After 26 rounds of the regular season, the eight teams vying for this years Telstra Premiership have been decided. While on paper, there are clear threats and teams that appear to be making up the numbers. However, not all will go as it seems. Teams will over achieve, some will falter and the NRL finals will be, above all else, one of the most interesting series in years. Here is a insight into how this years final series will play out.
Trouble at the foot of the mountain-Penrith fall in week one
This may not be considered bold given the performance from the Panthers in their 28-12 loss to their playoff opponent in Manly. However, to begin the season, many had the Panthers in the top four with others declaring them a genuine premiership threat. Their form this year has been patchy punctuated by a losing streak of six games with a finals spot only assured in the final round of the season. The team looked like they had it all together leading into the final weeks until they went down to the Dragons and Manly. Another damning statistic is that the Panthers have only managed to win two of their games against teams currently in the top eight. Like milk in the fridge two days after it’s used by date, something does not smell right in Western Sydney with question marks over Matt Moylan’s future at the club adding more turmoil. Sorry Panthers fan but 2017 is not your year.
Ride ‘Em Cowboys-North Queensland to shock Premiers
Des Hasler and the Bulldogs should be expecting a thank you card and some flowers from Paul Green and his team. Due to Canterbury’s miracle win over the Dragons, the Cowboys have been given a chance to play in this years final series. North Queensland will not be content purely making up the numbers with them a real chance to knock out last years premiers Cronulla. The team has been hit by injuries this year but have never once used it as an excuse with them qualifying for the finals on the back of the brilliant play of Michael Morgan and one of the best defences in the NRL. Cronulla have hardly been an attacking powerhouse this year and look for a defensive arm wrestle to favour the Cowboys. These teams have been responsible for ending each others campaigns in the last two seasons with Cronulla getting the upper hand last year. Look for North Queensland to return serve in week one and make their mark on this years series.
Stormy weather ahead-Melbourne drop out of premiership early
On paper, it is easy to hand over this years Provan-Summons Trophy to the Melbourne Storm. They have been the form team of this years competition losing only four games on their way to a minor premiership. However, their dominant season will all be for nothing with the team be knocked out before grand final day. Since 2013, no team who has won the minor premiership gone on to be successful to win grand final day. The Storm are one of the most clinical and well prepared teams that the competition has ever seen with their game management second to none. But they have struggled against teams with attacking flair who keep the ball alive by going away from structured play illustrated by their shock loss to the Titans earlier in the year. Look for them to grind out a win in their opening game against the Eels before being knocked out after their week long break. Who knows, this could be the end of the Melbourne dynasty with Craig Bellamy potentially announcing a decision to coach at the Titans in 2018.
Third is the word-Broncos survive first round scare to wrap up premiership
What do Cronulla, North Queensland and South Sydney have in common? They are the most recent premiers and all won the competition after finishing third. Look for the Broncos to continue this trend in this years finals. Brisbane head down to Sydney to take on the Roosters who after going down in a gutsy loss to the Storm, have won their last three games. Brisbane will lose this match leading experts to write off their chances and labelling them lame ducks in this current competition. The wildcard will be Benji Marshall. Everyone mocked Wayne Bennett for taking a punt on the 13 year veteran but the wily veteran has the big game experience and the wily leadership to help the Broncos break their drought. It will be like 2005 all over again with Benji and the Broncos shocking more fancied opponents to take out the premiership.
Only time will tell whether these predictions come true or whether the predictable happens with Cameron Smith holding the trophy on grand final day. Everything comes down to the next month. And whatever happens, these four weeks will be outstanding. Bring on the NRL finals!