After NRL Round 25, the Top 8 is looking a little clearer with only the pecking order to really be decided if all goes as expected. Regardless, the Grubber was busy doing his around the grounds reports and brings you the Weekly Power Rankings –
1. Newcastle Knights – Some similarities to the Sharks, in that a bunch of little known work a holics are strutting their stuff and building an impressive campaign on defence. Their NRL victory against the Storm was highly impressive, made even more special by the fact they had some injuries to deal with including Jarrod Mullen who played limited minutes and carried illness into the game. Seem to be following the solid Brian Smith game plans to a tee.
Grubbers Comment: Amount of former sacked players, hangers-on, media and high powered backers that will need to issue an apology to Brian Smith and his coaching team at years end? 70-80 people.
2. Cronulla Sharks – The Greg Bird saga seems to have solidified them, Ricky Stuart used the ‘seige’ situation to their advantage and had them primed against the woeful Tigers. Not only do the Sharks believe they can win against anyone, they have several teams looking over their shoulder. Have been playing semi-finals type NRL all year.
Grubbers Comment: Odds that Greg Bird and the American father of girlfriend Katie Milligan ‘shook hands’ and made up? 1000/1
3. St George Illawarra – Are really hitting their straps at the right time. Were helped by a lazy Parramatta Eels defence line, but they still turned on the charm for their fans. Forwards are doing a terrific job and the hole running, plus strong set plays are coming off for Brownies men. Could be the perfect setting in the Top 8 for these guys, less pressure and expectation and the fact that the much maligned Brownie is moving on – could be just the mix for the Red Vee to take a title.
Grubbers Comment: Amount of phone calls that Ben Rogers will make to old coaches should the Dragons take the Grand Final? 2-3
4. Manly Sea Eagles – Eventually got the job done against an out of sorts, but gritty Titans. Manly still haven’t really shown they have improved from 2007. Still an unknown quantity when it comes to the big time. May be carrying too much mental bagagge to go one better, although the Storm recovered from their problems in 06 to win in 07. First few weeks of the finals will tell a big tale about these guys.
Grubbers Comment: Level of embarrassment felt by Josh Perry after being ‘decked’ by the smallest man on the field in Nathan Friend? High to Extreme.
5. NZ Warriors – Again quietly going about their business. Seemed to have found their spark in attack and are putting on a decent amount of points recently, the return of Wade McKinnon has helped – however regardless of the spitting situation, his temper could cost this team in the near future. Certainly a superstar, but a loose cannon. Will play care free footy from here on in and if they get a good bounce of the ball will be dangerous to any other Top 8 team.
Grubbers Comment: Chances of Wade McKinnon wheeling in his mum to the judiciary meeting this week claiming he has had a bad case of ‘reflux’ since birth? Strong to Certain
6. North Queensland Cowboys – This years strugglers have started improving in the last few weeks, a good confidence building win as they fight to hide from the wooden spoon. Jonathan Thurston will keep these guys performing when he is available, will be desperate this weekend.
Grubbers Comment: Odds that close friends and family of Carl Webb have been enjoying his try scoring feast of late? 5/1
7. Brisbane Broncos – Did the job for Darren Lockyer in his 300th, but Gordon Tallis could be right about their forwards. Have yet to prove themselves as ‘battle hardened’, sure they are a talented group of big men, but when it gets into the trenches can they roll the sleeves up?
Grubbers Comment: Chances of Justin Hodges trash talking, hittler saluting or doing something downright stupid in the final weeks of the NRL? 2/1
8. Sydney Roosters – Were dynamic early on, but clocked off way too early. Early tries were impressive and less reliant on kicks, but the Roosters seemed to have lost their dominant mindset many weeks ago. The return of Anthony Minichiello should help, but Brad Fittler needs to return to the routine used early in the year – they have lost their aura and need to find it fast.
Grubbers Comment: Likelihood of Brad Fittler aging faster than any other male on the planet in the next 12-18 months? Strong to Certain
9. South Sydney Rabbitohs -Â Took a while to get motivated, but when they did – they scrape, scurry and scrounge a try from anywhere. Plenty of positives from this year, the biggest being the rookie of the year Chris Sandow. This kid is talented and confident and while is expected that the odd bad call or error will appear occasionally his dominant presence is growing with every game. Need a strong win to end the year on a high note.
Grubbers Comment: Chances that wife of Russell Crowe; Danielle Spencer only attended recent game of NRL because Hollywood hotties Pam Anderson and Eva Mendes? Strong to Certain
10. Melbourne Storm – Probably a little more than a speed bump this time, the Storm looked ruffled from the early minutes against Newcastle. The Knights showed that the big, strong forward pack from Melbourne can be found wanting when on the retreat. Forward pack his size and offloads, but struggles for agility and fitness when facing a roll. The Storm seem to get very frustrated from stop start games, opponents will continue to try and run their forwards around and kick for a scrum or dead restart at every chance. Bellamy will be working hard this next week or two.
Grubbers Comment: Chances of Storm superstars Slater, Smith and Inglis ever playing that bad again on the same night? 50/1
11. Bulldogs – Put in a big effort on tough circumstances. Low on personnel and looking forward to mad Monday, but the Belmore boys threw it around and gave the Broncos a decent scare. Will also be looking to individual positives where possible, a long year can’t end soon enough for these guys however. Sonny Bill who?
Grubbers Comment: Odds that the new look Bulldogs will be in the Top 8 come 2009 end of season? 20/1
12. Gold Coast Titans – For such a young club, John Cartwright and the gang at the Titans have built a formidable unit. Faced injuries to key guys all year, but have remained tough and committed most matches. Were horrible early on against Manly and remained in the contest for a long time. Got poor bounces of the ball and some average video referee calls, but hung in strong. Foundations for the future are highly respectable, building a great club.
Grubbers Comment: Odds that Titans hooker Nathan Friend was immediately called by the likes of Don King, Khoder Nasser and other boxing identities after he landed a beauty on Manly big man Josh Perry in a David and Golliath match-up.
13. Canberra Raiders – Was a poor hitout for the form team of the NRL, struggled away from home – but to be fair, their injury crisis remains one of the worst in the League. Should they progress deep into the finals, their wide running style could hurt the Melbourne Storm the most if they can get that far.
Grubbers Comment: Chances of Raiders recruiters ringing contacts in Papua New Guinea, to fly in new stocks of players after exhausting every avenue locally? 15/1
14. Penrith Panthers – Its a secret no more, the Panthers have not got on with their coach Matt Elliott all year. This has been the reason for their stop start form. Many parties wanting to walk away from the club in turmoil, it seems the laid back John Lang approach to Penrith was the reason he lasted so long and had good success. Elliott’s complex coaching style doesn’t seem to match the ‘off-the-cuff’ type play from the long standing players. Players using political influence to de-rail coach and club, bring on vacation say the fans and back office men.
Grubbers Comments: Odds that coach Matt Elliott will be glad to see senior player and political aspiree Luke Priddis leave the club at year end? 2/1
15. Parramatta Eels – Have been underperforming most of the 2008 NRL year, underestimated the influence that Timana Tahu had on the younger brigade coming through. Jarryd Hayne remains a major concern, the one time Origin star has looked unhappy, lazy and to have a massive attitude problem that insiders say is rubbing off on some of the younger players in the squad. While some have hinted at ‘clean out’; that might be hard considering there isn’t a massive batch of superstars coming through the usually impressive Parra juniors.
Grubbers Comments: Odds the Eels will be going down the yellow brick road to try and find the Wizard, so he can supply a heart to them in the off-season? 5/1
16. Wests Tigers – The 2005 premiers will again miss the NRL Top 8, the statistic regarding coach Tim Sheens only making the finals series once since 1994 must be ringing loudly in the ears of officials and fans. Players certainly need to take a look at themselves, but it all starts at the top. Plenty of soul searching to be done here, of a more important concern is that the factions from the joint venture club don’t turn on each other.
Grubbers Comment: Chances of the Wests Tigers players and officials playing ‘Survivor’ in the off-season and voting each other off the island that is Concord Oval? 5/1