Almanac Rugby League: Let’s get down to business

You couldn’t script it any better – it took until the very last minute of the regular season to sort out the order of the NRL finalists. Although the composition of the top eight teams was settled a week or two ago, final round matches saw the finishing order of the finalists change throughout the weekend, and no more so than yesterday’s final match between the Broncos and the Sharks.

 

As one newspaper scribe put it this morning, you can think what you want about the salary cap, but it works! The top four teams all finished the season on 34 points, separated only by points differential. The next four teams all finished on 32 points, only one win behind the top four, again separated only by their for and against. In fact, the fifth-placed Panthers and the sixth-placed Broncos had exactly the same differential but the Broncos fell 0.21% behind on percentages of actual points scored and conceded. If the Broncos had scored just one more point yesterday, they would have leapt from eighth place at the start of the day to fifth by the final whistle. you can’t get much closer than that.

 

In the on-field action, the Rabbitohs finally got back in form by demolishing the Tigers. I wrote a while back that Souths need Inglis and Johnston back to be at their best – and they were. But equally important is the renewed vigour of the Burgess twins who seem to be taking their task seriously after several weeks below par. Throw in Sutton and Cook and you have a potent force to feed Reynolds and Walker. Gagai continues to be one of the great competitors in the code, and it was great to see good-guy journeyman Jason Clark honoured for his services over the years. The only shadow for the Bunnies is Sam Burgess’s gammy hammy.

 

A patched-up Melbourne Storm couldn’t find the final plays to capitalise on their first half domination (and Penrith’s serial offending) to put the Panthers away. Only four down at the break, the Panthers were always likely to get home given equal possession. It’s hard to say too much about Melbourne’s effort given that they were missing Slater, Chambers, Asofa-Solomona and Munster. But credit to the Panthers for not throwing in the towel after they had two in the bin at various stages in the first half. Penrith’s shadow? Without James Maloney they look pretty ordinary so he needs to be fit and on-song – and disciplined!

 

The NZ Warriors did enough to beat Canberra and then had to wait to see where they will have to travel this week. A huge nod to Simon Mannering, as good a player as the club has produced. The Warriors, who can beat anyone on a good day, have three problems – they will have to play all their finals away from home, Shaun Johnson (what a gifted player!) has to roll up every week, and the team must find consistency. Could go a couple weeks into the Finals or could make an embarrassing exit at any stage.

 

The Dragons finally chalked up a win (over Newcastle) after several weeks in free-fall. They have really struggled since the Origin period and the loss of Vaughan has hurt them badly. It’s hard to see the big red V going too far into this month unless their pack can really fire and give Ben Hunt space and time. Talk about a player under pressure! Full marks to James Graham, untidy and unfashionable, but also non-stop and 100% G&D. If any team in the Finals relies heavily on a single player, it is the Dragons with Gareth Widdop. Lose him and they lose their fire.

 

The Roosters look to be coming good at the right time. Luke Keary makes a heap of difference and Cronk is on song. If their forwards can only be consistent, this lot will go close to winning the comp. Hats off to Latrell Mitchell (as a Queenslander I can’t stand him!), so much talent! Just has to bring his top effort every week. If they have a weakness, it’s that their forwards can get lazy and there’s just no room for that in September.

 

The Sharks just won’t go away but somehow you get the feeling that they’re hanging on and relying heavily on Valentine Holmes. They have skills as well as toughness to burn in the forwards when they all pull together. If muscle counts, then they’ll go far because there’s no doubting their heart. Not always pretty but effective. Their shadow is Andrew Fifita. Can he produce every week in the crunch or will he choose to be a sook if a few calls don’t go his way?

 

The Broncos have been going well in the last month and should feel positive, even if they are in the bottom half of the eight. Those young forwards are ominous for the years ahead and don’t know how to take a backward step. Corey Oates! Why the hell does he want to play backrow when he gets so much ball and does so well where he is? Respect to Sam Thaiday, one of the code’s characters, a funnyman and twerker extraordinaire. The downside for Brisbane is their wide defence, as we saw several times yesterday. Milford, another wonderfully gifted player, has to show he is worth his huge salary now that we’re at the pointy end of the season.

 

In the weekend’s other match, JT’s Cowboys got home in the end against the Titans in a hugely entertaining and emotional encounter. What a way for the legend to bow out, and respect to Cameron Smith for making the trip north to pay his respects.

 

So here’s how they’ll face off this weekend:

Friday night: Melbourne Storm v South Sydney Rabbitohs

Saturday afternoon: Penrith Panthers v NZ Warriors

Saturday evening: Sydney Roosters v Cronulla Sharks

Sunday afternoon: Brisbane Broncos v St George/Illawarra Dragons.

 

I don’t feel confident about picking the likely winners since I can make a good argument for all of them. Let’s see how the week pans out, what injuries emerge, any selection surprises and/or any other contributing factors. I’ll post my picks later in the week.

 

 

Ian Hauser loves rugby league. He plays it vicariously since he had no talent himself. He’s better with words. You can check out his comprehensive editing services here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Ian Hauser

A happy, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A Queenslander through and through, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. I appreciate those beautiful moments in sport (and life) that capture the spirit rather than the law of the game. I enjoy travel, good coffee and cake, reading, and have been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. I offer a comprehensive editing service for both new and experienced writers. Check me out at www.writerightediting.com.au Queenslander!

Comments

  1. Quite an amazing final ladder, Ian, with as you say just the one game separating first and eighth.
    If Marc Fiddian ever decides to update his informative and entertaining “Ladders Without Snakes”, the 2018 NRL ladder would be a worthy inclusion.
    Interesting that the highest win percentage is 67% and the lowest, the perennially underachieving Parramatta, is 25%.
    Compare this with the AFL equivalents of 82% and 9% and you’d suggest that the NRL definitely has a greater competitive balance.
    Of course, the weakness of both competitions is that teams don’t play all of their opponents twice.

  2. Russel Hansen says:

    Great piece Ian
    No better time for the mighty Bunnies to break their Melbourne duck
    After the past several seasons (2014 premiership hangover) for Souths to have finished in the top 4 has been a very pleasant surprise
    Gagai’s defence still concerns me, however, as you so rightly pointed out – Burgess x 3 are vital, and John Sutton has had a season to remember

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