But first, my round 9 tips:
Broncos, Knights, Cowboys, Raiders, Warriors, Sharks, Dragons, Roosters.
1/ You can’t win the comp after 8 rounds but you can put yourself in a great position to have a crack at the title. The premiership favourites are the Dragons (1st) who have the best attack and defence – and the Storm (4th) who have the 2nd best attack and defence. The Panthers (2nd) have enjoyed some quintessential form despite the loss of several key players with injury. The Warriors (3rd) are showing much greater defensive resilience – despite their ANZAC day blow out against the Storm.
2/ The big improvers have been the Warriors (6-2), the Tigers (5-3) and the Knights (5-3) who find themselves sitting in the top eight for the first time in several years. The next eight weeks will determine if they are genuine finals candidates as the chasing pack start to find some form. Injuries and Origin commitments will play a part as all teams try to find some wins during this critical period.
3/ The big disappointments have been the Cowboys (2-6) and the Eels (2-6). Both teams have been poor on the road Cows (0-3) who face the Panthers in Bathurst this week and the Eels are (0-4) who meet the Sharks at Cronulla this week. However, NRL history suggests that more than nine teams have emerged from the bottom of the ladder (after Wk 8) to make a charge towards the finals – including the Panthers in 2017 who had won only 3 games after 10 rounds and made it to the 2nd week of the finals.
4/ My crystal ball says only four teams can the win the premiership and they must meet the following criteria: finish in the top two, have the best defence and have two Origin or International standard players in the key positions of hooker, half back and five-eighth. With this in mind – I fancy the Storm, the Dragons, the Panthers (assuming Nathan Cleary plays Origin) and the Roosters (if Luke Keary plays Origin) to be there on Grand Final day. My wild card are the Warriors – if they can keep their best players on the field (and their minds on the job).
5/ I am a proud and passionate Queenslander and I have now lived south of the border since 1982. Just like clockwork - a month out from Origin 1 – we always get a giggle out of the NSW approach to picking their team via the media. One experienced journo had the Blues selecting 16 new faces – based on some NRL stats and they wonder why we enjoy ourselves so much after 12 years of dominance. QLD know their team a month out – but choose not to tell anyone and get on with the job. Let the fun and games begin.