As we approach crunch time in the NRL 2008 season, can your team realistically make the Top 8 for this year? As has been the trend in the past decade, NRL Results are extremely close – with 15 teams a mathematical chance of getting into the finals.
Most experts predict a rematch of last year’s NRL grand final, but while Manly is traveling well – injuries could drive a knife into the back of their finals campaign, especially considering their all important halves pairing is in tatters at present, Matt Orford and Jamie Lyon out of action for the short term at least. While Melbourne on the other hand are going along well and handling everything that any NRL team can throw at them.
Obviously the North Queensland mob can start packing for their end of season trip (The only person happy up that way would be Graham Murray, the experience coach booted before his time and was obviously a valuable part of the Cowboys; the club slumping badly since his departure)
But in regards to the other teams, even the Bulldogs have a chance if the stars align for them.
Certainly they are huge odds to get in the door, but the Top 8 remains possible for the Bulldogs, who would need to be successful in 7 of their 8 games to get the finals gig, but looking at their form and man power – this is almost akin to Jesus popping on George St in the next couple of months.
The resurgent South Sydney are faring slightly better than the Dogs, they too are mathematically a chance but in reality probably left their run a tiny bit too late. At least Jason Taylor is able to sleep a bit better at night and the Bunnies have turned a horror year into something they can build on for NRL in 2009.
The Souths boys can actually afford to lose 1 game and still make the NRL Top 8, but their opponents include Melbourne and Cronulla, so Rusty Crowe might already be planning the after party for his troops.
The remaining 13 candidates have a more serious chance at getting home, but 13 into 8 does go and as such the Newcastle Knights and Parramatta Eels are on shaky ground.
Both the Knights and Eels have favourable match-ups in Round 20, clashing with Souths and the Cowboys respectively, but should they both win – the two sides will face off in Monday Night Football soon after in what should be the ultimate test for both teams; the winner almost certainly pushing the other into oblivion.
Also in the middle of the field the likes of – Canberra, Wests Tigers and New Zealand Warriors are all locked on 20 competition points, just 1 point off Penrith in 8th spot on the NRL Ladder.
While the NZ Warriors have made a great run at the finals in the past few weeks, winning 3 on the trot they do have the worst differential of the three sides at minus 99, and they are set to meet opponents such as Melbourne, Brisbane, Cronulla, St George Illawarra and Penrith.
Of those 5 games, 4 are based in New Zealand. So the Warriors have a massive chance to lock in their spot for 2009. Clashing with the higher ranked teams will also give them good confidence should they manage to jag a few upset wins coming into the final NRL rounds.
Canberra have a similar road home, having 4 of their last 7 games in the ACT, but the recent night club antics of Todd Carney and Bronx Goodwin have thrown their campaign into disarray; the Green Machine have lost two important cogs and may struggle in the next fortnight.
This Saturday night’s meeting of the Wests Tigers and Penrith Panthers will have a big bearing on the NRL Top 8, the winner getting a good leap frog above the pack.
After putting it all together last week, with Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah rediscovering vintage form the Wests Tigers looked like their former 2005 selves as they put Souths away, but a loss here could leave them 3 points out of the eight by the end of the weekend. With the Knights and Eels snapping at their feet.
Due to their tough path home a Penrith Panthers loss in this clash could really hurt their chances, as they still have 2 NRL games chart toppers Manly and a showdown with Melbourne.
The injury plagued Gold Coast Titans are the wildcard in all this; with many feeling they will drop out of the NRL Top 8, missing main strike weapons Scott Prince and Luke Bailey along with the fact they have some horror match-ups with the Melbourne Storm, Brisbane Broncos and Manly Sea Eagles.
The Dragons have also stumbled a bit of late, with back to back losses coming after their 7 game winning hot streak, but Brownies boys really only need 3 wins to secure the deal.
They have some winnable games in their path too, the Dragons are up against crosstown rivals Bulldogs and Cronulla in the next 2 weeks and they should fancy themselves, they were valiant against Melbourne with Gavin Badger stopping them in their tracks to a big extent.
Brisbane are a little harder to pick, their form has been up and down and Wayne Bennett admits he hasn’t been happy with things. The Queenslanders need to beat Cronulla on Friday night if they are serious about gunning for a Top 4 spot, Brisbane are behind 4th spot (Sydney Roosters) by only 3 points.
The Roosters have really hit the wall in recent weeks, copping 2 harsh losses on the trot and facing big guns Manly on Sunday, can the Roosters still lock in a home semi final? They have Brisbane on their tails; welcoming back Darren Lockyer, Peter Wallace and Justin Hodges for the run home.
With 4 of 7 games at home, the Sharks look all set to nail a home final with their well earned Top 4 spot. So it seems a Toyota Stadium clash in week 1 of the NRL finals in 2008, with some luck falling their way they may even see a Manly or Melbourne hiccup and the Sharks could sneak into the Top 2 and receive a vital free passage in the finals. With Manly’s injury run, this is not out of the realms of possibility. The Sharks will be an interesting prospect if they can get into the Top 8, their style is well suited to the finals format and many feel they are a possible threat to Manly and Melbourne if they can keep their chins up in the weeks ahead.
The only worry for the Manly and the Storm is who will take the minor premiership? Its all about the points difference it seems; meaning when the sides meet in the weeks ahead a victory and the margin will be all important!