While the NRL top 8 is all but set, at the moment there is no clear favourite to win the wooden spoon in the NRL, with four teams clustered around the bottom of the ladder with five games to go. Parramatta, North Queensland, Manly and Canterbury could all come last this season, with Gold Coast an outside chance.
Of these teams Manly, who probably have the best roster, are arguably in the worst form at the moment, although the Eels run them close, with only a rampaging Jarryd Hayne giving them a sniff of climbing out of last position. The Cowboys have a decent line-up, and will be desperate to end Johnathan Thurston’s NRL career on a high note. The Bulldogs have been abysmal all season, but they have started to click recently, thrashing the Broncos in a shock upset last night.
Of these four only the Bulldogs were tipped to be at the bottom of the ladder at the start of the season, with the Eels and Cowboys tipped as premiership hopefuls, rather than wooden spoon contenders.
The Sea Eagles are also far more used to being at the pointy end of the ladder, and have never come last in the premiership in their 72 year playing history – the only pre-1982 club to never receive the wooden spoon.
The Eels have the toughest draw to finish their season, and are the overwhelming favourites to claim the wooden spoon. They also have the potential to get on a roll, however, which would (probably) leave Manly and North Queensland fighting to avoid finishing last. Unlike the AFL there is no draft system in the NRL, so there is no advantage to coming last.
Of the wooden spoon contenders only the Cowboys have anything resembling stability as a club off the field, and they have suffered an injury to star playmaker Michael Morgan. The other three clubs are basket cases of boardroom drama, with the Bulldogs shedding a number of star players this season just to fit under the salary cap for next year.