With the top eight settled for 2020, there are eight other teams for whom dreams of a better 2021 beckon.
It may seem early for this, but as a Dragons supporter living in Melbourne my mind is already drifting to next year.
A brief historic review shows that for the past 15 years at least and possibly longer the top eight changes every year. For this article, we’ll focus on just the past ten to 12 years.
In 2010, a great year when the mighty Red V held the trophy, there were five new faces in the semi-finals. This is rare rather than the norm, and the numbers have been reducing.
In 2011 and 2012 there were four new faces each year, but in the years that followed the number has reduced to the point that, like selection for some national sporting teams, it’s harder to get in than out. Between 2012 and 2020 we have seen only two or three new teams every year, four times on each count.
Representation in finals over the last 12 years has been spread across the 16 clubs:
Obviously are some staple regulars whereas others seem to rarely retain their spot for consecutive years. Two things recent history does tell us is that there will be changes to the top eight in 2021 but that there won’t be many, likely only two or three.
The challenge facing all clubs trying to get in is that they not only need to displace a team above them but they also need to improve ahead of the other seven teams all wanting to get in.
To kick off the debate.
The best teams are those whose game suits the post-COVID and six-again world. They give the ball a bit of air, passing, support and early attack from their own half to pose the biggest dangers to a defence. The teams doing this best at the moment are the Panthers, Roosters and Storm, and it’s no surprise they head the table.
Teams wanting to be near the top need to duplicate this style. Teams playing one-out, predictable patterns are easily defended – for example the Dragons earlier this year and Cowboys, to name just a couple.
The comparison was never more obvious than in the recent Eels-Panthers match in which Parramatta never looked like winning or getting out of their half with one-out plays. Penrith always made ground and always looked dangerous with early and deep passes, bodies in motion and fast ball movement.
Gold Coast Titans
This is highly likely because of the way they play, which is similar to the current top three, and their coming personnel. The Titan will have a very competitive pack next year, and with an enthusiastic back, I expect them to be in or on the verge of the eight next year.
No. Sorry, Tigers, but you are heading to the bottom four for a year or two, most likely for a new coach in 2022 and a total club rebuild unless they reverse their decision and find a way to keep Benji Marshall. They need to break bread with the Dogs, get them to take Josh Reynolds part sponsored and keep Benji. There is simply nowhere I see tries coming from without Benji or Harry Grant. I have a soft spot for the club, yet I’m concerned about their long-term viability unless they return to the winners circle soon, and they need Benji for that.
New Zealand Warriors
Nope. They have been amazing recently, winning or being highly competitive when they weren’t. I put this down to Todd Payten more than anything else. They have always had a good squad. I also don’t rate Nathan Brown highly, so my prediction would be no change in finish for the Warriors in 2021, just out of eight. With Phil Gould in their corner, they may have better influence with the league and get a better deal from officials. They’ll need that too.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
They should and could but need to strengthen their pack after losing Addin Fonua-Blake and need game plans that don’t rely so heavily on Jake Trbojevic. I’d still have some faith in Des Hasler, just some tweaking in the squad and being injury-free.
St George Illawarra Dragons
They could, but with the competition tight it might take them another year. A lot depends on their forward recruits and how Anthony Griffin brings the young backs along. Even if they don’t, they’ll be close and will be a regular 2022 on.
North Queensland Cowboys
They have some very good players and I rate Todd Payten highly, but I don’t think they have enough talent to overtake others into the eight. They’ll be pushing close but just missing for 2021.
Nope. They’ll win the spoon in 2021. Sorry to the decent Doggies fans, but though you have a few players with heart, there are too few pick-ups, too many quality losses and a rookie coach with a poor record. They only clubs who will be going backwards that you could overtake are Tigers and Warriors, so you’ll need to come up with an argument to pass either.
They’ll head upwards – not enough to make it into the eight a year after their cattle losses, but they’ll push hard and come close. They’ll be there in 2022.
So the Titans and Sea Eagles with maybe the Dragons and Broncos battling for those two or three spots.
Young, enthusiastic and in form. Most unlikely.
Melbourne Storm or Sydney Roosters
No way, won’t be happening.
I can’t rule it out, but as long as Mitchell Moses has some form, there is enough strength in the squad to be there. Unlikely they’ll fall out.
It’s been strong a few years running and they’re highly consistent with good talent. They won’t be overrun by any of the challengers.
I can’t rule this one out either. They’re not consistent enough to be sure and there seem to be some cracks in the harmony of the team. They’re in danger.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
I don’t think so. They’ve been underperforming all year, killing themselves with basic errors, and they’ll have a stronger squad next year.
Yes. The Sharks will definitely not be in the eight next year. Form and cattle as much as statistical history.
So in 2021 out go the Sharks and either (or both) the Knights or the Eels and in come the Titans and one or two of the Sea Eagles, Dragons and Broncos.
So, Roarers, with only two or three changes to the top eight in 2021, who do you think will make it in and who will drop out?