All eyes shift to September for the finals
With the latest State of Origin series done and dusted, the focus of the NRL now turns to September and finals footy.
Some teams will be looking to fine tune and hopefully reach their peak as the finals start, while others will be making the “mathematically, we can still make it” argument. Even Parramatta.
So the question is, who will make the cut? Let’s find out.
16. Parramatta Eels
Run Home: Tough – Bulldogs, Storm, Broncos, Tigers, Roosters, Titans, Rabbitohs, Dragons.
The Eels’ season has been nothing short of terrible. The big money buy, Chris Sandow, has shown glimpses of brilliance but they have been few and far between. Stephen Kearney seems to be a coach who is struggling to get his message across to his chargers with the knives seemingly out ready to stab him in the back. Hindy won’t be the only one not returning next year.
15. Penrith Panthers
Run Home: Tough – Tigers, Roosters, Sharks, Storm, Raiders, Warriors, Titans, Broncos.
The Panthers have gone through as much change as you can think of over the last twelve months. They’ve have had three coaches, lost captain Petero Civoniceva, had Michael Gordon give new coach Ivan Cleary an ultimatum about playing fullback (he’s now leaving at season’s end), had a player demoted to the “reggies” picked for Origin and had a run in with the NRL about the “OAK” sponsorship fridge. And some small detail about Luke Lewis leaving. No biggie.
14. Sydney Roosters
Run Home: OK – Rabbitohs, Panthers, Titans, Dragons, Eels, Raiders, Tigers, Bulldogs.
For a team that had played in a grand final two years ago, the last two years have been well below expectations for the Roosters. And for a team littered with current international and State of Origin representatives, it’s difficult to put the finger on why the Roosters just haven’t gelled. Or perhaps that’s the reason – the many are unable to be carried by the few. However, after the Sam Perrett fiasco, it’s fair to say that things aren’t what they should be down Bondi way.
13. Newcastle Knights
Run Home: Tough – Sea Eagles, Warriors, Raiders, Bulldogs, Sharks, Sea Eagles, Cowboys, Rabbitohs.
The amount of attention the Knights received at the beginning of the year was nothing short of ridiculous. All of a sudden, a team that scraped into the finals last year was an overwhelming premiership favourite. And why? Because they had changed coach. Their personnel hadn’t changed too dramatically but according to the betting, the Knights had all of a sudden gotten better than the Storm and the Sea Eagles. The Knights are currently paying $101.
12. St George Illawarra Dragons
Run Home: Tough – Sharks, Rabbitohs, Storm, Roosters, Tigers, Cowboys, Warriors, Eels.
Under new coach Steve Price, we were told to expect a more attacking style of play. And that’s what we’ve seen, when they are miles behind. Otherwise the Dragons have been as unimaginative as you can get with the ball in their hands. But somehow, the Dragons have still managed to do enough to be within striking distance of the top eight. The biggest enemy that the Dragons face may not be the opposition teams, it could be themselves. If they decide to play their attacking style from the start of a game they could be anything.
11. Gold Coast Titans
Run Home: OK – Raiders, Broncos, Roosters, Rabbitohs, Storm, Eels, Panthers, Sea Eagles.
Considering that the Titans players, coaches and support staff went into the start of the season not knowing if they would be getting paid, the fact that they still have a hope of making the finals is a great effort. Would you put in at your job if you didn’t know if you were going to be paid? John Cartwright deserves a lot of the credit as well as the players themselves. If the Titans can keep their stars on the field, the teams ahead of them will be looking over their shoulders.
10. Canberra Raiders
Run Home: OK – Titans, Sharks, Knights, Broncos, Panthers, Roosters, Bulldogs, Warriors.
Another year, another season ending injury to Campo. But unlike last year, there are signs that they are getting used to life without their talisman. Not many, but they are there. The way they dispatched the Storm (albeit a Smith and Slater-less Storm) in Melbourne this week should provide the Raiders with some self belief.
9. Wests Tigers
Run Home: OK – Panthers, Cowboys, Rabbitohs, Eels, Dragons, Bulldogs, Roosters, Storm.
It’s been anything but an easy year as we are all aware and nobody really knows how Robbie Farah is feeling after such an emotionally draining time. But if the Tigers are to challenge for a spot in the finals, he has to fire. And something tells me he’ll get a lot of help from his friends.
8. New Zealand Warriors
Run Home: OK – Broncos, Knights, Sea Eagles, Sharks, Cowboys, Panthers, Dragons, Raiders.
The Warriors have been solid so far this season but have not been able to get on a winning streak of more than two games. Having said that, they haven’t had a losing streak of more than two either. At present, they are on a two game winning streak having accounted for the Cowboys (without their Origin players) and the Titans. The Warriors are a scary prospect when their attack is firing on all cylinders and after making the Grand Final last year, that experience might get them over the line.
7. Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
Run Home: OK – Knights, Bulldogs, Warriors, Cowboys, Rabbitohs, Knights, Broncos, Titans.
After the tumultuous off season endured by the Sea Eagles, you could almost forgive them for falling in a heap. But they haven’t. They just keep going like nothing’s changed. This is where coach Geoff Toovey deserves some credit. He was a part of Des Hasler’s coaching staff for the last couple of years so he knew the systems in place. He also knew that his playing group hadn’t changed very much, so he took the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach. So far so good.
6. North Queensland Cowboys
Run Home: Tough – Storm, Tigers, Bulldogs, Sea Eagles, Warriors, Dragons, Knights, Sharks.
On their day the Cowboys can be as devastating as anyone. They have the players all over the park to win a premiership. But they also have the ability to put up a real stinker. The stinkers have been few and far between in 2012 though and a lot of that has to do with the fact that the current crop of Cowboys have a bit more steel to their play. The likes of Thurston, Bowen, Tate, Tamou, Scott and Johnson have stepped up as leaders this season and the rest of the posse are following their example.
5. Cronulla Sharks
Run Home: OK – Dragons, Raiders, Panthers, Warriors, Knights, Rabbitohs, Storm, Cowboys.
Another year and another dismal effort…hang on. Where are they? That’s right, the Sharkies are here to play in 2012 and they’re letting everyone know about it. Lead in the forwards by hard men Jeremy Smith and captain Paul Gallen plus the addition of Todd Carney directing the backline, the Sharks have really put their stamp on this year’s competition. Is this their year?
4. South Sydney Rabbitohs
Run Home: Great – Roosters, Dragons, Tigers, Titans, Sea Eagles, Sharks, Eels, Knights.
Is it just me or are all the stars aligning for the Bunnies? Michael Maguire seems to have the Midas touch. His decision to move Greg Inglis to fullback has been one of the best moves of the past decade. They play hard but they also have an amazing amount of skill. Will we hear “Glory Glory” on grand final day?
3. Brisbane Broncos
Run Home: OK – Warriors, Titans, Eels, Raiders, Bulldogs, Storm, Sea Eagles, Panthers.
Petero Civoniceva. 2012 will be his swansong. There is nothing he has not done in the game. Rewind twelve months and we were saying the same about another champion of the game in Darren Lockyer. The Broncos nearly made it to the big game last year. If Locky hadn’t received some friendly fire, they well may have made it. The current Broncos team will be hoping that Petero doesn’t go out the same way. I can’t see him fracturing his cheekbone though. The man’s head is like concrete.
2. Canterbury Bulldogs
Run Home: Great – Eels, Sea Eagles, Cowboys, Knights, Broncos, Tigers, Raiders, Roosters.
At the beginning of the season, Mark Geyer picked the Dogs to win the comp. He was laughed at by the other panellists on NRL on FOX. Hope they’ve got that humble pie ready. The Des Hasler touch has certainly worked its magic at Belmore. For a team that missed the finals last year, their rise up the table has been a surprise. But remember, in true Dessie style they’re under the radar.
1. Melbourne Storm
Run Home: Great – Cowboys, Eels, Dragons, Panthers, Titans, Broncos, Sharks, Tigers.
This year the Storm may be ahead of the pack, but it’s no one horse race. Just this week, Canberra were able to score 40 points on the ladder leaders and show the rest of the competition what can be achieved. Slater and Cameron Smith were both absent, but the remainder of the team were regular first graders. Cracks may be starting to show but this is not the first time the Storm have walked this road. They know how to deal with the pressures of being the hunted. It’s just another year to them.
Many things can happen between now and September. Form slumps, player revolts, sacked coaches and injury can all derail a team’s finals push. A soft try here and there can cost a team a finals berth through points differential. But the smell of September in the air can cause a team to come together and conquer all before them. The Warriors did it last year, the Roosters the year before. Who will it be this year? I hope for Petero’s sake, it’s the Broncos.
You know, I never thought I’d say that…