Tevita Pangai Jr admits his first season at Canterbury was below par, but can the Bulldogs new signings help get the best out of him? We reveal the players under the pump in 2023.
They may not necessarily be the star man or have the highest profile — but these players are feeling the most heat at each NRL club into the 2023 season.
Check out who’s under pressure at every club, plus see how we rated the class of 2022 on how they performed under the blowtorch.
BRONCOS: KOTONI STAGGS
Off the back a long-term knee injury, Staggs looked like he was back to his best in the early stages of the year. He went on to claim his first Origin jersey but was dumped after game one and had a poor back half of the season – much like the rest of his Broncos teammates. Did not make a line break after round 17. Had 42 tackle busts in the opening eight games but managed just 54 in his next 15.
RAIDERS: XAVIER SAVAGE
Savage has the potential to take the Raiders from a good side into a finals contender. That is how good he can be with the football. The Raiders have shown their faith in the 20-year-old by moving on experienced Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad to make room for Savage. It took him until round 12 to take on the fullback spot and he played out the season in that role. With a full pre-season under his belt, Savage’s game could go to a new level.
BULLDOGS: TEVITA PANGAI JR
Didn’t deliver on his hefty price tag. Has come out publicly and acknowledged his first season at Canterbury was well below par. Can he turn that around though? Hopefully by surrounding him with some genuine world class talent it will stop him from trying to overplay his hand. If he has another poor year his head will be on the chopping block.
SHARKS: SIOSIFA TALAKAI
Who can forget the clinic he put on against the Sea Eagles in round seven? Morgan Harper is still probably having nightmares. Few players were better to start the season than Talakai, but injuries cruelled his back end of the year. He played on with an impaired shoulder and late ankle injury but those setbacks took out some of the sting in his performances. Recently re-signed and on his day can be a difference maker.
DOLPHINS: HAMISO TABUAI-FIDOW
The Dolphins went hard on a host of potential fullbacks including Reece Walsh and Kalyn Ponga. Eventually Tabuai-Fidow fell their way after he was struggling to get decent game time at the Cowboys. An ankle injury he picked up in the World Cup will delay his pre-season but Tabuai-Fidow has the potential to be a near-decade fullback for the Dolphins and would go a long way to solving their spine questions.
TITANS: SAM VERRILLS
Squeezed out of the Roosters because of the high-profile arrival of Brandon Smith. Comes to the club to solve an ongoing issue in and around their spine. The premiership winner has had a bad run with injuries but will get a shot at playing 80 minutes most weeks. Reliable and consistent – something which has been lacking from the Titans in recent years.
SEA EAGLES: JOSH SCHUSTER
All eyes will be on this sublime talent who makes a permanent switch from the backrow into his preferred five-eighth position. Has big shoes to fill following Kieran Foran. There is no doubting the skillset that Schuster has but question marks remain on his durability. Skipped the World Cup so he can get fit. If he clicks with Daly Cherry-Evans then the Sea Eagles could have one of the best combinations in the competition.
STORM: RYAN PAPENHUYZEN
This is more an injury watch than anything to do with Papenhuyzen’s form. He was among the most devastating players to start last season but again his year was cut short. Has now played just 27 games in the past two years. Papenhuyzen relies on his running game and his footwork to make an impact. A trip to the US to see a specialist and discover if his knee injury has any long-lasting ramifications.
KNIGHTS: KALYN PONGA
Ponga is set to make the switch from fullback to five-eighth. Last time it happened the move lasted just three games. This time though Ponga needs to make it work. He is among the highest-paid players in the game when he inked a long-term deal to stay at the Knights. But Newcastle are yet to get bang for their buck. If Newcastle are any hope of returning to the finals then Ponga needs to be among the game’s elite.
COWBOYS: JEREMIAH NANAI
Hard to top his rookie of the year season which resulted in a Queensland and Kangaroos debut. While Nanai looks too good of a player to be hit by second-year syndrome, he is now a known commodity when it comes to opposition teams so his job will be tougher. Also off-contract so will have to deal with speculation as he considers rich deals from a host of rival clubs.
EELS: JOSH HODGSON
Comes into a squad which made the grand final last year. Will he be able to be a difference maker in getting the Eels to the next level? Or at 33, and off the back of a knee reconstruction, is his best football beyond him? He should provide a bit more spark around the ruck for the Eels but will he be able to play out the season off the back of 80-minute week-in, week-out performances?
PANTHERS: MITCH KENNY
Steps into the tough role of replacing Api Koroisau. Has had plenty of experience covering for Koroisau in the past couple of seasons but now has to do it permanently. Starting in the grand final and showed how strong he is defensively particularly in the opening exchanges. He won’t need to overplay his hand in attack though and will just need to focus on providing Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai with good service.
DRAGONS: JACK BIRD
Still a bit of a nomad in terms of his positional play. Was swapped between second row, centre, lock and five-eighth last season. Looked comfortable as a ball-playing lock in the middle of the field but defensively it took its toll. Needs to master one spot. The Dragons were such a dour side at times last season, Bird needs to contribute more with the football.
RABBITOHS: DAMIEN COOK
Lost his starting NSW jersey and then his Kangaroos spot by the end of the year. It will be interesting to see how the Rabbitohs use Cook. For so long he has been a dynamic 80-minute player but will they shift away from that mindset and have Cook sharing a bit more time with either Peter Mamouzelos or Siliva Havili? Re-signed on a two-year deal. Will need a strong start to reclaim his Blues jersey.
ROOSTERS: BRANDON SMITH
Arrives with a big price tag to the bright lights of Sin-City. We know how much of a character Smith is off the field but it will be a different ball game for him as he becomes one of the most recognised figures in the Eastern Suburbs. On the field too, he gets his wish of becoming a starting hooker but, at the Roosters, that comes with lofty expectations.
WARRIORS: LUKE METCALF
The Warriors showed their hand when they signed Metcalf before a ball was kicked last season and then they tried hard to get him out of his Cronulla deal early. Has great speed and will be fighting for a starting spot. Can put pressure on Shaun Johnson and then will also be locked in a battle alongside Ronald Volkman and Te Maire Martin for a starting halves spot. Gets a real opportunity to become an important player.
TIGERS: ADAM DOUEIHI
Gets a full off-season having been sidelined for the first half of 2022 as he recovered from his knee injury. The Tigers have indicated they want to delay making a decision on Doueihi’s long-term future. Has shown that he can be an elite player but is yet to find that consistency. Gets to play behind a good forward pack which is a golden opportunity to show his worth.
Originally published as NRL news 2023: The player with the most to prove at every club
#NRL #news #player #prove #club