A HOST of NRL clubs are back on board and in pre-season training.
We take a look at the bunch of talking points and question marks lingering over them ahead of 2019.
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The coaching situation
This one will continue to linger right up until a coach swap, which seems inevitable.
With Wayne Bennett signing with South Sydney for 2020 and Anthony Seibold signing with Brisbane from the same season, it would seem like common sense for both to just switch clubs now.
Both coaches have publicly reaffirmed their commitment to the ends of their deals, but have also left the door open.
The coaching carousel hasn’t just halted yet.
Blake Austin is on a plane to Warrington which leaves Aidan Sezer and Sam Williams as the likely first-choice halves pairing next year.
The Raiders were criticised in 2018 for failing to close out games, so the pressure will be on their halves to ensure that trend doesn’t continue.
One player who could be a playmaking smoky is Paul Roache who has already started his pre-season on a positive note, finishing right behind Sezer and Williams in the beep test.
Meanwhile, there will plenty of interest in the outcome of Jack Wighton’s court case when he is sentenced on November 14 following assault charges.
Another inevitable move in the pre-season appears to be David Klemmer’s exit from Canterbury, following the big prop’s request for a release.
Newcastle is his likely destination, but his possible departure from the Bulldogs will leave a gigantic hole.
Whether the Bulldogs look to chase a prop of the same calibre of Klemmer remains to be seen, but if they fail to plug the hole, it could be another long year for the team.
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The back row
Cronulla have big shoes to fill after Luke Lewis’ retirement.
The veteran forward was one of the best line runners in the game, so he’ll be sorely missed out on the right edge.
Jayson Bukuya and Kurt Capewell would be considered frontrunners for the vacant spot, but the club also have a host of young forwards coming through the ranks including Jack Williams, Billy Magoulias, Briton Nikora and Cruz Topai-Aveai.
Gold Coast’s key positions are in line for a shake-up heading into next season.
Tyrone Peachey is on his way to the club and is likely to play five-eighth alongside Ash Taylor.
But Tyrone Roberts is also returning and is another option in the halves which could see Peachey move to the forwards.
Young gun AJ Brimson burst onto the scene this year and looms as a real contender for the fullback spot, a positions he played plenty of in the junior grades.
All eyes will be on returning Manly coach Des Hasler this season as he looks to revive his career as well as the Sea Eagles’ hopes.
Hasler’s well-publicised sacking from Canterbury after the 2016 came after he was criticised for his attacking game plan that yielded poor results.
He’s going to have to reinvent himself if he’s to guide the Sea Eagles back into finals contention after a year to forget.
Melbourne will be hoping that Brodie Croft continues to develop into an elite player in 2019.
The talented youngster had a roller coaster year in 2018, winning the race to the No.7 jumper for the opening games before he was dropped after Round 5.
He got a crack later in the year and was halfback in the grand final, but he’ll need to step up again next season, with Jahrome Hughes tipped to play fullback, while Ryley Jacks has joined Gold Coast.
Newcastle coach Nathan Brown has hinted his superstar fullback Kalyn Ponga could be in line for a positional switch in 2019.
Ponga lit up the competition in his first full NRL season and spent almost all the year in the No.1 jersey apart from one game at five-eighth.
It’s that position he could find himself in, with Connor Watson a chance to move to fullback.
What will life be like post-JT?
North Queensland have begun life following Johnathan Thurston’s retirement and there will be pressure on team’s key players to ensure they can return to the finals.
Michael Morgan will return from a biceps rupture and will assume the dominant playmaking duties, likely alongside rising star Jake Clifford.
At the back, Ben Barba will look to again set the NRL alight following a brief stint in Super League after a drugs ban.
Can Brad Arthur turn the team around?
Parramatta struggled in both attack and defence for much of the 2018, so there’s plenty to work on.
The Eels undertook a club review following another wooden spoon, and the hierarchy will be hoping things start to turn around quickly.
A good start to 2019 will be crucial for off-contract coach Brad Arthur.
Can Gus and Ivan’s second marriage work?
This is no doubt one of the fascinating spin-offs, if you will, of the coaching carousel.
Penrith have finally got their man in coach Ivan Cleary, the same man who they sacked at the end of the 2015 season for looking “tired”, according to Phil Gould.
Now back he’s on a five-year deal and the pressure’s on for Cleary to take them all the way after multiple stumbles in the finals.
It’ll be interesting to see how things play out, particularly if results don’t come.
The coaching situation
See the Broncos above!
Anthony Seibold has claimed he’ll be coaching at the club in 2019 despite signing for Brisbane in 2020.
But he’s left the door open for an immediate move, claiming he’ll coach “until I’m told otherwise”.
There was plenty of pressure on the St George Illawarra’s marquee man in 2018 after his rich long-term deal with the club.
Hunt admitted he struggled at times on and off the field, but overall, he managed to gain a solid first-up season under his belt at the Red V.
Perhaps the spotlight won’t shine as bright on him in 2019, which could help him go to the next level.
Time will tell.
How do they shake the premiership hangover?
This is the big question that every reigning premier faces.
The Roosters have lost a couple of players following their title win, but they’ve also recruited smartly in bringing in the likes of Angus Crichton and Brett Morris.
They’ve also got experienced senior players like Cooper Cronk to keep them on track, not to mention a smart mentor in Trent Robinson.
The playmaker’s future is going to be a talking point beyond just the pre-season.
After the Warriors told Johnson he was free to explore other options after his contract runs out at the end of 2019, speculation kicked off.
The longer the issue lingers, the more it could affect not just Johnson, but the rest of the side.
Does the club and player cut ties immediately?
It’ll be interesting to see how new Tigers coach Michael Maguire approaches his halves in 2019.
Luke Brooks will be the halfback, but will Benji Marshall or Josh Reynolds be alongside him?
It’ll likely be Marshall’s swansong season, while Reynolds struggled to get on the field in 2018 due to injury.