After just 14 rounds of the most bizarre season in the history of Australian rugby league, the top eight appears set.
The competition is split straight down the middle; a top eight featuring sides all capable of producing quality on any given day and a bottom half destined to make up the numbers for 2020.
With still six rounds still remaining and plenty of quality football to be played, it is something of a shame that the divide between the competent and not so competent has been clearly displayed soon after the mid-point of the season.
At the bottom end, the Bulldogs never stood a chance with a weak and inexperienced roster, the Broncos imploded early whilst club officials still desperately try to deal with spot fires and North Queensland have been well off the pace from day one.
Between all three, just eight games have been won and a gripping fight to avoid the wooden spoon will be the single motivator behind most interest shown by their fans.
Just ahead, the Titans have compiled yet another season of disappointment, despite some bright spots; compiling a four and ten record that will condemn the Gold Coast to yet another lowly finish. The Warriors had less than a hope in Hades with a relocation to Australia removing all normality from their season.
Equal with the Warriors with a 5-9 record lie the Dragons, a team that until very recently was coached by a man that suddenly realised he was not the person to lead them to success. The Red V has stuck with Paul McGregor for years, why? I’m not sure. They finally vacated his post when another season of wasted opportunity seemed certain.
On the flip side, the Panthers have shown the improvement that most astute rugby league judges felt was assured. After 14 matches they have just one defeat and will likely lose very few on the way home.
Penrith have been building for three years and they have well and truly arrived.
Melbourne Storm have not been building, they don’t need to. The players merely follow the words of one of the greatest modern coaches and do the job he sets out for them each weekend. Craig Bellamy, unsurprisingly, has his team sitting on 12 wins and two losses; destined it seems for another realistic crack at the NRL premiership.
It shocks no one, but boy is it effective.
The Eels have continued their path to becoming the team we all thought possible after 2019 and on any given day, could well be the most dangerous side in the competition.
Despite a host of challenges and injuries, the two-time defending champs in the Roosters are hovering in fourth. Considering the fact that the majority of their roster has visited eastern suburb hospitals in recent times, it is something of an astonishing effort.
It may well be a bridge too far for the tri-colours in season 2020, yet the mere fact they are anywhere near the top of the ladder says more about the teams below them than it does their own play.
The Raiders sit fifth yet have nine wins and five losses. It is a dominant record for a team that, like the Eels, can do real damage when Ricky Stuart’s stars align, whilst the Kalyn Ponga led Knights have finally earned real respect, currently placed 6th and just a point behind the green machine.
Despite inconsistent play, the Sharks and Rabbitohs occupy 7th and 8th on the ladder with an 8-6 record and likely to play knock-out football this year.
As sad as it is to admit, that is the finals done and dusted.
Sure, the Wests Tigers and Sea Eagles are four points behind the chase.
The black and gold battled to deal with the hapless Bulldogs on the weekend while Manly continue to look blunted by a lack of troops, the likelihood of either making a run for the finals is remote.
Thus we have a set top eight after 14 rounds, with six rounds of football for those teams in the hunt to jockey for a position before the playoffs begin.