Some of them have been naughty, some have been nice, but every NRL team has sent Santa a letter asking for something special this Christmas. What will be waiting under the tree for each of the 17 teams and how will it help them navigate the 2023 season? We take a look at this year's NRL Christmas wish list.
A pair of 20-year-old legs for Adam Reynolds - The Broncos really turned a corner last season with Adam Reynolds at the helm, but the bad news filtering out of Brisbane is that he is struggling with an ankle injury this offseason. Reynolds, 32, is not getting any younger and the way he attacks the game is doing him no favours physically. The Broncos need him fully fit and at his best to take full advantage of Reece Walsh's return to the club.
A new bag of tricks for Ricky - The Raiders have had mixed results since losing the 2019 Grand Final. They scraped into the finals last year, knocked the Storm out in the first week, before being trounced by the Eels. Many are wondering whether Stuart can lift the Green Machine to the heights of 2019 again or whether it could be time for some fresh ideas in Canberra. Stuart has a contract with the Raiders until 2025, after the board decided to extend the tenure of one of the club's favourite sons. Maybe he just needs some new tricks and less injuries to reinvigorate the team.
Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs
Josh Jackson's heart - Not the actual, still beating, vital organ that is happily keeping recently retired captain Josh Jackson alive, but the spirit and determination with which he played every game for the Bulldogs. Jackson retired with a year to run on his contract, and the Bulldogs have already begun building a formidable pack of forwards to cover for his loss. But each and every one of them will have to play with the heart of Jackson, if the Bulldogs are to push their way up the ladder and into the finals in 2023.
An improved Nicho Hynes - Yes, that's right, the Dally M player of the year can be even better in 2023 and the Sharks will need him to step up if they are to challenge for the title. Cronulla have been relatively quiet in the player market this offseason, so any gains will have to come from within the squad. Hynes was playing his first full season at halfback and seemed more and more in command of the role as the season progressed. He can improve even further under coach Craig Fitzgibbon.
A first NRL win - The Dolphins become the NRL's 17th team in 2023 and have so far experienced a less than spectacular build-up to their debut. The club has signed a lot of solid NRL players, but they have made far more headlines for the number of big-name stars who have turned down healthy offers to join the Wayne Bennett-coached team. They really need to find their feet as early as possible; that first win in the NRL is going to be welcomed with an enormous sigh of relief.
Gold Coast Titans
The very best of Kieran Foran - The Titans have played finals football twice in the last twelve years, and a lot of promise has failed to amount to anything significant. Players come and players go, but many seem to lose their way on the Gold Coast. The latest big-name signing is Sea Eagles legend Kieran Foran. If Foran can give them two years of his best, avoiding injury if at all possible, he might just be the missing ingredient they have long searched for. Foran at his best brings a wealth of experience, a calmness under pressure and an ability to bring out the best in the players around him.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
A fully fit Tommy Trbojevic - The Sea Eagles printed out 20 copies of their letter to Santa, because they have asked for exactly the same thing over the past few years. The club welcomes new coach Anthony Seibold this season after dumping club favourite Des Hasler, and Seibold will need Tommy Turbo healthy and firing as soon as possible if he is to have any hope of a successful start to his tenure. It would seem harsh to call the Sea Eagles a one-man team, if they weren't so obviously exactly that.
Another trip to the Top 4 - For such a perennially successful club it might seem strange to ask for Santa's intervention, but the Storm have undergone some massive changes this off season. They have lost a wealth of experience from their engine room with the departure of the Bromwich brothers, Felise Kaufusi and Brandon Smith, with their biggest name acquisition being Tariq Sims. Last year's fifth place finish marked just the third time in 17 years that the Storm had finished outside the Top 4. The genius of Craig Bellamy, nearing the end of his coaching career, might still see them return to the top half of the finals teams, but a little bit of magic from the North Pole wouldn't hurt.
A sense of direction - Exactly where are the Knights headed, and who is steering the great Novocastrian ship? Since the departure of Mitchell Pearce after a mixed tenure in the Knights halfback jersey, Newcastle have thrown all sorts of halves combinations at the wall hoping something would stick. This year they have allowed Jake Clifford, Anthony Milford and Tex Hoy to leave, while adding Jackson Hastings and Tyson Gamble to Adam Clune and Kalyn Ponga, who is always threatening to move into the halves. With coach Adam O'Brien's head on the chopping block, he will be desperate to build a combination that works.
North Queensland Cowboys
Another year just a bit better than the last - Coach Todd Payten enters his second season in charge of the Cowboys and, apart from winning two more major games, would be very happy to repeat last year's performance. The magic influence of most new coaches wears off eventually, but Payten would seem to have many more years of success ahead of him at the club. Apart from losing Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, the Cowboys have pretty much maintained their squad, with experienced talisman James Tamou returning to close out his storied career, hopefully with a premiership.
The signatures of two halves - The Eels came within one game of ending the league's longest running premiership drought last season. If they are to have any hope whatsoever of going one better in the foreseeable future they will need both Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown locked into healthy contract extensions, preferably before the 2023 season starts. The fact that both halves are set to test the open market will be a massive distraction heading into this season and beyond.
A three-peat please - Speaking of the Eels, they remain the last club to win three premierships in a row, from 1981 to 1983. The Panthers will be very keen to emulate the effort and steal that claim to fame away from their neighbours. The ever-hungry salary cap has continued to take bites out of their line-up with Api Koroisau, Viliame Kikau and Charlie Staines all departing this year, but the Penrith production line continues to churn out able replacements.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Another Grand final opportunity - Four out of their past five seasons have ended one win away from the Grand Final, with 2021 being their only appearance on the big day across that stretch. That's a large premiership window of opportunity that must be due to slam shut eventually. They have maintained almost the same roster heading into 2023 and really need to find some answers, in particular, to conquering the Panthers at the business end of the season.
St George Illawarra Dragons
A large box of clubhouse harmony - With the Dragons making headlines because of presentation night no-shows, bitter schisms between club legends, and, more dangerously, young players at odds with the coaching staff, the Big Red V really could use some help from the man wearing their colours. The Dragons need everyone to get behind the team, do what the coach tells them to do and rally to their star halfback Ben Hunt. Hunt's famously healthy contract will be all but wasted if the team doesn't get its act together on and off the field.
Two No.1 jerseys - The Roosters crashed out of the finals last season after finishing sixth and losing to the Rabbitohs first up. They enter the first full season at their new stadium desperately hoping that the addition of Brandon Smith will slow the closing of their premiership window. One thing that became abundantly clear at the Rugby League World Cup, was that the Roosters have two of the best fullbacks in the game, in captain James Tedesco and Kiwi Joseph Manu. They can't both play at the back, and centre seems to be almost a waste of Manu's talents. Maybe they could play 40 minutes each at fullback?
New Zealand Warriors
A successful season - Sure every club wants one of those, but after the turmoil of the COVID years, it seems that the Warriors are a little more deserving of some good fortune. Having played finals football just once in the last 12 years, the Warriors are well overdue for another Top 8 finish. Finally settled in their New Zealand homes for a full preseason, with new coach Andrew Webster at the helm, and a raft of promising signings, the Warriors just need a little help from Santa to pull it all together in 2023.
A time machine set to 2005 - With Tim Sheens back in the coaches' box, mentoring next coach Benji Marshall, while Robbie Farah helps out, the Tigers have pulled together some of the key ingredients of that lone 2005 premiership victory. Now they have to translate the off-field pieces into on-field success. A long-awaited finals appearance would be a very good start and with the addition of Api Koroisau, Isaiah Papali'i, Charlie Staines and David Klemmer, they should receive a real boost in positive attitude and player-inspired professionalism