It seems hard to believe but the 2006 NRL season is already at round 20. Only 7 games to go before the finals. And what an interesting final 7 rounds it is going to be. The only side that does not have a chance (mathematically) of making the final eight is South Sydney. There is considerable congestion around the middle of the table with all sorts of intrigue in regards to who will fill out the eight. However a few spots have been decided so we’ll have a look at those first and then get into the mad scramble for the finals.
The Storm have this all but sown up. It would require a dramatic drop in form for the Storm not to claim the JJ Giltinan Shield. Then again this time last year it seemed that Brisbane had the minor premiership all sown up only to be chased down by Parramatta. Nothing is certain in this year’s NRL but I can’t see the Storm losing this race.
All settled. The Storm, Bulldog, Broncos and the Dragons. It is interesting that the Bulldogs and Dragons are attracting the pundits’ attention regarding discussion about who will be the eventual premiers. The Storm are 6 points clear of everyone else and playing great football. They deserve a little more recognition than they have been receiving. Part of the reason is lack of TV games though that starting to change.
Brisbane aren’t out of the race yet. The traditional end of season fade remains a concern but this year seems to have the Broncs on fresher legs.
The Race for the Eight
Now this is where the real interest is. Mathematically the Roosters and Warriors are still in the hunt but realistically they are gone for the season. However if they still play for pride they could act as spoilers for the chances of the other teams.
Of the rest of the teams it is a lottery of form. The Knights have been up and down and the Cowboys just seem down. Both teams had spectacular starts to the season yet have fallen on hard times. I’d say the Knights will make it but not sure on the Cowboys.
The Sea Eagles also have been up and down. If Orford turns up in the right mind and Ben Kennedy is fit the Sea Eagles are capable of anything. I’d say they will be there come September. As for the Sharks they snuck up on the eight but have since lost four in a row. The game against the Storm tonight will be telling for their season. However they have enough points already (22) that they may scrape in.
That leaves the Panthers, the Raiders, the West Tigers and the Eels. The Raiders have looked the goods at various times during the year but seem to fall away from consistency when it is need the most. The same with the Panthers. They depend heavily on Gower and their chances of making the eight depend in his fitness.
The West Tigers are another team seemingly in a slump. This time last year they were burning up the ladder into the finals. Without Benjie they seem only a shadow of last year. Still, Hodgson playing 2nd receiver seems to help cover the loss of Marshall and if they all turn up then capable of beating anyone.
Finally my beloved Eels. Written off only a few weeks ago they are back in contention after 4 wins in a row. Their win against the Warriors wasn’t pretty but was a game they would have lost 2 months ago. Jason Taylor has done a wonderful job in the caretaker role and a few fans, including me, wonder if the Eels board has made the wrong decision in regards to coaches for next year. The loss of Tim Smith is unfortunate as he blew Andrew Johns off the park 2 weeks ago and was on his way back. However there is a great spirit in the camp so don’t write them off.
I’ll be at the Tigers v Eels this Sunday with a good mate whose only flaw is a passion for the Tigers. It is a must win game for both teams (as both can at best only afford 2 losses before the finals). The Parra jumper I’ll be wearing is yet to be blooded with a win (3 losses so far) but you have to be fearless in supporting your team.
I’ll leave you with a prediction for the top eight with the caveat that anything could happen between now and September.