For a long time last year I thought that the Sharks had the most balanced team in the NRL.
While I didn’t initially think they’d take out the premiership, which they eventually did, made me realise something.
To win the NRL Premiership your team needs to have and experienced and balanced spine, that is, your fullback, halves and hooker.
The Sharks had Ben Barba, James Maloney, Chad Townsend and Michael Ennis all firing at the same time, but more importantly, all of them are veteran campaigners who have been playing first grade for more than 5 seasons.
It’s no wonder that the Storm have made the finals for more than a decade with the likes of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater steering the ship.
Then we take a look at a team like the Wests Tigers, who haven’t played finals footy in 5 years.
They’ve put all their eggs in one basket banking on youth to take them all the way, trying to recreate the memories of 2005.
The only problem here is that they’ve got no one to steer the ship when their season is on the line.
I was at the Round 26 game where they faced off against the Canberra Raiders at Leichhardt Oval and needed to win to make the top 8.
You’d think in front of a home crowd with fan favourite Robbie Farah being congratulated on his tenure at the club at half time that they would be able to snag a win against the relentless Green Machine.
They got toweled up 52-10.
Twenty-two year old halfback Luke Brooks, who should have stepped up to the plate, was nowhere to be seen.
His partner, Mitch Moses, also only 22 years of age, tried his best and got his team into the contest, but again failed to steer the ship around.
The lack of direction and experience in the Tigers’ lineup is what is stopping them from making the finals.
Sure, you could argue that they still have Matt Ballin to make things easier for the likes of Jacob Liddle, but at his age and with his recent injury concerns, I can’t see him making any great inroads.
Their opponents that day however, have a great spine to work with, and it’s no surprise that they are favourites to take out the comp.
Ricky Stuart has recruited brilliantly in his short time back in the nation’s capital.
The Raiders now boast former Tiger Blake Austin, who has set the competition alight with his running game.
His halves partner, Aiden Sezer, has added a coolness and calmness that has been great for the Raiders, who were previously very frantic and erratic when the game was on the line.
The youngest of the group, 23 year-old Jack Wighton, has adapted to the fullback role and is evolving his own game with every match he plays. He also has the experienced players around him to help out when things aren’t going exactly to plan. And let’s not forget their best player, English rake Josh Hodgson, who’s direction and experience which has helped shoot the Raiders up the ladder.
It’s teams that have the most balance and experience, particularly in the spine, that will do the most damage.
This is why I can’t see teams like the Knights, Tigers and Bulldogs making any impression on the top 8, and it’s exactly why they didn’t do much during the year.
It was no wonder that the top 4 teams had players like Jonathan Thurston, Cameron Smith, Josh Hodgson and James Maloney in their spine.
If you’re having trouble figuring out who will make the 8 this year, just look at the 1, 6, 7 and 9 and you’ll see which teams will be right in the contest all year.
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