A new game of the year contender graced the screens in Round 8 as crowds returned to New South Wales venues and two coaches moved one step further down a greasy pole. Here are my talking points for the weekend.
The battle for NRL’s top eight simply refuses to go away, with twelve teams still fighting for the right to play September footy. However, the stakes are getting higher each week and on the weekend the Raiders took a big step towards claiming an unlikely spot in the finals.
The Raiders look like they are coming good at the right end of the season, powering towards the finish line, while the teams around them are hanging onto their spots by the fingernails and are hoping to limp over the line.
Sunday’s victory over the Raiders could also be a massive psychological boost should they make the finals and then play the Dragons in the first week.
Should that match up occur, the Dragons might be better spending the week on the psychiatrist’s couch than on the training ground as they try and work through their inner demons about facing teams from the capital and playing finals footy.
The Raiders face something of a bogey side this weekend when they face the Cowboys. Not necessarily because it’s the Cowboys, but because it’s a game they should win and they are the matches which have tripped the Raiders up all year.
The Raiders have already been beaten once by the Cowboys this year, in Round 14.
The Green Machine has been great at pulling a big performance out of their trick bag when it has been least expected, but have then struggled against teams they have been favoured to beat.
The heroics against the Dragons will mean nothing if they cannot continue their streak against a team which seemed to have put the cue in the rack a few weeks ago.
The added incentive will be that they will have watched the two of the teams they are chasing: the Warriors and Broncos take each other on the night before from Auckland.
There is every chance that the Raiders will go into the match knowing that a victory will see them move into the top eight or at least only be keep out on points differential.
South Sydney, Newcastle and Parramatta all know this week will be their last if they don’t win and results don’t go in their favour.
How fitting then that two of them play each other on Friday night when the Bunnies host the Eels at Homebush.
Both would have thought that such a match would have merely a warm up to the finals at the start of the year but neither club has managed to live up to the expectations this year.
The Knights will look to remain in the hunt by defeating the Dragons, who will be keen to get their confidence back as soon as possible.
Should the Knights still be in the running in the final week, it will be interesting to see what sort of team they come up against in the Storm in Melbourne.
The Storm have been saying for weeks they are looking forward to the season finishing and you wonder whether they’ll already have their eyes on the post match beers or will look to go out with a bang in their last game of the season.
Needless to say the entrée prior to the main course of finals footy is looking particularly appetizing.