A quick look into the crystal ball reveals we can expect to see the “usual suspects” doing well this year including the Storm, the Cowboys, the Broncos and the Roosters – who all have quality rosters, excellent cohesion and successful coaches.
You can also expect the Eels, the Sharks, the Panthers and Manly - who featured in the play-offs in 2017 – to challenge the top teams for a place in the top 4.
And you can throw a blanket over the next eight teams as they have all strived to improve their rosters or changed their coaches as they approach the season with a renewed sense of optimism and give their loyal fans a sense of hope.
My tips for this week:
Dragons, Sea Eagles, Cowboys, Roosters, Rabbits, Storm, Panthers, Raiders.
I have a pretty good understanding of the expectation and pressure that Mitchell Pearce might be feeling as he heads into his first season in Knights’ colours.
A quick history lesson – I arrived in Newcastle 30 years ago – having won a premiership with the Bulldogs in 1988 before I joined a team that had won only five games and run 2nd last in their first season.
Pearce – who has been part of a star studded Roosters team and won a Premiership in 2014 - is in similar territory having joined a young team that won five games in 2017 and finished last.
He has also been appointed co-captain – which is a great honour and brings with it a lot of responsibility.
Like me – Pearce has been welcomed by the football club, his new teammates and the fanatical fans of the Hunter Valley who love their rugby league and are excited by their team’s chances this year.
The Knights, who have recruited heavily in the off-season, are being tipped by some experts to make the Top 8 this season – but I am not sure that is a realistic expectation for the year.
A quick review of the Knights’ fortunes in 1989 revealed they improved significantly winning half of their games – and missed the Top 5 back then – finishing 8th.
Tomorrow night they face a quality Manly team in what will be a tough and an exciting test at home before they play six of the next seven games on the road.
The difficulty in beating Manly will be an obvious lack of cohesion - as the Knights have a record nine players on debut together – including their spine of Pearce, Kalyn Ponga, Connor Watson and Slade Griffin.
Meanwhile, the Sea Eagles spine features Daley Cherry-Evans, Api Koroisau and Tom Trbojevic (who have played plenty of games together) and they have added one rookie in Lachlan Croker.
Two key areas that the Knights must improve to have successful season is their defence (in particular their edge defence) and their poor record on the road (one win last season).
Realistically the Knights should compete a lot better against most teams – and the reasonable expectation of winning at least 12 of their games - would put them in or around the Top 8 this year.
The high level of player transfers involving quality half backs could have a major bearing on the success of some highly regarded football teams this season.
How quickly they form combinations with their new halves partners (and team mates) will be the catalyst to how well their teams start the season.
Tonight it will be Ben Hunt’s turn, working alongside Garreth Widdop, who will have a key influence in the outcome against the Broncos at WIN Stadium. I have no doubt he will handle the transition well and is playing behind an outstanding pack of forwards.
Meanwhile, former Test half back Cooper Cronk will be under pressure to provide an immediate impact – and knowing his highly professional makeup - I am confident he will deliver in spades.
Another Test player James Maloney, who partners young gun Nathan Cleary, will have an immediate impact - like he has done plenty of times before at the Warriors, the Roosters and the Sharks.
They are all Test or Origin level players and their teams will more than likely be featuring in the end of season games.
Michael Hagan is a member of the Newcastle KOFM NRL Footy Call team, Premiership winning coach with the Newcastle Knights and Premiership winning player with the Bulldogs, former Queensland State of Origin Coach and current Kangaroos Assistant Coach.