It’s always a tough ask trying to work out which teams will make the cut each year in the NRL. Last years predictions by our Rugby League team here at NRL News were fairly impressive, apart from a horror choice of Newcastle at the top of the table (we never assumed Andrew Johns would retire!) we did get some long shot predictions 100% right.
We picked Manly to finish 2nd as they eventually did and our team also correctly picked South Sydney to finish in 8th spot, which at the time copped plenty of criticism. We find the best way of putting together a Top 8 list, is to remove the teams you feel cannot make the cut at the end of the year – which seems a simpler task than picking the winners first.
1st – Melbourne Storm: An obviously choice for most punters, the Storm have been the best side in the competition for the last 3 years. While they have lost some playing talent, they have so much in reserve it’s scary. This well coached side with plenty of depth should roll on like a well oiled machine.
2nd – NZ Warriors: The Kiwi’s under the guidance of Ivan Cleary and his team have another year under their impressive belts. The players at their disposal are all growing in confidence and experience plus the re-emergence of the New Zealand crowd should continue to see this team continue on the rise. A dark horse sure, but showed enough in 2007 to give an indication they will be better for the run in the finals.
3rd – Parramatta Eels: Surprised many in 2007 with their eventual finishing position. Talent production has never been an issue for the Western Sydney club, but it seems under the relaxed guidance of Michael Hagan the players are enjoying their football and the results are continuing to come. While prop forward depth continues to be a concern, they have plenty of skills and speed men to make other teams fearful.
4th – Manly Sea Eagles: Apart from the disaster on Grand Final night, the Eagles were reborn in 2007. A good blend of players, both experienced and talented Manly did most things right. Will be another consistent performer this year, however will miss Monaghan more than they realise and Jamie Lyon isn’t their answer at pivot.
5th – Sydney Roosters: Showed enough promising signs late last year under Brad Fittler to almost steal an amazing finals birth. Have solved their coaching problems it seems and have recruited smartly, added Willie Mason and Mark O’Meley to their forward stocks. With Mini returning at the back, they look potent again and should they remain healthy will be back with a bang.
6th – North Queensland Cowboys: A regular force these days and near unbeatable at home, the Cowboys should be extremely potent with the new combination of Jonathan Thurston and Travis Burns in the halves. Injury killed off their challenge in 2007, with their forwards back and some smart buying they will remain a Top 8 contender. The recent coaching announcement forced us to drop them slightly lower, as uncertainty for next year may play on their minds.
7th – South Sydney Rabbitohs: Should go one better this year and prove much more potent in the finals series. Their achievements in 2007 gave them the thing they have craved for so long: belief. Armed with more confidence and the impressive coaching of Jason Taylor, they will again make the final 8. Now, a well run club – they should continue to behave and perform like winners.
8th – Brisbane Broncos: Can never be counted out of things come September. Many talk about their player departures for this season, but smart buys in the form of Peter Wallace, Joel Clinton and PJ Marsh should see them remain a force. A fit Darren Lockyer, plus Karmichael Hunt and Justin Hodges on the fringes will put fear into any defending team. Benny’s final year might see his players add extra fuel onto the fires when needed.
9th – Wests Tigers: On their day can be the most exciting team in the NRL. Boast great skills and exciting attack, however their defence let them down badly at the backend of 2007 and they probably don’t have anywhere near the depth they once did. Will pull off some big wins, but probably can’t make the Final 8 this year unless luck falls their way.
10th – Cronulla Sharks: Their defence continues to win accolades under the guidance of Ricky Stuart and their ability in that area probably allows them to punch above their weight. Have the right foundation to give themselves every chance, but with their current squad they just don’t have the firepower to put points on. The Shire crowd needs to find voice once more and get back out to support their team.
11th – Gold Coast Titans: Have a great platform from which to make an assault on the NRL Premiership this year. Starting with their new Skilled Park homeground and a year under their belts they should be better for the run. Feature some big name players, with skills and know-how, but lack that all important depth. If they get a dream run without injuries could finish higher.
12th – St George Illawarra Dragons: The Dragons will be keen to unleash long term injured stars Mark Gasnier and Dean Young, with 2007 turning out to be a long year for the Red Vee without them. We can’t see the Dragons getting into the Top 8 this season, no question about it they will have injury problems again – It’s the only guaranteed thing in the NRL these days. Will have more confidence in the halves with Soward now settled and possess good strike power in the forms of Chase Stanley and the Morris boys – but the uncertainty of their coaching future after this year might have their minds wandering.
13th – Newcastle Knights: Hard to gauge the mood in Newcastle after the turmoil of 2007. Their first up trial win against the Warriors suggests they will have a gritty attitude, but probably can’t see things turning around so much to allow them into the finals. Kurt Gidley and Jarrod Mullen are top billings, but might find things hard if the forwards can’t fire up their engines. 2008 should be an improvement for them, heck it couldn’t get any worse could it?
14th – Bulldogs: Many will be surprised at our choice for the Dogs, but the old war machine has lost more than a few missiles. Forget the fact that they have lost plenty of big name talent during the off-season, the problem for the Bulldogs is their playing style. Lucky to scrape into the finals in 2007, the Dogs are playing a grinding physical style of NRL that is probably better suited to the 80’s. Devoid of creative play on many occasions last year, with respect to Steve Folkes – the Dogs need a real re-think. This is going to be a long season for them, if injuries set in – it could be a real disaster.
15th – Canberra Raiders: We found out how passionate the Raiders fans are after a recent article by NRL News on their troubled times in the ACT. They might have some potential stars of the future in the mix, but the Raiders just haven’t been able to win consistently for a long time now. Under the guidance of the well respected Allan Tounge, the Raiders will at times show everyone what they are capable of but they probably won’t challenge for the finals this year. Yes, while Neil Henry continues to win friends with his impressive management abilities and new accolades at Origin level – put simply, premiership winning players won’t sign with Canberra until someone with the pull of Wayne Bennett is signed as coach.
16th – Penrith Panthers: In 2007, the Panthers melted quicker than a Mr Whippy Ice-Cream in the Cambridge Park sun. In-fighting, lack of effort and shocking discipline tore their quest apart. Lost some major talent during the off-season, with Craig Gower, Peter Wallace and Joel Clinton all moving on.It seems the Panthers faithful are pinning their hopes on Petero Civoniceva, but the workhorse forward can’t do it alone. The Panthers haven’t changed things enough for our liking. While former Knights Brad Tighe and Adam Woolnough will offer depth at their new club, its probably Joe Williams that holds the real key. Matt Elliott seems keen to use Jarrod Sammut in the courted No. 7 position, but Williams could really be the man to get this former team of giants going again.