Gold Coast coach John Cartwright and Wests Tigers coach Tim Sheens have both found positives in their sides challenge for the lower spots in the NRL Top 8. Sheens and Cartwright both agree the dog fight for the lower finals positions could have the teams in good fighting shape; with the chance of a serious ambush on front runners Melbourne and Manly.
“Any side that makes the top eight can beat anyone in the top eight, the only difference is that probably Melbourne and Manly have been very consistent as far as their season is concerned, that doesn’t mean anything when it comes to a one-off game in a playoff,” Sheens said.
“The only bonus for the top four obviously is the first home semi and playing Melbourne in a phone box, that’s a definite advantage for them.”
A look at the current top eight – with four rounds remaining – shows just how vulnerable the top four sides could be given the match-ups that would be on offer.
Newcastle, winners of four of their last five, would be given plenty of hope of becoming the first eighth placed side to topple a minor premier with a game against Manly.
Sixth-placed Canberra also have four wins from their last five, and they showed just how potent they can be with their demolition of Penrith last weekend.
In a potential match-up with an attack-shy Cronulla side, the Raiders’ ability to get points of the board could blow the Sharks off their own home ground.
And Brisbane would have few fears in travelling south to take on a Sydney Roosters side showing little consistency.
Only the slumping St George Illawarra would be considered longshots to topple Melbourne on their own patch, but given Dragons coach Nathan Brown’s vow to turn his side’s next meeting into a bloodbath, the clash would at least provide something of a spectacle.
After watching his side get humbled by Newcastle, Cartwright said he would give the Knights every chance of an upset in the opening week of the finals.
“If they run eighth, I wouldn’t really want to play them if I ran first,” Cartwright said of the Knights.
“They’re right up there, the sides we’ve played recently have all been big physical sides, in Melbourne, Canberra and the Knights – very similar.”
While the sides in the eight are an obvious danger, so too are those sides just outside – namely Wests Tigers, Penrith, New Zealand Warriors, Parramatta and the Titans.
Should any of these sides squeeze into the eight, they would do so on the back of some pretty good form.
The Tigers’ run home includes games against Manly and Cronulla, the Panthers still have to play the top two sides, while Gold Coast have meetings against Brisbane and the Sea Eagles to come.
“We’re not breaking any records but we’re there abouts,” returning Tigers skipper Brett Hodgson said.
“Four big games and four sides coming into the finals who probably think that they can beat us.
“It’s a good test for us if we’re good enough to make the eight.”
Conversely, ladder leaders Manly don’t play another side currently in the top eight in their run to the finals.
Prop Brent Kite denied the soft run would leave them underdone, with the Sea Eagles having one eye on the club’s first minor premiership since 1997.
“If you ask whether we’d rather have this draw or one with the Roosters, Cronulla – like the period we’ve just been through – I’m sure we’d take this one,” Kite said.
“We’re trying to win the minor premiership and a mark of how we’re going is how we turn out against these sides that aren’t in the top eight.”