This article was first written for NRL.com.
Cricket season officially ended for me last Sunday when the Sydney Sixers won the WBBL final and the Adelaide Strikers took out the BBL, but the end of summer isn’t a bummer because it means the NRL is nearly here.
While most people lament the loss of long summer days, warm weather and going to the beach, I can deal with the loss of all those things because I know that the return of rugby league is just around the corner.
It’s now at that beautiful point in the year where my social media feeds are filled with NRL clubs showcasing pre-season training and their new recruits.
Players changing clubs is nothing new, but as we inch closer to kick-off there are plenty of players pulling on new jerseys that look a bit odd.
Some had been one-club players. Some I always associated with a particular club. And others have happened so recently that my brain still hasn’t processed that they have swapped teams.
These players have the ability to bring real strength to their new clubs and it makes the top eight equation even more difficult to solve.
It says a lot about how much Josh Reynolds meant to the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs that when he played his last game at Belmore Sportsground he was swarmed by fans and carried off the ground on their shoulders when the Bulldogs pulled off a last-minute win over the Newcastle Knights.
They hadn’t just won the grand final. They weren’t even going to make the finals. Josh had only made his debut in 2011 and he was going to a rival club. But he was being celebrated like a champion because of what he meant to his local community, because he was seen as a Bulldog through and through.
I never expected to see change clubs and even though he now has, I know a big part of him will always love the club that gave him his first opportunity.
But now Josh is a Wests Tiger and their season will hinge on how he and other new recruits like Benji Marshall, Ben Matulino, Chris McQueen and Russell Packer come together.
By their own standards, players like Matulino did not have their best season last year.
Then there is the ‘X-factor’, Benji. Plenty thought he was past it but he proved last season for the Brisbane Broncos that he can still add value, particularly when coming off the bench. Benji is returning to his spiritual home and I know he will want to make what could be his final season one to remember.
It will be strange to see Bryce Cartwright in a Gold Coast Titans jersey, simply because the immediate move was only announced less than a week ago.
I can’t see the Titans making the eight, but coach Garth Brennan has said he is a “coach that likes to entertain” and wants them to play exciting football.
When you add Bryce to a roster that includes players like Ash Taylor, Konrad Hurrell, Ryan James and Nathan Peats, joined by other players this season like Leilani Latu and Brenko Lee, this team certainly has the capability to light it up when it comes to fast-paced exciting footy.
At the end of October when it was announced Cooper Cronk had signed with the Sydney Roosters, one of rugby league’s favourite boy bands broke up.
One of my big questions for season 2018 is how will Cronk perform without the support of Cameron Smith and Billy Slater. There’s no doubt the Roosters boast an impressive squad including the likes of Boyd Cordner, Latrell Mitchell, Dylan Napa and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, but Cooper will now get the opportunity to shoulder most of the responsibility when it comes to attack.
Cooper isn’t the only player that is going to take some getting used to in Roosters colours. James Tedesco was a player I thought would be at the Tigers for his entire career. That was not to be – but him and Cronk playing together is a prospect I am genuinely looking forward to.
When Cooper Cronk announced he was joining the Roosters it became clear very quickly there wouldn’t be room for Cooper and Mitchell Pearce. It came as no surprise when Mitchell announced he was leaving but how many people expected him to join the Newcastle Knights?
I’m feeling quietly confident about the Knights’ prospects, particularly when you think about their recruitment drive which has focused on rising stars like Connor Watson and Kalyn Ponga.
There’s no fan base more deserving of a top-eight finish so I hope it comes together for them.
Other players who it will take some getting used to in their new jerseys include Matt Moylan for the Cronulla Sharks and Aaron Woods for the Bulldogs.
But as long as I don’t see Clint Gutherson in a jersey that isn’t a Parramatta Eels one, I can cope with the change.