With the season kicking off on Thursday, we look at each team’s key player.CRONULLA
Captain Paul Gallen’s value to the Sharks was emphasised again last year when what seemed to be a possible title-winning team’s cohesion stuttered and then stalled when he was sidelined by injury or away on origin duty. Gallen’s leadership, experience, go-forward and toughness makes him close to irreplaceable.SOUTH SYDNEY
Greg Inglis proved last year why he is one of the code’s genuine superstars. Regardless of whether he played at centre or full-back, he monstered his opposition and one of the great sights of 2012 was that of four or five defenders struggling to drag him to the ground. When Inglis fires, Souths fire, but he needs to be fed more ball out wide.MANLY
Daly Cherry-Evans, at 22, enters his third season in the NRL as an international and premiership-winning half-back. He and his halves partner, Kieran Foran, are crucial for the Sea Eagles if they’re to go one better than last season and make the grand final. Cherry-Evans has already proven he has the confidence and skill set to light the fuse for one of the game’s most exciting back lines, but should take it to an extra dimension in 2013.NEWCASTLE
Kiwi back-rower Jeremy Smith renews his working relationship with Knights coach Wayne Bennett – the pair won a premiership together at St George Illawarra in 2010 – and he joins a team desperate for his toughness and intimidation. He was one of the stars for the Sharks in 2012 and will be required to provide some urgently needed grit to his new club.PANTHERS
With experienced players such as club legend Luke Lewis, Michael Gordon and Michael Jennings now elsewhere, prop Tim Grant will need to make himself the Panthers’ foundation stone. He made his mark for NSW last year with his toughness and desire. Penrith will require the commitment he showed in the sky-blue week in, week out.BRISBANE
With Petero Civoniceva joining Darren Lockyer in retirement, rugged forward Sam Thaiday carries the weight of expectation in 2013. He showed a relentless determination as captain last year and must aim up again. The signing of 32-year-old half-back Scott Prince from the Gold Coast adds some much-needed experience.CANBERRA
For the past couple of seasons, Canberra’s hopes have fallen on the shoulders of Josh Dugan and Terry Campese. But last year Josh McCrone took control of the side in the absence of Campese and led them from wooden spoon contention to the second week of the finals series.GOLD COAST
Nate Myles had an outstanding year on a representative level and, while he was strong for the Titans, didn’t have the same impact at club level as he did on the big stage. Having had a year to settle into his new club, expect him to emerge as the new leader of the pack.NORTH QUEENSLAND
You know what you’re going to get from Johnathan Thurston, so that makes Matthew Bowen the Cowboys’ most important player. If he can repeat his 2012 form, the Cowboys will possess the strike power to again be genuine premiership contenders.ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA
If the Dragons, the competition’s worst attacking team of 2012, want to improve their offence, Gerard Beale needs a big year. He’s a talented full-back with the ball skills to help rejuvenate the Dragons’ attack.WESTS TIGERS
Benji Marshall receives all the accolades, but Robbie Farah is as, if not more, important to the Tigers’ finals hopes. The hooker had a brilliant series for NSW last year and needs to show that form at club level.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.