The 2016 campaigns of several of the NRL’s biggest clubs begin on Monday, when they return for pre-season training.
Manly, Parramatta and Penrith are among those clubs who head back to the training paddock for several arduous months with plenty of questions surrounding them ahead of next season.
The clubs return en masse less than a month after North Queensland claimed their inaugural premiership in dramatic style over Brisbane. Canberra were the first NRL outfit to start pre-season training last week.
The Cowboys’ title celebrations have barely stopped since, with the Provan-Summons trophy being taken on an extended tour of far north Queensland.
But those plotting the premiers’ downfall are already getting back to work.
A new era will begin at Brookvale as new coach Trent Barrett kicks-off with Manly.
Barrett pushed club legend Geoff Toovey out of the top job at the Sea Eagles and will be under pressure to produce results quickly after the club missed the finals for the first time in 11 seasons last year.
Barrett will be looking for a new halves partner for Daly Cherry-Evans after Kieran Foran departed for the Eels. Both Jamie Lyon and Brett Stewart are possibilities for the role.
The Sea Eagles will be without key signing Martin Taupau, who is on tour with the New Zealand team in England for the sides’ three-Test series. However recruit Nate Myles will be on deck at Manly’s Narrabeen training base.
Penrith also begin their 2016 campaign under a new coach after Ivan Cleary was surprisingly given his marching orders by club supremo Phil Gould last month. Former Brisbane mentor Anthony Griffin is now in charge at the Panthers and has a number of issues to sort through, chiefly the futures of halves Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace and utility Jamal Idris.
Soward, 30, has been linked to an exit from Penrith despite having two years left on a four-year contract. The former NSW five-eighth has indicated he is intent on remaining at the foot of the mountains.
“In case anyone is asking I’m not going anywhere. I will finish my career at the panthers. Can’t wait for 2016 to start,” Soward wrote on Twitter.
After another disappointing 2015 things are looking up for the Eels after the signing of Foran, rated as the club’s most important acquisition in decades. NSW back-rower Beau Scott is another vital addition to coach Brad Arthur’s squad.
However the future of NSW winger Will Hopoate is up in the air due to his ongoing contract imbroglio with the Eels. Outside back Reece Robinson has defected to rugby with the NSW Waratahs so Parramatta could be in the same position they were a year ago: looking for a replacement at fullback for Jarryd Hayne.