With three rounds to go – thought it might be time to get the crystal ball out – and start to discuss the credentials of those teams that are in contention.
It is hard to ignore the claims of the Roosters who have some marquee players and the best defence in the league – conceding an average of 15 points per game. They also have an easy run home with games against the Raiders, the Broncos and the Eels – which should mean they will finish on 38 points (Minor Premiers) and give themselves a great shot at the title.
The Roosters made some bold decisions to recruit future Test fullback James Tedesco and former Test halfback Cooper Cronk and they have combined brilliantly with Luke Keary and Jake Friend to create on the NRL’s most creative spines.
Next in line are the Melbourne Storm (despite losing their last two games) should finish the year with three wins over the Eels, the Titans and the Panthers and finish second (on for and against) ahead of the Rabbitohs. The Storm have the 2nd best defence in the league – conceding 15.5 points per game – and they will get their lethal attack back in order in the next few weeks. They have an inexperienced halfback in Jerome Hughes – but the rest of the spine is exceptional with Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cameron Munster – all Test level players. If they remain healthy and I am tipping their coach and the captain will be hungry to send out of their favourite sons Billy Slater out in the best possible fashion.
Third in line are the Rabbitohs (this year’s biggest improvers under Anthony Seibold) and they should win at least two or possibly three games against the Broncos, the Raiders and the Tigers to finish in 3rd position on the ladder.
They have the best attack of teams in contention (averaging 24 points) and they will welcome back to their influential leader Greg Inglis in Rd 24 who is very important to their chances. The Rabbits have an aggressive, mobile forward pack which have been laying a tremendous platform for the game’s most dangerous dummy halves Damian Cook who will receive his first of many Test jumpers when the Kangaroos play the Kiwis on October 12. They have been there before in 2014 and have enough big game players such as Sam Burgess and their 300 game plus local junior John Sutton to lead the way.
My two smokies for the title are the Warriors and the Sharks who will make up the top four (possibly on for and against).
The Warriors should win their last three games against the Bulldogs, the Panthers and the Raiders to finish the year on 34 points. They have an exceptional spine and have improved their defence in recent weeks.
The Sharks should win their last three games against the Cowboys, the Knights and the Bulldogs. They could be saying farewell to their inspirational captain Paul Gallen – if he chooses to retire - they have a formidable forward pack and some serious strike power in attack with Valentine Holmes playing some great footy in his preferred position of fullback.
Two of the competition front runners – the Dragons and the Panthers – will limp into the finals and have a much tougher run home than their competitors.
Personally, I think the Broncos will sneak into the eight and the fast finishing Tigers might come up one game or two points short – when they meet the Rabbitohs in the last game.
Our game has become consumed by gossip, rumour and speculation about coaches – with Trent Barrett the latest to fall on his sword at Manly – claiming a lack of support and resources has not allowed him to do his job.
Add to that – the drama surrounding their serious salary cap breaches – which has weakened their roster and you can understand that Barrett may have assumed that he was facing a long, battle ahead.
As a rookie, head coach – in only his third season – he has lost patience with the owners and the management and felt he had no other option but to walk away.
You have to admire his courage in some ways – as there aren’t many NRL head coaching vacancies available apart from Penrith (where he started his coaching apprenticeship) and possibly Brisbane if the Broncos decide to move on their unhappy coach Wayne Bennett.
As the end of the year approaches – those clubs that aren’t in contention – are starting to conduct their annual football department reviews and start making some changes for next season.
Broncos, Sea Eagles, Storm, Panthers, Tigers, Sharks, Warriors, Roosters.