The NRL season is upon us and the league has never been so wide open.
While the Penrith Panthers have gone back-to-back to become just the second team to achieve this feat in the NRL era, they have lost several key players including Api Koroisau and Viliame Kikau.
The Sydney Roosters are fit and firing into the engine room with new signing Brandon Smith, while the Parramatta Eels will be hungry after falling agonizingly short in 2022.
Father and son duo Ivan and Nathan Cleary will be hard to stop with the Panthers again in 2023
The North Queensland Cowboys and Cronulla Sharks will be looking to take their 2022 breakaway season to another level.
And plenty of teams in the chasing pack have improved their rosters for what promises to be a blockbuster season kicking off Thursday night.
Daily Mail Australia took the time to ask some of the biggest stars in the game about their predictions about who will rise to the top – and who will sink – in the 2023 NRL season:
Billy Slater celebrates victory with his family after game three of the 2022 State of Origin series
Queensland home state coach
323 NRL appearances for Melbourne Storm, 31 appearances for Queensland, 30 appearances for Australia
Premier League winner:
“Let’s get Melbourne out because I’m loyal to Melbourne. I think there are two teams that can stand out from the pack and they are the Roosters and the Cowboys. It’s the two teams that I’m curious to see how they can go because I think they can really take their game to the next level and take it to the next level.”
Haumole Olakau’atu of the Sea Eagles being tackled during the NRL Trial Match between the Sydney Roosters and the Manly Sea Eagles at Central Coast Stadium
“I think Manly can improve, I really do. I think Manly can have a good year.’
“I’m a glass half full person, not a wooden spoon for me.”
“I haven’t really thought about this yet. Off the top of my head I think (Cronulla Sharks half) Nicho Hynes can do it again I just think he’s a player who is always in the game he’s on a really good team and I think they’ll play consistent football .
Maroons assistant coach Johnathan Thurston shouts at Maroons players during game one of the 2022 State of Origin series
assistant coach Queensland State of Origin
323 NRL games for Canterbury Bulldogs and North Queensland Cowboys, 37 games for Queensland, 38 games for Australia
Premier League winner:
‘The cowboys. I need to see the young guys recover from last year and they will be on everyone’s radar. But if they can keep everyone fit, I think they can get the job done. We saw a lot of those young guys come up last year and they can rise to another level this year. In the first few rounds they will definitely find out where they stand in the competition. I’m excited for them, it should be good.’
Assistant coach Benji Marshall looks ahead to the NRL trial match between New Zealand Warriors and Wests Tigers
“The Titans with Keiran Foran there, they needed an experienced head to lead their guys around and they can score tries anywhere. They have a strong vanguard. Also the Wests Tigers, if they can get all their players fit, they can move up the ladder. Also the dolphins. If I had to say one, I’d probably say the Wests Tigers. They have the Tiger DNA there with Sheensy and Benji Marshall, Robbie (Farah) has been there for a while.”
‘The warriors. They just haven’t really started, new coaching staff there too. I want them to go well, it’s a good competition if the Warriors play well, but I think it’s going to be a tough year for them.”
Phil ‘Gus’ Gould at the launch of Channel Nine’s 2023 NRL coverage in Brisbane on Friday
General manager of football for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
103 first class appearances for Penrith Panthers, Newtown Jets, Canterbury Bulldogs and South Sydney. 287 as first class coach at Canterbury, Penrith and Sydney City. 15 games as coach for New South Wales and nine games for New South Wales in State of Origin.
“I think it’s well hidden. I think about the Sharks and the Cowboys… and I think the Cowboys can win.
The Titans’ David Fifita gets wrapped up by the defense during the NRL Trial Match between the Brisbane Broncos and Gold Coast Titans
“I wonder how the Broncos are doing. I mean, the first half of their season was great last year and then, for whatever reason, they capitulated. If they can get off to a good start and gain a little confidence, they’ll have the playing talent to make it to eight. I’ll tell the Broncos to play final footy.”
“I never make predictions with a wooden spoon.”
Nicho Hynes. I think the Sharks are going to have a good year and if they do, he’s going to have to. I think it gave him a lot of confidence to lead the team last year and he will go even better this year.”
Paul ‘Fatty’ Vautin believes the North Queensland Cowboys have what it takes to push their limits in 2023
Channel Nine commentator
259 first class appearances for Manly-Warringah, St Helens and Eastern Suburbs, 22 appearances for Queensland, 13 appearances for Australia. Nine games as Queensland Origin coach
“The Cowboys got pranked last year and look, they may have bugged Penrith. I still think Penrith may have been too good, but Penrith is missing a few players (in 2023) and the Cowboys are looking very strong. The coach is clearly going very well. They had a turning point 18 months ago where they weren’t listening to what he was saying, or what he was doing was too demanding. They seem to have worked it out and they are right behind him now. So I think they have a great chance of winning.
The Cowboys’ Murray Taulagi dives for the line as he is tackled by the Broncos’ Deine Mariner
“I think it will be the Wests Tigers. I actually spoke to someone who works as a trainer with the Tigers and he said that Benji has revolutionized what they do. Not the way they play, just everyone’s attitude. He’s a winner and he’s been great with old dude Sheensy in the background. So Wests Tigers – and Canterbury, especially since they have Gus. If he could keep running and playing, they’d be even better.”
“Knights or Dragons.”
“It’s so hard to get past Nathan Cleary because he’s usually in the top two or three players every week. So I have to tell him again.’
Millie Boyle of the Knights runs the ball during the NRLW Grand Final match between Newcastle Knights and Parramatta Eels at Accor Stadium
Co-captain of the Newcastle Knights
20 NRLW matches for Brisbane Broncos and Newcastle Knights. Three games for New South Wales and one game for Australia. Six appearances for Queensland Reds (rugby union)
“It’s hard to say, Penrith is the obvious one after seeing a few players go to other teams and they weren’t too strong in pre-season, although pre-season doesn’t mean much at the end of the day. . It’s hard not to say Newcastle because my Adam (Elliot) plays for Newcastle. Newcastle then.
Ponga needs to be fit and ready for the Knights if they want to be successful in 2023
I think Newcastle will be the most improved and probably Manly too. I don’t think they played to their potential last year and under a new coach we saw some good things from the pre-season challenge.
I think Newcastle definitely have the players there, they have some great players, backbone players, mid players, they have great finishers too. it’s about really getting together and playing as many games with their top 17 as they can. They have had many injuries in the past, including key players. Their captains Kalyn Ponga, Jayden Brailey, they’ve had quite a few changes in their team. Now that there’s a bit more mongrel in the pack with Adam and Jack Hetherington, I think they’ll really add a lot to an already (pack) with the Saifiti brothers. I hope they have an injury free year.
Not the Newcastle Knights
I could go Jason Taumalolo