We are 7 rounds into the NRL competition and it is fair to say we have a better idea of how the season is going to play out.
The Melbourne Storm rightfully sit atop of the NRL table. While this is impressive, based on match-day ladder rankings, Melbourne has only played one team in the top eight, South Sydney. With State of Origin approaching, Craig Bellamy will rest players and a dip in form might be on the cards.
South Sydney are nipping at the heels of the Storm with only one loss to date. Their impressive victory last week against Manly at Brookvale reaffirms them as title contenders. Like most seasons, injuries will be South Sydneys biggest hurdle.
Three teams are tied on ten points, occupying the positions third through fifth on the NRL table. Roosters are reaping the rewards of their wonderful offseason recruitment, acquiring Sonny-Bill Williams, Michael Jennings & James Maloney. It’s fair to say that these three superstars are the ones making the difference. Meanwhile, Manly are strong as always and seem to be living up to the standard of perennial finalists. The only off putting thought is having to listen to the garbage that comes out of Geoff Toovey’s mouth every few weeks.
Newcastle are doing well after their first full offseason with Wayne Bennett at the helm. The master coach seems to have the team believing, with players starting to show their full potential. A dark horse for a top four finish.
The three Queensland teams are clumped together on the ladder, with the Broncos beating both their rivals so far this season. The Broncos have proved they can play great football at times, but have a tendency to switch off in games. Their combination of Wallace, Prince & Norman has proved the difference in matches over the last month.
The North Queensland Cowboys had a shaky start, but now look to be getting into their groove. They will be hampered by the Origin commitments of their star players, and may struggle to keep in the top eight as the season progresses. The Gold Coast started the season well winning three from four, including a victory over Manly. Since then the side has been crippled by injuries, and the Titans can only hope they get some artillery back soon.
Like last season, the Dragons have been inconsistent. With the exception of their winning performance against the Knights, they have been hammered each time they have played a quality opposition. With coach Steven Price re-signing with the club, it is time for the Dragons to consolidate. The only other club below with three wins is the Raiders. As per usual the Raiders are a force when playing at home. They have won all three games in the nations capital but do not expect much from them this year, especially after sacking their best player.
The six bottom placed sides really have their work cut out. One feels the Bulldogs are the only ones that may escape the lower end of the table. With Barba, and a contingent of others due back, the 2012 Grand Finalists should start to find their feet. The same cannot be said for the poor Sharks, they look to be struggling with the scrutiny of the ASADA investigations. The sooner that is over the better for Rugby League.
The Panthers have shown us glimpses of what they can do, but need to sign two or three new players to be considered a top eight threat. Maybe they can pick up some of the injured Wests-Tigers players for next season? The Tigers look like they have just come back from duty in a war stricken nation. They are missing TWELVE first grade members out of a twenty-five-man squad; they will have U/16 players running on soon.
With the two teams left in the bottom six, it is hard to split who will win the wooden spoon. The Eels have an unrecognisable team compared to years gone by, and if they choose to rebuild under Ricky Stuart their struggles will continue for seasons to come. Terrible recruitment in seasons gone by is the reason for this. This includes the stupid amount of money given to Chris Sandow, and who can forget the Daniel Mortimer contract. Parramatta have been woeful at times this season, and the players have been fortunate that Ricky Stuart has stuck up for them in the media. This is also an approach New Zealand Warriors coach Matthew Elliot has used when dealing with the media – it usually the referees fault not the players. It seems our friends over the ditch have forgotten how to play Rugby League. Maybe they are toying with the idea of entry into a revamped version of the Super XV next year?