Saturday 23 September 2017 / 09:10 PM

Will's Lowdown Rd18: Finals forecast

Non-referrals a blight on refs’ weekend

Shayne Hayne sullied Round 18 just five minutes into Friday’s crucial Sea Eagles-Tigers clash, inexplicably ruling a knock-on instead of referring David Nofoaluma’s lunge for the try-line to the video referee. The replays showed a fair try had clearly been scored. But despite the firestorm that followed Hayne’s howler all weekend, his fellow whistle-blowers did not heed the lesson and came up with another shocker in Monday’s Panthers-Broncos encounter.

The referee was in perfect position and confidently ruled a try to Jake Granville late in the first half, but replays indicated the ball had come free before he forced it. Given the volume of tries that are cautiously sent up to the video referee, the on-field officials’ decisions on the weekend to snub the technology were as baffling as they were inexcusable.

Ray Warren and Phil Gould bemoan the referees’ reluctance to make a call off their own bat on a weekly basis, but look what happens when they do – dud decisions that have a major bearing on games. The men in the middle need to go back to erring on the side of caution, or risk a much-deserved barrage of criticism if another team is robbed during the finals. 

Monday night magic

For the first time in 2014, two quality sides were pitted against each other in Monday night football – and Penrith and Brisbane lived up to that billing by producing one the finest matches of the season. It was a see-sawing, high-scoring thriller completed by a nerve-jangling and dramatic finish.

 

The least appealing game of the round is generally set down for Monday, and besides a couple of notable exceptions, MNF has been uninspiring this year. But the Panthers and Broncos – both with plenty on the line – bucked the trend. Penrith was gallant after enduring match-ending injuries to Josh Mansour and Tyrone Peachey in the opening 40 minutes, while Brisbane fought back from double-figure deficits in each half to almost pull off an incredible comeback win.

 

Unfortunately, it all came down to a terrible error – Josh McGuire revived memories of former Bronco Ashton Sims’ ’08 semi-final fumble by coughing up the ball while returning a last-minute kick-off, before brilliant young Panthers fullback Matt Moylan showed tremendous poise to slot the winning one-pointer. 

Finals forecast

Just eight rounds of the 2014 regular season remain, so it’s time to get the crystal ball out and see whether your team will still be playing in two months’ time.

 

Manly: The undisputed benchmark. The Sea Eagles are so tough, clinical and experienced – they are deserving favourites and it will take plenty to knock them off that perch. PREDICTED FINISH: 1st

 

Penrith: Storming to the top of the table on the back of an easy mid-season draw and no Origin contribution, the Panthers scored a key win against Brisbane – their first over quality opposition in months. But they face several big guns during the run home and are in need of a five-eighth solution after potential season-ending injuries to Peter Wallace and Tyrone Peachey. PREDICTED FINISH: 6th

 

Canterbury: Back-to-back stoic wins over Manly and Melbourne have underlined the Bulldogs’ title credentials, while they boast arguably the best and most skilful pack in the competition. Backline firepower is a concern, however, especially after a run of injuries to their men out wide. PREDICTED FINISH: 2nd

 

South Sydney: Yet to hit their straps, but the Rabbitohs’ favourable upcoming draw should be enough for a top-four berth, while showdowns against Canterbury and the Roosters in the last two rounds is the perfect lead-in for high-pressure finals football. PREDICTED FINISH: 4th

 

Sydney Roosters: Seem to be missing an ingredient or two compared to last year’s title-winning juggernaut, but the Roosters are the team to beat if they can get their timing right. Games against current top-eight sides in the last three rounds will determine whether the defending champs to grab an all-important top-four spot. PREDICTED FINISH: 5th

 

Warriors: Hitting top form to start their charge to the finals, the Warriors are a genuine dark horse for the title – but now must cope with expectation, which is not their traditional strong suit, after everyone has begun to talk them up. The brilliance of Shaun Johnson, Sam Tomkins and Konrad Hurrell is complementing an outstanding pack. The next fortnight against Brisbane and Manly will be a good gauge of their premiership hopes. PREDICTED FINISH: 3rd

 

Brisbane: Seemingly destined for the top-eight on the back of Ben Hunt’s sizzling mid-season form, a string of tight losses in recent weeks should see the Broncos miss the finals in consecutive years for the first time since 1988-89. Brisbane is currently clinging to seventh, but takes on four of the top six sides in the next month, and has two games against eighth-placed Melbourne to come. PREDICTED FINISH: 10th

 

Melbourne: Delicately placed after back-to-back losses to St George Illawarra and Canterbury, the Storm are still in the box seat to snare a top-eight spot with Cooper Cronk back on deck. Late-season away dates with Penrith and the Roosters are Melbourne’s only remaining games against the current top-six, while two fixtures against Brisbane are likely to determine which of the archrivals carries on to play in mid-September. PREDICTED FINISH: 7th

 

St George Illawarra: Right back in contention after a dramatic mid-season slump saw them plummet down the ladder, the Dragons’ destiny is in their own hands thanks to the recent form spike of Benji Marshall, Gareth Widdop, Josh Dugan and co. Matches against Manly, the Roosters and Penrith in their next four could shatter the Saints’ ambitions, but a relatively gentle run in could see the Red V make a late play for the lower reaches of the top eight. PREDICTED FINISH: 9th

 

Wests Tigers: One of the fairytale sides of the first half of the season, a luckless run of injuries has caught up with the Tigers and they need to stop their slide immediately to have any chance of playing in the finals. With two games against Canterbury and fixtures against Melbourne and the Roosters still to come, the Tigers’ prospects aren’t great. PREDICTED FINISH: 12th

 

Parramatta: Three straight disappointing losses to end the Origin period have underlined the importance of a fit and fresh Jarryd Hayne – but the fact remains the fullback can carry the Eels to the finals on his own, 2009-style. One of the better remaining draws in the NRL, where they play five matches against the bottom four sides, is another ace up their sleeve. A swift form turnaround is required, however. PREDICTED FINISH: 8th

 

North Queensland: The Cowboys are behind the eight-ball due to their inability to win away from Townsville. A repeat late-season charge to scrape into the eight is not out of the question – particularly with a palatable draw – but they’ll need to win on at least two of their tough road trips against Souths, Penrith and Canterbury. PREDICTED FINISH: 11th

 

Gold Coast: After a tremendous start, injuries have crippled the Titans’ campaign – particularly in the halves. They don’t have the toughest draw in the comp, but it’s difficult to see them winning too many more games against any standard of opposition after being whipped by Canberra. PREDICTED FINISH: 14th

 

Newcastle: Three straight wins have the optimists dreaming of a late charge to the finals, but the Knights’ draw is about to get insanely hard. A run of matches against the Roosters, Rabbitohs, Storm and Warriors from Round 20 will extinguish their campaign. PREDICTED FINISH: 15th 

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