Here it is folks. For those of you that don't want to know how this season ends...look away now:
1st - Penrith Panthers
Slowly but surely the enthusiasm around this exciting young Panthers line-up builds, and as round one nears, we have a new favourite for the 2017 premiership. Note that my top four this season are predominantly young teams on the rise that play an exciting version of the game. I for one would like to see exciting football rewarded, so let's hope I'm right. The Panthers have the right mix at the minute, and their premiership window is open right now. They just have to climb out before that window closes. An absolute lock for the top four this season and, as things stand currently, my top pick in season 2017.
Key addition – James Tamou
Rising star - Nathan Cleary
Player to watch - Matt Moylan
2nd - Canberra Raiders
For years the Canberra Raiders have been perennial overachievers – often making the top eight when most assumed they wouldn't. Now they face a new demon – expectation. Locals in the most baffling capital city in the world think they can win a premiership this season..and they can. A lot has to go right, and plenty can go wrong, but this is one cracking football team. How good would they be if Todd Carney, Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson weren't battling imagined dragons as youngsters?
Key addition – Self Belief
Rising star - Makahesi Makatoa
Player to watch - Junior Paulo
3rd - Parramatta Eels
A standing ovation for the true believers out Parramatta way. If 2016 wasn't the worst season in the history of the club it would be right next door to it. Despite that, they're in the running for a podium finish when it comes to signed up members this season. As for my key addition to the Eels roster, some of you may be scratching your heads and wondering what position he plays. His position is CEO, and this club deserves a strong leader and some off-field stability. Gurr can deliver on that front, unless those around him are hellbent on destroying the Parramatta empire from within. They're young and they're great to watch, and I'm hopeful that somewhere inside Cameron King is a very good footballer. A top four finish may seem overly optimistic, but my glass is half full in this case.
Key addition – Bernie Gurr
Rising star - Jamal Fogerty
Player to watch - Corey Norman
4th - Sydney Roosters
Haven't you heard? It's the Year of the Rooster. We'll be hearing that a lot if the tricolours can convert their pre-season form into season form. No Australia Day dramas this year, and most of the engine room (minus Taukeiaho) is available for Round One. Gordon is the key inclusion for mine – stability, composure, speed and a goalkicker to boot. The Chooks underperformed in 2016 after three successive Minor Premierships. Top four is up where they belong, where the chickens fly, on a mountain high.
Key addition – Michael Gordon
Rising star - Bernard Lewis
Player to watch - Boyd Cordner
5th - Melbourne Storm
Last season most thought the Storm empire was on the decline, and most were wrong. This year most seem to think the Storm empire is stronger than ever. They're probably right. Their key men are showing no signs of slowing down, they've rebuilt Billy Slater and their forward pack looks like five front end loaders lined up in a row. The Storm prefer to build their own stars rather than pilfer them from other clubs, and with that in mind Ryley Jacks is a player to keep an eye on. He might sound like an American takeaway restaurant but he's impressed in Queensland with the Storm feeder club. He may get some opportunities this season with Blake Green out of the way. Slater is the X factor. If he's fit and well this team has more than enough talent to go all the way. They only just missed out last season without him.
Key addition – Josh Addo-Carr
Rising star - Ryley Jacks
Player to watch - Billy Slater
6th - Brisbane Broncos
Plenty of unanswered questions when it comes to the biggest team in the NRL. How the heck do they use Benji Marshall? Who steps up and does all the work Corey Parker used to do? Does Bennett extract every ounce of everything out of Ben Hunt before he heads to Wollongong? And what's with that performance against Warrington? I don't have answers to any of those, and because of that I've got a big question mark hanging over the Broncos this season. Of course they can answer those questions for me – this club usually does – but I need to see those answers. Most clubs would deem top six a success, but I expect the Broncos will be aiming higher. I have doubts.
Key addition – Benji Marshall
Rising star - Keegan Hipgrave (now that's a name you won't forget in a hurry)
Player to watch - Jai Arrow
7th - North Queensland Cowboys
Few would doubt that the Cowboys have some of the very best players in the NRL on their roster. Every club in the competition would find space for Thurston, Morgan, Taumololo and Scott in their sides (and they're all nice guys to boot). You can win a premiership with those four in your team, and the Cowboys can win this premiership, but I do worry a little about their depth. Many of the other real contenders this season appear to have a more even spread of talent across their roster. I could be wrong, and I must confess that I hope I am. Only injuries to key players would keep the Cowboys out of the top eight, but I can't find room for them in my top four.
Key addition – Ben Hampton
Rising star - Kalyn Ponga
Player to watch - JT (both of them)
8th - Cronulla Sharks
Paul Gallen was 12 years old the last time an NRL team won back-to-back premierships, so what hope have the Sharks got of a repeat performance after their long-awaited breakthrough? A few things fell their way last season but a win is a win and we can't take that away from them. Every dog has its day and these dogs have had theirs. I must give them some credit for one thing though – they've included their womens squad on their official player profiles webpage. Well done Sharkies, and as a reward for your good deed I've found a spot for you in my top eight.
Key addition – Jeremy Latimore
Rising star - Jack Bird
Player to watch - James Maloney
9th - South Sydney Rabbitohs
There will be plenty of eyes on Robbie Farah this season, and Robbie won't mind that one bit. He has a habit of performing when others are doubting him, and I'm expecting an improved showing this season. I am curious to know if he has plans to rename his restaurant (Tiger Tiger). It's the sort of silly question Brad Fittler will ask him on my behalf. Thanks Brad. I'm not shy about professing my affection for Greg Inglis when he's got his game on. With that in mind, I'll be watching most of the Bunnies fixtures this year, but with this roster a finals berth looks just beyond them.
Key addition – Robbie Farah
Rising star - Cody Walker
Player to watch - The Goanna
10th - Gold Coast Titans
Of all my predictions this season, it's this one that I'm most likely to get horribly wrong. If you're looking for an outsider when it comes to top four/top eight betting this is your team. Proctor and Wallace are handy editions in the middle. Perhaps they're one or two players short in the backline but if they unearth some youngsters that can plug those gaps they have a team that can compete with the best of them. Genuine top eight contenders, but I can't quite find a spot for them.
Key addition – Kevin Proctor
Rising star - Ashley Taylor
Player to watch - Jarryd Hayne
11th - New Zealand Warriors
Every year we expect more from the Warriors but they end up finishing just outside the top eight most seasons so I've plonked them there again. This line-up needs to do more, but we've been saying that since Stacey Jones was the lead singer with The Monkees. Great to watch and hard to watch...all at the same time. Like The Monkees actually.
Key addition – Nil
Rising star - Tuimoala Lolohea
Player to watch - Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
12th - Canterbury Bulldogs
This looks a poor result for the Bulldogs...and it would be, but I just cannot warm to this side. I couldn't warm to them in 2016 and I'm cold on them now. Hard to see them making an impression on the competition when it counts.
Key addition – Brenko Lee
Rising star - Moses Mbye
Player to watch - (insert first name here) Morris
13th - Wests Tigers
The unsettling influence of the great Robbie Farah is no longer, and what's left is a very young side with a lot of potential. There's a smattering of older wiser heads in the squad though in Lawrence and Ballin and the kids will probably enjoy having Jamal Idris around the joint. This is potentially a top four side, just not this season.
Key addition – Jamal Idris
Rising star - Bayley Sironen (no pressure)
Player to watch - James Tedesco
14th - Manly Sea Eagles
It feels like the end of an era for the Manly Sea Eagles. No Lyon. No Stewart. No Matai. With their departures, Daly Cherry-Evans (note that his nickname according to wikipedia is interesting) is the last remaining player from their 2011 premiership. Manly hoped they could build a team around Cherry-Evans, and perhaps they can. The two local brothers are a good start, and Blake Green looks a good fit in the halves. But something is missing. Soul perhaps.
Key addition – Blake Green
Rising star - Tom Trbojevic
Player to watch - Tom Trbojevic
15th - St George Illawarra Dragons
The song remains the same for the Red V. Their forward pack is one of the more productive units in the NRL, but it's the Dragons inability to turn that field advantage into points that continues to be their downfall. Has anything changed this season? Widdop tries hard but lacks support. Dugan is a more resilient footballer than ever and will give his all. Beyond that it's a struggle. There's a couple of youngsters working through the system in Field and Dufty but they will get limited opportunities this season unless Widdop and Dugan are unavailable. The rebuild continues.
Key addition – Nil
Rising star - Jai Field
Player to watch - Josh Dugan
16th - Newcastle Knights
This team lacked first grade depth in 2016, and this year they have said goodbye to Jarrod Mullen, Jeremy Smith, Kade Snowden, James McManus, Robbie Rochow, Akuila Uate and Korbin Sims. It's hard to name anyone that's left, but what they do have is local juniors and a region that will support them. But it's gonna take money. A whole lotta spending money. It's gonna take plenty of money. To do it right child. And it's gonna take time. A whole lot of precious time. It's gonna take patience and time. To do it. To do it. To do it. To do it. To do it. To do it right child.
Key addition – Ken Sio
Rising star - Daniel Saifiti
Player to watch - I honestly have no idea