The Origin period has finished and yet again the Maroons triumphed while the Blues spectacularly self-combusted. The dust has settled (unless you’re from NSW where the fallout rolls on and the inquisition rivals the Spanish one for ferocity and the Monty Python version for farce) and we now shift focus to the NRL and the race for finals footy.
Intensity ramps up and unless your club is in the bottom three, every game matters! How is your side positioned and where will they finish when September arrives?
1st – Melbourne Storm – 30 points (Pre-Origin 1st)
Like a fine wine, the Storm’s ageing legends just get better. The cream rose to the top as the Big 3, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith slaughtered the Blues. They also dragged their old bodies through unscathed. The future looks bright as the young guns got a run through Origin and shone. Brodie Croft, Brandon Smith and Curtis Scott’s stocks skyrocketed. The Storm have no worries looking ahead to 2018 and beyond. Craig Bellamy will ease his Origin winners through to the finals, resting them in stages as they prepare for the finals. The Storm are such a complete side and are even better than last year’s losing Grand Finalists. Cameron Munster has thrived at five-eighth highlighted by his brilliant Origin III debut. Bellamy has adjusted his system ever so slightly, while still regimented, they play more what is in front of them and fire the ball out to the wings in a flash when opportunity arises. Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr’s frightening speed and fantastic finishing complete the masterpiece. The Storm have been the best side by far this season and the team to beat. They set the standard.
Predicted Finish: 1st
2nd – Sydney Roosters – 28 pts (Pre-Origin 5th)
The Roosters are flying high and have stuck their head above the breakaway group, chasing a precious top four berth. The Chooks are playing an attractive attacking style, the halves Luke Keary and much-maligned Mitchell Pearce combining beautifully and playing both sides of the field. I’m old fashioned but I would love more sides to play this way! The lethal left edge is driving the Roosters surge up the table with Latrell Mitchell and Daniel Tupou tearing holes in opposition defences. Mitchell is hard to contain but is still inconsistent, defensively caught out occasionally but is a genuine superstar. The issue for the Roosters is injuries are rearing their ugly head. This week alone they’ve lost Boyd Cordner, Jake Friend and Michael Gordon for extended periods. If the Roosters can hang in the top four until finals time, the rest these men get may end up a blessing in disguise. Trent Robinson has a squad deeper than Nic Politis’ pockets so don’t feel too sorry for the Chooks!
Predicted Finish: 5th
3rd – Manly Sea Eagles – 26 pts (Pre-Origin 6th)
The Sea Eagles are soaring, so high in fact I’m predicting they’ll finish in a grand final rematch against their old buddies the Melbourne Storm. You know what that means league lovers? Yep, you can hate Manly again!! Guess what? They don’t care, the Eagles thrive on that and use it as motivation to shove it back in your face. Daly Cherry-Evans not considered good enough for Origin, well DCE is using that as a crux to cleaver anyone in his path. Manly are motoring and doing so in style. Trent Barrett has his men playing great as a group, they’ve bought into his philosophies and he’s bought into the club’s – the us against them mentality is embedded in the sand of the northern beaches. If the key Manly men stay fit, the halves DCE and Blake Green and the Trbojevic brothers, than the Sea Eagles will give the title an almighty shake.
Predicted Finish: 2nd
4th – Brisbane Broncos – 26 pts (Pre-Origin 4th)
The Broncos are hanging around the top four like a bad smell that just won’t go away but have they the weapons to go all the way? Maybe Wayne Bennett needs to change deodorant? The elements are all there to go very close, exciting backs, clever halves, tough forwards and a decent bench that make a difference when they come on. The biggest factor in the Broncos favour is Bennett and his experience. The players give him everything each time they cross that white line. The Broncos always do the one-percenters at full speed: chasing kicks, diving on balls, goal line defence, harassing kickers. I don’t know what Benny has but if he could bottle it he’d never have to coach again, I know one thing for sure it isn’t Armani. For the Broncos to triumph they’ll need Darius Boyd to return refreshed and Anthony Milford to regain his Midas touch. They may have King Benny but it won’t quite be enough to claim the NRL crown.
Predicted Finish: 3rd
5th – Cronulla Sharks – 26 pts (Pre-Origin 3rd)
The Sharks are a conundrum wrapped in a puzzling piece of paper designed by Rubik. On their day they look unbeatable, the comprehensive disposal of the Roosters was delectable yet that form was been fleeting. Shane Flanagan wants it to be the norm but it may have been a flash in the pan. Andrew Fifita typifies this season and holds the team’s fortunes in his massive mitts. Fifita is a human wrecking ball and when on rolls over all in his path (exhibit A: Origin I) but then loses focus and goes from Artie Beetson to the ninth best prop in the game in a single bound. He is predictably unpredictable. The Sharks are a threat they’re tough and have strike weapons across the park. Their greatest virtue is they are extremely hard to defeat. They get in the grind and know how to eke out a victory when off and that is a great quality to have at your disposal come finals time. The Shire’s dream of celebrating back to back premierships is alive but unless they can raise the bar they won’t reach the summit again.
Predicted Finish: 4th
6th – North Queensland Cowboys – 26 pts (Pre-Origin 9th)
When Jonathan Thurston’s season ended on that magical Origin night in Sydney, you would have been excused for thinking there goes the Cowboys hopes too. Nothing could be further from the truth, instead of unsaddling the horse the Cowboys have taken the bit between their teeth and taken the challenge on. Michael Morgan has lifted his game to levels I’m not sure he knew he could, he was forced into a corner and came out a great leader. Jason Taumalolo is punching holes every time he charges like a wounded bull and quite rightly receives all the headlines but his fellow forwards lose nothing in comparison. Paul Green deserves great credit for the way his men play and compete and his nabbing of Te Maire Martin could end up the midseason buy of the year! The Cowboys are like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz, they found a heart and are playing so well the yellow brick road to the Big Show on the first weekend of October is still within reach. Without the genius of JT they’ll fall short.
Predicted Finish: 6th
7th – Parramatta Eels – 24 pts (Pre-Origin 7th)
The Eels haven’t moved much all season they are the masters of mid-table mediocrity. Mitchell Moses has moved across from the Tigers and has been a valuable asset. Moses and Corey Norman are still gaining combination, Norman not quite reaching the heights of his prodigious powers of 2017 and this is why the Eels are sitting where they do and where they’ll finish. Clint Gutherson has been the Eels best along with Nathan Brown in the backrow. The Eels are chugging along, racking up the wins they need to stay in the Top 8 but don’t have the capacity to shift up to the levels required to beat the best. They haven’t the consistency or the craftiness to string the series of wins needed to crack the Top 4. Unless Norman can rediscover his mojo the Eels are destined to be finals cannon fodder and depart week one.
Predicted Finish: 7th
8th – St George Illawarra Dragons – 22 pts (Pre-Origin 2nd)
At the start of the season if you’d offered the Dragons 8th spot with seven rounds to play they would have jumped on it quicker than Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson into a beer garden. Unfortunately the Saints are on the slide, the Dragons position on the table is inflated, the Dragons lair has been punctured and there’s no repair kit. Their perilous position has come about as they have forgotten how to win. The Dragons started the season on fire, Paul Vaughan bowling players out of his way like ten pins and Gareth Widdop waved his wand wickedly. The re-boot begins in the forwards. They need an attitude realignment, as the wheels are wobbling. Mary McGregor has had no answers to the fall and unless they can pull themselves out of this dire predicament, the Dragons den will unoccupied after round 26 as the season will have gone up in flames.
Predicted Finish: 10th
9th – Penrith Panthers – 20 pts (Pre-Origin 15th)
The Panthers were the preseason premiership favourites. It’s been a bumpy ride but they’re coming home with a wet sail. They have fought hard to recapture last year’s momentum and though still not quite the finished product, there is enough talent and time for the mountain men to attack the summit. The Panthers are the one side that if they can force their way into the finals can make more than a nuisance of themselves. The halves are pivotal to their fortunes. Nathan Cleary and Matt Moylan can produce magic and if Moylan sits back a bit and let Cleary take control they can be even more menacing. Moylan is a natural and needs to let Cleary run the show and just inject himself at his whim. The X factor for the Panthers is Bryce Cartwright. If he brings the Carty party to the finals the Panthers can do some damage.
Predicted Finish: 8th
10th – Canberra Raiders – 18 pts (Pre-Origin 10th)
All year we’ve been waiting for the Raiders to reproduce their brilliant off-the-cuff ball playing of last season. I’m not convinced it’s going to happen. The Raiders cluster of close losses are weighing them down, taking their toll. The Green Machine can’t get out of first gear. They’ve got a banana stuck in the muffler! The Raiders recent efforts have smacked of desperation and frustration at their inability to reach the position on the table they believe they belong. Belief is the big issue they’ve lost faith in themselves. Ricky Stuart certainly hasn’t, he’s maintained the same squad throughout, he believes in them but the footy Gods have been unkind. Key players are down on form Jack Wighton is error prone, Josh Hodgson is trying too hard, while Joey Leilua is forcing the fancy stuff. It came off last year but this is not 2016. The halves have been disappointing but it is the Green Machines engine room that hasn’t fired, the forwards are not laying a platform, there’s not the momentum to play off and not enough momentum to make the playoffs. Plus they have a truly hard run which includes facing the Storm twice!
Predicted Finish: 11th
11th – New Zealand Warriors – 18 pts (Pre-Origin 11th)
Warriors fans if you need a shoulder to cry on, I offer mine. This was supposed to be your year. The best spine ever assembled in Warriors history, the NZ Test spine no less. You could taste the hope in the salty air wafting across the Tasman Sea. Only the Warriors could mess this up! They just cannot find any consistency whatsoever and now Shaun Johnson, the one man who could spark a belated run at the finals, has gone down. Let’s be honest though, the Warriors were never going to make it, they are the doyens of deception. All the skills, the offloads, the razzle dazzle masks their frailties. They haven’t got the overall squad to win week in week out in the NRL. Stephen Kearney needs a dominant forward pack and a half that can complement Shaun Johnson next year. Kieran Foran will use all the powers he possesses to try force the Warriors into finals footy but the job at hand is too big. The woeful Warriors will wilt again and miss finals footy for the sixth straight year.
Predicted Finish: 14th
12th – Gold Coast Titans – 18 pts (Pre-Origin 12th)
I admit I have a bit of a man crush on the Titans. The Gold Coast displayed tremendous courage to even be in with a sniff of finals footy. Injuries have ravaged their year but they’re hanging in. To bolt from the blue this season, the demolition job they did on the Sharks last week will need to be replicated for the next seven weeks! They have the squad and it is talented and terrific to watch. Kane Elgey’s return will boost their chances to continue to shock and awe the contenders. The front row of Jarrod Wallace, Nathan Peats and Ryan James is Origin quality and they can overpower anyone. The development of Ash Taylor has been exciting and he is the man most likely to lead the Titans into September. It’s a mirage in the desert but as long as there’s a chance the Titans won’t give up on the dream. The Titans have plenty of points across the park but have too much ground to make up.
Predicted Finish: 9th
13th – Canterbury Bulldogs – 18 pts (Pre-Origin 8th)
Bulldogs fans don’t need me to remind them this has not been a good year. The club that routinely features in September will be navel gazing and looking for answers as the top echelon battle it out for the highest honour. The Dogs have never looked likely and are in freefall, as their pre-Origin position of 8th shows. Des Hasler tried to change the playing style, opening up and letting the ball sing but it became obvious pretty quickly this way of playing was foreign to this group. The only notes they’ve played recently are out of tune. The effort is always there but they need a miracle to make it from here. McGyver can’t get the Bulldogs out of this mess! Being the Bulldogs they’ll continue to grind away, giving up is not in the clubs DNA but their ordinary for and against means the puppies are headed for the pound.
Predicted Finish: 12th
14th – South Sydney Rabbitohs – 16 pts (Pre-Origin 13th)
The charade is over last week’s defeat to the Cowboys last week has ended the Rabbitohs season. Not even the most fervent fan in the Burrow will book finals tickets, turn the hotplate off the Bunnies are boiled. Sam Burgess won’t give it away and will slam his body into the action with no regards for the consequences. That man must be made of metal, Sam Burgess will need panel beating at season’s end. His enthusiasm and effort is boundless and in Angus Crichton, the Bunnies have uncovered a gem. Damian Cook and Zane Musgrove need more game time as the energy levels rise when they bounce off the bench. Michael Maguire will be seeking a big end to the year to set up next season, reset the drawing board though because what the Rabbitohs have produced so far this year certainly hasn’t worked and I can’t see much changing for the final seven rounds.
Predicted Finish: 13th
15th – Wests Tigers – 12 pts (Pre-Origin 14th)
The basket case of the NRL showed marginal improvement through the Origin period. Ivan Cleary has had some wins in debuting Esan Marsters and Matt Eisenhuth, both showing enough to earn a shot in the revamped Tigers squad for 2018. The defence has improved greatly under Cleary’s tutelage but they’re just not strong enough to hold teams out and don’t instil confidence in the man standing beside or fear in the opposition’s eyes. The halves have improved, Luke Brooks is ending the season a more mature confident player and he’ll see these next few weeks as a great opportunity to make his mark. The Tigers have not only pride to play for over these next few weeks but the chance to prove to Ivan Cleary that there is a seat on his bus with their name on it. I personally would open the door as it goes around a corner push a few off.
Predicted Finish: 15th
16th – Newcastle Knights – 8 pts (Pre-Origin 16th)
Newcastle are the Monty Python’s Black Knight – no arms, no legs and still in exactly the same place they were left before Origin. Stone motherless last. Like the Black Knight, Newcastle are fighting a battle they cannot win. They are way out of their depth but courageously plucking away, trying to swing a punch with no limbs. They’ll keep knocking on the door attempting to bring their amazingly resilient fans a win. The Dragons are heading their way in a couple of weeks and the Knights would love to put them to the sword and seriously wound their finals hopes. Despite their lowly standing the Knights have improved and are gaining great experience for next season. The loss that stings was SpoonBowl against the Tigers but the future wins will taste all the better for having survived this bitter season. Nathan Brown is working on the ‘whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ theory!
Predicted Finish: 16th
Enjoy the footy and remember gamble responsibly. So if I was a Red V fan I’d stay away from the bookies and online gambling dens!! After gazing into my crystal balls I see only one change to the Top 8 as it stands, the Dragons making way for the Panthers. It’s up to the sides on the precipice: the Raiders, Warriors, Titans and Bulldogs to pull their fingers out and prove me wrong. At the top there is one almighty scrap going on for the top four, it will make compelling viewing over the next seven weeks.
Good luck to your club. May the best side win.