A weekend of upsets has ensured that the NRL is gearing up for the most open finish to a regular season in premiership history. Melbourne, the Sydney Roosters and South Sydney are level on 32 points, and Penrith, St George Illawarra and Cronulla are just one win back. Any of those six teams could theoretically claim the premiership, and just four points separates the top eight teams in the ladder, so we should be in for a fascinating denouement. There are just two games remaining and we are guaranteed plenty more twists and turns as the final ladder takes shape.
“Thank God we’ve got the salary cap to keep the competition equal,” declared Roosters coach Trent Robinson. He remained upbeat despite his team blowing the chance to top the ladder by slumping to a 14-12 defeat at the hands of Canberra. If you browse a review of William Hill and find market leading odds you will see that the Roosters and Melbourne are joint favourites for the premiership, both priced at $1.10. The Roosters have a tricky run-in, as they must lock horns with Brisbane before a game against Parramatta.
Last weekend showed that there are no givens in this fascinating league. Fans were treated to a nail-biting blend of last gaps tries, sensational bouts of individual brilliance, controversy and sin bins. Brisbane battered the Rabbitohs to blow the leadership race wide open, while Penrith fell to a surprise defeat against Newcaslte in the post-Anthony Griffin era. Wests Tigers all but fell out of contention by losing to St. George Illawarra. The Warriors lost to struggling Canterbury, and no team can claim to be in great form as we approach the final two rounds of the season.
Warriors coach Stephen Kearney ripped into his team following their shock 27-26 defeat. “The stats say we ran for more meters and scored more tries but I thought we lacked early in the first half, their early tries, that wasn’t us or our game in terms of the tries were too easy,” he said. “Credit to them, I reckon they’ve had a positive month of footy, the Bulldogs. We knew it was going to be a hard job for us. I thought we were a little bit off in certain areas which is disappointing what potentially was at stake.”
The Warriors have a decent chance going forwards, as they return to New Zealand for two home games against the Panthers and Raiders to close their regular season campaign. They boast an 8-4 record in New Zealand this year, so they should be feeling quietly confident. Yet they are very much underdogs among the leading betting sites to go on and win the Grand Final. The Warriors are priced at $26, as are Brisbane, while Penrith and St George Illawarra are both $21. The bookmakers think the Sharks have a chance of gatecrashing the party, but they mainly believe we will see a three-horse race.
Sydney are $3.30, Melbourne are $4.25 and South Sydney are $4.50. Right now the Roosters are the most popular choice among punters. They won five in a row before their narrow defeat at the weekend, and they are widely expected to bounce back in style. Yet champions Melbourne should be feeling quietly confident after swatting aside the Eels at the weekend. If they can keep it up against the Titans and the Panthers they will wrap up the premiership and go into the Finals Series full of confidence. They have plenty of injury problems, but they were fantastic against Parramatta. “They were really gutsy tonight,” said coach Craig Bellamy. “I questioned our hunger last week but it was a huge effort and I couldn’t be prouder.” Yet nothing is certain and there are no easy games left, as two points separate the bottom four teams and everyone is scrapping for results, so we should be in for plenty more thrills in the days ahead.