1. St George Illawarra Dragons – They are without a doubt, the team to beat this year. Their line-up is perhaps one of the best in the NRL, but it is the younger players in Dan Hunt, Kyle Stanley and Trent Merrin that are the unsung heroes of the side. The younger players make the older guys feel young again, and thus the cohesion in the side becomes even greater. With Boyd winning fullback of the year, he’ll be looking to emulate his good form this year, and catapult his team as far into the finals as possible, along with the help of Jamie Soward, Ben Hornby, Matt Cooper and Michael Weyman, all of their experienced veterans. RR’s tip: Grand Finalists.

2. Penrith Panthers – Ended their season with a huge win, and it’ll only give them confidence as they head into the finals series in with their best finish for quite some time. This is all on the back of a stellar year from unheralded halfback Luke Walsh, and not to mention the consistent effort from guys like Michael Gordon, Kevin Kingston, Luke Lewis, Lachlan Coote and Petero Civoniceva that has also contributed to the Panthers success. The key for the Panthers is to come up with the big plays when it matters most, as at times, they have fallen at the final hurdle in games. If they can do that, then they are a chance at going all the way. RR’s Tip: Preliminary finalists

3. Wests Tigers -The hot and cold team of the finals. One game, they can play brilliantly with guys like Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall stepping up to the plate and steering their team around the park for a comprehensive win. The next game, you find them flat, sloppy and poor in the way that they play after their playmakers are shut down. For the Tigers to be a chance, they need those brilliant games and several in succession, otherwise they could be facing an early exit. They have the potential to go all the way, but they need support from guys like Lote Tuqiri, Chris Heighington, Gareth Ellis and Keith Galloway. Tim Sheens will also be looking to build on the Tigers first finals series in quite some time. RR’s Tip: Semi finalists

4. Gold Coast Titans – Perhaps the most under-rated side in the NRL. Throughout the whole season, we heard of how the Dragons were the team’s best comp, how the Tigers had made their first finals series, and how the Panthers had finished second. What we never heard of though, was the Titans unheralded charge to the finals. Under coach Cartwright, they have slowly molded into a cohesive unit, and one that prides themselves on winning as often as possible. With guys like Scott Prince, the retiring Mat Rogers, Greg Bird, Preston Campbell and Luke Bailey leading the way, they are in good stead to go as far into this competition as they please. They play an attractive brand of footy, and have perhaps the form halfback in the competition in their side, in Scott Prince. RR’s Tip: Grand Finalists

5. New Zealand Warriors – Since he got the job, Ivan Cleary has been going through a re-building process at the Warriors blooding the young to fit in with the new, and it seems to be working wonderfully well. You have the experience in Micheal Luck, Manu Vatuvei, Lance Hohaia and Sam Rapira, mixed in with the young with Will Tupou, James Maloney, Kevin Locke and Russell Packer. All of these guys have played their part, but it is Maloney that has really stepped up and in a big way. He’s leadership around the park and his all-round strong game have made the Warriors a darkhorse for the competition. RR’s Tip: Preliminary Finalists

6. Sydney Roosters – They are a very different side under Brian Smith who has a knack of blooding young players, and turning them into superstars. Led by their halves Dally M Winner Todd Carney and Mitchell Pearce, they seem to be playing as well as they can heading into the finals, but will have to lift even more to beat the top sides. They have a great support cast with Anthony Minichello, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Mitchell Aubusson and Nate Myles all having great seasons, but it’s the mental attitude and awareness that could be their downfall. If they let the early result of a game get to them, do they have the mental prowess to bounce back and win the game. RR’s Tip: Semi-Finalists

7. Canberra Raiders – The fairytale story of 2010 much like that of the Eels run in 2009. The Raiders are perhaps the form team of the competition and ooze quality in many positions. Josh Dugan, Terry Campese, Daniel Vidot, Alan Tounge and Dally M Prop of the Year David Shillington are all playing tremendously well, and each Raiders player is stepping up to do their bit. Fairytales come to an end at some stage, but the Raiders will be looking to reverse that trend and beat a strong Panthers side this week. Can they do it? Only time will tell. RR’s Tip: First-round losers

8. Manly Sea Eagles – Can perhaps count themselves lucky to even be in the 8 after some poor performances compounded with their team being decimated by injury and suspension with roughly 14 players out of the Dragons clash either due to injury or suspension. It’ll be up to guys like Dally M Centre of the Year Jamie Lyon, Trent Hodkinson, Tony Williams, and veteran Joe Galuvao to lead the Manly side into an uphill battle. The last thing they want to lose is confidence as they head into the toughest game of their season against a rampant Dragons side hell-bent on winning the Grand Final. If the Sea Eagles can do it, it’ll be an upset for the ages. RR’s Tip: First-round losers

Based on that, you would have seen that my tips are Dragons v Titans in the GF.
Who do I think will win? I guess you’ll just have to wait and see when it gets closer to the Grand Final.

By ricky

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