Hamilton flying high

YEAH BABY: Hamilton will be aiming to be the first team to win consecutive premierships since Maitland in 1998-99. Picture: Jonathan Carroll
Nanjing Night Net

CAN anyone stop the Hawks?Buoyed by the minor-major premiershipdouble, Hamilton are well placed to be the first team to win consecutive premierships since Maitland in 1998-99. On the surface, Wanderers and Merewether appear the likely challengers in a competition that returns to 10 teams and hasa revised player points system.

HAMILTONCoach:Scott Coleman

Last year: 1st

IN:Geraint Weaver (Wales),Liam Kearney, Joe Finn (Nelson Bay), John Agnew (Scotland), Ben Harriss (Norths).OUT:Eric Vasukicakau (Perth), Chris Pusi (Easts, Sydney), Rob Smith (England), William Soe (Waratahs), Marty Lisiua (retired).Bottom line: The Hamilton machine rolls on. Again Bubba Coleman has a wealth of talent and depth at his disposal. The return of Harriss and Bryce Madden (knee reconstruction) compensate the loss of Smith andVasukicakau. Keeping Lamont and Akkersdyk away from the doctor’s table is key. Tip: 1st

WANDERERSCoach: Viv Paasi

Last year: 2nd

IN: Elliot Jennings, Howie Grant (Maitland RL), John McSorely (Scotland). OUT:Blake Walsh (knee reconstruction), Col Hovell (retired), Andrew Fletcher, Mark Sherwood, Anthony Barrett (lower grades).Bottom line: The Two Blues production line continues to churn out talented youngsters. Dan Kevill is hungrier than ever and his off-loads could have been the X-factor they needed in the grand final. They loom asthe biggest threat to the Hawks. Tip: 2nd

MEREWETHERCoach: Stacey Sykes

Last year: 4th

IN: Tom Azar (Warren),Brad Sheridan (Ourimbah), Josh Stewart (Tamworth Pirates), james Robinson (Ireland)OUT: Michael Dan, Kent Hatchwell (retired), Shaun Rich (Randwick), Isaac Wilton (rugby league).Bottom line: There is a lot to like about the Greens.Sykes returns after two years at the helm ofNSW Country andhas broughtCockatoos Stewart, Sheridan and Azar with him. Questions remain at the set-piece.Tip: 3rd

UNIVERSITYCoach: Mark O’Brien

Last year: 4th

IN: Darcy Christie-Johnson, Oliver Crowe(Bathurst), Newton Tananyiwa (Zimbabwe), Matt Yeoman (Spain), Ed Richards (Lindfield), Richard Hunt (Narrabri), Ben Sutter (Southern Beaches), Matt Brennan (Mackay), Alex Lloyd (Wales). OUT: James Wilkinson (work). Bottom line: The Students are a year older and a year stronger. They need to develop a hard edge at the breakdown but if they can convert the close losses into wins, look out.Tip: 4th

THE WARATAHSCoach:Matt Chidgey

Last year: 3rd

IN: William Soe (Hamilton). OUT: Tim Riley (retired), Josh Afoa,Adrian Curry, Rob Harlow (New Zealand),MichaelFakava (Sydney), Todd McDean (retired).Bottom line: With no Riley and Pedersen you have to ask where the points will come from?Again they look solid up front, but lack the intimidation factor of previous years. One of four teams likely to fight for fifth spot.Tip: 5th

SOUTHERN BEACHESCoach: Johan Laurens

Last year: 6th

IN:Alan Bruitnbach (Ourimbah), Mitchell Gibson (Wanderers), Jackson McLean (Norths). OUT:Glenn Stone (North Lakes), Mick Iopa (year off), Ken Vilamu, Willie Fraser, Tavita Polamalu, KG Lam, Barcelona Lupenastasila, Ben Chidgey, Ben Smit (Lake Macquarie) , Ben Sutter (University).Bottom line: Mark down May 27 on the calendar and the clash against Lake Macquarie. Of the departures, Glenn Stone could be the hardest to replace. Any team with Va Talaileva and theDelore brothers can’t be discounted.Tip: 6th

LAKE MACQUARIECoach: Tim Chidgey

Last year: 9th, withdrew after round 9

IN:Ken Vilamu, Willie Fraser, Tavita Polamalu, KG Lam, Barcelona Lupenastasila, Ben Chidgey, Ben Smit(Southern Beaches),Aston Talia (New Zealand), Joe McDonagh (Gold Coast). OUT:WiremuMatakatea(Central Coast RL)Bottom line: The only way is up after they made the decision to withdraw from the competition midwaythrough last season. The bottom three teams from last year have an extra 12 points under the cap and the Roos will need them. Chidgey is proven atputting structures in place and rebuilding a club. Expect a major improvement. Tip:7th

MAITLANDCoaches: Ryan McCormack, Mick Hickling

Last year:7th

IN:Mick Howell (France), Adam McCarthy (work), Chris Logan (Nelson Bay), John Birrell (work)OUT:Josh Gray (Brisbane), James Johnston (Brisbane), Sean O’Connor (lower grades), Luke Cunningham (lower grades).Bottom line: Howell adds starch and sizeto a pack led by Anderson Medal winner Nick Davidson. They have some good kids coming through, but they will need to step up quickly. Tip: 8th

NELSON BAYCoaches: Adam Edwards, Michael Hotene, Matt Affleck

Last year: 8th

IN: Zion Takarua (Hamilton), Todd Arnold (Waikato), Rhys Cutbush (work), Ed Clarkson, Doug Randall (England). OUT:Adam Edwards (coaching), Dan Collins, Chad Northcott (England),Liam Kearney, Joe Finn (Hamilton),Tom Hart, Ross Aitken (Scotland), Chris Logan (Maitland).Bottom line: Any team that loses the calibre of Collins, Northcott and Kearney is going to do it tough. Strong Oval has always been a tough place to play. Nothing changes.Tip: 9th

SINGLETONCoach: Bruce Harris

Last year: 10th

IN:Samson Salanoa. OUT:Sione KamotoBottom line: The Bulls will be better for their first season back in premier rugby. Again they will rely on home-grown youngsters but lack the depth and quality to trouble the top sides. Tip: 10th

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