So you’ve just shaken off the glitter from the 'Origin period' before you’re wondering how your injury-ravaged, controversy-damaged, mentally-fatigued team can navigate the final third of the season and maybe even make the grand final.
The short answer is: if you’re
not in the top four now, you’re dreaming. Not that dreams don’t come
true. It’s just that BHP is a better investment than Lunar Helium 3
By this time any thoughts that the Broncos would fade
have, well, faded. The best barometer is their coach and that laconic
smile says it all. One huge test came against Canterbury a couple of
weeks ago. It was a home game for the Bulldogs, one they needed to win,
while Brisbane could afford to lose and be no worse than second.
teams had five players on State of Origin duty just three days earlier,
with four backing up. You might have thought the Bulldogs’ Blues had a
point to prove while the still-high Maroons of Brisbane would struggle
to keep the intensity, but Brisbane controlled the game, never in doubt.
do have a hard road to the playoffs: the Titans, Sea Eagles, Bulldogs
again, Dragons, Roosters, Rabbitohs and Storm. They’ll be tough enough
to crack macadamias between their toes by then.
took until round four to grab a one-point win over the Storm but since
then their only loss was to the Cronulla 'Shocks' in round 16. More on
These Cowboys are diamond, not rhinestone. Like the
Broncos they can win ugly, but have so much scoring potential for the
shootouts. They also have a bit more depth of finals experience and,
above all, motivation reaching State of Origin proportion. Wronged so
often, only emotion could beat them as they charge through the Eels,
Raiders, Sharks, Rabbitohs, Warriors, Storm and Titans towards the
Brisbane and North Queensland have already played each
other twice for a win each. Will their next meeting decide the
Natural enemy of a Cane Toad Grand Final is a
perennially tough Rooster on a calculated preparation. The club rocked
by one bizarre headline after another has now won eight from nine and
the loss was by six points to the Shocks. They look a bit scary.
They play the Tigers, Bulldogs, Knights, Eels, Broncos, Sea Eagles and tah dah – the Rabbitohs.
what a game to set up the playoffs. The defending premiers are
different this year and have struggled to balance injury and
representative duties with that carefully planned finals peak hour. A
blazing start has been followed by a long period of inconsistency,
including a loss to the Shocks. Adam Reynolds’ repeated injuries, for
example, were not planned for. Now they play the Knights, Panthers, Sea
Eagles, Cowboys, Bulldogs, Broncos and Roosters but, see below.
top four teams are very well coached, experienced in big matches, have
tough but mobile forward packs, creative control in the four key
positions, outstanding kicking games, are capable of defending for long
periods on their line and just as capable of capitalising on
opportunities near their opponent’s line.
From fifth place down
it’s not so convincing. The Bulldogs, like last year, can defy logic but
have not beaten the top four teams and will play three of them again.
Their pack is like the Blue Mountains but, after 20 minutes, just as
mobile. This team hinges on halves leadership and that’s puzzling.
suspension and Origin had chosen for them but now Hodkinson, Mbye and
Reynolds are available no-one seems to know the best combination. Steve
Mortimer thinks they should use next year’s pairing, which would mean
dumping the NSW halfback for a sophomore and the Energiser Grubby – a
combination that may one day rule the NRL, but not now.
with Billy Slater out and a bunch of promising players injected still
looks like a team in transition from one era to the next. Craig Bellamy
is clearly managing that brilliantly but not well enough to win this
The Warriors are a team we love to watch and may well be
the one we cheer for if ours drops out but they haven’t beaten the big
four yet and it’s hard to see them doing so when it really matters.
however, have a great record against the top four – unbeaten against
all but Brisbane and even that was close. In the playoffs though?
St George Illawarra has been stumbling but with key
players back could make the most of a pretty good run home. They too
might just lack big game steel against teams that will lift.
that’s the run home. A few injuries here and there and the pack will be
shuffled again but at this stage, the top four are trumps.