The teams making the NRL’s top eight in 2017

Jimmy Smith Columnist

By Jimmy Smith, Jimmy Smith is a Roar Expert

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    Basic maths tells you that 16 into eight just don’t go. The problem with that is, as of right now, there are 16 teams hoping they will be playing semi-final football come the back-end of this NRL season.

    In reality, there are probably only 12 or 13 teams that believe they can make the semi-finals, and as we know, eight of them will be proved correct. So who will they be? What are the changes from 2016? Come with me and I’ll take you through where your team will finish in season 2016.

    1. Melbourne Storm
    Last year’s runners-up had the best defence in the league and you can’t help but think they will be close to that again. They have lost some players but have great cover in Josh Addo-Carr for Marika Koroibete, Cameron Munster for Blake Green and Nelson Asofa-Solomona more than covers Kevin Proctor.

    The big question is Billy Slater. Melbourne played basically all last year without $1 million of their salary cap and they still made the grand final. If they could have scored one more try, they win that game, and you have to believe that Billy would have got it for them somehow.

    2. Sydney Roosters
    Personal bias aside, you know the Roosters will improve dramatically on what they did last year. They need to.

    The Mitchell Pearce distraction and subsequent suspension and injuries to Jared Warea-Hargreaves and Boyd Cordner meant their season was over well before the halfway mark of the competition.

    Mitchell Pearce Sydney Roosters

    With only the loss of Sam Moa and the emergence of Connor Watson, Latrell Mitchell, Dylan Napa and the signing of Luke Keary means they will be significantly stronger. At the 2017 season launch, coach Trent Robinson described the pre-season as their best ever under his reign – when a man who isn’t prone to hyperbole says that, you take notice.

    3. Penrith Panthers
    With no players of note lost in the off-season (James Segeyaro, Jamie Soward and Elijah Taylor all left during 2016) and James Tamou added to a strong squad, it would seem the Panthers will be stronger again in 2017.

    Given the age of the squad, their premiership window has the feel of triple bi-fold doors. Nathan Cleary and Te Maire Martin are key – they are young, talented and composed. Can you imagine what Cleary will be like in five years time?!

    The pick-up of Mitch Rein gives them cover at hooker and at halfback (Wallace can move from 9 to 7) and shifting Bryce Cartwright into the second row will be better for both player and team.

    Oh and Matt Moylan, the best clutch player in the league, plays for them.

    4. North Queensland Cowboys
    The losses of James Tamou and Ben Hannant is significant, but they can be covered by Coen Hess as a potential middle forward. He is an outstanding forward who also has the ability to play on the edge.

    Matt Scott’s health is now almost as important as Johnathan Thurston’s. Almost. Although in the twilight of his career, Thurston is still the best player in the league.

    Expect Javid Bowen and Kalyn Ponga to be irresistible this year.

    5. Canberra Raiders
    The Raiders played the most exciting brand of football in the league and finished like a steam train in 2016, coming just a couple of Edrick Lee fumbles short of a grand final appearance.

    Their power through Junior Paulo, Josh Papalii and Joseph Tapine is exceptional, although Canberra’s depth in the halves is an issue; I can’t help but think that both Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer are better ball-runners rather than creators and controllers.

    Canberra Raiders player Blake Austin

    So who runs the team?

    That would be Josh Hodgson, who was brilliant in 2016. Expect him to do more work defensively as teams recognise his importance to the Raiders’ chances.

    6. Parramatta Eels
    If they didn’t rort the cap they would have finished eighth in 2016. When you consider the search for motivation when docked those 12 points, to achieve that is something incredible.

    The Eels had the second-best defence in the league during a year when players could have been forgiven for thinking that extra scramble didn’t mean much in the scheme of things.

    Bevan French will be great at fullback and score plenty of four-pointers (surely McDonalds can get involved here – “would you like French tries with that?”) but the man at the heart of this team is Corey Norman. If the remorse he has shown publicly is genuine, and his talents fully explored, he can light up the NRL in 2017.

    7. New Zealand Warriors
    The spine of this team is just mesmerising. Issac Luke is key, especially without an adequate back-up. His hunger to prepare himself physically will give you an indication of how well the team will perform.

    Kieran Foran makes Shaun Johnson better (a scary proposition) because the former Manly and Parramatta star will run the team. The forwards, lead by Ben Matulino, Charlie Gubb and Sam Lisone, will do their job and the cream will come to the top with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. He will run for an average of over 200 metres per game and has started adding some ball playing on the edge to his repertoire.

    A very, very special player.

    8. South Sydney Rabbitohs
    I know the appendicitis will have him out for a month, but I can’t help but think that premiership-winning and now State of Origin half Adam Reynolds will continue to get better.

    Robbie Farah will get the big forwards over the advantage line better than Cameron McInnes did and an injury-free George Burgess means good things for the team.

    A full preseason means Sam Burgess will have an improved year and the hunger for Greg Inglis, now with his future settled, will be on display; winning their last four games in 2016 was just what coach Michael Maguire needed to instil some belief in him for the pre-season.

    Rabbitohs player Greg Inglis celebrates after scoring a try during the NRL Preliminary final between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Sydney Roosters at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, Friday, Sept. 26, 2014. (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Colin Whelan)

    “Where’s my team?” I hear you scream.

    Well, they miss out. Four teams from inside the eight in 2016 will miss the semi-finals in 2017 including premiers Cronulla and perennial finalists Brisbane.

    Add to that Gold Coast and Canterbury and you see the changing of the guard that is at play. The Tigers, Manly, Newcastle and the Dragons round out the rest of the competition.

    Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote “the universe is transformation; life is opinion”. This season, we will see a marked transformation of the status quo as we once knew it.

    But that’s just my opinion.

    Jimmy Smith
    Jimmy Smith

    A well-known and respected NRL commentator, Jimmy Smith played professional rugby league in an 11-year career that included stints in both the NRL with the Roosters, Western Suburbs and South Sydney, and England's Super League with Salford. He earned over 150 first grade caps before hanging up the boots and switching to the commentary box. You can find him on Twitter @ThatJimmySmith.

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    The Crowd Says (30)

    • March 1st 2017 @ 11:09am
      kk said | March 1st 2017 @ 11:09am | ! Report

      Hi Jimmy, great to have you at the ROAR.

      Eels spend most of their seasons in transition on the road to transformation and IMO
      2017 will not be any different. By next year Marty Gurr will have them sorted and
      Arthur given a forward pack to do the back line justice.

      I have this terrible feeling we may have seen the last of Billy. If there is the slightest
      doubt he should announce his retirement. I recall him saying some time ago that he
      wanted to be able to play with his kids and not be a cripple. Tough as he is, it would
      only take one legitimate heavy tackle at the wrong angle to render him so.

      • Columnist

        March 1st 2017 @ 3:51pm
        Jimmy Smith said | March 1st 2017 @ 3:51pm | ! Report

        Good to be here Max.

        That is Bernie Gurr at the Eels – he was CEO at the Roosters when I was there and he is a fine appointment for them. I think the loss of Junior Paulo is significant but other than that it is a good forward pack at Parramatta. Nathan Brown is a good addition – he played better than I thought he could at Souths last year.

        If Billy hurts his shoulder again he will retire – any thing other than that and he will continue to play.

        • March 2nd 2017 @ 11:41am
          Chook said | March 2nd 2017 @ 11:41am | ! Report

          Nathan Brown will be a superstar

    • March 1st 2017 @ 11:36am
      Worlds Biggest said | March 1st 2017 @ 11:36am | ! Report

      WOW the Premiers miss the 8 altogether ! That’s a solid top 8 Jimmy, a lot of people low on the Broncos this year.

      • Columnist

        March 1st 2017 @ 3:52pm
        Jimmy Smith said | March 1st 2017 @ 3:52pm | ! Report

        Broncos out with the Sharks….Friday nights in Brisbane help (alot). Milford and Hunt’s early season perfromances will be crucial.

      • March 2nd 2017 @ 11:40am
        Chook said | March 2nd 2017 @ 11:40am | ! Report

        Sorry I just don’t see it. The loss of Ennis and Barba is significant but not that much.

    • March 1st 2017 @ 11:39am
      Jim said | March 1st 2017 @ 11:39am | ! Report

      Is it just me that can’t see where this vastly improved Roosters performance is going to come from.

      They were 5-11 after the return of naughty boy Pearce last year. Yes they’ve got some good emerging players, and Keary may be a positive, but it’ll take a huge leap to go from where they were to 2nd – it may well happen, but I just can’t see it.

      • March 1st 2017 @ 3:18pm
        andrew said | March 1st 2017 @ 3:18pm | ! Report

        I don’t think Keary is in the first 17 by round 10. That may be that I am not as high on him as others, or maybe that just means I rate the squad pretty high… don’t know..

        • Columnist

          March 1st 2017 @ 3:55pm
          Jimmy Smith said | March 1st 2017 @ 3:55pm | ! Report

          I thought Keary was at the heart of a lot of the good stuff that the Rabbitohs did at the end of last year.

          • March 2nd 2017 @ 7:43am
            Rod said | March 2nd 2017 @ 7:43am | ! Report

            I think Keary is a terrific player. But Keary did not feature in the last 6 rounds for Souths when we came good.

            The Roosters have an interesting spine .but I still believe Maloney was the brains behind the team and Shek was the killler blow at fullback . I
            Just don’t see Gordon or Keary as being anywhere near as effective .

            I also have massive question marks in Fetguson and Mitchell in the centres . I know they can score points , but can they stop them

            Very athletic side, Pearce is a brilliant athlete who has every skill in the book. But not convinced he can really direct the side

      • Roar Guru

        March 1st 2017 @ 3:20pm
        Ron Swanson said | March 1st 2017 @ 3:20pm | ! Report

        I’m with you Jim, they have a side littered with players lacking discipline. Not sold on Keary, Friend is OK, minus Cordner forward pack is average at best.

        Every expert has them as a lock for the 8 based on what, Auckland Nines?

        I’d rate Broncos, Warriors, Eels, Souths and possibly the Tigers to finish ahead of them outside the top 4 in 2017. 2nd?? Do they have Folau or someone special about to sign up before a ball is kicked?

        Winners will come from Storm, Panthers, Cowboys or Raiders. But to have the Roosters mentioned in that same breathe is a dead set joke.

        • Columnist

          March 1st 2017 @ 3:55pm
          Jimmy Smith said | March 1st 2017 @ 3:55pm | ! Report

          Time will tell Ron

        • March 2nd 2017 @ 9:04am
          Oingo Boingo said | March 2nd 2017 @ 9:04am | ! Report

          Ron Swanson , the joke is on you mate , to suggest these predictions are based on a nines win is a bit short sighted .
          The 2017 Roosters will in a lot of peoples opinion will be as good or better a side than what was running around in 2015 , and they won the MP .
          You go on to suggest that Parra , Souths , Warriors and even the Tigers are rated more highly….what evidence do you have to support that ?
          I’d suggest zero , it’s just your opinion and as Jimmy has said , time will tell .
          In my opinion the Chooks will finish above all the sides you’ve rattled off and are a serious contender for top four.

          • March 2nd 2017 @ 12:26pm
            Chook said | March 2nd 2017 @ 12:26pm | ! Report

            Are you seriously suggesting his Crystal Ball is on the Fritz??? Maybe yours is

      • Columnist

        March 1st 2017 @ 3:54pm
        Jimmy Smith said | March 1st 2017 @ 3:54pm | ! Report

        Cordner, JWH….everyone fit for the season. Big change to last year.

        Mitchell in the centers too….Gordon will be good for him.

        • March 2nd 2017 @ 12:30am
          Kilgore Trout said | March 2nd 2017 @ 12:30am | ! Report

          Gordon is a big in and fixes the Chooks immediate issues for 2017 . He is solid and a good defensive organiser . Mitchell will fire at centre and could even be his best position long term . The side is just about all rep players . Hard to see them missing the 8 if they all behave themselves off the field . Good call .

    • March 1st 2017 @ 12:37pm
      Big Daddy said | March 1st 2017 @ 12:37pm | ! Report

      I think the roosters will do very well as they are blooding most of their young under 20’s with wyong who probably have the best coach outside NRL.
      Wyong s team for round 1 has at least 5 under 20’s from last year.
      And I am a broncos fan.
      I think roosters have a plan for the future with youth.

    • March 1st 2017 @ 1:29pm
      KingCowboy said | March 1st 2017 @ 1:29pm | ! Report

      This is the closest comp in years. Every team can make the eight in my mind besides the Knights. Saints have been coping a hiding but they could sneak in. Can’t wait for tomorrow night and then get to the main event Saturday at 6pm.

    • Roar Rookie

      March 1st 2017 @ 1:42pm
      Joe said | March 1st 2017 @ 1:42pm | ! Report

      I think the key for the Storm is Billy Slater. If hes on deck for the majority of the season they will be top four. If he doesn’t then I think they will be battling with other teams to make the 8. His inclusion solves the 6 problem with Munster going there and also provides an additional attacking spark in both positions and strong defense. I know there are a lot of raps on Croft if Slater doesn’t make it but I think he still has a ways to go especially defensively.

      • Columnist

        March 1st 2017 @ 3:56pm
        Jimmy Smith said | March 1st 2017 @ 3:56pm | ! Report

        Joe I agree with all of what you said here.

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