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And Then There Were Eight

After 25 rounds, we have our top eight ready to take the next step in September and October. But what about the bottom eight? Which teams were unlucky to miss out and can expect a better 2022? Which teams disappointed? Which teams are due for a cleanout?

Cronulla-Sutherland (10-14) = The Sharks were in the eight heading into the final round, and looked like staying there after Canberra lost to the Roosters, but the Sharks lost to Melbourne nearly 24 hours later, then were officially knocked out when the Titans beat the Warriors 44-0 on Sunday afternoon, missing out by points differential. 

The Sharks started horribly, with just two wins from their first 10 games. They rallied to win four in a row (Dragons, Gold Coast, Penrith during the Origin period, and North Queensland) to climb up the ladder and stayed in touch with the eight from there, fighting for the last two finals slots with Newcastle, Canberra, the Titans, and the Warriors.

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Canberra (10-14) = A disappointing season for a side expected to challenge for the top four after a grand final (2019) and preliminary final (2020) appearance. After a strong start (3-1 by the Easter weekend), the Raiders lost Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad during the loss to Penrith and then fell in a massive hole, losing five in a row (including inexcusable second half collapses against North Queensland and Newcastle, which became a frustrating pattern for The Milk). The on-field slump brought ridiculous off-field soap opera drama, lowlighted by English halfback George Williams leaving due to “homesickness”. 

After the rock bottom loss to the Titans in Round 16, Canberra rallied with wins against Manly Warringah, Cronulla-Sutherland, and Parramatta to stay in the top eight race, though another loss to Newcastle, and losing to the Sea Eagles (after leading 12-0), hurt them. In the end, they didn’t deserve to make the finals and are facing a big rebuild for 2022, with a new halfback the priority. 

While the Raiders didn’t concede 50 points in a game, they conceded 40+ numerous times, including their final round 40-16 loss to the Roosters (when they needed to win to sneak back into the eight), which is alarming considering Canberra’s solid defence was the cornerstone of their 2019/20 run.

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St George Illawarra (8-16) = The Dragons’ season ended the day of THAT barbeque: the sacking of Paul Vaughan and the mass bans saw the Dragons fall apart and slide down the ladder, losing their last eight games. Before that, they’d worked their way into the eight with eight wins from their first 16 games, including putting 50 on the Broncos and coming from 18-6 down to beat the Warriors in Golden Point.

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NZ Warriors (8-16) = It’s been another tough year for the Warriors, playing away from home for the second-straight season, and missing the finals again. They didn’t have the feelgood factor in 2021, said goodbye to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, and fell into the doldrums with seven losses in a row from Round 12 to Round 19, though rallied with three late wins against the Wests Tigers, Cronulla-Sutherland, and Canterbury-Bankstown.

Their two games against Canberra summed up their crazy season: in Round Three, they came from 31-10 down to beat Canberra 34-31 (saved by the “Hand of Roger” tackle); in Round 24, they led the Raiders 16-0, but lost 28-16.

There were some good signs, with the excellent Reece Walsh having a tremendous season, and the mid-season signings Matt Lodge and Addin Fonua-Blake excelling at times.

The best news of all: favourite son Shaun Johnson will be back in 2022. Can he drag the Warriors back to the finals? It’ll be tough, as the Warriors are likely to be in Australia again next year.

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Wests Tigers (8-16) = Another disappointing year for the Tigers, made worse by the Wild Wests: Tales from Tiger Town documentary on Foxtel/Kayo. Yes, it was fascinating to watch (and who knew that Madge had such a potty mouth?), but the timing was horrible, as the club fell to another bottom four finish.

Aside from the humiliating Storm loss, the lowlight was the 34-30 loss to North Queensland at Leichhardt Oval. With the club mourning Tommy Raudonikis’ death, the Tigers failed to lift, down 28-6 at halftime and booed off the field by their own fans.

What will happen to Madge if the Tigers have another poor year in 2022?

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Brisbane (7-17) = After an embarrassing 2020 (though every non-Broncos fan found it hillarious), Brisbane showed some positive signs in 2021: they more than doubled their win tally, comfortably offloaded the wooden spoon, and – more importantly – showed a lot more fight. While it took a while, Kevin Walters’ plan to get pride back into the jersey seems to have worked. They pushed Penrith twice, beat the Roosters in Sydney and were one high tackle penalty from beating them again at Lang Park. Arguably their greatest win was against the Titans at Lang Park: trailing 22-0 after 15 minutes, the Broncos looked like losing by 1,000! They got back to 22-22 at halftime, then won 36-28. And they finished the season on a high, comfortably beating Newcastle.

Expect the Broncos to improve even more in 2022 and escape the bottom four – at least.

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North Queensland (7-17) = At the halfway point, the Cowboys were in the eight with a 6-6 record, including six wins from their last eight (including the Tigers win and coming from 24-6 down to beat Canberra), then it fell apart, losing 10 in a row, only broken by a big win over the Dragons in Round 24. Even the seemingly invincible Jason Taumalolo struggled, only playing 15 games due to injuries and poor form.

The Broncos’ late-season resurgence gave the Cowboys the dreaded “Queensland wooden spoon”, which they’ll probably keep in 2022.

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Canterbury-Bankstown (3-21) = With some big off-season signings and a new coach in Trent Barrett, the Bulldogs would’ve expected a better 2021: sadly they regressed, winning just three games. There was a familiar, frustrating pattern to the Dogs’ sorry year, with strong starts before the inevitable second half fadeout: they had plenty of heart and effort, but lacked the experience/temperament/class/composure etc to win. At least they finished on a high with their big win over the Tigers.

Arguably the worst loss was against Canberra in Magic Round: leading 12-8 in the second half against a briefly 11-man Raiders side famous for their second half fadeouts, the Bulldogs found a way to lose. Any other team would have punished The Milk and won by streets.

Some of their big recruits – like Kyle Flanagan and Nick Cotric – underwhelmed or were injured, and the club was “dogged” by their fair share of off-field drama. Along with a big roster cleanout, they welcome Matt Burton and Josh Addo-Carr for 2022. Surely they can pull the Bulldogs out of the bottom four, at the very least?

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