Club rugby league competitions do not come any tougher than the National Rugby League and the 2013 edition promises to be every bit as action packed as its recent predecessors.
Sixteen teams – 15 from Australia and one from New Zealand – will compete over 26 rounds for the right to be one of the eight sides to take part in the National Rugby League Finals Series that will culminate with the 2013 National Rugby League Grand Final at ANZ Stadium on Sunday 6 October.
Australians have played rugby league since 1908 but the National Rugby League as it is known today is less than 20 years old. Brisbane won the first National Rugby League Grand Final in 1998, the first of its three National Rugby League titles. The other eight teams on the National Rugby League honour roll are Melbourne (two titles retained and two titles stripped for rule breaches), Manly-Warringah (two titles), Canterbury-Bankstown (one title), Newcastle (one title), Penrith (one title), St George Illawarra (one title), Sydney (one title) and Wests Tigers (one title), with the National Rugby League salary cap going a long way to ensuring that no one side triumphs year after year.
The 2013 National Rugby League season will get under way on Thursday 7 March with a local derby between Sydney and South Sydney at Allianz Stadium. A few years ago, Rabbitohs owner Russell Crowe commissioned a book – the Book of Feuds – to chronicle the rivalry between his team and the Roosters.
Melbourne Ready to Kick Up a Storm
National Rugby League futures punters are spoilt for choice, with a vast array of betting markets available before Sydney and South Sydney kick off the competition. Also, bookmakers will update many of the futures markets after every round.
In terms of picking the winner of the 2013 National Rugby League Grand Final, it is hard to go past Melbourne, the defending champion that recently added this year’s World Club Challenge trophy to its silverware collection. The Storm have the best spine of the National Rugby League sides, with Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith playing fullback, halfback and hooker respectively. And Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy is the best in the game.
Bellamy has refreshed Melbourne’s squad for 2013, letting go more players than he has recruited but, arguably, improving his team’s roster overall. Brett Finch, Junior Moors and Junior Sa’u are Bellamy specials – value signings who will slot in and do as he tells them. Maybe the Storm have lost a little bit in their forward pack but Bellamy is a master of getting unheralded big blokes to step up a few notches.
Melbourne is a very worthy 2013 National Rugby League Grand Final favourite at odds of around 11-2 because it has the players to get the job done at the business end of the competition when everything is on the line.
Respect Hasler’s Current and Former Sides
Representative call-ups may prevent Melbourne from making the 2013 National Rugby League Finals Series as the first seed, with Slater, Cronk and Smith likely to miss a few matches during the State of Origin period. The sides that appeal as value bets to finish the regular season at the top of the ladder are Canterbury-Bankstown and Manly-Warringah.
Canterbury-Bankstown is likely to get through the lengthy representative season without too many interruptions. A lot will depend upon how the Bulldogs manage the Ben Barba’s tricky situation – they have stood down their free-scoring fullback indefinitely – but one would expect to see them right near the summit after the 26 rounds are over.
Manly-Warringah is the National Rugby League’s forgotten team. Champions two seasons ago and given no chance of retaining their title last term because of a series of injuries to key personnel, the Sea Eagles may be getting a little old in the tooth but they have what it takes to challenge for the star prize for at least one more year.
Bookmakers are offering 2013 National Rugby League minor premiership odds of around 11-2 about Canterbury-Bankstown and 10-1 about Manly-Warringah. The Bulldogs are as short as 7-2 and the Sea Eagles are as low as 13-2. The bookmakers who are trying to duck Des Hasler’s current and former sides are pretty smart. Both of them will be there or thereabouts.
Bulldogs Pivot is Live Dally M Medal Outsider
Betting on the 2013 National Rugby League wooden spoon recipient is too hard – they are at least five strong contenders – but there are excellent opportunities elsewhere, including one at a working man’s price.
The long odds that are worth snapping up are those about Canterbury-Bankstown five-eighth Josh Reynolds winning this season’s Dally M Medal. Reynolds has a fan club among the people who cast Dally M Medal votes, so much that he was joint fifth in last year’s count despite his Bulldogs teammate Barba stealing a lot of votes off him.
Reynolds is as big as 33-1 to succeed Barba as the Dally M Medal winner when, realistically, he should be around the 10-1 mark. If Barba does sit out a large chunk of the 2013 National Rugby League season and Canterbury-Bankstown has another decent campaign then Reynolds, who was level with Melbourne superstar Smith on 20 points last term, could ensure that prize remains within the Bulldogs set-up.
Cooper Cronk is the only one of Melbourne’s big three not to have won a Dally M Medal. Third last year, the Storm halfback is worth a second look at odds of around 9-1.
Sea Eagles to Make the Eight, Broncos to Miss the Eight
Betting on teams to make or miss the National Rugby League Finals Series is a popular pastime and 2013 throws up some interesting bets. Manly-Warringah is trading at odds of around 4-6 to make the top eight for the ninth season in a row, odds that feel a good few rolls over the top. And as far as sides that are more likely to miss the top eight than bookmakers think, Brisbane sticks out at odds of around evens. The Broncos were lucky to finish eighth last term and, if anything, the only way is down for the giants.