With 15 rounds of the NRL Season completed we take a look at each club and assess their form so far in 2014. Which teams have surprised and which have disappointed? And more importantly, which teams are headed for finals action?
The Broncos are traditionally the side hit hardest by Origin and 2014 was no different. Corey Parker fractured his eye-socket and missed Origin II and Matt Gillett will also miss a couple weeks with a shoulder injury. The return of the inspirational Sam Thaiday will help their forward stocks but they’ll need to recapture their early season form to make a genuine run at the Premiership.
The Raiders haven’t been that far off the pace considering their ladder position but will need a big run of wins if they’re to make the top eight. They’ll be looking to exciting fullback Anthony Milford to spark them but will need to start making inroads up forward to give their speedy backs some space to work in.
The Bulldogs were looking like genuine Premiership contenders until a recent slump after losing a number of key players to injury and State of Origin. The loss of enforcer Frank Pritchard for the season is huge and they’ll be without Josh Morris until Round 18. Despite these losses they definitely have the roster to match it with the top four and one of the best coaches in the competition in Des Hasler.
The Sharks became the first team in NRL history to remain scoreless in three consecutive games and it seems as if they’re merely fighting to stave off the wooden spoon. They do have a roster that can bother plenty of teams and they’ll look to one of the biggest workhorses in the game, captain Paul Gallen, to lead them.
Gold Coast Titans
After sitting on top of the ladder after six rounds the Titans have slipped to twelfth and have suffered six losses on the trot. The Titans have struggled to overcome the loss of Aidan Sezer but they’ll need to work it out quickly if they are to feature in the finals. The Gold Coast has picked up exciting utility James Roberts from the Panthers and perhaps he will be the spark they need having scored a try on debut.
Manly Sea Eagles
Many predicted Manly would struggle to maintain their incredible run of nine consecutive finals appearances given their ageing roster and seemingly a lack of depth in the forwards. Add to that some lengthy stints on the sideline for key players and their position on top of the ladder is all the more incredible. There’s something in the water on the Northern Beaches and they’ll feature heavily in finals action.
Never write off a champion. As the Storm battled for a spot in the top eight it looked as if their golden age was over but the Storm young guns have stepped up and they now sit in seventh spot. The Origin period is generally unkind to the Storm but they have managed to win their most-recent two games. Cooper Cronk should return just before the finals series, if they can secure a spot he’ll be a key to their success.
The Knights season might have received a much needed kick-start with a good win over the Cowboys. They’ll need a big improvement in defence having conceded the second most missed tackles, only just in front of the Titans. Can master coach Wayne Bennett conjure a miracle and send the Knights to the finals? If anyone can, he can.
North Queensland Cowboys
The Origin period has devastated the Cowboys with Brent Tate heading for yet another knee reconstruction and key prop Matt Scott suffering a fractured cheekbone. The Cowboys also suffered their eighth loss of the season against the cellar-dwelling Knights. However, never write off a side that is led by Johnathan Thurston. The Queensland and Kangaroos star has the ability to turn a game and seems to boost those around him immensely. It will take a big effort but they can definitely feature in the finals.
The Eels look like a team on the up, but inconsistency is still this side’s biggest issue. Take the Eels’ first two games of the season, a 36-16 win over the Warriors and a 56-4 shellacking at the hands of the Roosters. The Eels have had two good wins from their past two matches but they will need to find consistency of performance if they’re to be any real chance to make the finals.
The Panthers are the genuine surprise in 2014. With a new halves combination in the experienced Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace and some genuine forward power, the Panthers don’t look like slowing down. Importantly, their roster was hardly touched during the Origin period so far and they should be fresh as they push toward the finals.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
The Rabbitohs have fallen in the Preliminary Finals the past two years and they’ll be desperate to make amends in 2014. Their stars, including Greg Inglis, have made it through the Origin period relatively unscathed and they’ll be buoyed by the recent return of key hooker Issac Luke. Can they reward their long suffering fans?
St George Dragons
A new coach and perhaps a new hope for 2014. The Dragons started brightly but quickly fell down the table, leading to the sacking of head coach Steve Price. With several key players on the injury list, things look desperate for St George but perhaps an unlikely hero will pop up. Benji Marshall’s short stint with Rugby Union ended when he was picked up by the Dragons but he failed to impress in his first two outings before a superb performance against the Sharks. Can he repeat the effort week in, week out?
The reigning Premiers looked to have lost their mojo early in the year but have won their past four games and are sitting pretty at fourth on the ladder. Discarded NSW Origin halves Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney will be looking to prove the doubters wrong and Sonny Bill Williams will be keen to add another Premiership before heading back to Rugby.
New Zealand Warriors
The Warriors certainly have the firepower to beat any side on their day and sit just a win outside the top eight. Largely untouched by the Origin period they should head into the back end of the season feeling fresh. Shaun Johnson is the key man for the Warriors, he possesses one of the best steps in the game and his bullet-like passing can win games.
Like the Eels, the Tigers are much improved in 2014 but recently haven’t been able to string two good performances together. The return of James Tedesco from injury adds a tonne of extra spark to the side, with the fullback forming a lethal combination with the game’s most exciting halfback Luke Brooks.