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Wests return stronger

Local rugby league returns to the Newcastle sporting agenda this weekend with round one of the Real NRL. But how are the teams shaping up in 2016 and who will be striving for a tilt at the title? Herald sports reporter JOSH CALLINANtakes a closer look around the grounds.
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JUBILATION: Lakes United will be defending their premiership crown in 2016 and hoping to go back-to-back in the Newcastle Rugby League first grade competition.

WESTERN SUBURBS

Coach:Steve Storrie

Last Premiership:2014

Last Year:Minor Premiers(missed grand final)

In:Jake Finn (Newcastle Knights –NSW Cup),Tim Holman (Bathurst),Jacob Jenkinson (return),Jacob Ling (injury),Kyle MacGregor (Wyong),Chad Redman (Gold Coast Titans),Brad Tighe (Gold Coast Titans).

Out:Justin Smith (retired).

Bottom Line: Last year’s minor premiers will start as favourites with NRL players Brad Tighe and Chad Redman adding to an already strong Rosellas squad. Keen to make amends for missing first grand final since 2010.

Tip:First

MACQUARIE

Coach:Adam Bettridge

Last Premiership:1991

Last Year:Third (grand finalists)

In:Daniel Abraham (Kurri),Shane Beale (South Newcastle),Scott Briggs (South Newcastle),Sol Foster (Windsor Wolves),Brock Harmer (Kurri),JosephLeighton (South Newcastle),Ryan Pywell (England),Matt Simon (South Newcastle).

Out:Travis Edwards (Canterbury –NYC),Royce Geoffrey (England),Mitch Manson (England),Mick Moran (retired).

Bottom Line:The Scorpions fell just short of breaking a25-year premiership drought last seasonand welcome Scott Briggs on board in the halves for 2016. Adam Bettridge takes over the reins as coach.

Tip:Second

LAKES

Coach:Dean Noonan

Last Premiership:2015

Last Year:Second (Major Premiers)

In:Shaun Boss (Wyong–NSW Cup),Kyle Kennedy (Mackay),Marcus Marsh (Aberdeen).

Out:Hayden Jeans (Wagga Wagga),Jack Mackin (Brisbane), Rob Mason (Maitland).

Bottom Line: The only thing harder than winning a premiership is defending it, but with player of the year Chris Adams there again Lakes will certainly be in the mix to claim the crown once more.

Tip: Third

Wests return stronger TweetFacebook Lakes’ grand final glorySOUTH NEWCASTLE

Coach:Todd Hurrell

Last Premiership:1989

Last Year:Sixth

In:Sam Cook (NZ Warriors–NSW Cup),Jared Edwards (Cessnock),James Elias (Newcastle Knights–NSW Cup),Willie Heta (Cessnock), Ben Roose (injured), James Taylor (Newcastle Knights–NSW Cup),Ben Tupou (Newcastle Knights–NSW Cup).

Out:ShaneBeale (Macquarie),Scott Briggs (Macquarie),Riley Brown (Central),Joey Leighton (Macquarie), Matt Simon (Macquarie), Kurt Warden (Wyong–NSW Cup).

Bottom Line: The Lions have recruited well to present a strong starting squad, and if theyavoid injuries to key signingswill look to make inroads at the back end of the year.

Tip: Fourth

CESSNOCK

Coach: Dan Smailes

Last Premiership: 2003

Last Year: Fourth

In: Kori Barber (France), Noah Easton (Newcastle Knights–NYC),Marvin Filipo (Newcastle Knights –NSW Cup), Chris Pyne (return),Jake Watts (return).

Out: Geordie Connelly (Maitland), Jared Edwards (South Newcastle),Willie Heta (South Newcastle),Kerrod Holland (Canterbury Bulldogs).

Bottom Line: Goannas mentorDan Smailes was captain-coach the last time Cessnock won the competition and he will be hoping to repeat the dose from the sidelines this year.

Tip: Fifth

MAITLAND

Coach: Trevor Ott

Last Premiership: 2011

Last Year: Eighth

In: Kurt Aldridge (Manly –NSW Cup),Geordie Connelly (Cessnock),Toby Evans (Guildford Owls),Liam Faughlin (Eastern Suburbs–Sydney rugby union),Cameron King (Parramatta – NYC),Rob Mason (Lakes), Luke Mercer (Kurri),Shay Padberg (Kurri), Willie Poleo (Greta Branxton),Jacob Sinclair (overseas).

Out: Tyme Dow-Nikau (Kurri), Howie Grant (Wanderers –rugby union),Kade Hardy (Kurri), Elliott Jennings (Wanderers –rugby union).

Bottom Line: Last year’s wooden spooners could be theimprovement package with new additions creating depthacross the park, including the return of 2013 rookie Liam Faughlin.

Tip: Sixth

CENTRAL NEWCASTLE

Coach:Rowan Kelly

Last Premiership:1949

Last Year:Fifth

In:Cody Brooks (injury),Riley Brown (South Newcastle),Brad Calder (Belmont South),Dale Clacherty (Old Bar),Jacob McKendry (injury),Tom McKenzie (Central Queensland Capras).

Out:Jace Delaney (injured), Daniel French (Kurri Kurri),Dean McBain (retired).

Bottom Line: The Butcher Boys made the semislast yearand there is no reason why they can’t do it again, especially with the inclusion of playmaker Riley Brown.

Tip: Seventh

KURRI KURRI

Coach:Phil Williams

Last Premiership:1995

Last Year:Seventh

In:Mitchell Bird (Greta Branxton), Paulo Dinauvoli (Scone), Nathan Campbell (Wagga Wagga), Tyme Dow-Nikau (Maitland), Daniel French (Central), Kade Hardy (Maitland), Joel Harrison (Scone), Brady Hammond (Tweed Heads), Josh Griffiths (Muswellbrook),Joel McCann (injury),Ethan McKenzie (return), Jake Moore (Greta Branxton), Cameron Moran (Western Suburbs), Kevin Torrens (Casino).

Out:Daniel Abraham (Macquarie), Tim Bennett (Queensland), Scott Dunn (not playing), Brock Harmer (Macquarie), Brad Manton (Sydney),Luke Mercer (Maitland), Josh Papworth (Maitland),Shay Padberg (Maitland), Kyle Smith (Penrith Panthers–NYC),Jay Stevens (overseas), Damien Walters (retired).

Bottom Line: The Bulldogs are almost an entirenew squad with a lot of player movements, but Terence Seu Seu and Ryan Walker will be vital in key positions.

Tip: Eighth