NRL.com's fearless predictions: Part 3
In the third and final part of our predictions for the 2017 Telstra Premiership season, we take a shot at predicting which teams will be the big movers on the NRL ladder and which recruits will shine the brightest.
Which team will be the biggest improver?
Tony Webeck: Do the Eels count? They're a definite top-eight team for mine. Outside of that, expect a BIG bounce back from the Roosters.
Chris Kennedy: In terms of form/wins, the Roosters. Ladder-wise, Eels.
Dominic Brock: The Roosters will jump from 15th to a finals spot – they're just too good not to and will be desperate to bounce back from last year's derailed season.
Andy Bryan: In terms of games won, Newcastle will improve the most. But as far as ladder position, the Roosters will make the biggest jump after a disastrous 2016 campaign.
Martin Gabor: The Roosters won't finish 15th again any time soon. The Tricolours were aiming for their fourth straight minor premiership last season, but a combination of ill-discipline, injuries and a string of narrow losses had them rooted near the bottom of the ladder from the get-go. They will be much better in 2017 – maybe even a top-four side.
Adrian McMurray: You'd imagine the Roosters will make the biggest move up the ladder, while the Eels and Rabbitohs should also be in for a much better season.
Jack Brady: The Parramatta Eels. Obviously salary cap dramas ruined their 2016 season as they looked to make the top eight for the first time since 2009. The Eels will make the top eight in 2017.
Which team will slide the furthest?
Tony Webeck: It will be one of Des Hasler's finest accomplishments if he can get the Bulldogs to the finals again and I think the Sharks' premiership hangover will hit hard and see them finish outside the top four at the very least.
Chris Kennedy: Sharks. They've lost Ennis, their forward pack is a year older, plus the premiership hangover. I can't see them making top four, nor past the second week of finals.
Dominic Brock: I enjoy watching the Wests Tigers and they came within a whisker of a top-eight finish last season but could struggle to match that this year with some big clubs set to leapfrog them on the ladder.
Andy Bryan: The Sharks still have a very competitive team, but have the potential to drop a few places after finally getting that monkey off their back with premiership glory. The loss of Ennis and Barba are big holes.
Martin Gabor: The loss of Benji Marshall and Mitch Rein, plus the potentially season-ending injury to Drew Hutchinson, point to a tough year for the Dragons. They have struggled to score points for a number of seasons and that won't be made any easier with the attacking triumvirate not there in 2017. They finished 11th last season, and I've got them dropping down to 15th.
Adrian McMurray: It might not be the best year for the Bulldogs, Dragons and Wests Tigers.
Jack Brady: Off-season dramas at the Bulldogs wouldn't have helped their cause but even then they'll surely struggle to break into the eight in 2017. Things need to change dramatically in terms of their attack if they're going to mix it with the best teams. With pressure mounting on coach Des Hasler, it'll be interesting to see how his players respond.
Best recruit of 2017?
Tony Webeck: For the game's sake I hope it is Jamal Idris at the Wests Tigers but Robbie Farah's arrival at the Rabbitohs has the ability to turn them into premiership threats almost overnight if Greg Inglis, Sam Burgess and Adam Reynolds have big years.
Chris Kennedy: I tipped Kieran Foran in this category last year so I'm reluctant to double down on him but if he gets it together he could end up being the answer for the Warriors that he wasn't for Parramatta. Kevin Proctor to Titans, Blake Green to Manly, Jamie Buhrer to Knights and Nathan Brown to Eels are all great buys but I think I'll take James Tamou to be buy of the year at Penrith following Trent Merrin's outrageous form last season.
Dominic Brock: Kieran Foran to the Warriors, if he plays, or James Tamou boosting an already strong-looking Panthers side.
Andy Bryan: A few contenders here. If Kieran Foran is fit and healthy and is in a good space, then he has the potential to be a game-changer for the Warriors. Blake Green will also provide Manly with a key that has been missing since Foran left the Sea Eagles.
Martin Gabor: If he plays, Kieran Foran shapes as the most important signing in Warriors history. The classy five-eighth would be the perfect foil for Shaun Johnson in the halves and would almost certainly help them end their five-year finals hiatus.
Adrian McMurray: James Tamou. Exactly the leader a young Panthers pack needs.
Jack Brady: It's hard to split between James Tamou (Panthers) and Blake Green (Sea Eagles). While obviously their careers have had completely different trajectories, their importance to their new clubs is paramount. Tamou is the final piece to an already entertaining puzzle at the Panthers as they reaffirm their premiership credentials. Green's presence will help settle Daly Cherry-Evans into the new-look Manly team following the star halfback's mixed 2016 season.
Most underrated signing?
Tony Webeck: David Mead at the Broncos. They got him dirt-cheap on a one-year deal but his experience and professionalism will be so valuable to what is still essentially a young backline. I know he's a winger, but his early carries will set the tone the Broncos need to play an up-tempo game in 2017.
Chris Kennedy: I tipped Clint Gutherson last season which I'm happy with. None of the following names are even guaranteed first grade spots but if they go well any of Zac Woolford (Raiders to Dogs), Shaun Lane (Warriors to Manly) or Jahrome Hughes (Cowboys to Storm) get the chance to impress they could well do exactly that.
Dominic Brock: With class, experience and a cool head, Blake Green looks like being exactly what the Sea Eagles needed. If he can take some pressure off Daly Cherry-Evans in the same way he did for Cooper Cronk last year, Manly will be thrilled. They'll also be pleasantly surprised with Akuila Uate if he gets more than the handful of scoring chances he got at Newcastle in recent seasons (even if the Knights got the better end of the Uate/Buhrer swap deal).
Andy Bryan: I'm going to go under the radar with the Knights duo of Jamie Buhrer and Rory Kostjasyn. They won't change the Knights' results overnight, but they are important signings to start building the Knights' roster and helping the young players coming through. Judged over the course of one season, this will not be the case, but over the next two-to-four years, they could prove great pick-ups.
Martin Gabor: The loss of Marika Koroibete on the Storm's left edge cannot be understated, but in Josh Addo-Carr the minor premiers have a more than handy replacement. His speed and genuine finishing-ability could spell trouble for opposition defences as they try to handle Melbourne's set plays.
Adrian McMurray: Jarrod Wallace. Was given few chances to shine as part of a star-studded Broncos pack, and should go to the next level at the Titans alongside front-row partner Ryan James.
Jack Brady: Lose Lachlan Maranta and Greg Eden and replace them with David Mead? That's a huge win for the Broncos. Frank Pritchard's return to the NRL after a year sabbatical will breed only positives for the Eels. Before Pritchard left for Hull KR last year, he produced perhaps one of his finest seasons in the NRL at the Bulldogs. I expect Robbie Rochow to come into his own at the Rabbitohs in 2017 too, pending he's able to finally move past his recent injury woes.
This article first appeared on NRL.com