WAYNE Bennett’s gamble with Benji Marshall will prove a masterstroke, and the Titans will stun everyone by storming home to finish in the top four.
These are just a couple of the prophecies predicted by Former Origin Great and rugby league analyst Scott Sattler as he turned his crystal ball to the 2017 NRL season for fogs.com.au.
Sattler, a premiership winner with Penrith and regular commentator on the game, is also a former Wests Tigers teammate of Marshall and expects the fallen Kiwi star to regain his lustre under Bennett at the Broncos.
“Benji will be outstanding for the Broncos,” Sattler said. “When he first came into first grade as an 18-year-old at the Tigers, I was playing in that team, and Tim Sheens played him in the centres.
“Benji was outstanding – absolutely outstanding.
“He will play his game in the centres from a completely different persepective, and I think he has the ability to make Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford play with their eyes up and use a lot more vision.
“There is definitely some method to Wayne’s madness in signing Benji.
“I think it will prove to be one of the great off-season signings.”
Sattler admits he was among those shocked when the Broncos announced they were signing Marshall, who endured less-than-glorious exits from the Tigers and Dragons.
“When it happened, the first thing people asked was where is Benji going to play? He can’t play in the halves, because Milford and Hunt are there. He can’t play at fullback because Darius is there. He can’t come off the bench,” Sattler said.
“But Brisbane are not so well stocked in the centres, and Benji will prove a masterstroke there.
“Where the Broncos finish at the end of the year is anyone’s guess. I don’t think Brisbane have really improved or become worse off than last year, so it’s difficult to know where they will fit in the scheme of things.
“I think the Broncos look a little small up front to combat the better sides.
“When the new interchange rule came in, most people expected the days of the big men to be numbered.
“But what we found last year was that the big men are still so important, and the big men have just become used to playing big minutes.
“Guys like Tevita Pangai and Herman Ese’Ese are going to be so important for the Broncos this year – probably the most important players at the club.
“They not only bring that youth and enthusiasm to the team, but also the size and aggression that the Broncos need.”
Sattler believes a lack of size and experience is also a concern for the Cowboys, who had to watch as two Test props in Ben Hannant (retired) and James Tamou (Penrith) departed at the end of 2016.
“I think the Cowboys will really suffer with the losses they have had,” Sattler said.
“Ben Hannant brings so much experience to the team and that is hard to replace.
“James Tamou was the high-profile defection obviously, and I think any time a club loses a prop who has won grand finals, played Origin and Tests, it is a huge blow.
“He worked in such a good partnership with Matt Scott and I think that is really going to hurt them.
“Even a guy like Rory Kostjasyn will be a big loss because of that experience he brings to the team. When he comes on, the Cowboys don’t break stride – the game plan and the way they play remains exactly the same. And guys like him are an important part of good teams.
“With those three guys gone, they have lost a lot of consistency and cohesion.
“The Cowboys really have to find something this year to fill those losses.”
Conversely, the Titans are one club that has dramatically improved its playing roster in the off-season, with Test players Kevin Proctor (Storm) and Dan Sarginson (Wigan) joining the club, along with former Broncos prop Jarrod Wallace.
“I think the Titans are a top four team,” Sattler said. “I like the way they look, I like what Neil Henry has done with them, and I like what the club is doing off the field.
“Kane Elgey is back for them this year, and it is easy to forget how well the Titans did last year making the finals without their first-choice halfback for the entire season.
“They made the eight last season, but they look stronger again this year with Kevin Proctor and Jarrod Wallace joining the club.
“When a club has players fighting for positions in the team, that is a great sign and I think the Titans have that for the first time in a long time.”
Sattler said Jarryd Hayne will improve on his late-season cameo last year, when he joined the Gold Coast after a stint in the NFL.
“Playing those handful of games at the back end of last season was the perfect thing to do for Hayne – just to get his body used to copping the hits consistently again and rediscovering his feel for the game,” he said.
“The best thing about the Titans is that this is the first time all of their key players have had an off-season together.
“Hayne, Nathan Peats and Konrad Hurrell all joined the club after the season started, and Elgey didn’t get on the field at all.
“I think the first games of the season the Titans will still be a bit scratchy as they try to work out their combinations in the heat of battle. But I think they will be one of those teams that just flies home.
“I think out of the three Queensland clubs, they will be the big improvers.”