With the Bulldogs in fourth place and two games clear of the Cowboys and Broncos, it looks as though the top four is almost set just three weeks out of the finals series.
Since the NRL changed the competition to its current eight team finals series in 1999, no team outside the top four has won the premiership, meaning that history states last season’s finalists will both miss out on this year’s decider.
Melbourne, Cronulla, Canberra and Canterbury hold spots in the top four and look set to occupy those positions heading into the finals series, so we look into why each team will and won’t win the 2016 NRL Grand Final.
Why they will win – On their day, the Bulldogs can beat any side in the competition. Led by the strongest pack in the league featuring James Graham, Aiden Tolman and David Klemmer, the Dogs lead the league in most runs per game and will be a dangerous proposition for opposing packs deep in the finals.
Why they won’t win – Inconsistency. Despite losing just seven matches this season, the Dogs have scraped through matches against bottom four clubs Newcastle and Sydney in recent weeks, and will be caught out quite quickly if they aren’t at their absolute best at any stage during the finals.
Why they will win – The Raiders’ attack is unmatched across the league, and they have the firepower to beat any side. Jordan Rapana and Jarrod Croker are two of the league’s top four try scorers, and Rapana leads the league in line breaks and tackle busts. Canberra have scored the most tries in the competition and have scored over 22 points each game during their current seven-game win streak, so the Green Machine have the ability to match it with anyone come the final day.
Why they won’t win – Whether they like it or not, the Raiders have become the team to beat heading into the NRL finals series. Seven wins on the bounce including victories over Cronulla and Melbourne has the Raiders as the benchmark, meaning all eyes will be on them for as long as they remain in the competition. This is pressure the club hasn’t felt in a number of seasons, and it very well could get to them.
Why they will win – The Sharks have been the best team for the majority of the season. A 15-game win streak that broke a club record has the Sharks positioned well heading into the finals as the second best attacking team and third best defensive team in the competition.
Why they won’t win – History. Cronulla have been in the competition for 49 years but are yet to win a premiership, reaching only three grand finals in their history. The Sharks are known to rugby league fans as a team that can’t win in on the last day, and the club will need to jump over the 49-year hurdle if they’re to come away with the trophy this year.
Why they will win – Defence wins premierships. The Storm have conceded just 11.5 points per game, and are on track to be the best defensive team in the NRL era. They miss the fewest tackles and make the least amount of errors per game, as all these areas of the game will be especially tested during the heat of the finals.
Why they won’t win – Attack. The Storm have scored the lowest number of tries amongst top four sides, and they didn’t threaten Canberra too much last Monday night, managing to score just eight points. Combinations are still coming together with what has been a makeshift team for most of the season due to injuries, and the Storm may not have what it takes should a game become a high scoring affair.