever now they have two new starting halves.

PANTHERS

Roster management

Stephen Crichton has accepted a big-money four-year deal to move to Canterbury in 2024 as the Panthers lose another member of their past two grand final-winning teams.

That pulling power will be put to the test as Spencer Leniu, who is free to negotiate, is also on the Bulldogs’ radar. Rivals can’t sign Liam Martin for another 12 months after he re-committed until the end of 2024.

Halves depth

Sean O’Sullivan, who proved to be the perfect halves foil in the absence of Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai, is now a Dolphin. In his place, Jack Cogger was added to the top 30 and Tyrone Peachey was granted a release from the Tigers to join Penrith.

It leaves the side light in the halves when NSW Blues duo Cleary and Luai are on Origin duties or have injuries.

Motivation

First it was conquering Mount Everest, then it was a Top Gun theme, all mind games dreamt up by the coaching staff to keep players motivated. A three-peat will be even more challenging in 2023.

With Ciraldo, the brains behind the motivational exercises, gone, can this Penrith side stay hungry enough to chase down a third title? They seem better placed than any team in the past 40 years to achieve the feat.

RABBITOHS

Can halves take Souths all the way?

The Lachlan Illias-Cody Walker partnership is still very much a work in progress. Souths need more from them as a combination to be any chance of winning the comp.

Illias did a solid job taking over from veteran Adam Reynolds but Souths need more from the young halfback and the same goes for Walker. The halves need to spark more in attack and not just sit back and leave it up to Latrell Mitchell.

More from Mitchell?

Now he’s re-signed, can Souths get more from Latrell Mitchell? There are few players who can reach the same rugby league stratosphere than a happy and injury-free Mitchell, who was a force of nature following his well-publicised recovery trip to the United States.

He’s a walk-up start to the NSW State of Origin and Kangaroos teams. But can the Rabbitohs get more from their money man?

Since his controversial move from the Roosters, the superstar fullback has missed a third of his games – never playing more than 17 – and the Rabbitohs have narrowly missed the top four in two of those three seasons. Is it too greedy to ask for more?

Can they beat the curse?

Not the Wayne Bennett one, but the curse of the black Panther. And it’s probably the only question Rabbitohs fans care about.

The Rabbitohs have lost nine of their past 10 against the two-time reigning premiers, including their past three finals runs (semi-final in 2020, grand final in 2021, semi-final in 2022).

The 2020-21 defeats came without star Latrell Mitchell, but not even his return last-start was enough to stem the tide. There’ll be demons to exorcise if they meet again next September.

RAIDERS

Decision time on Croker

One of the most heartbreaking moments of 2022 came when Jarrod Croker was forced from the field in round nine in his only match of the season. Croker had worked so hard to make his comeback including a six-game stint in reserve grade.

He was celebrated for his tenacity to return but those hopes were quickly diminished when Croker was forced to undergo another shoulder reconstruction.

He will return to contact training in January but the question remains to be seen if he can bounce back again or will his body let him down.

Getting value at nine

The loss of Josh Hodgson to a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament after one game hurt the Raiders. They were forced to pluck Zac Woolford – at the time a part-time player – and thrust him into the NRL. Woolford was solid but the Raiders lacked spark around dummy half.

Tom Starling has an off-field issue to be concerned about, too.

Danny Levi has shown glimpses of being a top-line rake but Canberra will be his fifth club in as many years which is naturally a concern.

Young talent time

Can Hudson Young join some of his teammates including Elliott Whitehead, Joe Tapine and Josh Papalii into representative honours? He was quietly spoken about being a shock inclusion in the Kangaroos World Cup squad and if Canberra had pushed deeper into the finals it may have been hard to leave him out.

Young found the consistency and some controlled aggression which had been missing from his game in recent years. If he can drag the likes of Corey Horsburgh with him then Canberra could have one of the most feared forward packs in the competition.

ROOSTERS

What to do with Manu?

No one is arguing Luke Keary and Same Walker aren’t a potentially a premiership-winning halves combination.

But the debate that won’t go away is would the Roosters be an even better side if recently crowned Golden Boot winner Joseph Manu was wearing the No.6 jumper?

While Manu is also rated the world’s best centre, his phenomenal World Cup performances for the Kiwis were playing at both fullback and five-eighth.

And while he’s no chance of owning the No.1 jumper at the Roosters while James Tedesco is playing like he is, the No.6 appears his best option to get closer to the action. The issue is Keary is no mug either, a three-time premiership winner as well as a Clive Churchill medallist for best on ground in the 2018 decider.

The talk is a lot will depend on how Keary’s health holds up, with the belief that another head knock could force him into early retirement. Many still think the Roosters are costing themselves by not making the call now. Time could be the judge of that.

Will Suaalii be satisfied at centre?

It’s no secret young Joseph Suaalii’s ultimate aim is also to play fullback, and getting a taste of the No.1 jumper for Samoa at the World Cup will only drive that desire.

But as is the case with Joey Manu, the problem for Suaalii is that Tedesco also showed at the tournament beyond any doubt why he is still rightfully ranked the world’s best fullback, and should hold that mantle for some years to come.

So the question the Roosters need to find the answer to is how do they keep the teenage sensation happy for long enough to see out Teddy’s time at the club, and keep the wolves away from a young man rated a once-in-a-generation player?

After an outstanding rookie season on the wing, it’s expected Suaalii will probably move into the centres in 2023, and that hopefully will keep him content for now. But given he comes off contract in 2024, his management will no doubt want to know what the Roosters’ long-term plans are with Suaalii free to start negotiating with rival clubs come November 1, while rugby union is the other serious threat.

For that reason this will become one of the most talked about NRL player trade stories throughout 2023.

How do they manage forward depth?

You can only start 13 players every week, and name four more on the bench. The issue for the Roosters is they have probably at least 21 players who would be walk-up starters at most clubs, but some of them could be looking ahead to at a pretty lean season because of the overflow of talent.

So will it be Connor Watson or Jake Turpin who gets a spot in the top 17 as Brandon Smith’s back up? In the back row the Roosters have Angus Crichton and Nat Butcher as the regular starters in 2022, while Egan Butcher looks ready to stamp his mark, Sitili Tupouniua will be returning from injury, while the rookie Wong is said to be something very special.

But can you fit all four in the top 17 when you also have a four-man middle rotation of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Matt Lodge, Lindsay Collins and Terrell May to accommodate? And what about Drew Hutchison, who seems to be one of Robbo’s favourites?

SEA EAGLES

Can Seibold make an immediate impact?

He has surrounded himself with top-level coaches in Shane Flanagan and Jim Dymock.

No doubt Anthony Seibold has a remarkable football brain but can he win over the playing roster?

Had troubles at Brisbane – some players found him difficult to understand – but appears to have pulled back in terms of his approach.

Can Tommy Turbo recapture his best?

Manly will be sweating on US-based reconditioning guru Bill Knowles sorting out Tom Trbojevic’s troublesome hamstrings to get him firing for their 2023 campaign after he suffered yet another set back this pre-season.

The club moved quickly to send Trbojevic to the US after a grade two strain and they will be hoping Knowles can deliver a similar result to the one he got with South Sydney star Latrell Mitchell’s hamstring issues.

Mitchell returned from Knowles’ sessions to steer Souths to a preliminary final before helping the Kangaroos to a World Cup win. Seibold will be well aware that without Trbojevic at his best, Manly’s chances of competiting with the competition heavyweights becomes an extremely difficult one.

Trbojevic isn’t expected to return to training until mi-February and it’s unlikely he’ll play in any trial games before the Sea Eagles open their campaign against Canterbury on March 4.

Can Manly overcome the pride jersey fiasco?

That depends on who you talk to at Manly. Most are adamant the 2022 drama has now gone but others aren’t so sure.

There was damage done that some feel may be irreparable. The players have attempted to clear the air.

All will be revealed after the first few rounds where Manly will either look like a split club or a united front ready to push forward.

SHARKS

Two-way fullback battle

Will Kennedy will justifiably begin the season at fullback, with the dynamic ballrunner taking hold of the Sharks No.1 jersey over the past two seasons.

However, Kennedy is well aware of the pressure that is closing from rookie Kade Dykes, given ex-rugby star Lachie Miller’s switch to Newcastle.

Dykes, a big body with a strong carry, is capable of also playing centre and, at a pinch, five-eighth. Undeniably, though, his preference is fullback, as proven in his first taste of the NRL when Kennedy was out injured in 2022.

Watch for Dykes to land game time in the pre-season trials.

Captain’s log

Captain Wade Graham’s attitude in announcing his final season at the Sharks should become the blueprint for every NRL player.

He has put his ego aside to declare that in his last year at Cronulla, he will do whatever is best for the team, including missing out on selection if that’s the way the coach wants to go. But the Sharks need to be careful: experience still matters. And while the likes of Dale Finucane and Cam McInnes provide immense leadership, the Sharks quickly drop away in big-game experience without Graham on the field.

Painful hangover

The Sharks dropped a golden ticket that rarely comes a football team’s way at the end of 2022.

With the chance to advance to a grand final qualifier, the Sharks lost to the Cowboys in a thriller on their home track of Shark Park.

The silence was deafening from the shattered home fans when the full-time siren sounded.

The defeat clearly flattened the Sharks as they were then skittled by the Rabbitohs the next week in an elimination final.

So how do the Sharks respond? Has that dented their belief that they are more than just a regular-season team who can mix it with the big boys in the finals? Time will tell.

STORM

Can they stay near the top?

It’s the question that rugby league fans have been asking for years, as the change of guard at Melbourne, as more players move on into either retirement or another club. First it was the big three in the spine – Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith – and now it’s a significant dent put in the side’s engine room.

Underestimating the impact of losing the likes of Kaufusi, Smith and the Bromwich brothers will not end well for the Storm.

This is the first season, in a long time, where the Storm don’t feel like the same premiership threat. Sims, Trent Loiero and Josh King are strong replacements for Kaufusi, Kenny Bromwich and Smith but don’t pack the same star power and experience. The new faces mean new combinations, which can take time to gel. Sims is nearing the end of his career and his unchecked aggression is a liability. He missed the last four weeks with suspension after a high tackle on Cronulla’s Connor Tracey.

They’ll be there in the top eight but can they challenge Penrith? It doesn’t feel like it.

Can Pap stay on the park?

At his best, Ryan Papenhuyzen is one of the most electrifying talents, not just fullbacks, in the competition. But sadly, after another season hampered by injury the question is whether he can stay fit and healthy enough to remain on the field.

After struggling with concussion in 2021, Papenhuyzen was sidelined in 2022 with a hamstring injury and then a shocking fractured knee cap that ended his season.

A trip to the US to visit injury rehab specialist Bill Knowles could prove crucial.

If Melbourne are to go deep into the finals series, Bellamy needs to have his best spine available and that includes having Papenhuyzen in the No.1 jumper.

With Papenhuyzen at fullback, Harry Grant at hooker, Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes in the halves, Bellamy has the best spine combination in the NRL.

It could be the difference between making the numbers and being a genuine title contender.

NAS time bomb

Big Nelson Asofa-Solomona has been cited 10 times in his career for acts of foul play and was charged on five separate occasions last season alone.

It’s a ticking time bomb for a side that can’t afford to lose someone of his calibre and experience given the hole left in the pack by the Brandon Smith and the Dolphins trio.

The veteran forward must clean up his act.

TIGERS

Going all in on Brooks

Luke Brooks has had one foot out the door for 12 months with constant speculation about his future but the club has instead opted to cut arguably their best playmaker, Jackson Hastings, to the dismay of fans.

Benji Marshall has always been an advocate of Brooks’ but if assistant can’t take help mould the halfback into the player the side needs, it’s time for the Tigers to let Brooks move on, so both he and the club can have a fresh start.

Halves depth

With Hastings following Jock Madden out the door, the Tigers halves stocks risk running thin. There’s no obvious graduate from the NSW Cup side to fill the gap and the best external offering is former Bulldogs playmaker Brandon Wakeham, who is currently without a club for 2023.

Daine Laurie can provide cover in the halves, and he played there with competence for Penrith in the NSW Cup.

What does Tigers DNA look like?

There’s been a lot of talk about people like Tim Sheens and Benji Marshall injecting Tigers DNA back into the club. But what does that actually look like?

Whatever is going on at the club, and in the last decade, isn’t working. Micheal Maguire tried to install a DNA based on tough love and hard work and that fell flat.

Winning hasn’t been part of the club’s DNA for a long time. To win you need hard work, just ask any of the dominant sides in recent years Penrith, Roosters, Melbourne.

So where does that leave Sheens and Marshall? In a very difficult place of coaching success into a roster that has barely tasted it.

Both will need to lean on Bateman, who oozes tenacity, as a shot in the arm to their DNA endeavours.

TITANS

Have they learnt from 2022?

The crash of the Titans was one of the NRL’s most dramatic stories last season as the club went within a whisker of the dreaded wooden spoon.

Some big recruitment blunders and a soft pre-season set up the disastrous season and the Titans got what they deserved.

They have made moves to turn things around next season and time will tell whether the club is up to becoming a premiership contender.

Has Foran still got it?

The Titans have taken a punt on 262-game veteran Foran with what will be the final contract of his NRL career.

A two-year deal for Foran at age 32 seems risky given his injury history and lack of speed as a playmaker. Foran has the experience and knowledge the Titans need in their playmaking division and he needs to make an impact on and off the field to justify the Titans’ decision to sign him.

Where will Fifita be in 2023?

The future of David Fifita remains a sticking point at the Titans. After a strong first season at the Titans in 2021, which netted a club record 17 tries, Fifita’s form fell off a cliff last season.

It didn’t help that Holbrook managed his highest-paid player poorly, playing him out of position and off the bench.

The Titans want to keep Fifita, but he is facing a mega pay cut from the $1 million-plus salary he is currently on. The longer it drags on, the higher chance Fifita quits the Gold Coast after three years.

WARRIORS

How good a coach is Andrew Webster?

There were plenty of better credentialed options than the rookie mentor, who hadn’t exactly drawn much interest when other clubs were searching for a new head coach. But, after missing out on Kristian Woolf, the Warriors quickly identified their next choice and moved quickly.

Whether Andrew Webster is ready for the step up remains to be seen, especially at one of the league’s perennial underachievers, who don’t boast the same depth of talent that the attacking coach worked with at the back-to-back premiers.

Will home comforts prevail?

In the five years before their Covid-enforced relocation to Australia, the Warriors won just 29 of 60 games (48 per cent) at Mt Smart Stadium, which was decidedly better than their 21 of 60 games (35 per cent) on the road.

The Warriors also split the four games they enjoyed following their emotional return home last season. Will an entire season of home cooking help next year? For what it’s worth, three of their final games next season are in New Zealand.

Has Shaun Johnson still got it?

At 32 years of age, Shaun Johnson’s best is likely behind him. And the club has identified its future playmakers in Sharks recruit Luke Metcalf and Ronald Volkman.

Te Maire Martin, who enjoyed a surprise renaissance in Brisbane last year, is a wildcard. But any finals push is likely to need a vintage season from Johnson, who led his team with 14 try assists and 10 line break assists in 21 games.

More will be needed from the former Kiwi international before he passes the baton on.

Originally published as NRL 2023: Every club’s burning issues to be addressed in the new season

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