With just 7 games remaining in the 2007 NRL season; the Top 8 teams are getting extremely close to being finalised – as NRL News examines who we think will make and miss the cut:
NRL Finals Top 8
1. Melbourne Storm – an easy one to start with, the Storm are miles ahead at the top of the ladder and will come in first past the post again in 2007 and take the NRL minor premiership. The only hurdle I can see for the Storm is similar to last year; they have won virtually every game they have played – when it comes to final or grand final time, it’s different physically and mentally. The Storm will have learnt lessons from 2006 but it is still tough in finals footy.
2. Manly Sea Eagles – have surely secured 2nd spot, a home final and a guaranteed second bite at the cherry in week 1 of the finals. The extra chance will help Manly who also seem to wobble a bit in the early weeks of the finals when they have reached them on occasion in the past decade. Look to have overcome the injury hurdle, have BK on standby which is good insurance.
3. North Queensland Cowboys – I see the Cowboys being able to lock into 3rd place. They’ve got their poor form out of the way and have a fair run home in the next 7 weeks. If they can recapture magic early season form, will time their finals run to perfection. JT will need to be kept in cotton wool in these next few weeks.
4. Parramatta Eels – a close finish with the Wests Tigers for 4th spot. Toss of the coin really. The Eels do have a tough run home, made slightly easier by the loss of Darren Lockyer for the Broncos – as the Eels face the Broncos twice in the next 7 weeks. They also face Manly, Storm and Bulldogs. A run while hard, will give Michael Hagan a decent gauge as to where the Eels really are at with their side.
5. Wests Tigers – the return of Brett Hodgson and Benji Marshall next week for the Tigers meant NRL News slotted the Tigers into 5th spot. They face a tough ask even at home against the in-form Warriros – but experience of Tim Sheens and a group of players that have climbed the mountain as recently as 2005 will do enough to get into 5th.
6. NZ Warriors – will be back in the NRL top 8 finals mix this year, as they have the best run home of any Top 8 hopeful. Facing plenty of lowly ranked teams, the Warriors on current form should coast in and will certainly have Australian sides looking over their shoulder come the money time.
7. Bulldogs – Similar to the Broncos, the Bulldogs are battered by injury and otherwise would have hoped for top 4. The return of SBW will assist, but no Shrek and no Willie Mason hurts these guys. Still the Dogs are one of the most hardened and feared packs; so don’t count them out just yet.
8. Brisbane Broncos – The loss of Darren Lockyer will be felt mentally; just as much as not having the fearless leader on the park. With some young players in the mix for the Broncos already covering Tate and Hodges – the loss of Locky will certainly make things hard for the Queenslanders. Bennett will need his finest hour to get them to back to back titles – if he does, it may just heal some of the deepest wounds left from his fallout after the failed Roosters switch.
Missing the Top 8 Finals in NRL 2007:
Newcastle Knights – another team hit by injury severely in 2007. After losing Andrew Johns, their finals aspirations dipped. Brian Smith has done a top job with the talent at hand, unearthed Luke Walsh and Jarrod Mullen makes Origin – so some positives came out of 2007. Showed glimpses of brilliance against Parra a few weeks ago, but couldn’t repeat it. Will be a force in maybe 2 years time.
Gold Coast Titans – put in a stellar first year, but will just fall short. Depth was always a concern and losing Mat Rogers and then Scott Prince recently has really made things too hard. Have purchased well for next year and have set themselves as a real powerhouse club.
South Sydney Rabbitohs – will class this season as a good one. Near enough the best defence in the NRL, the previous easy beats have re-established themselves as a genuine contender. Lost several games by 6 points or less and really could have snuck into the finals. Will be even stronger again next year with David Kidwell back, Craig Wing and some nice juniors coming through. Jason Taylor let his guard down against the Eels last week and this was probably the only blemish on his otherwise impressive coaching resume.
Cronulla Sharks – Ricky Stuart and his mob will be downright devastated with the outcome of this year. Flew under the radar early and set themselves as a darkhorse. Greg Bird and Paul Gallen came of age, but they couldn’t get any consistency and faded away. Another year, another fading Sharks team. Pity those poor Shire folk. The Sharks have also turned away some decent players in Josh Hannay and Brett Seymour. Hopefully Ricky has some young guns hidden away somewhere or things could get worse for the struggling Sharks.
Canberra Raiders – Neil Henry should be congratulated for he job he has done in the ACT. Again tipped to run last, the green machine has played some stunning football this year and spanked some fancied teams. Found it hard to win on the road, but will be happy with the future as some young talent comes through and Joel Monaghan might be a starter for next year. Overall a fairly impressive season.