Hodges: Roosters still team to beat but watch Broncos
I LOVE this time of year. Everyone is fit, every club is confident and every fan is hopeful it will be their team lifting the premiership trophy on the first Sunday in October.
Never has there been a more scandalous off-season in the NRL than the one we've just experienced. There is no excusing the behaviour of a minority of players in the competition, but thankfully this weekend we'll be able to celebrate the skills and ability of the majority.
Last season will go down as one of the tightest top-eight races in recent memory. At the end of 25 rounds, two points separated the Roosters as minor premiers and the Warriors in eighth spot - and this year looks no different.
No side has gone back-to-back since the Broncos in 1992 and 1993, but you'd be a brave person to write off the Roosters in 2019.
They were the best defensive side in 2018 and after watching them in the World Club Challenge against Wigan, they look just as strong defensively in 2019.
They may have lost Dylan Napa and Blake Ferguson from their premiership-winning side, but they've picked up two handy replacements in Brett Morris and Angus Crichton.
All eyes will be on the Broncos and South Sydney this year following the coach swap between Anthony Seibold and Wayne Bennett, with both sides hoping a change in coach will bring them a premiership.
The Broncos have one of the best crop of young forwards in the competition.
If Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorema click, there's no reason the Broncos can't go all the way - and the same can be said about Bennett and the Burgess boys at the Bunnies.
Michael Morgan and Jason Taumalolo hold the Cowboys' hopes in their hands. North Queensland fans will be hoping they can find their 2017 form.
The Titans are entering their second year under Garth Brennan and have recruited extremely well in the off-season, picking up representative stars Tyrone Peachey and Shannon Boyd.
The Clearys have reunited at Penrith, Corey Norman has gone to the Dragons, Shaun Johnson finds himself at the Sharks and then you've got the Newcastle Knights - the feel-good story of 2018.
I'm tipping them to take the next step and play finals footy in 2019.
There's no doubt Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga are the key men for the Knights, but they've also recruited David Klemmer and he looks fit and ready to fire.
Adding to the unpredictability this year is the amazing crop of young players coming through the ranks.
I can't wait to watch players such as AJ Brimson, Payne Haas, Jake Clifford and David Fifita this year. Fifita was outstanding in the Indigenous All-Stars game and would seem primed for a top season.
Trying to pick a premiership winner at this time of year is like trying to pick a Melbourne Cup winner on Valentine's Day!
But if I have to tip a team to win the competition, I'll tip the Broncos. I love the look of their forward pack, they've got good depth across the park and have been training the house down under Seibold.
Bring on season 2019!