2009 NRL Finals predictionsThe beauty of the Top 8 finals system is that the final weeks of the NRL premiership are that much more exciting.

There have been critics over the years that say the Top 8 format rewards mediocrity, however if we had a Top 5 or similar system – then many of the contenders would be out of the race and the final few weeks of the competition would involve many dead rubbers.

Crowds would drop and supports would obviously ‘sign-off’ early, as would some players.

With 5 Rounds remaining in the 2009 NRL Telstra Premiership – here’s how your team is looking:

Dragons – Have the minor premiership all but sewn up. Have been the form side for most of 2009 and have built the season on the back of their impressive defence. Looking back through history, defence has been the cornerstone to most Rugby League success and the Saints look to have that. Only threat seems to be the Bulldogs.

Bulldogs – Another consistent performer all year, have not lost back to back games all season. Were robbed of 2 points after a bungled interchange against Penrith and then copped another shocking call when they overcame the Saints at Kogarah. Have the mental strength and roster to go all the way it seems. Look to have secured a second bite at the cherry and a home final.

Titans – A good consistent year from Cartwrights men. Another team with a great roster, they also feature an array of young attacking talent that can score from anywhere. Only concern is around their inability to win away from home, which could be a massive task come finals time where travel is inevitable. Could surprise early in the finals, but probably lack the battle hardened culture to  go all the way.

Storm – Have surprisingly remained with the NRL leaders, despite having a hot and cold year. There is no question that on their day, they’ll flog anyone in the comp. They probably lack the forwards they’ve had in recent years, but their experience at finals time is greater than any other team. Will not be overawed by any hurdle from here on in. Just ask Brisbane who had these guys beat with 1 minute to go! Don’t write them off.

Panthers – The overachievers for 2009. The Panthers have built some similarities with their 2003 season, it seems they are winning through sheer attacking prowess. Their defence can be wafer thin at times, but given a sniff they’ll cut their opponents up with ball in hand. Missing key men at present; without the likes of Lewis, Pritchard and Civoniceva all on deck and working together – they’re not the same team. Their draw with the Warriors at the weekend has probably given them enough points at 25 to secure a finals berth. Riding their luck, but the house of cards will fall soon.

Cowboys – The North Queenslanders have been woeful in 2009. Probably lucky to be where they are on the ladder, have suffered some big defeats and it seems the club lacks harmony. New coach is taking time to adapt to their playing style and their problems with away games will make things almost impossible. Unless pigs start flying, these guys are set to wither and die.

Manly – The Sea Eagles have worked hard to build form in the latter half of the season. Also had to overcome the loss of Brett Stewart, but they’ve done that and now seem to understand how to play without him. Forwards have been the real key to these guys going well, never having been noted ‘hard nuts’ – the forward pack has really got physical and developed some nice second phase to get them going. Orfords kicking game and organisation are suffering without a strong pivot to take the load off him – this might be why Dessie is moving Lyon back to the playmaking role. Probably don’t have enough depth to take the prize this year.

Broncos – Absolutely under-siege. Riddled with injury, have no confidence, apparent off-field problems and have too many youngsters to boot. Will be lucky to make the Top 8 and if they do, they’ll be cannon fodder. Even their great former coach would struggle to dig them out of this hole, Ivan Henjack has the task of getting a Datsun 180B to perform like a Ferrari and it aint going to happen in 2009. The loss of Hunt to a rival code is evidence enough that the Brisbane camp isn’t a happy place right now.

Rabbitohs – While in-consistent, the Bunnies are another team on their day that can outshine anyone. When firing, they possess amazing attack and ferocious defence. Way too inconsistent right now, but if they can manage to sneak into the Top 8 and jag a first week win, they could do anything. If they are motivated, watch out. Dark Horse.

Eels – A fairytale story in the past few weeks for the Parramatta club. While mathematically a chance, realistically they would have to pull off a miracle to get into the finals let alone progress anywhere past week 1. In saying that, they are playing a ‘carefree’ brand of football which is building confidence and the playing group seems to be having fun. Could cause some damage to teams with finals hopes in the weeks ahead.

Tigers – Some have been talking about 2005 all over again. The mission for Sheens’ men starts tonight. Their whole season rests on a victory over the Manly Sea Eagles. If the Tiggers can get the upset in Monday Night Football tonight, then not only do they progress another week – but it opens the door for several of the lower teams including, Cowboys, Broncos, Souths and Eels – who all hope Positions 6,7,8 remain on low points. This side always require a ‘positive’ start and if they get that tonight and the weeks ahead, they can do damage.

By ricky

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