One of the issues the NRL likes to talk up is how the salary cap has evened out the competition.
Supporters will point to last year’s finals, where one game and a few split hairs separated first from eighth.
The reality is somewhat different and it’s not a good thing for the NRL.
Bookies don’t always get it right, but after Round 7 they have three teams with a realistic chance of winning the premiership – Easts, Souths and Melbourne.
Nothing unexpected, but what is disturbing is the lack of a chasing pack.
There are only another three sides rated as a chance of winning the lot – Canberra, St George Illawarra and Brisbane – and even these sides are around the 15-1 mark.
All other teams are rated outsiders, which must be a huge worry for the NRL and its notion of an even competition.
We’re only seven rounds into the season and many things that can still happen, but what probably won’t change is a completely uneven finals series, simply because the comp does not have enough teams capable of winning the premiership.
Yes, there’s always a chance of a miracle run into the grand final and even the possibility of a complete outsider winning the lot, but it’s hard to see that happening in 2019 because of the gulf between the top three teams and the rest.
In simple terms, teams need playmakers who can run the ship under pressure, a good plan both, and that stems from a very good coach. They need to have few weaknesses in their best 17, and stability within the club so the focus is on winning.
Outside the Roosters, Storm and Rabbitohs, all teams have one or more weakness.
The Raiders have a great playmaker at hooker but the halves are so-so at best. The Dragons’ coach does not instill confidence he can get his guys through 25 rounds, let alone into the finals. The Broncos have struggled with question marks over their spine, a lack of forward leadership, and whether Anthony Seibold is the right fit for the club.
The other ten teams all have one or more issues that have been well documented.
The NRL can talk up the finals all it likes, with commercials already trying to flog tickets, but fans want their side to make the finals and be a realistic chance once they get there.
As it stands, we’re looking at a repeat of last year, where the best game of the finals series was the qualifying final between Melbourne and Souths.
There were some exciting moments in the other games, but the difference in class came through in the preliminary finals. The teams who finished in the top four played off and the Sharks were hammered by the Storm, while the Roosters vs Souths game was relatively close.
A similar scenario is on the cards this September, and fans will become uninterested if the gap between those who can win the premiership and those who can’t does not shrink.
There are 13 teams that have a lot of work to do so they can be competitive come finals time. It may not happen this year, but it needs to happen soon, otherwise the finals might as well revert to four teams as it was back in the day.