1. Storm (1)
The Storm enters yet another finals series having lifting the Minor Premiership shield in convincing fashion. They’ll face Canberra, who did upset the Storm in Melbourne recently, but this side as a very different side come finals time. They did away with the Cowboys with relative ease, despite an early scare. Truthfully this was a tune-up for those in purple, with much bigger fish to fry. An 88% completion rate is pretty scary considering the brand of footy the Storm play. Ryan Papenhuyzen shapes as the team’s not so secret weapon. He’s making metres for fun, topping 300 this past Friday night. Game on!
2. Roosters (2)
The Roosters enter the finals on the back of a rare loss but considering the players they had out, this won’t register. The competition starts again and the reigning Premiers have a rematch with their biggest rivals this Friday night. The Roosters will want to tighten up their discipline after gifting the Bunnies four points via penalty goals. They’re also likely to be without JWH who is facing yet another trip to the principal’s office. Despite the loss to the Bunnies the Roosters are equal favourites for mine and have the game’s best player right now in Tedesco.
3. Raiders (3)
Canberra enters the finals series on the back of a loss but truthfully won’t be too worried. Ricky Stuart took the opportunity to rest some star players and will take his side to Melbourne knowing that they beat their opponents recently. It’s impossible to go past the Roosters/Bunnies opening round match as the most exciting as a neutral but I can’t wait for this clash. What will worry Canberra fans is Jarrod Croker’s recent record with the boot. He only kicked 2/5 and looks to be struggling with certain angles. Josh Papalii shapes as an absolute key in the Green Machine’s title charge. He’s borderline unstoppable right now.
4. Eels (6)
The Eels enter week one of the finals as the shortest price favourites after disposing of Manly on Friday night. Bankwest Stadium has become a huge advantage and will be a big factor as they host the out of sorts Broncos. Maika Sivo wrapped up the top try scorer award with three tries and continues his rapid rise. The Eels probably have the most dangerous wing combination in the competition. I wouldn’t want to come up against this Eels side in the finals as they look the most likely from outside the top four to cause issues. Big series coming up.
5. Bulldogs (7)
The Bulldogs will ultimately miss the eight but over the past two months, they’ve been one of the form teams of the competition. They outplayed a side that will line up for finals this weekend and if not for a horror start to the season, wouldn’t look out of place replacing the Broncos. The 30-14 win is what the players and fans deserve for turning their season around. Nick Meaney scored a hatty, with Smith and Jackson the other try scorers. The big highlight across the season has been their incredible completion rate. Another 85% here. The Dogs caused carnage over the past two months. Fun to watch.
6. Sea Eagles (4)
Manly limp into a finals clash with traditional rivals/whipping boys the Sharks, on the back of a controversial loss to the Eels. I’ll leave refereeing discussion for another time, but the injury/suspension toll is growing. T-Rex is set to be brought back for his first game in top grade in a long-time. They’ll enjoy home ground advantage on Saturday night after the NRL cleared Lottoland. Manly have had an incredible season after last year’s efforts and should be happy regardless of results going forward.
7. Rabbitohs (9)
As is the way with Wayne Bennett coached sides, the Bunnies seem to be coming good at the right end of the season. They finished 4th with a brilliant win against old rivals the Roosters, setting up a rematch in week one of the finals. Their form hasn’t been amazing but this is a completely different game now entering the finals and the Bunnies are set. Sam Burgess will miss the clash after his horror record caught up with him, but otherwise the Rabbits are ready to go. Hopefully, those late knocks don’t have lasting effects. Adam Reynolds had his best running game in quite some time. Cam Murray. Every week!
8. Sharks (10)
The Sharks will play finals footy for the fifth year in a row after a big win over the Tigers. This was finals footy come early and was a shootout for 7th spot. Shaun Johnson had one of his best games of the year and had the ball on a string. Young Ronaldo Mulitalo is a freakish talent. He will miss this weekend after a farcical charge. Matt Moylan looks set to return meaning the Sharks will be at full strength. Old rivals Manly await in week one. The Sharks will have to overcome a disgusting recent record to advance. That Paul Gallen field goal was all time.
9. Tigers (8)
Fate or just a repetitive bad joke? The Tigers finish 9th, again, on both the NRL ladder and the Zero Tackle Power Rankings. With literally everything to play for on Sunday afternoon in front of a monster crowd, the Tigers fell short. They were brave etc but easily outclassed by a far more polished Sharks outfit. It was brilliant to see Farah run on however questions must be asked about carrying two number nines on the bench. The Corey Thompson late scratching was tough but ultimately the Tigers just weren’t good enough. Plenty of positives, mainly in the form of Ryan Matterson and Luke Garner. Good season overall considering the mess they were left in.
10. Broncos (5)
Truthfully the Broncos should be 9th but the combination of the easy Tigers joke and the Broncos dire performance on Saturday night, 10th seems more suitable. The Broncos had plenty to play for on Saturday against a side well out of finals contention and they just didn’t aim up. Although unlikely, their finals position was put into question following this loss. They will play finals, but as the first team to enter the knock out stages with a losing record in many years, they look nothing more than finals fodder. Haas, Fifita and Staggs continue to be the highlight, but otherwise, 8th looks about right. Predicting a heavy week one defeat, so get on the Broncs for the upset.
11. Panthers (13)
It wasn’t the season the Panthers wanted, and even perhaps expected, but what a finish. The 54-10 win was every bit as dominant as it sounds. Four tries and 9/9 conversions from Nathan Cleary puts his name in the record books as the highest-scoring Panther in a single game. This was utter destruction in front of a loud and celebratory 12,000+ fans at the foot of the mountains. James Maloney exists the game as a two-time Premiership winner, an Origin series winner and one of the best play-makers of the modern era. This is the Panthers side we needed to see more of earlier. A long off-season awaits.
12. Warriors (14)
The Warriors went out in style with an exciting 24-20 win over the top four finishing Raiders. That should be what is taken out of this season, as otherwise there isn’t too much to write home about. That RTS try may bag try of the season after it went through seemingly every pair of hands on the field. Blake Green showed his experience guiding his side home in hostile territory. 2019 was meant to usher in a new era for the Warriors but it wasn’t to be. Another team who needs a big turnaround in the off-season, although this win should help.
13. Cowboys (11)
Friday evening sums up the Cowboys 2019 perfectly. Brave, at times very good, but otherwise ordinary. To push the Minor Premiers to a four-try to three loss is admirable but this is professional sport. Taumalolo is still the best forward in the game, Scott Drinkwater was a handy pickup and Michael Morgan re-found form late, but the Cowboys are clearing the decks and have seemingly put all their eggs in the Valentine Holmes homecoming basket. I hope it works out for them as I don’t see a plan B. Three wins outside the eight.
14. Dragons (15)
The Dragons finished well in an otherwise terrible season. Despite the respite of a late win, truthfully the under 6’s team I coached a few years back would probably beat the Titans. Fans can be forgiven for venting frustration after finishing 15th with a side that should have been in top-four contention. Gareth Widdop exits the competition as an absolute freak but even he could not help this mess. Hunt and Norman finished the season well and should take that confidence into the off-season. Big changes are needed at the club. I’ll leave that with the fans and Gus.
15. Knights (12)
What an awful end to an awful season. What could have, and probably should have been. The Knights were whacked in farcical circumstances on Sunday afternoon in a game where the majority of their players honestly didn’t look as though they wanted to be there. Young Ponga needs to fire his agent and advisers as since that story broke re him wanting $1.5 mil a season he has played like someone who should be on match payments. 68% completion rate with 43% possession. Yuk. Four tries conceded after the Watson sin-binning. Yuk. The off-season cannot come quickly enough for fans.
16. Titans (16)
The Titans seemed happy that their season is over. They should be. The fans certainly are. This side is nothing short of awful. I hate typing that but outside of a few highlights, namely that Mitch Rein effort from dummy half, this was not good. Again, good luck Mr Holbrook. Four wins. Dire reading for a side with so much talent.