Plenty of expectation will be on the St George Illawarra Dragons in 2023 after missing a place in the finals for the past four seasons, including two under coach Anthony Griffin.
They'll require a fast start to get their season on track and are guaranteed two points from the opening round after being the first club to receive the bye in the expanded 17-team competition.
However, it is what happens in the four weeks after that which is likely to determine the direction their season takes, with matches against the Titans (home), Broncos (away), Sharks (home) and Dolphins (home).
The Dragons won 12 of their 24 matches last season but finished 10th after a post-Origin slump in which they lost five games in six weeks between round 17 and 22.
Former Wests Tigers hooker Jacob Liddle and forwards Zane Musgrove and Ben Murdoch-Masila are the recruits with NRL experience, while the club has a glut of local talent coming through the ranks.
Match: Dragons v Titans
Round 2 -
Venue: Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney
Predicted Round 2 team
- Tyrell Sloan
- Mat Feagai
- Zac Lomax
- Moses Suli
- Mikaele Ravalawa
- Jayden Sullivan
- Ben Hunt
- Francis Molo
- Jacob Liddle
- Blake Lawrie
- Jack Bird
- Jaydn Su’A
- Jack de Belin
- Moses Mbye
- Zane Musgrove
- Ben Murdoch-Masila
- Aaron Woods
Others: Talatau Amone (stood down), Tyrell Fuimaono, Paul Turner, Billy Burns, Max Feagai, Jaiyden Hunt, Nick Lui-Toso, Tautau Moga, Michael Molo, Cody Ramsey (injured), Josh Kerr.
The best NRL tries from the Dragons in 2022
- Squad spots filled: 28/30
The Dragons still have two roster spots to fill after announcing the signing of Paul Turner and Ben Murdoch-Masila, alongside the purchase of former Wests Tigers prop Zane Musgrove and Queensland Cup front-rower of the year Nick Lui-Toso.
It goes some way to filling the void left by the departures of Josh McGuire, Tariq Sims, Poasa Faamausili, Jackson Ford, Jack Gosiewski and George Burgess in the off-season.
Five-eighth Talatau Amone is subject to the NRL's Mandatory No-Fault Stand Down Condition after he was charged by NSW Police in January. Under the condition, Amone is not permitted to participate as a player in the NRL competition or pre-season trial matches.
The club's hooking stocks look low, with Jacob Liddle the only specialist dummy half in the NRL squad after being signed from Wests Tigers to replace Andrew McCullough.
Moses Mbye is most likely to deputise for Liddle but the club also has Connor Muhleisen on a development contract.
Dragons utility Jack Bird is racing the clock to be fit for the side's season-opener against the Gold Coast Titans in Round 2 after injuring his knee at training.
Bird had minor surgery on his meniscus with a 4-6 week recovery expected.
Fullback Cody Ramsey has been ruled out for the season after being hospitalised with ulcerative colitis while lock Jack de Belin missed the Charity Shield due to a calf issue.
Dragons pre-season fitness update
Most contentious position
The five-eighth spot is now shaping as the Dragons' biggest issue with Talatau Amone stood down. Paul Turner was signed by the club days out from the season kicking off and will add depth.
Jayden Sullivan returned from a hamstring injury in the Charity Shield and is an option alongside Turner with Moses Mbye also there.
Cody Ramsey's season-ending illness, whilst devastating, gives Tyrell Sloan a major chance to lock in the No.1 jersey and make an impact in 2023.
Captain Ben Hunt is one of the best playmakers in the game, a proven match winner and an inspirational leader for a young Dragons backline brimming with talent and strike power.
Centre Moses Suli (both Tonga) and wingers Mat Feagai (Samoa) and Mikaele Ravalawa (Fiji) will benefit from the experience they gained at the World Cup, while Zac Lomax was third for try assists by centres in 2022 and Sloan is one of the NRL's most exciting rookies.
The best Mat Feagai tries in 2022
Biggest question mark
Liddle is the only specialist dummy half and unless the Dragons sign another hooker, Moses Mbye and Jayden Sullivan are likely to have to share the role if he is out.
Mbye started at hooker in three matches last when Andrew McCullough was unavailable and Sullivan wore the No.9 jersey in the round 24 clash with Wests Tigers.
With Amone stood down, Sullivan and Mbye are also in the mix to partner captain Ben Hunt in the halves.
Local product Connor Muhleisen, who co-captained the winning 2019 Steelers SG Ball team, has been signed as a development player, while Melbourne junior Haele Finau is on a train-and-trial contract, but neither have played NRL.