Rugby league is in every sense a team sport. The 13 starters and four reserves each play vital roles in the weekly success or otherwise of every NRL club. Throughout a full season however, there are certain players who hold the key to how well a club will travel.
These players, whether through the skills that they possess, the leadership qualities they bring to the field or the importance of their roles, will play the biggest part in determining whether or not their club will be the last one standing at the end of the 2019 season.
Jack Bird - A lot was expected of the premiership-winning utility back when he travelled north to the Broncos at the end of the 2017 season. But 2018 was a disappointing mix of injury setbacks and ordinary performances. He will be a key piece of any premiership hopes the club might have under new coach Anthony Siebold, as they look for some magic outside halves Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima. A fit and in-form Bird should contribute to both the Broncos' and New South Wales' hopes of success in 2019.
Jack Wighton - With Blake Austin gone, the belief is that Ricky Stuart will move Wighton into the halves to partner Aidan Sezer. Whether this happens or he stays at fullback, Wighton is a key attacking weapon for the Raiders. He missed the back end of the 2018 season due to an off-field incident and he'll need to return to his best if the Raiders are to break into the finals. The Raiders have to do a better job of shutting out games when leading late into the second half and the halves need to take control in those situations.
Kieran Foran - Foran missed most of last season through injury and in his absence Lachlan Lewis really stepped up for the Bulldogs. Still, Lewis was a lone hand most of the time in the halves, and the return of a fully fit Foran, approaching anywhere his best, will be an enormous lift for the team. The Bulldogs are a club that expects success and another season out of the finals won't be good for the careers of Foran or coach Dean Pay.
Matthew Moylan - With the loss of Valentine Holmes and the acquisition of Shaun Johnson, Moylan will be expected to return to the fullback position on a permanent basis. Moylan has played some of his best football at fullback and he will be a key attacking weapon for the Sharks, popping up around the ruck to capitalise on their heavy hitting forwards. If rumours around the contract of Johnson are true, Moylan could yet find himself back in the No. 6. Either way, under new coach John Morris, Moylan will have a lot of responsibility on his shoulders.
Gold Coast Titans
Tyrone Peachey - The Peach reluctantly left the Panthers at the end of last year and finds himself on the Gold Coast with the perennially struggling Titans. Coach Garth Brennan has yet to decide on a halves partner for Ash Taylor, but with Tyrone Roberts, Ryley Jacks and even AJ Brimson in the mix, it seems Peachey will take his spot in the centres. Many a rugby league career has gone downhill on the Gold Coast and Peachey will have to buck that trend if the Titans are to threaten for a finals berth.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
Jake Trbojevic - Manly welcome back coach Des Hasler this year and he'll be looking for real leadership from star lock Jake Trbojevic. The Sea Eagles have bought Kane Elgey to partner Daly Cherry-Evans in the halves, but it will be the tireless defence and creativity with the ball of Trbojevic that will be key to how they perform in 2019. Hasler has a reputation for stifling ball-playing forwards in search of mistake-free football, but he'd be mad to instruct Trbojevic to tuck the ball firmly under his arm.
Jahrome Hughes / Scott Drinkwater - You don't step into the boots of a superstar of the game like Billy Slater and not be key to your team's chances. Whether Hughes or Drinkwater is the first to pull on the Storm No. 1 jersey in the post-Slater era, coach Craig Bellamy will want them to walk before running. Bellamy is the master of fitting pieces into his rugby league puzzle and the new fullback will have his set role to play, with as little pressure as possible. If he can be solid at the back, with moments of attacking flair, he will have played his part in another successful Storm season.
Connor Watson - You might have expected Kalyn Ponga to be the key player for the Knights heading into his first season the No. 6 jersey, but Watson will be under enormous pressure as he steps into the vacated fullback role. Ponga is expected to continue his rise to stardom in the halves, but if Watson doesn't hit the ground running at the back, the Knights might start doubting the wisdom of the move. Watson has played a lot more football in the halves, so it will be interesting to see how he goes and whether of not he can help the Knights break into the finals.
New Zealand Warriors
Blake Green - Green had mixed success during his first season with the Warriors after joining them from Manly. With Shaun Johnson departing the club for Cronulla and half-in-waiting Mason Lino already signed with Newcastle, Green is left to pick up the pieces in the halves for the Warriors. Chanel Harris-Tavita looks like getting the first shot at the No. 7 jersey and he'll need Green's experience and calmness to ease him into the rigours of first grade. Green will look to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to help him fill the attacking void left by Johnson's departure.
North Queensland Cowboys
Michael Morgan - Morgan was always going to be key to the Cowboys' chances in the post-Johnathan Thurston era, but with the loss of Ben Barba, he has even more weight on his shoulders. Barba was going to add spark and unpredictability to the backline, which would have seen Morgan with more space and time to work his magic. Now he'll be well targeted by the opposition and will really need to step up. If he doesn't handle the responsibility it could be another painful year for the Cows.
Mitchell Moses - When Moses joined the Eels from the Tigers, he was expected to play a major role in the club's premiership challenge. In 2017 he was part of the side that finished fourth, before they tumbled to capture the 2018 wooden spoon. Whispers from around the club centred on a break-down in his combination with Corey Norman and the unsettling, inconsistent role played by the returning Jarryd Hayne. Hayne and Norman are no longer at the club and Moses has every opportunity to completely own the success or failure of the Eels in 2019.
Reagan Campbell-Gillard - As good as Panthers halves Nathan Cleary and James Maloney are, they need room to move behind a dominating pack. Campbell-Gillard is really going to have to lead the way up front, with the Panthers front-row stocks looking a bit thin. They have veterans James Tamou and Tim Grant, but Campbell-Gillard will need to have a really strong season with the ball and in defence if the Panthers are to live up to their premiership potential under new coach Ivan Cleary.
St George Illawarra Dragons
Ben Hunt - Hunt carries a lot of expectation along with his hefty pay packet. He had a solid 2018 season, but was inclined to drift in and out of games. If he can find the consistency to lead for a full 80 minutes each and every week, the Dragons could be just about unstoppable. Coach Paul McGregor has to find a way to squeeze Corey Norman into the backline, while best using Gareth Widdop and Matthew Dufty. Whatever combination they come up with, it will be Hunt's responsibility to get the best out of the Dragons.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Greg Inglis - The heart and soul of the Rabbitohs has announced that 2019 will be his penultimate season. If the Bunnies are to win a premiership in Wayne Bennett's first year as coach, Inglis will have to be at his best. As he has matured as a player, his leadership qualities have strengthened to the point that players will follow his lead into the heat of any battle. Whether he finds himself in the centres or at fullback he will be in the middle of the action every week and will be very keen to go out of the game on top.
Luke Keary - Much of the talk at the beginning of last season centred around the failure of fullback James Tedesco and half Cooper Cronk to combine successfully for the Roosters. By end of the year as they hoisted the premiership trophy there was little doubt that the two had not only worked out their issues with each other but had found a handy ally in five-eighth Luke Keary. In 2019 Keary's role will be even more vital as opposition coaches look to nullify the Cronk - Tedesco combination. Keary needs to take his game to another level and continue to provide that third attacking threat.
Moses Mbye - It's hard to work out exactly what new coach Michael Maguire will do with a Tigers team that has veterans Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall as well as Josh Reynolds and Jacob Liddle contesting for two key roles. One thing that has been made clear is that he sees fullback Mbye as the man to lead the side in 2019. Mbye has the ability to be a very solid fullback who can turn a game with moments of brilliance. The added responsibility of the captaincy may see him take his game to the heights expected when he was first signed by the Bulldogs.