The Hunter Rugby returns in 2021 after COVID-19 forced the 2020 campaign to be scrapped. The Hunter Wildfires have joined the equation. On the surface, their inclusion in the Sydney Shute Shield won't have a major impact on the local competition as Hamilton, under new coach and former All Black Marty Berry, strive for a sixth straight premiership.
Coach: Dan Beckett
Last Premiership: 2014; 2019: 2nd: 12 wins, 4 losses
Gains: Tom Eymael, Luke Menchen, Dan Martine (Souths RL), Billy Coffey (Merewether), Francis Ieremia (West Harbour), Tom Neil (Orange), Jackson White (Port Macquarie), Max Stafford (Maitland), Ben Ham, Dave Waller, Piers Morrel (Wildfires)
Losses: Nimi Qio (Wests RL), Alex Reid (UK), Sinclair George (Brisbane), Chase Hicks, Blair Rush (Wildfires)
Bottom Line: Can the Two Blues overcome that final hurdle? Since their last premiership in 2014, they have contested four grand finals - all losses to Hamilton. In each defeat, the set-piece has been the telling factor. Death by suffocation. Prop Dave Waller will have benefitted from his season in the Shute Shield. And, in former country hooker Ben Christensen and White, an old-school tight head, they have a willing and able engine room. A back-row of Ieremia, Eymael, Ham packs a punch, that's not forgetting Morrel, who can play anywhere in the back five. The return of tackle-buster Coffey and arrival of halfback Stafford and Martine and Menchen should cover the lost strike power in Hicks and Qio.
Coach: Marty Berry
Last Premiership: 2019; 2019: 1st, 15W, 1L
Gains: Raniera Peterson, Ryan Hargood (Greytown, NZ), Michael Saili Motu (Ipswich), Angus Brown Geraint Weaver
Losses: Chris Ale, Lachlan Hodges, Steve Lamont, Tiueti Asi, Hamish McKie, Pernell Filipo, Zach Crowley (Wildfires), Dane Sherratt, Jack Chillingworth (year off), Joe Akkersdyk (Canberra), Pete Maxwell (retired), Connor Mulhearn (Brisbane), Jason Hill (Heriots Scotland)
Bottom Line: A glimpse at the loss column reveals the job new coach Marty Berry faces as the Hawks chase a sixth straight premiership. There is also burden of expectation and filling the enormous boots of Scott Coleman. Since 2010, the Hawks have featured in every grand final bar 2104 - the year Coleman spent in Italy. Berry is a former All Black, and knows about expectation and pressure. He has also brought blue-chip recruits Peterson and Hargood. Peterson played NZ schoolboys at 10 and will feed a backline with plenty of points in it. Up front is the Hawks' strength. Hargood fills the void at hooker and Weaver and Bakarich will anchor the scrum. The Hawks depth will be tested.
Coach: Jamie Lind
Last Premiership: 2011; 2019: 4th, 12W, 4L
Gains: Brenton Gibson (Bathurst), Michael Dann (returning), Fesui Villamu (Samoa), Jacob Muir (Souths RL), Mitch Sandvoss, Charlie Mannix, Matt Hickey (Sydney), Duane Orcher (Port Macquarie), Sam Green (Orange Emus), Zac McGuinness (Scone), Sam Rouse (Wests RL), Lachy Miller, Jason Milligan, Billy Dunn (Wildfires)
Losses: Jarome Wilson, Ethan Fowles (Wests RL), Matt Glanville (rugby league)
Bottom Line: There is a ton of optimism at Townson Oval. The Greens have recruited well, especially in the backs where Gibson, Villanu and Hickey bring power and pace. Sam Rouse returns after playing first grade rugby league for Wests. More importantly their young forwards have a year more size and development. The back-row of Kade Robinson, Lachy Miller and Billy Freeman will rip in. The return of Mick Dan adds experience and a physical edge, but he will miss the opening rounds with a torn pec.
Coach: Mike Wiringi
Last Premiership: NA; 2019: 6th, 6W, 10L
Gains: Junior Polai, Adam Edwards, Chad Northcott (Wildfires).Blake Fuller, Rhys York (Fingal Bay RL), Mike Wiringi (returning)
Losses: Charles Fielder (Wildfires), Daniel Davis (NZ), Isaac Griffin (NZ),
Bottom Line: The Gropers shape as the smoky. Junior Polai, Adam Edwards and Chad Northcott are back after a season with the Wildfires. Edwards matched it with the best in the Shute Shield and will set the tone for Jordan Byfield and the other young tearaways. Wiringi returns after a couple of seasons off and will steer the Gropers around the paddock. That leaves Chad Northcott to weave his magic without the responsibility of managing a game. Depth, especially in the front row, is the question mark, but if the Gropers forwards can win the physical battle, they will score points.
Coach: Luke Cunningham
Last Premiership: 1999; 2019: 3rd, 12W, 4L
Gains: Pat Batey (Wildfires), Isaac Ulberg (Manly), Josh Gray (Canberra), Pat Robards, Dale Clacherty (Beresfield RL), Luke Rees (Singleton)
Losses: Willie Soe, Devante Manu (Wildfires), Marcus Christensen, Max Stafford (Wanderers), Travis Brooke (NZ)
Bottom LIne: The departures have left a hole, none bigger than Anderson Medal-winner Travis Brooke. The Blacks need a new go-to man at the lineout and a momentum-turner. They boast a blue-collar pack and a backline that will play direct and have Chris Logan hitting different channels. A trip to Marcellin will be unpleasant but they will need a couple of players to have breakout years to be a premiership threat.
Coach: Tim Partridge
Last Premiership: 1997; Last Year: 8th, 2W, 14L
Gains: Alex Vaughan (Uni), Aiden Peak (Syd Uni), Ben Caskey (Wanderers), Tiwana Thompson-Paringatai, Aaran Brennan, Sam Ernst (returning), Sili Are Jnr, Epeli Ratabacaca, Setefano Sauqaqu, Jale Komai Misi, Joeli Salusalumasi, Alifereti Joji, Nemani Luvulvale.
Losses: Onewa Tai (Queensland), Luke Rees (Maitland), Dillon Rowney, Kembal Frost (NZ).
Bottom Line: The faithful at Rugby Park will be entertained, nothing surer. The Bullpen has been boosted by a wave of Fijians who have moved to Singleton as part of Pacific Labour Scheme. The majority are shift workers which makes training a logistical nightmare. The Bulls are allowed 24 points under the player points system which also has to be managed. Tim Partridge has put some basic structures in place but wants the Fijians to play their instinctive game. Sili Are Jnr is electric, but Partridge is also banking on the development of home-grown youngsters Alex Vaughan and Ethan McLoughlin.
Coach: Cameron Murphy
Last Premiership: NA; 2019: 9th, 1W, 15L
Gains: Will Samuels (Brisbane), Lucas Rosewall, Liam Cooper (Timaru, NZ), Pat Hines (Woy Woy), Va Talailava, Adrian Delore (Wildfires), Glenn Stone (Merewether), Matt Ferry (Lake Macquarie), Dane Le Rugetel (University), Mitch Wade, Jon Galvin, Ben Moss (returning)
Losses: Mitch Gibson (Deceased)
Bottom Line: The sudden death of Gibson rocked the club. It has also brought them together. Talaileva is an inspirational leader and Adrian Delore needs a decent run injury free. The other arrivals are solid first-graders. Cameron Murphy came through the system at Manly and has set high standards. Beaches only scraped a team together in 2019, this year they could climb into the top five.
Coach: Tony Munro
Last Premiership: 1988; 2019: 7th, 3W, 13L
Gains: Dylan Heins (Lake Macquarie).
Losses: Carl Manu, Devante Manu, Tana Manu, Nick Lane (Wildfires), Va Talaileva, Dane Le Rugetel, Adrian Delore (Sthn Beaches), Zeon McNabb (NZ), Michael Al-Jiboori (US).
Bottom Line: The Students are starting afresh. They went on a major recruitment drive in 2019 but that hard work - along with the competition - was wiped out by COVID-19. Heins trained with the Wildfires in the pre-season and along with Scott Hamilton adds steel to a young pack. Munro is confident he has a strong team, but it will take time to develop.
Coach: Jim Goff
Last Premiership: NA; 2019: 5th, 9W, 7L
Gains: Kenny Villiamu (returning), Morne van der Merwe, Vander van der Merwe (South Africa)
Losses: Brendan Holliday (Wildfires)
Bottom Line: The Roos have been building up their junior ranks for the past decade. Now is their chance to shine. Liam Langejans, Ryan Cooper and Cooper Price head a group graduating from the under-18s. Key will be putting support around them. Viliamu is back and joins Mika Iopa, Barcelona Lupematasilia, Jordy Leota and Josh Nicho.