Group 20 2014 season preview

Last year: Fifth (9 wins, 7 losses) - lost elimination final

Coach: Simon Watson

Key gains: Anfo Leao-Seve, Ronnie Bamblett, Suni Vuadreu (Yenda), Daniel Johnson

Key losses: Chris Bamford (New Zealand), Tom Webb, Jessie McDonald (Wagga Kangaroos), Sean Scott (WA), Daniel Hyde, Kurt Wilton (retired), Glenn Staines (WA), Rama Chand, Willie Newton

COACH’S COMMENTS...

On improvement: Defence. They could score a heap of tries last year but leaked too many. We’ve just got to tighten up.

Team strengths: Forward pack. Bamford’s gone but we’ve still got some very good players there.

Expectations: I’d be happy if we make the five at this stage, given what’s happened over the last six weeks.

Team to beat: Lake Cargelligo. If Yenda get their stuff together they’ll be a force too but sometimes a team of champions isn’t always a champion team. 

OUR PREDICTION: Eighth.

The Hurricanes have lost almost their entire first-grade side from last year and their chief leader in Chris Bamford, who was one of the best players in the competition. His departure came far too late in the pre-season and while Watson knows his rugby league, he can’t work miracles. Could be a lean year for Bidgee. 

Last year: Seventh (6 wins, 10 losses)

Captain-coach: Jay Little

Key gains: Josh Veivers (Ipswich Jets), Cedric Matter (France), Jay Little (Temora)

Key losses: Andrew Herbert (retired), Josh Curphey, Josh Bryant, Kyle Charles, Luke Gras (DPC) 

COACH’S COMMENTS... 

On improvement: Just our support play and finishing off games. I know last year they were in a few games and loss by six or less points so being able to play the full 80 minutes is important.

Team strengths: Mobility. I think that’s our key - we’ve only got a small pack so hopefully we can move the big boys around a bit.

Expectations: We’re remaining optimistic. We’d like to scrape into the finals if possible.

Team to beat: From what I know, probably Lakes or Yenda. They’re both looking pretty strong and have recruited well too.

OUR VIEW: Ninth.

Tough call, but someone has to finish bottom. The Roosters will be without a lot of last season’s stars and depending on youth in a competition as tough as Group 20 is fraught with danger. Reinforcements have arrived from overseas but it’s too early to tell how much of a difference they’ll make.

Last year: Ninth (1 win, 15 losses)

Captain-coach: David Milne

Key gains: David Milne (Mackay Cutters), Jericho Tanuvasa, David Uasila’a, Samuel Delavakavu, Andre Evagelia, Clinton Lilo (New Zealand), Todd Granger (Yenda), Mick Smith (Quakers Hill), Josh Charles (Waratahs)

Key losses: Jeko Makatoa (New Zealand), William Hannon (Yenda)

COACH’S COMMENTS...

On improvement: Our defence, fitness and general cohesion needs to improve a bit but that will come with playing more games.

Team strengths: We do have a reasonable forward pack and there’s a fair bit of depth there as well. We’ve actually got players pushing for spots all over the park which will help if we get a few injuries through the year.

Expectations: We’re looking to at least make the finals. That’s one of our goals for the year.

Team to beat: Lakes will be good again, no doubt, and Yenda as well. I don’t really know - I haven’t seen an actual comp game yet so it’s hard to say.

OUR VIEW: Sixth.

The Black and Whites can only improve upon what was an absolutely dire 2013 season. With David Milne at the helm and a host of classy new players at his disposal, expect them to rise up the ladder - but finals might just be a stretch too far, at least for this year.

Last year: Eighth (1 win, 15 losses)

Captain-coach: Kose Lelei

Key gains: Kose Lelei (Illawarra), Moahoni Lelei, Michael Iaopo (Bulldogs under 20s), Johnny Teleaga (New Zealand)

Key losses: Tim Rice (Temora), Danny Graham (retired), Josh Charles (Black and Whites)

PRESIDENT’S COMMENTS... Ken Wells

On improvement: All over the park but mainly defence - we let in too many easy tries last year. 

Team strengths: I think attack. The new boys we’ve brought in are quick and smart so they should help set up some of the others we’ve got.

Expectations: I’d be really hoping for fourth or fifth and going from there. I’d be stoked to go even higher.

Team to beat: Lakes are still the yardstick and Yenda’s right up there as well. They look like the two pacesetters this year.

OUR VIEW: Fifth.

Possibly the competition’s dark horse this year. The ‘Tahs were in bad shape 12 months ago but the signings of Kose Lelei, his brother, Iaopo and Teleaga will give them a very strong spine. If they can keep their best players fit and on the park they’ll be tough to beat.

Last year: Sixth (6 wins, 10 losses)

Captain-coach: Phil Crosby

Key gains: Kurtis Jackson, JC Sagoe (England), Ben Taylor (Waverley Panthers), Jake Whitehead, Toby Whitehead, James McLean

Key losses: Max Edwards (England), Matt Whitehead (Wollongong), Shaun Aylett (Southcity)

COACH’S COMMENTS... 

On improvement: Our away form. Last year we beat the two Griffith teams over there, but they were struggling and we didn’t get any other wins on the road. 

Team strengths: We’ve got a strong all-round team. We’ve got good forwads and good backs and aren’t too dependent on any one area.

Expectations: To go better than last year and make the play-offs. I don’t want to aim too high but we’ll take it from there.

Team to beat: Definitely Lakes again, they’ve got great structure, strength and depth - and Yenda look like they’ve recruited well.

OUR VIEW: Fourth.

An inaugural Group 20 finals appearance is on the cards for the competition’s long-time battlers. The Paul Kelly Memorial Shield was the highlight of a watershed pre-season for Hay and if they can bring their home form elsewhere, they will trouble the top sides.

Last year: First (13 wins, 2 losses, 1 draw) - lost grand final

Captain-coach: Frankie Fiumara

Key gains: Clint Halden (retirement), Ben Evans (Barellan Two Blues)

Key losses: Chris Latu (Griffith Blacks), Willie McDonald (New Zealand), Warren Lloyd (Wagga Kangaroos), Brayden Scarr, Clinton Green (Coleambally Blues)

COACH’S COMMENTS...

On improvement: It’s hard, we nearly won all our games last year. I’ll be very happy if we can do the same as last year but take that one extra step.

Team strengths: Hopefully our togetherness. I don’t want us to play as individuals, I want everyone to help each other out. We don’t have the big gamebreakers so we have to play as one.

Expectations: Finals. Anything after that I’ll take, as long as we finish top five.

Team to beat: Lakes United. They’re just hungry. And you can tell that they are, just the way they play footy. Any team will have to want it more than they do to knock them off.

OUR VIEW: Seventh.

After looking near-unbeatable in Willie McDonald’s brief reign the Greens could be the big sliders this year. They’ve lost a lot of talent and are possibly the only side in the league that hasn’t improved. Then again, nobody expected them to finish top last year, so they could make us look silly.

Last year: Third (11 wins, 4 losses, 1 draw) - won grand final

Captain-coach: Brent Pike

Key gains: Matt Pike, Chris Jordan (Temora), Sam Macauley (Temora), Dylan Hately (injury)

Key losses: Michael Dodson (Goulburn), Matt Toole (Evanshead), Alex Ronayne (Nyngan Tigers)

COACH’S COMMENTS...

On improvement: Discipline. At the back end of last year once we got that right we ended up winning nine or 10 in a row.

Team strengths: Probably our attack - all over the field we’ve got class players that can really put points on the scoreboard from anywhere.

Expectations: Finals again. We’re not putting any added pressure to finish on top, we just want to get there and grind away exactly the same as we did last year.

Team to beat: Yenda and West Wyalong. Hay are going to win more games at home than they lose as well, but travel’s another thing. I’m expecting them and the Black and Whites to improve a lot. 

OUR VIEW: First.

The Sharks oozed class at the Paul Kelly Memorial Shield and despite losing three premiership players over the off-season, they’ve replaced them all adequately. Jaden Kelly will be back for the full campaign, which spells trouble for the rest of Group 20. They’re hungry, they want it - watch them go back-to-back.

Last year: Second (13 wins, 3 losses) - lost elimination final

Coach: Rohan Louden

Key gains: Sam Basham (Woden Valley Rams), Jeremy Wood (injury), Brandon Kerry (Temora)

Key losses: None.

COACH’S COMMENTS...

On improvement: Defensively I think we lapsed a bit in the semis last year and if we can pick that up we’re in with a show.

Team strengths: Our forward pack. It’s pretty big and mobile and hopefully we can power through the middle.

Expectations: To make the finals, that would be a good start, and we’ll see what happens after that. 

Team to beat: Lakes and Yenda are the standouts at the moment but it’s a bit of an unknown - nobody knows what the Hurricanes, Leeton or the Griffith sides will be like yet. The competition’s going to improve as a whole I think.

OUR VIEW: Third.

The Mallee Men held their cards close to their chest in pre-season, which generally means they’ve got a few tricks up their sleeve. But there should have been more talk about them - they’ve lost nobody and gained three good players. Barring disaster, West Wyalong will be a true premiership contender.

Last year: Fourth (11 wins, 5 losses) - lost preliminary final

Co-coaches: Roy Romeo, Kodie Charles

Key gains: Josh Curphey, Josh Bryant, Kyle Charles, Luke Gras (DPC), William Hannon (Black and Whites), Dom Richbell-Tekira (New Zealand)

Key losses: Shannon Rupapere (CQ Capras), David Rauluni (Sydney), Anfo Leao-Seve, Ronnie Bamblett, Suni Vuadreu (Yenda), Tom Warner, Ben Warner (Brothers)

COACH’S COMMENTS... Roy Romeo

On improvement: Our attack out wide. I’d like to see us finish off our tryscoring opportunities a little better.

Team strengths: We’ve got some big boys for sure but it’s a pretty balanced side all round I reckon.

Expectations: Top three for sure. We’ve got to build on what we did last year.

Team to beat: Lakes of course and West Wyalong are always tough, but the big improvers will be the Waratahs if they can keep their full squad on the park.

OUR VIEW: Second.

The Blueheelers were within an inch of making the grand final last year. Their players should have been burning about it all summer. While question marks remain over their halves pairing, there’s quality everywhere else. If they can make things click, Yenda will be a force to be reckoned with.

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