With Round 16 of the NRL completed over the weekend, I can now officially start the count-down to finals football.
There are only ten weeks until finals, which means that if your team is in the top eight, they only need to hold onto their place for ten more weeks. If your team is outside the top eight, then your team has just ten more opportunities to prove that they are worthy of playing in the finals.
It’s now also close enough to the end of the season that I’m comfortable enough to admit that there were some things that I was wrong about before a footy was kicked off.
I was wrong about the Canberra Raiders winning the Premiership in 2017. There were also some incorrect inclusions and notable exclusions from my top eight.
At the start of the year, my top eight (in no particular order) looked like this:
North Queensland Cowboys
Gold Coast Titans
New Zealand Warriors
It almost seems laughable that I had the Gold Coast Titans there. What’s even funnier is that I left the Cronulla Sharks and Sydney Roosters out.
With only ten rounds to go, I think it’s safe to say that there are only ten teams remaining that can make the eight.
If you’re a Wests Tigers, South Sydney Rabbitohs, Newcastle Knights, Canberra Raiders, Gold Coast Titans or Canterbury Bulldogs fan, it’s probably time to begin looking forward to 2018.
Amongst the ten remaining teams, there are some that are absolutely guaranteed to make the eight like the Melbourne Storm and Sydney Roosters.
But there are also a couple of teams that either just sit in or outside the finals spots who I‘d like to play a game with.
In light of the run home, recent performances and injury concerns, here are some teams that I’ve been thinking about today – I want to know whether you think they are ‘hot’ or ‘not’ heading into the final ten weeks of the competition.
North Queensland Cowboys – Not
If you had asked me about the Cowboys after their 32-6 victory over the Eels two weeks ago, I would have said ‘the Cowboys can win the Premiership this year, even without Matt Scott’. But with Johnathan Thurston now out for the rest of the season, the Cowboys chances come September are looking grim.
Without JT, the Cowboys are a remarkably different team – as you would expect when their best players are no longer available. Michael Morgan proved himself to be more than capable of leading the team around against the Panthers, but I’m not sure he can do this consistently for the rest of the year.
While the Cowboys showed plenty of grit against the Panthers, the Panthers are a team that are yet to beat a team in the top eight this year. Take from that what you will.
With games against the Roosters, Storm, Sharks and Broncos coming up in the final ten rounds, the loss of JT will prove to be a major spanner in the works for any finals run for the Cowboys.
They still make my top eight but I question their impact come September.
Penrith Panthers – Not
The Panthers are one of the biggest myths of 2017 and they do not make my top eight anymore.
What I find most interesting about the Panthers is that despite them being yet to beat a team in the top eight, their final ten games only include four games against teams currently sitting in the top eight; the Sea Eagles (twice), Dragons and Cowboys. This seems a very lucky draw for a team that still finds themselves in contention at this point in the year.
There is no question that the Panthers attack has improved significantly since Josh Mansour’s return, the inclusion of Dylan Edwards in the squad and Matt Moylan’s move to the halves, but they are still yet to impress me enough to call them contenders this year.
If the Panthers manage to sneak into the finals, I predict they will crumble, particularly if they face a team like the Storm or the Roosters in week one.
Parramatta Eels – Hot
Let’s get one thing straight. If you are a Parramatta Eels fan, success in 2017 almost certainly looked like making the top eight. From what I’ve seen this year, the Eels are on track to make their first finals appearance since 2009.
Granted, I don’t think they can challenge for the title, but the Eels have shown that they have the attacking prowess to compete with most other teams in the competition and things only get better when you consider their run home.
The Eels still have one more bye and will only face three teams in the top eight in the final ten rounds. With games against the Knights, Tigers, Titans and Rabbitohs still to come, I’m confident that the combination between Clint Gutherson, Mitch Moses and Corey Norman will be enough to take the Eels to the finals.
Manly Sea Eagles – Hot
This was a team that 90 per cent of fans had missing their top eight – and what a pleasure it has been to watch them play football this year and prove us all wrong.
This Manly team is hot. Red hot. Api Koroisau is one of the in-form hookers in the competition at the moment, and is also playing 80 minutes. With strike power like Tom and Jake Trbojevic and Marty Taupau on the field, the Sea Eagles are a team to watch, particularly as they grow in confidence in the weeks to come.
Daly Cherry-Evans has also been in exceptional form. In his game against the Sharks alone he had three try assists and kicked a field goal.
It’s a testament to Trent Barrett and what he’s been able to do with a new roster that has stayed relatively injury free throughout the year.
Other teams I’m calling hot include the Brisbane Broncos. Other teams that aren’t hot are the New Zealand Warriors.
So over to you Roarers, with ten weeks to go in season 2017 which teams are ‘hot’ and which are ‘not’. Who makes your final eight?