Who are the NRL’s premiership contenders?
State of Origin is over. While I have been celebrating Queensland’s win, now I’ve got finals on my mind. So without further ado, here it is: my list of premiership contenders. The list is ranked in order of premiership-contenderness.
They’re defending premiers for one simple reason: at full strength, they are the competition’s best team. (Even after the Newcastle Knights banana-skin over the weekend)
In 2012 they’ve had less luck with injury than last year, but (and admitting this is harder for me than walking on hot coals), this loathsome conglomerate will be very hard to beat again if they get to the finals at full strength.
I hate seeing them win, but even I have to admit that their physical yet skilful style of rugby league is fantastic to watch.
Their reliance on the so-called Big Three is a cliché on which all ambitious young scribes like to fall back on, so who am I to buck the trend? They’re slumping like Shaun Marsh in a Test Series at the moment, but the return of Slater will do much for the side’s balance.
Not only will his own speed and brilliance be an obvious help, but his return will also allow the competition’s must underrated player, Gareth Widdop, to return to the five-eighth role he has so excelled in.
The Storm needs Widdop at five-eighth as much as they need anyone else in their side – his clever skills in this playmaking role add much-needed variety to their attack.
Dessie Hasler is on quite a roll isn’t he? Not content with building Manly into the strongest side in the NRL, Hasler has now turned a very average Canterbury side – with the most ordinary halfback in the game – into competition front-runners.
Dessie is such a pro that he has built a game plan which makes his side’s greatest weakness, Kevin Kingston, completely irrelevant.
A forward pack of hulking playmakers (Kasiano, Graham, Eastwood and Pritchard are all overweight halfbacks) and a fullback of dynamite combine to make the Bulldogs the most exciting attacking unit in the game.
To highlight what a job Dessie is doing, he has even managed to transform grinning simpleton Krisnan Inu into a reliable, dynamic first-grader and, most miraculously of all, managed to convince the Roosters to give him their best and most consistent outside back (Sam Perrett).
Dessie, though you still stink of Manly too much for me to properly embrace you, you are clearly a fantastic coach. Surely you need a halfback at some stage though?
Much has been made of their fitness, their strength and their aggressive, competitive nature so, to offer some respite, I won’t go into it further here. We know these guys are fit and we know they have a powerful, hungry forward pack.
The Broncos are entrenched in the all-important top four and with home finals at Fortress Suncorp on the horizon, are well placed for a grand final run. However, despite their strength, there are question marks over the creativity in their spine and, after being hit hard by injury, the potency of their backline.
They’re giving a good account of themselves, but I’m not certain they have the points in them to win the premiership.
They’re not currently in the eight and they may fail to even make it back, so maybe it says plenty about this year’s competition that I still rank them my fifth most likely premiership winner.
They’ve been inconsistent all year (and have shown nothing to suggest that won’t continue), but they have the size, skill and, at their best, aggression to beat any team on any day. I don’t think that can be said about any of the teams below, or even some of the teams above.
They’ve got some of the game’s best forwards, best playmakers and best outside backs. They’re well-coached by Neil Henry and they boast a considerable home ground advantage. All things considered, the Cowboys should be a huge chance of taking the crown. Despite all of this though, I don’t think they will.
They’re inconsistent and too often decide they can’t be bothered tackling. I think they could do with getting a bit angrier before I give them a serious hope of winning anything important, but any team with Matt Scott and NSW’s big Kiwi prop Tamou have the potential.
No team with Tim Moltzen at fullback has too much cause for optimism, but the Tigers do still have Benji Marshall and Chris Lawrence. Much like the Warriors they may not even make the finals, but in Marshall and Robbie Farah they have the creativity and class the likes of the Broncos and Bulldogs can only dream of.
In tight finals football, this could take them a long way. If they can get Aaron Woods, Keith Galloway, Adam Blair, Gareth Ellis and Chris Heighington all on the field at once, they will have the forward pack to give that class the platform to shine. It’s a huge if, but they’re not without a hope.
Unlikely, but Greg Inglis, Dave Taylor and Sam Burgess give them some cause for optimism. Young halfback Adam Reynolds looks classy, but I still find it hard to see his combination with John Sutton outclassing many of the halves combinations above them.
Still, long-suffering Souths fans should just be ecstatic they’re getting a mention at all! Unlike every other season I’ve watched footy, Souths are at least some small hope. This year they get a mention, but that’s likely as close they’ll come. Despite the improvement, it’s still no premiership for you! Next!
The have a handy but, Carney-aside, unspectacular backline that is unlikely to capitalise on the good work of their impressive forward pack. As such, I think the Shire has more chance of seeing Paul Mellor holding up his relationship with ET as an example of good friendship than there is of Paul Gallen holding up the Telstra Premiership in 2012. Wade Graham’s playing well though, I’ll give them that much.
Every year someone comes from nowhere – could it be the Knights in 2012? Probably not, but they’re the only hope for a late run. The win over Manly will give them some hope.
Best of the rest (I have included them only to make fun of, let’s be honest):
11. St George Illawarra
There’s more chance of finding points in a circle than in this backline. They haven’t got a hope in hell.
They’ve won a couple recently, but as the old saying goes, “form is temporary, but David Furner is the permanent coach.”
13. Gold Coast
They have actually made a good revival since the gloom of March and April. It’s been heartening to see, but still won’t be enough. There’s too many good players injured and too many Jamal Idrises who are fit.
Mitchell Pearce has legitimate claims to being their best player, which just about says it all. Despite the gloom, Roosters fans should try their best to enjoy it though. Next year Sonny Bill will be bringing Anthony Mundine to their training sessions. Good luck with all that!
They have two good players – both of whom they seem hell bent on getting rid of. I defer to Gus the super coach on this one, because I have to admit that I do not get it.
Their coach is Stephen Kearney and their playing roster is atrocious.