With only a handful of games left in the regular NRL season, we are starting to get an idea of who will contest for the title in September. Question is, can anyone legitimately match it with the Melbourne Storm.
Melbourne by far and away is the strongest side in the competition. Last week was their worst performance in recent memory and they still managed to put on 26 points against the Cowboys at home, albeit depleted and missing Thurston. It was still a scary prospect.
Below are the three closest sides to Melbourne in the running for premiership glory and we break their chances down.
Second to the Storm on the ladder, if you put 2016 aside the Roosters have been the strongest in the last 5 years. With minor premierships 2013, 2014 and 2015 and now a top four finish, if any side knows how to go deep in September it’s the Roosters.
The big problem with the Roosters in 2017 is that they have lapses in concentration in both defence and attack. If they find themselves in a GF with the Storm, they will need to play for 80 minutes and then some. And they just don’t seem to have it this year.
The defending premiers are suffering what can only be described as a premiership hangover. It takes so much in the modern era to go all the way and it’s even harder to go back to back.
They look tired and the added duties of rep football on their key players is taking its toll. The other major component missing from the Sharks equation is Ennis. No one player makes a team, however in 2016 the Sharks won the title on grit and determination. They drew sides into the grin and just wore them down. A lot of that came from Ennis. In 2016 they basically ‘out-Melbourned’ Melbourne, you can be sure the Storm won’t let it happen again.
McCullough out for the Broncos, Broncos season over. It’s that simple. They have a classy roster and Bennett’s move to switch Thaiday and Hunt in at no.9 last week was another master stroke from the coaching doyen. But it won’t hold them. Not in finals football. And not against the best in the game.
Certainly not against a Melbourne side who have a coach, captain, halfback and fullback who can all singlehandedly pick apart a game plan and exploit it.
The Dark Horse –The Eels
Parramatta had a roster in 2016 that would have seen them at least go top 6. That is until that nasty business of salary cap breaches came and bit them. And then their star winger Radradra decided to take a leave of absence for, well, as long as he saw fit and the whole season unravelled.
But this year Brad Arthur’s house is clean and he has Moses and Norman doing the dishes. And boy are those dishes sparkling.
The edge Parramatta has over the three sides above is unpredictability. Go through the motions against Melbourne and you won’t hand a candle to them. What Melbourne hates is the second phase. The out ball when you’re supposed to go in and vice versa. These are all tricks up Norman’s sleeve. It’s whether or not he has the troops to go with him.
Catch Us If You Can, The NRL Premiership Race Is On
Cooper Cronk. Plain and simple. The mathematician in a footballer’s body will call time with the Storm at the end of the year and has still not signed with a club. Everybody is speculating on Cooper’s future and he has said in the media he will make a decision before the world cup.
But Cooper Cronk doesn’t made brash decisions and I think the decision is already made and will be a simple one. If he wins a title I don’t expect to see him at an NRL club next year. I also think the old Melbourne firm are doing everything in their power to get him that title.
by Darrin Seath – contributor