Below is a copy of a Sporting News Article written by Ed Chisholm. I don't agree with it all, but it's an interesting take on the depth of all clubs and a good foundation to start a discussion.
Considering Vlandy's has confirmed we have a softer bubble this year, the COVID saga coupled with injuries could cripple clubs.
It would not surprise me if the NRL needs to reshuffle the deck chairs, and provider wider allowances dealing with depth issues.
ARTICLE BY SPORTING NEWS
'Depth' is a buzzword that floats around during each NRL season but its importance can't be underestimated.
The teams that can manage the ongoing threat of injuries, fatigue and suspension during the regular season are generally the ones that make it through to the finals and go on to contend for a premiership.
Sporting News has analysed the top 30 rosters (including development players) of each NRL club and analysed the strength and balance of their depth ahead of the 2022 season.
Each player is only mentioned once in the chart and a player capable of filling multiple positions is only mentioned in their most-played position unless reported to be playing elsewhere.
Development contract players are listed in italics
OVERALL DEPTH RANKINGS
Top 2: Sydney Roosters (9), Cronulla Sharks (8.5)
Top 6 (7.5): Canberra Raiders, Melbourne Storm, Penrith Panthers, St George Illawarra Dragons
The rest (7.0): Canterbury Bulldogs, Gold Coast Titans, Newcastle Knights, New Zealand Warriors, North Queensland Cowboys, Parramatta Eels, West Tigers
Bottom 2 (6.5): Brisbane Broncos, Souths Sydney Rabbitohs
Parramatta have been one of the quieter clubs in the player market over the last 12 months, leaving them with a fairly similar line up in 2022 to what we saw last year. They have a plethora of backrowers to pick from, some also capable middle forwards as well, which will give coach Brad Arthur a strong forward rotation each week and the luxury of resting some players through the year. Having Rein to support Mahoney with the hooking duties is another huge advantage at Arthur's disposal. As far as concerns, it's mainly to do with the quality in the backline. The acquisition of Simonsson has bolstered the outside back stocks, but outside of that not much has changed in the backline department to last year and that was an area that hurt Arthur's side in the run home to the 2021 finals.
STRENGTHS: Second row, Hooker, Outside backs; A new psychologist (if still on board); Ennis and Mary, as two heads are better than twenty water bottles.
WEAKNESSES: Back five
RATING: 7/10 – The Eels possess one of the top quality forward rotations in the competition, with a good mix of experience, reliability and youth across the board. The same probably can't be said for their backline, so if injuries strike in that department the Eels could struggle.
While they've improved in a few vital areas from their 2021 roster, the Broncos find themselves short in some positions. One of those is at hooker, where outside of Jake Turpin, they don't have a specialist No. 9 to provide cover. Kevin Walters may also find himself short in the middle of the field during the season if injuries do strike. He's got a good mix of firepower and experience in the starting team with Haas, Flegler, Carrigan and James but any injuries or suspensions in that area could cause some troubles. Where there is healthy competition for spots and depth is the halves. Reynolds will wear the No. 7, but every other playmaker on the roster is a realistic chance of pairing up with him in the halves.
STRENGTHS: Halves, Backrow, Back five
WEAKNESSES: Hooker, Prop
VERDICT: 6.5/10 – The Broncos aren't short of quality around their starting 17, but there are some notable holes in crucial sections of their roster that could be exposed when the season goes into the latter stages.
The Bulldogs have without doubt been the most active club in the player market for season 2022 and have made some excellent buys with the likes of Burton, Pangai Junior and Addo-Carr the three main standouts. It will make their starting 17 a lot stronger, but there are still some areas in the club's roster where they fall short. The backline is one of those, with specialist centres and wingers becoming limited beyond the starting 17. Of course players like Allan, Naden and Burns are capable of playing centre and wing, which helps. The Bulldogs have crafted a hooker out of Marshall-King but have suffered due to their lack of a specialist No. 9 in recent seasons. They've added Cook, who was an impressive junior with South Sydney, but that is another important area that could be lacking. The race for the halfback spot and the chance to partner Burton in the halves is a positive sign of the club's depth in that area.
STRENGTHS: Halves, Backrow, Back five, David-Copperfield-Cap-Management
WEAKNESSES: Hooker, Prop
VERDICT: 7/10 – Canterbury have worked hard on bulking up their squad over the last 12 months. The result is a starting team more than capable of lifting the club off the bottom of the ladder, but behind that they might not possess the depth of talent that other clubs also fighting for a finals berth have.
Ricky Stuart's side are well-balanced across the backs and forwards and have a handful of players on their roster capable of playing more than one position should injuries strike. Players like Tapine, Young, Elliott could realistically shift from edge to the middle at any stage during the season and do a job. The Raiders also have some strong depth in the halves, with the likes of Williams and Frawley showing they're more than capable of leading the side around when having to cover Wighton during the Origin period, for example. A look at the back five and young talent like Valemei, Smith-Shields and Timoko are getting more accustomed to first-grade footy with every year and will provide strong cover and competition for the likes of Cotric, Kris and Rapana.
STRENGTHS: Halves, Back row
VERDICT: 7.5/10 – Ricky Stuart has a well-rounded roster on his hands, with multiple players in the forward pack able to plug any holes that may arise during the season. Keeping them all on the park will prove the challenge for the Green Machine, just like it did in 2021.
Cronulla's forward pack could be one of the most dangerous in the competition if they can all stay on the field. Welcoming McInnes, who looks set to play lock, and Finucane, who will most likely start in the front-row, the Sharks boast some incredible depth in the middle of the field. There's also some very healthy competition in the halves with a fight between the likes of Moylan, Trindall and Metcalf to partner up with another new arrival in Hynes at the scrum base. The Sharks might also have the best depth at hooker in the NRL, with Brailey their first choice but McInnes a proven rep-quality No. 9 and 2021 Queensland Cup Player of the Year Berrell also joining the roster.
STRENGTHS: Hooker, halves and front row
WEAKNESSES: Fullback, centre
VERDICT: 8.5/10 – You'd have to say Cronulla have assembled one of the stronger rosters going into 2022. Their ability to rotate a player like McInnes between hooker and lock, plus adding someone like Finucane to an already strong forward pack is a luxury not many other clubs boast with their roster.
GOLD COAST TITANS
The Titans have turned over a fair chunk of their 2021 roster but traded in a quality amount of talent, with the strategic signings of Liu and Smith the two stand out buys. In Smith, they've recruited a player that has proven handy in multiple positions across the field and one with a great work ethic. It looks as though Liu will move from lock, where he played in two premierships with the Roosters, to prop, offering Justin Holbrook more grunt up front in combination with Fotuaika. The Titans also have some healthy competition in the halves, with Sexton expected to get the nod in the No. 7 next to Brimson, and Boyd nipping at his heels. Where they could struggle for depth is the backline, although the Gold Coast do have some exciting young talent in Fifita and Khan-Pereira who are yet to get a taste of NRL but look promising.
STRENGTHS: Middle forwards, Halves
WEAKNESSES: Back five
RATING: 7/10 – There's absolutely no doubting the Titans have strong coverage across the field, the only question is around whether there's enough quality beyond their starting 17 to improve on their exit from the finals in week one last season.
MANLY SEA EAGLES
Looking at Manly's depth chart like it's presented above you'd be forgiven for saying their roster lacking in a few areas, but it hasn't changed much from 2021 and that didn't seem to be an issue last season. Where their key strength lies is in the middle of the field, where players like Keppie and Boyle may struggle for game time now with the emergence of Paseka and Sipley, and the arrival of Bullemor. In the backline, if an extended injury to either Trbojevic, Foran or Cherry-Evans strikes it could be real danger to Des Hasler's side. Walker has been a handy fill-in player for them in past years but beyond him the Sea Eagles don't have much else as far as coverage in the spine.
STRENGTHS: Middle forwards
WEAKNESSES: Hooker, Halves, Centre
RATING: 7/10 – Manly don't have the depth that other teams contending for a finals spot have, but that might not matter if they can keep Trbojevic, Cherry-Evans, Foran and their starting forward pack on the field. As we found out last year, Trbojevic is like having a spare five players.
Melbourne have shed mass amounts of talent over the off-season, including some really key piece in their 2021 roster. At the same time, they've brought in a few worthy replacements as well as players which will help fill out their backline. There's no questioning the fact that they still hold a world-class starting 17, but beyond that the jury is out on whether there's the right amount of depth in Craig Bellamy's side to be a consistent challenger through the regular season. The other thing worth noting is the uncertainty around Asofa-Solomona's future over his vaccine status and Kamikamica's ban under the NRL's no fault stand down policy. If those two aren't able to play this season it will really stretch the Storm's pack.
STRENGTHS: Middle forwards, Hooker, Back five
WEAKNESSES: Edge forwards
RATING: 7.5/10 – Bellamy has proven he doesn't need a team full of stars to turn into champions, but there are some clear gaps in the roster behind his starting side, so the Storm coach would be crossing his fingers for no major injuries during the year.
Clune and Gagai mark the only two major signings for Newcastle, who have seen the likes of Mitch Pearce, Connor Watson, Gehamat Shibasaki and Josh King go the other way. The Knights have many options in the backline with players like Mann, Tuala and Sasagi capable of jumping into different positions. The most obvious question to do with their roster though is whether they have enough depth in the forwards. Newcastle have one of the most deadly starting front rows in Klemmer and David Saifita, with Jacob Saifiti sitting behind them, but the quality starts to drop off after that. Injuries were a huge curse for the Knights in 2021 and it showed perhaps that they're short for options in the middle of the field.
STRENGTHS: Back five, Fullback
WEAKNESSES: Middle forwards
RATING: 7/10 – The Knights' recruitment after the year they had in 2021 is slightly concerning and has left some areas of their squad wanting. If they have similar luck with injuries to last season, they could again have serious trouble competing in the middle of the field.
NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS
The Warriors have some strong diversity across the board with several players in both the middle and forwards able to play in different spots on the field. One thing that's notable about the Warriors roster is they have a genuine starting quality halves pairing in Taylor and Nikorima that are capable of stepping up if either Johnson or Harris-Tevita get injured, which is something not many other clubs boast. They also have Walsh, Watene-Zelezniak and Berry as capable fullback options. Then in the forwards, Nathan Brown has a good mix of skill and size but is perhaps lacking on the edges.
STRENGTHS: Halves, Fullback, Middle forwards
WEAKNESSES: Edge forwards
RATING: 7/10 – The Warriors have got just about a full list NRL talent sitting behind their starting 17 who will provide ample coverage and competition for spots during the year. There's a good number of backline players who could plug holes if injuries arise, but a large injury toll like last year could again create big problems at the back.
NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS
The Cowboys are a club still figuring things out with their roster under Todd Payten, with a few puzzle pieces still to fall in place around the backline in particular. What they do have though is a good crop of young and upcoming players across the park who have had a small taste of NRL and will be there to step in should injuries strike during the year. They also have two quality No. 9s in Robson and Granville, who are both capable of doing a job, a luxury not many clubs have. They also have Tabuai-Fidow, Holmes and Drinkwater all capable of playing fullback. Where things fall away slightly compared to other clubs is in the middle of the field, where they might be lacking in experience outside of their starting middle rotation.
STRENGTHS: Lock, Hooker, Fullback
RATING: 7/10 – The Cowboys have a number of players in both the backs and forwards that can play a number of roles - the only question is about how well they can play them. Outside of the starting 17 we're likely to see named in round 1, the club have a strong crop of junior talent that were drip-fed some NRL game time in 2021, which will help if their depth is tested during the year.
Penrith have strong depth in the halves, unlike many clubs. Behind premiership masterminds Cleary and Luai they have O’Sullivan, Salmon and Falls as stand-in options. It's likely all three will get a chance through the year due to Cleary and Luai's representative commitments. Their depth in the forwards is also strong, with a number of versatile players that can plug holes both in the middle and on the edges, and a good mix of experienced and emerging talent. Their depth does fall away slightly in the backline given the club let go Matt Burton, Paul Momirovski and Brent Naden, who were all starting players in 2021. With that in mind, 2022 could prove just how good a coach Ivan Cleary is if he's able to steer a weakened side to another title. Another thing worth mentioning is that their depth at dummy-half could be tested if Koroisau runs into trouble over his vaccine status.
STRENGTHS: Second-row, Lock, Halves, Fullback
WEAKNESSES: Back five, Choamp Tattoos
RATING: 7.5/10 – Penrith have shed a considerable amount of talent from the 17 that won last year's grand final, leaving them thin particularly in the backline. Cleary still has a strong forward pack, but could see his coaching ability tested if major injuries or suspensions arise.
ST. GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
Anthony Griffin has gone to the market to bolster his forward pack for his second year in charge at the Dragons. The result is a line of depth not many other clubs have in the front-row, with Griffin realistically able to name five different sets of props if he wanted to. But outside of that there are still some huge holes in his roster that could cause big issues through the year. The outside backs is an area of concern and although they have players like Mbye, Bird, Ramsey and the Feagai twins able to shift between multiple positions, this area of their roster could be exposed. The lack of a specialist hooker to back up McCullough is also a worry, although the Red V do have promising local product Conor Muhleisen on their books, who is expected to earn a development contract soon.
STRENGTHS: Middle forwards, Halves, Fullback
WEAKNESSES: Hooker, Wing, Centre, Barbeques Galore, Losing their Quan
RATING: 7.5/10 – One thing that stands out with Griffin's roster is the number of utility players, which will definitely alleviate some of the concerns around the back five and hooker. The number of middle forwards at Griffin's disposal in 2022 is impressive, but whether they can all perform is another debate.
SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS
New coach Jason Demetriou will be praying for Walker to avoid any serious injury, because otherwise his depth around the halves will be heavily exposed, particularly with the huge loss in experience that comes with Adam Reynolds' move to Brisbane. The same could be said for the back row, where Souths are light on for back up behind the likes of Murray, Koloamatangi and Arrow. The same goes for their middle rotation, which could see the side field a lighter forward pack at stages through the year. One thing the Rabbitohs do boast is depth around the fullback and hooker positions, with players in other positions able to fill in whenever needed.
STRENGTHS: Hooker, fullback, Indigenous Power, Russell Crowe, Mike Cannon-Brookes, James Packer, The Billionaire Club
WEAKNESSES: Halves, Prop, Second-row
RATING: 6.5/10 – Going purely off the depth Demetriou has at his disposal, the rookie coach's first year at the helm could be a testing one. There is undoubtedly enough quality in the starting 17 to make a deep finals run if all things go to plan, but injuries or long-term suspensions could wreak havoc.
The Roosters have one of the strongest and most versatile forward packs in the competition going into 2022 despite losing Boyd Cordner, Jake Friend and Isaac Liu. The fact that they could have players like Watson, Atoni and the Butcher brothers fighting for spots on the bench paints the picture. They also have six specialist playmakers and plenty of youth in that department, which is a very promising sign for the future. Trent Robinson also has a handful of players in his backline that he can freely interchange between different positions. The likes of Suaalii, Momirovski and Smith can all play centre, wing and even fullback. You could argue that hooker is the problem position for Robinson, yet Verrills is a proven first-grader while Marschke, Lussick and even Watson are more than capable of doing a job in the No. 9 also.
STRENGTHS: Halves, Back five, Fullback, Middle forwards, Nick Politis AM, Mark Bouris AM, the Billionaire Club, Trent Robinson merveilleux esprit
RATING: 9/10 – A look at the depth of Robinson's roster suggests the Tricolours are ready for another premiership charge this year. The versatility across the backline and in the forwards is quite remarkable. There's also a strong balance of world-class quality, experience and youth.
Michael Maguire has made some strategic signings this off-season, the two standouts being Hastings and Peachey, who both improve the versatility of this Tigers roster. Injuries in the forwards could prove an issue as there's a slight drop off in quality past the likes of Tamou, Twal, Leilua and Utoikamanu. Although the Tigers also boast some strong youngsters in this department who are desperate for an opportunity. The long-term injury to Doueihi, plus the departure of Moses Mbye, could stretch the Tigers in the fullback department if Laurie also goes down with injury early in the season. Like it was in 2021, hooker could also be a problem position for Maguire, with Liddle and Simpkins both jostling for the job last year but not quite showing the quality needed in the No.9 required to be a consistent finals outfit. The fight for the centre positions over the course of the season could be an interesting one, with Kei and Tupou both recognised as promising youngsters on the verge of first grade.
STRENGTHS: Halves, Back row
WEAKNESSES: Fullback, Middle forwards, know how to miss the finals no matter what
RATING: 7/10 – The depth of the Tigers' roster is a tough one to analyse. They've got bodies in the right places, but there are still huge question marks around the quality of depth around their forward pack. The same could technically be said about their back five. There is enough versatility in the squad to make it work though.