In the third and final edition of our pre-season predictions for the 2016 NRL season, we look at which clubs are likely to climb the ladder or slide the most this season, plus the best recruit of the year and the likely breakout stars.
Chris Kennedy: I'll take the Eels. Brad Arthur finally has a roster of his own making and with a few classy recruits in-bound they should be able to close out a few of those dozen or so games where they led in the second half and couldn't get the job done. They had – conservatively – six games they could or should have won but didn't in 2015. Add those 12 points in they'd have finished fourth. It counts for nothing now obviously but the foundation is there. Elsewhere, Manly and the Warriors will both return to the finals.
Dominic Brock: The Sharks must be a massive chance of breaking their premiership duck with James Maloney boosting a quality spine, plus some genuine superstars in the making in Bird and Holmes and a terrific forward pack. Canberra is another team on the up and suddenly look pretty good on paper.
Tony Webeck: If the Warriors miss the eight again this year it will be Andrew McFadden's last year in the job. The competition's enigma wrapped in a riddle should be a top four contender with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke joining a team already boasting Shaun Johnson, Simon Mannering, Ryan Hoffman and Ben Matulino. No more excuses.
Jack Brady: Ricky Stuart finally has the team he has been chasing for the past two seasons and is ready to rumble. It's enough for me to get behind the nation's capital in their onslaught for a finals berth. Drawing from England to secure the signings of internationals Elliott Whitehead, Josh Hodgson, Jeff Lima and Sia Soliola over the past two seasons will only help further acquisitions Aidan Sezer and Adam Clydsdale.
Andrew Bryan: Sea Eagles – There are a few teams that look like they'll improve big time in 2016, but none moreso than Manly. The Sea Eagles missed the finals for the first time in a decade in 2015 and spent a long time anchored to the bottom of the NRL ladder. They have arguably recruited better than any other team and look a strong contender for a top four berth with a rejuvenated side chocful of big forwards and a newfound depth in a number of key positions.
Adrian McMurray: Canberra Raiders. After looking the goods at certain stages of 2015, the Raiders have assembled all the ingredients to push for a top eight spot in 2016. In Aidan Sezer they've acquired a cool head and astute kicking game, which should compliment Blake Austin's running game to a T. It will be the most direct thing you've seen in your life, and it will be glorious. England import Elliott Whitehead will be vying for a position in an already-powerful pack, with a number of key players also signing new long-term deals. Things are looking up in the nation's capital.
Chris Kennedy: Roosters. I say that partly because they were minor premiers so have a lot further potentially to slide than most sides but the losses of James Maloney and in particular Roger Tuivasa-Sheck are massive. Jackson Hastings will slot into the halves well and their forward pack is still amazing – I can't see them missing the finals – but I can see them coming back to the pack in 2016.
Dominic Brock: Probably the Roosters who have just lost half of their spine, but they do have a nagging ability to replace just about anyone these days. They'll still be pretty decent, just not minor premiers. The Dragons could be a team that spirals out of finals contention next year.
Tony Webeck: I can't decide whether the Dragons over-achieved in 2015 or were deserving of an even higher finish on the ladder. The loss of Trent Merrin is significant although the signing of Tim Lafai gives the Dragons an attacking threat that they did not possess last season. They may not slide by much but I think they'll miss the finals. It will be interesting to see how the return of Sam Burgess lifts a South Sydney team that has shed Issac Luke, Chris McQueen and Dylan Walker.
Jack Brady: My colleagues will be inclined to lean towards the Roosters considering the losses of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and James Maloney but the Bulldogs have my vote. They showed horrific signs once Trent Hodkinson's season ended. In their halves Moses Mbye and Josh Reynolds, they have two livewires without any direction. They have also lost 400 games of NRL experience and signed three untried players to replace them. For the sake of Des Hasler's sanity, they'll need to sign a few more older heads to be successful.
Andrew Bryan: Dragons – It's hard to know whether the Dragons over or underachieved last season. They started with a bang only to limp into the finals. They again could do anything this season, but I'm tipping they'll miss the finals.
Adrian McMurray: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs. Of all the top eight sides from this season, the Bulldogs look the most vulnerable of slipping out. In Moses Mbye they have a star in the making, but it remains to be seen whether both he and Josh Reynolds can guide the Bulldogs to another finals appearance. The loss of Trent Hodkinson might just be too much for Des Hasler's side to overcome. There's been little player movement, and a number of players already on the books will need to step up and take charge.
Chris Kennedy: Matty Parcell will have a big year at Manly. Tigers recruit Michael Chee Kam is ready to make his mark. If Te Maire Martin gets his chance at Penrith he could have a great year – if not he'll be top of this list next year.
Dominic Brock: With Roger Tuivasa-Sheck gone I'll go with Joe Burgess at the Roosters. The England young gun is a great finisher and could get plenty of tries on the wing, with Blake Ferguson looking like moving to fullback in what is still an explosive backline. Elsewhere, former Tigers Holden Cup star Te Maire Martin could be an exciting prospect in the halves if he gets a run at Penrith.
Tony Webeck: Matt Parcell acquitted himself well in six NRL games with the Broncos this year and given his performances for Ipswich in the Intrust Super Cup finals series and his star turn in the State Championship Final on Grand Final day the big stage doesn't faze him. Under-20s player of the year Ashley Taylor will push for a spot in the starting halves at the Gold Coast and the Roosters have some livewires on their hands in Joe Burgess and Jayden Nikorima.
Jack Brady: You can't deny the credentials of Matt Parcell. The linchpin of Ipswich Jets' NRL State Championship success, his six NRL games under Wayne Bennett this season holds him in good stead to thrive under rookie coach Trent Barrett on the Northern Beaches. If you follow the Intrust Super Cup you'd already know the steadily growing star of the 22-year-old. I mean it's already big enough for the Sea Eagles to give veteran rake Matt Ballin his marching orders. Otherwise the Panthers' duo of recruits Viliame Kikau and Te Maire Martin excite me.
Andrew Bryan: No idea, that's what makes them a breakout star.
Adrian McMurray: Damien Cook. Enjoyed a stellar end to the 2015 campaign with the Bulldogs replacing the injured Michael Lichaa, making 248 tackles and scoring four tries in just five games. Having secured a move to Redfern, Cook is set to battle it out with Cameron McInnes for the No.9 jersey vacated by Issac Luke. Has shown enough to suggest he's ready to make his mark in first grade.
Chris Kennedy: Kieran Foran. His competitiveness, composure and experience are, on paper, exactly what the Eels need. Possible solution to Parramatta's decades-long playmaker crisis. Honourable mentions: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Issac Luke, Trent Merrin, James Maloney.
Dominic Brock: James Maloney. Kieran Foran and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck are better players, but Maloney could be the missing piece of the puzzle for an already-strong Sharks side, while the other two could still be battling to make the finals.
Tony Webeck: He didn't come cheap but Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has the potential to turn the Warriors from pretenders into contenders. Fullback of the year in his first full season in the position, 'RTS' will get the Warriors' sets off on the right foot and allow his big forwards to conserve energy by not having to travel back so far. The Warriors are at their best when they are on the front foot and in RTS and also Issac Luke they have recruited two of the very best in that department. Kieran Foran will instantly make the Eels more competitive and consistent.
Jack Brady: With Issac Luke departing and Cameron McInnes nowhere near good enough to carry South Sydney out of dummy half, 2016 will be Damien Cook's year to shine. Much like Jake Granville and Michael Ennis did this season, Cook will hold the hooking recruits in a positive light for another year following his show-stealing performances for the Bulldogs at the end of 2015.
Andrew Bryan: Sam Burgess/Matin Taupau – Sam Burgess coming back is a big coup for the Rabbitohs who lost their way last season. They'll lift just having him on the team sheet. Taupau is a great signing for Manly who were desperately short of forwards in 2015, could help the club return to the finals this year.
Adrian McMurray: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. After a dramatic rise in 2015, Tuivasa-Sheck is the perfect man to replace Sam Tomkins at the back for the Warriors. If the Johnson-Luke-Tuivasa-Sheck combination clicks early, look out. Could dominate for club and country for years to come.
This article first appeared on nrl.com.