NRL boss David Gallop does not have an easy job, and rarely does he seem to be given a chance to sit back and smile at his achievements, but a wry smile must come across his face when he sees what the final week of the NRL regular season has popped up.
The annual debate over which finals series works better (also known as a one of the most boring debates of mankind, because we hear exactly the same arguments every single year) seems to have been postponed this year as League supporters actually watch the game to see how their top eight settles.
Both Manly and Melbourne still have an opportunity to gain the minor premiership, although you’d be hard pressed to imagine a team as professional as the Storm toss it away against a side like the Roosters.
While Brisbane are guaranteed 3rd place, fourth looks like a real lottery.
I fancy the Tigers (which is incredible given their mid season slump) however one wonders how much good consecutive games against the Titans and Sharks will do them when they then need to play finals footy.
While Friday night footy is an obvious highlight with the battle for eighth between the Knights and the Bunnies, there are a number of other games which could prove fascinating for the league fan looking to get some early indication about who might be contenders or pretenders when the finals kick off.
The Dragons fell over the line against the Warriors at WIN and they will need to build on that against the Panthers for anyone outside the Red and White Army to believe that they could make a serious tilt at the finals.
Their brilliance was there in patches against the Warriors but they really need 80 solid minutes next week.
Speaking of the Warriors, they clash with the Cowboys and both teams will be looking for a win a) to build confidence and b) to ensure they don’t end up in 7th or 8th spot.
Every team from the Broncos down is currently doing everything they can to avoid those two death seats as trips to Melbourne or Brookvale both shape as tall orders in week one.
Manly passed their contender test at home against the Storm and they will be many people’s favourites if they can beat Brisbane in Brisbane when the Broncos look to farewell Darren Lockyer.
The Broncos were in cruise control against the Rabbitohs this weekend but they get a much more thorough examination by the Sea Eagles next Sunday.
For the hell of it, I’ll stick my neck out and predict the Bunnies to make the eight. Any team that throws away a 22-6 lead like the Knights can’t be touched the following week.
Here is how I see the NRL final eight ending up:
1. Melbourne Storm
2. Manly Sea Eagles
3. Brisbane Broncos
4. Wests Tigers
5. St George Illawarra Dragons
6. New Zealand Warriors
7. North Queensland Cowboys
8. South Sydney Rabbitohs
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