Rugby League

NRL season 2016: In a pre-season of player movement, one team is unmoved

The NRL has enjoyed, some might say endured, an off season of unprecedented player movement.

Cowboys thrash Leeds to claim World Club Challenge

The Cowboys ran in six second half tries to romp home against Leeds in a spiteful clash.

It has kept rugby league on the back page for a chunk of the summer, it has ensured players agents remain gainfully employed and it has once again brought about mourning for the demise of loyalty.

But it has ensured the make-up of one of the most competitive seasons in years, with just two or three sides considered little chance of playing finals football.

Face of the game: Cowboys captain Johnathan Thurston handled the NRL season launch with confidence and aplomb this week.
Face of the game: Cowboys captain Johnathan Thurston handled the NRL season launch with confidence and aplomb this week. Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

It has turned Parramatta (who boast recruits Kieran Foran, Michael Jennings and Beau Scott), Manly (Dylan Walker, Nate Myles, Martin Taupau) and New Zealand Warriors (Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Issac Luke) into premiership contenders virtually overnight and given struggles such as Canberra (Aidan Sezer, Elliott Whitehead, Joseph Tapine) fresh hope.

However for all the change there is a constant - premiers North Queensland Cowboys.

For the first time since a side last claimed back-to-back titles - Brisbane in 1992-93 - the Cowboys have retained the same 17 that enjoyed grand final success over the Brisbane five months ago.

It seems the more things change in rugby league, the more they stay the same.

Michael Jennings has helped elevate Parramatta's chances virtually overnight.
Michael Jennings has helped elevate Parramatta's chances virtually overnight. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

The same side that defeated Brisbane in one of the greatest grand finals ever in 2015, was victorious over Leeds in last week's World Club Challenge.

The Cowboys are, Ray Warren believes, in a unique position to claim successive NRL titles.

Former Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is boosting the Warriors ranks.
Former Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is boosting the Warriors ranks. Photo: Brett Hemmings

"I think they can do it," the iconic Channel Nine caller said.

"If you look at the side, they have it is still a fantastic side, with class right across the paddock and of course in Johnathan Thurston they have the best player in the world. So they are in a great position to do what so many sides have been unable to do.

"I think they could very well be in the grand final again and the Brisbane side may be as well.

"They have lost Justin Hodges and no one is a bigger fan of Justin Hodges than me. But they have a very capable replacement in James Roberts."

The great unknown in season 2016 is how the reduction of interchanges from 10 to eight will affect the game and the introduction of the a shot clock for scrums and dropouts.

"It will bring back the fatigue factor and it will bring the little man back into the game and that is a great thing," Warren said.

"The Slaters, the Moylans and the Hunts of this game, they can't get any better, but it might now be more a game for those types of players."

It is up front where the fatigue is set to be greatest. No longer will big men big able to rest up like they once did.

However Canterbury captain James Graham isn't sure what will happen.

"I don't know why they have made those changes, I just don't know," he said.

"And I don't know how it will change the game. We will just have to wait and see."

What did change, and what didn't in 2015 was Queensland status as the undisputed kings of State of Origin, after NSW briefly held the title in 2014, for the only season in the past 10.

The Maroons thumped the Blues 52-6 in a record win at Suncorp Stadium and with much of the Queensland side returning Warren fears for more of the same.

"I have been mesmerised by the Queensland side over the past 10 year and (if it happens again) we just have to acknowledge that we were beaten by an incredible side," he said.

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