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NRL 2012: Five who need to fire

opinion

By David Skipwith

Published: 7:10AM Thursday March 01, 2012 Source: ONE Sport

tvnz.co.nz nominates five players who could be the difference to their club taking out the 2012 NRL premiership.

Shaun Johnson - New Zealand Warriors

After storming into first grade and sparking a Warriors charge to last year's grand final, all eyes are once again on Shaun Johnson in 2012. Simply put, the Warriors need him to reproduce that stunning form or their hopes of going one step further and claiming their first premiership will be dashed. The dreaded 'second year syndrome' will be the biggest hurdle for the 21-year-old, as he now faces defences that have had an off-season to digest his freakish talents. However, the summer break has also given Johnson the chance to manage a niggling back injury which he carried throughout last year and kept him from making his debut for the Kiwis at the Four Nations. His combination with five-eighth James Maloney should be stronger again and judging by his performances in the Warriors' three trial games, Johnson looks ready to carry on his meteoric rise.

Chris Sandow - Parramatta Eels

Thanks to Russel Crowe's toy-throwing tweet last year, the whole world knows Chris Sandow exited Redfern to take up the Eels' offer of $550,000 per season. At that price, long-sufferring Eels fans are expecting plenty from the live-wire number seven, hoping they've finally found the next 'Sterlo' to deliver them their first premiership since 1986. A world-beater on his day, Sandow plays with an unpredictability which defined the Rabbitohs style but questions linger over how he will operate under the disciplined structures of Stephen Kearney's coaching. If Sandow can fulfill the role of backline general and steer the Eels around the park it will ease the presure on Jarryd Hayne to create all the magic. However, if the Eels are slow out of the blocks it won't take long before the jungle drums start beating and Sandow and Kearney will both be feeling the heat.

Adam Blair - Wests Tigers

Adam Blair's arrival in Tiger Town has most critics convinced that 2012 will be their year. Along with secondrow partner Gareth Ellis and lock Chris Heighington, the Tigers now have potentially the NRL's most damaging backrow trio. Having come from the ruthlessly efficient Melbourne Storm, which often neglected the big Kiwi's skill set, Blair should thrive under the expansive style favoured by Tigers' coach Tim Sheens. Look to creative hooker Robbie Farrah and the mercurial Benji Marshall to get the best out of Blair's unique footwork and off-loading ability on the fringes of the ruck. There is added pressure upon Blair to perform from the get-go, from Tigers fans who were vocal in their displeasure at the forced exit of the much-loved Andrew Fifita, to make way for the highly paid New Zealand vice captain.

Corey Norman - Brisbane Broncos

Slotting in at five-eighth for the Broncos in place of the great Darren Lockyer is akin to going in to bat after Don Bradman. Corey Norman, at 21, and with just 21 first grade games under his belt, is by no means guarranteed the number six jersey for the season and much will hinge on how well he gels with halfback Peter Wallace in the early rounds. Coach Anthony Griffin has been making all the right sounds about how there is no pressure on Norman to instantly deliver, but with a history and culture of success, the Broncos and their fans are unlikely to tolerate anything less. Incredibly, just four names have owned the Broncos' five-eighth position since the clubs entry into the NRL back in 1988: Wally Lewis, Kevin Walters, Ben Ikin and Lockyer. Whether Corey Norman has a chance of adding to that legacy should be clearer by round seven.

Todd Carney - Cronulla Sharks

No player is under more scrutiny in 2012 than Todd Carney. With no other club prepared to go near him after a well documented history of alcohol related incidents, Cronulla is Carney's last chance saloon. If he can revisit the 2010 form that saw him take the Roosters to the grand final and win the Daly M Medal as the best player in the game, the Sharks are a big chance of earning a finals berth for the first time since 2008. Cronulla boast a monster-sized pack with the likes of inspirational skipper Paul Gallen and Jeremy Smith, yet the onus is on Carney to lay on the razzle dazzle and guide a backline absent of any other big names. If he fails to fire, the Sharks are no chance.

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