New premiers, Souths slide, flop of the year: Our 2022 NRL predictions

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This photo shows the Penrith Panthers celebrating their 2021 NRL grand final victory.
The Penrith Panthers will be hoping to repeat their 2021 grand final heroics by winning another NRL premiership in 2022. Pic: Getty

As we say goodbye to 2021 and welcome in 2022, rugby league fans head into the new year dreaming that this is their team's season.

Unfortunately, you can’t all be right.

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We've stopped staring into a wine bottle long enough to look at a crystal ball to give you our take on the season ahead.

If it all turns to crap, this URL will show a 404 error report on the first weekend in October!

   

Bunnies fall into a hole

South Sydney become the story of the season, falling away alarmingly without Wayne Bennett and Adam Reynolds.

The Bunnies still make the top eight but just don’t have the same potency, putting plenty of heat on first-year coach Jason Demetriou.

We all knew they'd miss Reynolds and Wayne, but not to this extent.

Melbourne also slip a peg or two, as do Parramatta.

In fact, the Eels will share plenty of headlines with the Rabbitohs as Brad Arthur's future remains in the spotlight despite him signing an extended deal.

Another premiership window opens and shuts without a title to show for it – and the blue and gold army arks up big time as a host of big names depart the club.

The Storm remain highly competitive despite losing more players – mostly notably Dale Finucane and Josh Addo-Carr – but the departure of Nelson Asofa-Solomona is one they were desperately trying to avoid.

NAS's anti-vax stance gives Craig Bellamy no option but to cut the big man loose, sparking a frenzy of activity from rival clubs exploring ways they may be able to accommodate the 200cm, 130kg giant.

Don't be surprised if he pops up at Bennett's Dolphins in 2023.

Moving in the right direction

Cronulla, Brisbane and Canterbury are the big improvers.

Reynolds makes an immediate impact with the young playing group at Brisbane, adding composure and experience to a team that has all the talent but can lose their heads at crucial times.

They are genuine top four threats as Suncorp once again becomes a place no-one wants to visit.

We all know the Doggies have spent up big and the time for excuses has run out for Trent Barrett.

He's now got the team he wanted and it's time to show he's a genuine NRL coach.

Pictured here, Bulldog coach Trent Barrett watches on during an NRL game in 2021.
Trent Barrett's Bulldogs have been on a recruiting spree that should get Doggies fans excited for 2022 and beyond. Pic: Getty

The good news for Baz is the wooden spoon won’t be staying at Belmore as a much-improved Canterbury punch away in that 9-12 category on the table.

The bad news is there won’t be a top eight spot…yet.

A return to the finals looks more likely in 2023 but will Barrett survive long enough to see it through?

Back at a redeveloped home ground with a new coach and some quality signings, the Sharks are a genuine top four contender after rediscovering that hard-nosed, ruthless approach that was once part of their DNA.

Cronulla's opponent will be black, white and blue by the end of every game as Craig Fitzgibbon puts his Roosters imprimatur on the side.

Slip sliding away

Wests Tigers will be at the wrong end of the table – again - but won’t take out the wooden spoon.

Sorry Dragons fans, but that "honour" will sit with your side.

We just can't see where the improvement will come after such a disastrous 2021 campaign.

If we're right, it's goodbye Anthony Griffin.

Cockroaches ruin Billy's Origin launch

Billy Slater's stint as Queensland coach will get off to the worst possible start, with the Maroons going down 3-0 to a rampant Blues.

With only one game north of the border instead of the three-game home ground advantage they enjoyed in 2021, Queensland simply can't cope with NSW's power, precision and class.

Despite the defeat, Slater won't be punted after showing enough to prove he is a coach of the future.

But after four series losses in five years, it won't stop the predictable calls from north of the border for Wayne Bennett to return in some capacity.

He won't, but will be happy to let the story run.

Redeeming qualities

Cameron Munster and Latrell Mitchell return to the NRL as changed men for different reasons.

Mitchell's season-ending suspension for nearly decapitating Joey Manu proves a seminal moment in his career.

The Souths fullback returns same of the full aggression but has cut the garbage out of his game.

The Bunnies don’t quite reach the heights of 2021 but Mitchell's stand-out season has him in line for the Dally M medal.

Munster's problems have been more off field than on and those close to him see a remarkable difference after a stint in rehab.

He becomes a genuine leader at a time when the Storm really need him to stand up.

Seen here, Cameron Munster warms up for the Storm before an NRL match in 2021.
The Storm will be hoping Cameron Munster can banish his off-field issues and get back to playing his best footy in 2022. Pic: Getty

Buy of the year

Adam Reynolds is the obvious pick and is very good for the Broncos, but look for Xavier Coates to emerge as a genuine superstar after the Craig Bellamy touch is applied.

Bellamy, as he has done for so many players, will knock the rough edges of Coates and turn him into a potent match-winner.

The Sea Eagles will be happy with Ethan Bullemor's contribution after joining from Brisbane and Dale Finucane will provide everything – and more – the Sharks expected from him.

Dud buy of the year

It's got a nice fairytale feel to it, but we fear Shaun Johnson's return to the Warriors will end in tears.

Johnson has been hampered by injury in recent seasons and it's hard to see him regaining the magic in his second coming.

Under the pump

Michael Maguire and Anthony Griffin are the obvious targets and you can throw Nathan Brown in there as well.

Ricky Stuart's job is not under threat but he will be desperate to show he still has command of the Raiders dressing-room after a forgettable 2021.

And Brad Arthur knows he will never be far from a headline as the Eels' premiership drought enters its 36th year.

Craig Fitzgibbon is also under pressure to prove the hype is justified.

And the winners are…

Okay, time to roll the dice.

The top 8 will read: Roosters, Penrith, Brisbane, Melbourne, Cronulla, South Sydney, Manly, Parramatta.

After an incredible performance to finish last season fifth despite a crippling injury toll, the Roosters beat Penrith in the 2022 grand final.

Sam Walker wins the Clive Churchill Medal in the same week team-mate James Tedesco takes out his second Dally M, just seeing off Reynolds and Tom Trbojevic.

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