Over the weekend two things were confirmed about this NRL season. Firstly, competition for the top 8 will be closer than ever – currently only 2 wins separate Manly (in 8th) and Parramatta (last). Secondly, form has not carried over from last year.
Before the season started the powerhouse clubs were expected to be Melbourne, North Queensland, Parramatta and Sydney. After 5 rounds, Parramatta are winless, North Queensland only have 1 win and Melbourne have only 2. The Sydney Roosters, who were expected to take time to warm up with their new-look attack, have 3 wins.
Only one team from last year’s top 4 would even make the 8 if the finals were held next weekend. In fact, only 3 of the top 8 from 2017 are in the top half now – and two of them are the Panthers and Sea Eagles, who finished 7th and 6th respectively after the regular season.
The halves merry-go-round since the last NRL season has left very few teams with the same spine that they finished with last year. The current top teams are those that have been able to gel the fastest with their new line ups. The teams that retained their halves from last year would be expected to be the more stable teams – but that isn’t the case either.
The Raiders, Titans and Eels have had relative stability in their player movement, Jarryd Hayne notwithstanding. The Broncos and Cowboys are also using halves combinations that played together at least sometimes last year. Out of these “stable” clubs, only Gold Coast is currently in the top 8. The Raiders, Cowboys and Eels are all in the bottom 4!
The Storm have been finals stalwarts over the last decade (excepting 2010 when they were forced to play for no points). They have survived any number of talented players moving on, from Greg Inglis to Gareth Widdop, but the loss of Cooper Cronk has really hurt them. Melbourne currently sit in uncharted territory for them, in 9th place.
Tipsters all over Australia are tearing their hair out this NRL season. The rise of the Warriors has taken everybody by surprise, as has the form of the Dragons. St George at least have a history of starting the season strongly, but the New Zealanders have come out of the blue.
The top two teams look like only they can beat each other at the moment. Apart from them, any team can beat anyone else – with the exception of Parramatta, who currently don’t look like they can beat anybody. With so many teams so evenly matched, consistency will decide the makeup of the top 8 in the 2018 NRL season, rather than raw talent.