A third of the way through the NRL season, we should be able to rule a few teams in to the finals, and a few teams out. The competition this year is so even, however, that putting a line through any team’s finals hopes is risky. No club sits more than two wins outside the top 8, and with 16 games each still to go anyone can make it. That said, a few teams are tracking better than the others.
The top NRL contenders at the moment are St George, who are top of the ladder with 7 wins, and Melbourne, who have come storming back into form in the last two weeks. Neither of these sides looks like slowing down and barring injuries they will both be down the pointy end of September. The Origin period could wreak havoc on both.
The Panthers and the Warriors have both also done well so far. The Panthers have suffered a lot of injuries and kept powering through, although they will also be heavily affected by Origin. The Warriors were thrashed by the Storm last week, but apart from that have been remarkably consistent. These four will most likely make the 8.
The ones who will slip
Wests Tigers and the Knights have both done well so far, but there are signs that both will fall over the next few months. The Tigers were beaten by Parramatta last week, and it looks like the flow of penalties they fed on for the first few weeks has slowed to a trickle. The Knights have been impressive this year, but the loss of Mitchell Pearce will hurt them in big games.
Battling it out
The teams ranked 7 through 12 on the current NRL ladder will be battling it out for finals spots. The Sharks and Broncos have shown signs this year that they have what it takes, as have the Raiders – they just need to be consistent. If the Rooster’s star studded line-up can click they will be lethal as well. The Bunnies have had some great games – if they sort out their discipline they are a chance as well.
Manly, Canterbury, North Queensland and Parramatta are in trouble. Of these sides, however, only the Bulldogs do not look dangerous to higher ranked teams. Parramatta have strung together two in a row, the Cowboys have the greatest player ever to play the game and Manly have the makings of a good team (if they can stop fighting each other in hotel rooms).
Each of these three can make the NRL finals if they can string a good run together. They won’t all make it, of course, but they only need two extra wins than the teams above them over 16 matches.