So here we are, just days away from Storm and the Broncos kicking the 2019 Telstra Premiership season off in Melbourne (not the heartland capitals of Sydney or Brisbane). Already we have a season of surprises. Let's not stop there.
I'm letting loose with 13 hopes, fears, dreams, desires for the year ahead. Why 13? Well that's the number of starters in an NRL team so it doesn't seem unlucky to me.
Apologies to anyone offended, these are only my predictions, there's a fair chance many of them won't come true but 'tis the season to look ahead at the season.
Here's my bold predictions
No coach sackings
The 16 NRL coaches who start to stress in round one will be the same 16 who contemplate what went right or wrong by the end of round 25. I'll go so far as saying the same 16 will be at helm in round one 2020, because it seems the Dragons and Bulldogs want Paul McGregor and Dean Pay to stay.
The only other coach off contract in 2019 is Brad Arthur and while he appears to be on more shaky ground, the Eels can only go one way – 'Up' – from the bottom of the ladder. A few notches higher is more than possible with this year's squad, which means Arthur keeps his job a little longer.
Like a host of other fallen NRL head coaches, Barrett will end up as an assistant coach much like David Furner, John Cartwright and Stephen Kearney (briefly) did at other clubs in the past. And the Dragons seem the most likely in a mid-year signing.
He played 199 games combined for Illawarra and then St George Illawarra, across 11 seasons, and has recently returned to live in the area. He is also great mates with McGregor.
NSW centre Isabelle Kelly wins back-to-back "woman of the match" awards in June's Holden Women's State of Origin.
Hodgson hits the heights
Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson becomes just the third No.9 to win the Dally M Medal, joining Danny Buderus (2004) and Cameron Smith (2006, 2017) in the exclusive club.
Kevvie gets the blues
When I said no coach sacking, I was referring to clubs. NSW win back-to-back Origin series in 2019 and that signals the end for Kevin Walters, despite the fact he has year to go on his contract. Anthony Seibold is handed the reins for 2020.
Ponga No.1 gun
Kalyn Ponga takes over from Billy Slater as fullback for the Maroons, relegating Greg Inglis to his familiar spot at left centre for his last Origin series. While we're in that vein, Inglis remains at centre for his final two Australian Tests as James Tedesco keeps his grip on No.1.
Mal Meninga breaks with tradition and names co-captains of the Kangaroos for 2019 matches against New Zealand and Tonga. No surprises that will be Inglis and Boyd Cordner.
Meninga wants to restore Inglis's good name after the captaincy was stripped last October, but he also has great respect (and loyalty) for the job Cordner did.
Breaking new ground #1
Manly gets their first female CEO as Lyall Gorman, like Barry Russell, grows tired of the constant battles and stress. Coach Des Hasler is fine with the decision as he's worked for a female boss in Raelene Castle at the Bulldogs.
Breaking new ground #2
Kasey Badger joins Belinda Sleeman in getting an assistant referee gig at NRL games this year. Hopefully in 2020 both women are promoted to senior referee status – the first women in the NRL to do so.
New Commission chair
The ARL Commission appoints its first woman as chair, replacing Peter Beattie at the season-end AGM. Megan Davis or Amanda Laing seem the most obvious but Katie Page still holds great esteem in the game and the Commission could always go back-to-back former Queensland premiers with Anna Bligh.
Melbourne Storm can't replace two golden-haired boys in two years – Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater – and fail to make the top four for only the second time in nine years (the other being sixth in 2014).
The fullback position becomes as problematic finding the right fit as halfback did in 2018. And yes, the Storm made the grand final anyway, but not this time.
Cleary combo comes up big
Ivan and Nathan Cleary become the first father-and-son to win an NRL premiership in 15 years, since John and Martin Lang did in 2003. And it's at the same club – Penrith!
World Cup 9s
Fiji win the inaugural Downer RLIF World Cup 9s throwing the ball around and delighting the crowd at BankWest Stadium like the Fijian Sevens men did to win 2016 Olympic gold in Rio. Australia wins the women's 9s trophy.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.