I have a confession to make – as your self-styled NRL “expert”, your ex pat pen pal, I really should’ve done better than the 4th place (out of 6) I got in this year’s office NRL tipping competition. I blame a blind spot for the Tigers and the Canberra Raiders for my downfall.
It’s been one of those years really, I don’t know many people that had Manly in their top eight predictions at the beginning of the season, and I don’t know many people that didn’t have Canberra finishing in the top four either.
The team that has really surprised me though is the Melbourne Storm. I honestly thought (and you can go to the toilet right now and sift through your old issues of Up the Cream for confirmation) that this would be the year that they would start to show signs of age. However, instead of sliding slowly into retirement, Cameron Smith looks an odds on bet for the Dally M Medal.
Far from being under an injury cloud, Billy Slater has bounced back amazingly, and in Vunivalu and Addo-Carr they have two of the fastest and most exciting wingers in the competition. Add to that a pack that’s fast, mobile and intimidating, and an evergreen Cooper Cronk pulling the strings from halfback, Craig Bellamy has once again pulled off a masterstroke. They’ve topped the league at the end of the normal season by six clear points, amazing stuff.
What they need to do now is kick on and win some knockout football. Looking at the NRL eight as it stands, you wouldn’t expect the eight placed Cowboys (especially without JT) go deep into the finals. Coming up against last year’s Premiers Cronulla would suggest that they’ll bow out in week one. The same would go for the Penrith Panthers in my mind, although it very much depends on two factors, firstly, which Manly side they come up against, the motivated mobile one, or the pedestrian niggly one – both of those have made several appearances at Brookvale oval this year.
The second factor is what the hell is going on with Panthers club captain Matt Moylan? Told he could have some “time away from football to get his head straight” this week when his club is playing knockout football and he’s fit, and arguably their best player is a little strange to say the least. There are rumours of a straight swap between Cronulla and Penrith next year with Moylan going to the Sharks and James Moloney heading to the base of the mountains. One things for sure, Moylan isn’t happy, so watch this space.
The Roosters and Broncos game looks very interesting. Brisbane were humbled a couple of weeks back by a rampant Eels side, although even in defeat they racked up over 30 points. They’re in the middle of an injury crisis, meaning that Benji Marshall is likely to be playing at 6, with Ben Hunt playing at hooker. The one thing that you can never count out though is a Wayne Bennett team in the finals.
The Roosters have been huge improvers after having a torrid 2016, and I’d be amazed if Trent Robinson didn’t get the coach of the year prize (after I’d tipped him to get the sack of course!).
The tie of the round though has to be the Storm v Eels game. Radradra vs Vunivalu on the wing should be worth the price of admission alone. The entire match is a really interesting clash of styles, the entertainers playing the grinders. The offloaders against the wrestlers. I’d love to see Parra turn them over, but even if they do, I think that the Storm with their second chance will still make the Grand Final.
Of the teams that missed the eight, there is some soul searching going on. The Bulldogs look like they’ll be ditching Des Hasler, although he’s looked in trouble before and still survived. What they have done is offload their best forward in James Graham to free up cap space for Aaron Woods to come in. Graham has gone straight to the Dragons, who can’t believe their luck. He might actually make his debut (along with Ben Hunt) against us at ANZ stadium in February!
Canberra must be wondering what the hell happened to their season, a bit like Hull a few years back they’ve lost a lot of games by less than 6 points, and it seems very much like teams have worked out how to play them quicker than they’ve evolved themselves – a classic case of second season syndrome.
The Titans are a train wreck. Hayne is not popular with his teammates, but obviously popular enough with the board for them to choose him over the coach. Who they’ll get to coach them next year is anyone guess, although an interesting choice would be the Walker Brothers who have shown some very innovative coaching methods in the Queensland Intrust cup.
They’ll revolutionise the game if they get the job, check out their side Ipswich Jets on YouTube if you get chance – they play a really expansive exciting style of football which would really shake up the defensively minded NRL.
Over the ditch in NZ, the Warriors have once again flattered to deceive. They just look disinterested and have been described in the NRL press over here as the most disappointing team in world sport. Souths are another team that have massively under performed. I think it’ll prove to be the end for Maguire, with my mail being that he’ll replace Tony Smith at Warrington next year.
The Tigers had the season I thought they would. An awful coach was dismissed and the incoming replacement slowly rebuilt the team. Next year, on paper, they look like an awesome prospect. Games aren’t won on paper though, and Tedesco will be a loss. Unfortunately, I can’t see how Mahe Fonua is going to fit in, as they’ve recruited extremely well in the outside backs – I really hope he gets his chance.
Another team that should have a better 2018 is Newcastle, although it would be hard not to after back to back wooden spoons. They’ve signed some good players for next year and have retained their brightest youth, so let’s see what happens there.
I love this time of year, knockout football is what we all live for. Hopefully I’ll have an interest in it on both sides of the world again. Even if we finished 4th, I’d back Hull to still do it.
Until next time, Up the Cream, Gerremonsard and Come on you ‘Ull.
Rich – Twitter @pommyrich