PREVIEW (2/2): The Top Six ft. @ItsMitchell180, @Heighway_, @dr_nrl and @26Rounds

HEIGHWAY:

OK gentlemen, here we are for the final instalment, the business end of the season if you will. You have asked me to keep it short, and to that I say NAY! That is how the rot(hfield) starts! I will, however, try and keep it succinct for you.

6th: Warriors. The Warriors were one win off making the eight last year. Around the mid-point of the season, looked almost certain to force their way in, but were punished by a late season fade, losing four of the last six games, following their shock victory over Melbourne.

The men of many jerseys see themselves elevated from 11th to sixth by virtue of being one of the few clubs who seems to have improved in their recruitment over the off season, as opposed to those who occupied the eight ahead of them, most of whom seem to have gone backwards.

Source: NRL.

Tomkins obviously adds a star quality to the side; and his combination with Johnson seems very promising. I may not be the biggest Tomkins fan, but he will definitely add some flair to the ad-lib style of play that the Warriors favour. Townsend will prove a good foil for the mercurial Johnson, providing some stability in the spine which was lacking after Maloney made his exit. He may not be a world-beater, but he will make a solid addition. Bukuya was playing quite well towards the end of 2013 with the Sharks, and if he can continue this form he will be a good buy for the Kiwis.

The home ground advantage for the lads across the ditch is obvious: winning in New Zealand is tough for even the best of teams, and this year the Warriors should capitalise on that and use it as a platform to launch their season.

With all that being said, I don’t think the Warriors have what it takes to lay a stake on the Premiership trophy- a prize which continues to elude them. They will be up there for the finals, but consistency (ever their enemy) will be a major concern for the sheep shaggers in their road to the finals, especially as their competition begin to step it up a notch towards the pointy end of the season. I can see them progressing to the second round of the finals.

5th: Storm. I thought I would be alone (and derided) in calling this, but it appears not. In 2013 the storm picked up where they left off in 2012, steam-rolling their way to 15 straight wins. But, unfortunately for the men in Purple, it was all downhill from there. The reigning premiers seemed to lack interest, intensity and hunger — most likely suffering from a delayed premiership hangover, brought about by the removal of the carrot of a potential record number of wins in a row. If this was a premiership hangover, then look for it to be remedied this year, with the Melbournians possessing a renewed hunger after bowing out unimpressively in straight sets in the finals last year to sides with far less finals experience and big game players.

As has been previously mentioned, a few teams seem to have gone backwards over the off-season, and I consider Melbourne one of those teams. Melbourne have lost Widdop, Blair and Ryles from the first grade squad and Sa’u and Setu from their depth. They have gained big Georgie Rose (a massive plus for local fast food outlets), Robinson, Kaufusi, Romelo and “Sally M” Ben Roberts.

Rose will be an interesting signing, but do they maintain his size, which is also his strength? Or do they attempt to mould him into a more standard footballer’s build to attempt to maximise play time? Romelo is a good signing to replace Ryles, but I can’t see what Roberts brings to the team. In an embarrassing Parramatta outfit, Roberts was the man who copped the blame. Can the Melbourne system turn another never-been into another very effective player? If anyone can do it, it will be Bellamy and the Big Three.

Melbourne’s season, as it so often does, rests on the shoulders of three of the best players in the competition: Smith, Cronk and Slater. But they are all now 30 and will be 31 by season’s end. As each year goes by and they get older, they become slower and more susceptible to injury. I am not saying that any of this will take place this year, but with the intense workload already giving Slater a workover on the injury front, can we rely on the Big Three to play all 26 rounds this season?

Unlikely. They will still win most of their games, but I can’t see them being as persistently consistent as they have been in past years. Their squad doesn’t seem as strong as it has been and Origin always does a number on them. You may find that they slip in some of the lower pressure games which they’d be expected to win comfortably. Don’t get me wrong, Melbourne will still get up for the big games and they will be right in the mix come finals time: dare I say, even a chance at being the first team outside of the top four to win the premiership?

4th: Sharks. They have the best forward pack in the competition in my opinion and a quality back-line if key players remain healthy. They finished fifth last year despite all the scandals, allegations and investigations which severely disrupted their start to the season. Once the Gummies put these allegations behind them and started to play football, they were a serious side.

While ASADA is not yet dealt with (yawn), the Sharks should be all systems go for 2014, after showing they were capable of ignoring the media attention and scrutiny it drew.

They lost a few players between 2013 and 2014 including Ross, Townsend, Bukuya, Mills, Pomeroy, Wright and promising rookie Tyrone Peachey. Though it is not all bad news on this front: they’ve managed to dump fan favourite punching bag and medical anomaly (the man has feet for hands!) Ben Pomeroy and his partner in crime Matthew Wright. Their purported replacements Blake Ayshford and Eric Grothe Junior make up a promising-looking back-line for the sharks, where all they will need to do is essentially hold onto the pill and let Carney feed it to them. The three-quarters were definitely the weak link in the Sharks’ squad in 2013 and they appear to have dealt with the problem accordingly.

Todd Carney is undeniably the man for the Tiger Sharks. He is their star, their x-factor, their go-to man, whatever you want to call him, it doesn’t matter. He is the one who makes things happen out of nothing. A lot of weight rests on his shoulders. He will be paired in the halves by a stayer in either Holdsworth or Robson. Carney is noted for his susceptibility to injury, which is why I think Holdsworth was signed — just in case Carney does break down. However, I would suggest an alternate route for the Sharks: play Luke Lewis in his place ala SBW and draw upon another forward from their plethora of forward stocks, and play a large squad designed to gut a team straight up the middle. This may sound far-fetched, but this was when Cronulla looked most dangerous in their final against Manly, when they had to play without Carney.

I touched on this earlier, but the Sharks pack is arguably the strongest in the comp with Gallen, Fifita, Gibbs, Tupou, Heighington, Graham, Lewis, Prior and Tagatese — as you can see, they do not lack depth in the pack. The Sharks will look to build around the base their rampant forwards provide and if their pack wins the battle up the middle, the outside backs (who are not so slack themselves) have a very strong platform to launch their attack from.

I expect the Sharks to be very dominant throughout the regular season, winning a large portion of their games, hence my top four prediction. That being said, I don’t see them contending for the premiership. They will bow out in the finals again, as they just seem to get overwhelmed by the moment and that first bit of silverware continues to elude them, keeping carpenters Shire-wide out of work.

3rd: Souffs. This one stings so I’ll keep it short. I had Souffs finishing sixth last year and was proved very wrong, so I have learned from my mistake and will put them back up into the top four again. I was not sure where to put them as I can potentially see them anywhere from 2-5 this year, but I eventually settled on third.

2013 was a very good year for the Gladiators squad, finishing second on for and against. However, there has been a massive exodus between then and now, with Peats, Asotasi, King, Crocker, Everingham, Farrell and Lima all taking their leave. They have recently signed Reddy, Picker and Lote ‘the bionic man’ Tuqiri. Looking at this, it seems a very one-sided transfer sheet, with a good mix of young and old exiting, to be replaced by a couple of middling players and a man who has played so few football games in the last few years you can count them on your fingers.

The Rabbits still have their mainstays in Reynolds, Sutton (albeit in a different position), Luke and the Burgii. These players will keep Rusty’s rabbits winning during the regular season, They also boast (in my opinion) the best player in the competition in Greg Inglis.

Souffs will be thereabouts in 2014, though I honestly cannot see them winning the competition as they have also gone backwards from where they were in 2013. Losing seems so ingrained in their culture that they manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, with Adam Reynolds showing in round 26 and the finals match against Manly that he is prone to disappearing when the pressure is on. Any team that gives away a 14 point head start in the finals is really just pretending.

43 years.

2nd: Manly. 2013’s runners up will be thereabouts again in 2014. Manly finished fourth last season after a shaky start, and it is worth noting they went most of the season without their best player (Brett Stewart).

Though Stewart is injury prone, and it is likely that trait will be replicated, Manly have since found a more than suitable replacement in the form of Peta Hiku, who, let’s be honest, can only get better. The 21-year-old has yet to play a full season of NRL, yet expect him to have a major impact, whether played on the wing with Wolfman injured or at fullback in Stewart’s absence. Jorge Taufua also had a brilliant 2013, he is another youngster set to capitalise on his breakout season.

Manly did lose a few quality players in Kite, Rose, Gulavao and Fa’aoso and most of their signings look to just be depth signings to cover for injuries: therefore, they may well lose a step during 2014.

Look for the promising Trbojevic to make a big splash when he finally gets some game time. Another youngster to look out for is the speedster Clint Gutherson who also made his debut alongside Trbojevic in 2013.

What really makes Manly challengers is their star power: Brett Stewart, Cherry-Evans, Foran, Ballin and Lyon. With a back-line like that, you really cannot count Manly out of the game. DCE seems to just keep getting better, and he recently outshone Cooper Cronk in the Rugby league world cup, while Lyon is still one of the most dangerous players in the competition — continually setting up tries that toddlers could score.

There won’t be much in the way of points separating first and fifth, so at this stage in the competition, any advantage becomes crucial and luckily for Manly, Brookvale Oval is still one of the worst places for teams to have to play footy. The fortress is most definitely a stronghold for the Sea Eagles, and it’s a rarity to see them drop many games there.

Manly also boast the second best defence in the competition, and it’s for this reason that I have Manly coming in at second, rather than third or fourth.

Couple their defence with their attacking potency and they are genuine contenders for the premiership. It is for this reason that I am tipping another grand final appearance for Manly.

1st: Roosters. The premiers are the shortest odds in recent memory to win the premiership (pre season) and only getting shorter, for good reason.

The Roosters boast a relatively unchanged squad from the team that won the 2013 title, with the only major losses being O’Donnell and Kennedy. The Roosters brought in Frenchman Remy Casty as replacement for O’Donnell and made some depth signings in the form of Reuben, Hastings, L’Estrange, Naughton and Seru.

2013 was a good sample for Roosters fans of what could be, with the team never really hitting top gear in attack. The tricolours never seemed to go over 80 per cent of their potential: even in games where they won 40-nil, they seemed to be taking it easy and maintaining a lead, so expect a big score-line this year if it all clicks.

If the Bondi boys can maintain their defence and start to build some more cohesion in attack they will be unstoppable. 

Source: Zimbio.

The Chooks possess a good balance of maturity and youth, with a strong spine of Minichiello, Maloney, Pearce and Friend — who was the most improved player in the team in 2013 and seems to have no intentions of halting his ascent. Add in that lethal back-line of Tuivasa-Sheck, Tupou, Jennings and Kenny-Dowall and you have a very potent team.

Combine this backline with their strong pack including Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Sonny Bill Williams, Frank Paul Nu’uausala, Moa, Guerra and young guns Cordner, Napa, Liu and Evans and the boys in red white and blue have a very balanced team.

It is hard to see who will be able to knock off an improving Roosters, when most key competitors seem to have taken a foot off the pedal and punters seem to agree!

I am tipping the premiers to aim up and look for the first back to back title since the great Brisbane team of the early 90’s.

JARMEL: “This one stings so I’ll keep it short”. There’s a sex joke in there somewhere.

HEIGHWAY: When your motto involves the letters STI, there are always sex jokes to be made.

JARMEL: Well played, sir, well played.

I agree on Inglis: He’s the one player who scares the living shit out of me. In my opinion, the Roosters were very lucky he wasn’t fit during the finals — he was non-existent in the penultimate game until the last 20 minutes.

HEIGHWAY: But what am I missing with the Cowboys? Why are they suddenly such stronger contenders? Their team hasn’t really changed that much from the last few years — they haven’t really signed any big names, but they have lost a few in the process. They aren’t exactly a young roster better for the run either. The rugby league community has been waiting for these young guns to have their break-out year for a while now- maybe it’s not coming?

JARMEL: I think they built nicely towards the end of last year, and they have been crying out for some proper coaching. You may very well be right regarding that breakout season from the youngsters, but even then they are still solid contributors who, under the right guidance, could really fill a role.

Source: News.

HEIGHWAY: I can see that, but why would that push them up to the top of the comp?

2011: 7th.

2012: 5th.

2013: 8th.

They can’t seem to crack the top four.

MITCHELL: I think the message from Henry got stale. I saw an interesting stat today that his cowboys win-loss record was below 50 per cent…

But their forwards are the key, especially Tamou and Scott, while their backline has some serious speed. They must curse Segeyaro slipping away though!

DOCTOR: I think it’s just the sheer talent at their disposal. Thurston had a crap year, but so did the famed Kangaroo front row. Tamou was a joke for most of the season, and Scott played like the fat kid at school missing his ventilin. Perhaps it’s no surprise that they therefore lacked direction in the halves.

But they have such a great team… that only pulled its finger out after Henry was hung, drawn & quartered, then expressed dismay! Please!

Many were going through the motions after negotiating long term contracts (ie. form killers), and making sure they got a new coach. It’s now time to prove they’re worth those contracts.

Yeah, the Sharks could be the real surprise here. Their back line is now starting to hold a candle to the forwards.

Still have that question mark over the halves. They still don’t seem to have a runner and a distributor complementing each other, which could catch up with them in the finals matches.

JARMEL: like the forward pack of the Sharks, don’t get me wrong. But for mine, the individual abilities of each haven’t meshed, and they are constantly injured. Gallen too, is starting to break down a bit after his incredible efforts in Origin, as is Luke Lewis — who was never reliably available anyway.

I actually like the halves pairing — when they play. They complement each other well, when Carney has one of those games where he decides to run it. But having Carney injury free will always be a concern, and he’s started off 2014 the way he finished up 2013: under an injury cloud.

 Regardless, looks like the Roosters will finish atop the standings after 26 Rounds and beyond. That we can all agree on.

PREDICTED STANDINGS IN 2014:

Jake Jarmel

Mitch 180

Ryan Heighway

Dr NRL

Spoon

Tigers

Raiders

Tigers

Tigers

15

Eels

Dragons

Broncos

Dragons

14

Dragons

Tigers

Bulldogs

Eels

13

Raiders

Eels

Panthers

Broncos

12

Broncos

Bulldogs

Eels

Knights

11

Sharks

Broncos

Raiders

Raiders

10

Panthers

Knights

Dragons

Bulldogs

9

Titans

Panthers

Knights

Titans

8

Knights

Warriors

Cowboys

Warriors

7

Bulldogs

Titans

Titans

Panthers

6

Warriors

Sharks

Warriors

Sharks

5

Storm

Storm

Storm

Rabbitohs

4

Sea Eagles

Cowboys

Sharks

Storm

3

Cowboys

Rabbitohs

Rabbitohs

Cowboys

2

Rabbitohs

Sea Eagles

Sea Eagles

Sea Eagles

Minor Premiers

Roosters

Roosters

Roosters

Roosters

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s