Ten Things I Think I Think – NRL Pre-Season 2010/2011 Edition

We have had a busy off-season this year in the NRL.  And we are looking forward to an even busier season this year.  We have the World Ringette Championship in November, we have the Canada Winter Games in February and we have a full season.  There is a lot going on here!  So, to get the season started off right, here are ten things we are thinking about the NRL.

1. I think that the Edmonton WAM! are going to be a strong defending champion.  The team has four members of Team Canada (Keely Brown, Barb Bautista, Ashley Peters and Jennifer Hartley) and has the unique combination of experience and youth that will make them tough to beat.  With Bautista and Peters both playing on Team Canada, and coaching Team Alberta at the Canada Games, fatigue could end up being the one achilles heel on this team.

2.  I think that the Prairie Fire proved a lot last year with their third place finish at the national championship.  Of course, this just leaves them with more to prove this season.  They will need to show that last year was no fluke, or even a peak.  The last few steps are the toughest and the Fire will have to at least start taking them this season.

3.  I think the Montreal Mission provide the biggest question mark in the league this year.  Sure, they can score like nobody’s business and they have run away with the Montreal division title for a few years in a row.  But, after a dreadful national championship tournament and knowing that the entire top line will be fatigued by competing at the World Championships (Julie Blanchette and Stéphanie Séguin for Canada; Catherine Cartier for the USA) will there be enough left to continue that dominance?

4.  I think the western conference is feeling pretty good about itself after the national championship tournament.  The west went 11-5 in head-to-head matchups with eastern conference teams in Saskatoon.  On top of that, the west took two spots on the podium (Edmonton in 1st and Prairie Fire in 3rd) and made up four of the six spots in the championship round.  It will take until March, but the eastern teams are going to have to find a way to step up their games when they get to the big dance this year.

5.  I think this season is going to have its fits and starts.  The league will basically shut down for the World Ringette Championship in November and then many teams will be without key younger players as they go to Halifax for the Canada Winter Games in February.  The reality of the NRL is that the schedule is often a bit wonky (to allow for travel, etc) but this year it may be a real challenge for some teams and players.

6.  I think that you cannot underestimate the impact that the world championship will have on this season.  Sure, some players will be away, and will have a post-WRC hangover when they get back.  But the impact is beyond that.  If the gold medal game is a 7-6 shootout, you can probably expect more goals this season.  A 2-1 nailbiter, expect tighter, defensive minded ringette in the NRL.  All of the Team Canada players are key players on their respective teams and the tone from the WRC will infect each one of their teams.  It is a huge deal.

7.  I think that the drafts this year were pretty interesting.  The Southern Ontario draft ran the deepest with teams picking into the 8th round.  Even the defending eastern champion Cambridge Turbos picked up eight new players in the draft, looking to ensure that the cupboard never goes bare.  But, despite the on-ice importance of the draft, I could not get past this name: Tia Toko.  Whitby selected Toko in the second round, but she would have gone first overall (with a bullet) if the draft were based on the coolest names.  Tia Toko: coolest name in the NRL!

8. I think the Ten Things I Think I Think series has been well received and is fostering discussion throughout the league. I also think that sometimes when people find out who really writes the Ten Things, the resulting emotions can be comparable to finding out there is no Santa. I know this must be tough. 🙂

9.  I think (OK, I know) that the gold medal final at the World Ringette Championship will be a best-of-three series this year.  

Canada in 3. ‘Nuff said.

10.  I think these are my non-NRL thoughts:

a.  I think that vuvuzelas would be a pretty cool addition to the NRL.  Let’s get to work on that.

b.  I think that, arguably, Team Canada head coach Lyndsay Wheelan’s most important coaching tool this summer has been planningnutrition guidelinesmotivational techniquesscoutingSkype.  It sounds too simple, but being able to see her players over the video conference and being able to share video highlights while talking to an athlete has been a vital tool.  Technology never rests.

c.  I think that I cannot say enough times that this entire “10 Things” idea is flagrantly stolen from maybe the best football writer out there – Sport Illustrated’s Peter King. Again, if you like the NFL, even a little bit, you need to check out his Monday Morning Quarterback column on si.com.