We�re smack bang in the middle of season 2006, and I thought I�d take the opportunity this week to draw up a mid-season report card. Let�s now take a look at how your team is faring currently, and just how they might finish up come September and October.
Where are they now? The yardstick of the competition at the moment. The Broncos are such a professional outfit and put their strong start down to nothing other than the fact that they have a tremendous winning culture at the club.
Where will they end up? If the last few seasons are to be taken with any credence, the Broncos really need to find a spark that has been absent for the last five years post-Origin. The jury is out on whether State of Origin will impact their season yet again. The monkey is well and truly on their backs and it�s up to them to dispel its presence. The fact that they have limited representation this season in comparison to previous seasons will work in their favour.
Where are they now? Danger signs are up! But don�t worry Melbourne fans; I was illustrating my concerns to the fans of the other 14 NRL clubs � because this side is the real deal. I did say early on that Melbourne had to be favoured for the competition because they are the club that is least reliant on one player. Strong in every department and things are looking rosy down south.
Where will they end up? If I had to predict, and I guess that�s the objective of this whole exercise, I will stick my neck out and say that the premiership trophy will be headed south of the Murray River for the second time. Such a well-drilled unit under the guidance of Craig Bellamy, and any side that hasn�t got sufficient space for Billy Slater must be quite special.
Where are they now? They have had a relatively easy run but given the dramas the Bulldogs have had with chief playmaker Brent Sherwin, I must say I�m surprised to see them sitting pretty in third position at the halfway point. As has been the case for so long, the Bulldogs� forwards can win games by themselves and that has kept the �Dogs in good stead. Realistically they only need to win another four or five games to qualify for the finals.
Where will they end up? While they were impressive against Newcastle, the Bulldogs need Brent Sherwin in form to be able to win the competition. They have one of the best forward packs in the competition and a very capable backline, but the halves are where their problem lies. The scary thing is the fact they sit in third position without setting the world on fire. I�d like to see Ben Roberts alongside Brent Sherwin at five eighth, the �Dogs will struggle to win the competition with Daniel Holdsworth in that position, his performances this season haven�t lived up to expectations.
Where are they now? The Cowboys have slipped off the pace somewhat after winning their opening six matches. They will need to come through the Origin period unscathed and in the meantime, will need to pick up the odd win here or there.
Where will they end up? I am convinced that this sudden lapse in form is a minor glitch in the Cowboys� campaign and if they come through the State of Origin series injury-free, they will have enough wins on the board to make the play-offs and make a challenge for the title. They along with the Storm and the Broncos would have to be regarded as the three most likely to take this year�s title.
Where are they now? Similar to the Cowboys in that they have slipped in recent times. I must say their excuse of being �tired� seems a little petulant to me. All clubs have problems with players enduring representative matches and I know that they were the last club to have a bye, but this isn�t any different to recent seasons and this is the first I have heard of a football side claiming that they�re all tired. The Bulldogs sorted them out last week with a dominant forward game. Saying you�re tired won�t get you anywhere in the NRL.
Where will they end up? If Andrew Johns stays fit and fresh they are as good a chance as any to take the title. I think Newcastle may need to bite the bullet and ask Joey to take a month�s holiday and return in round 17. They may lose games in the meantime but I think if they want Joey to play out the season, that�s their only option. The way he�s traveling now, he won�t get through another eleven games and finals unscathed. It�s a risk but the Knights need to change something, the last time Joey played close to a full season, Newcastle won the premiership back in 2001.
Manly Sea Eagles:
Where are they now? Manly are nicely placed at this stage. While they are vulnerable in that they are locked in a five-way tie for fourth position, they have had a tough draw thus far in 2006 and some easier matches are coming their way. Will definitely make the top eight.
Where will they end up? With a forward pack boasting names like Ben Kennedy, Anthony Watmough, Steve Menzies and Brent Kite, playing in front of a halfback like Matt Orford, there�s no reason to suggest that they aren�t within reach of this year�s title. The real dark horse of the pack.
Where are they now? Cronulla occupy seventh position at the moment but let�s keep in mind that they are the only side to have enjoyed two byes. The loss of Adam Dykes to injury is a cruel blow. Some, including myself and a few Sharks supporters, agree that Dykes is more pertinent to Cronulla�s cohesion as a unit than Brett Kimmorley. The loss of Tevita Latu is another major setback to Cronulla�s top eight hopes.
Where will they end up? A top eight finish is definitely within reach if they can get their combinations forming. I wouldn�t go as far to say that a premiership is in reach. There�s just too many sides with better playing lists.
St George Illawarra Dragons:
Where are they now? The Dragons are gaining momentum but I think the loss of Trent Barrett will stall that momentum somewhat. They cover themselves in the halves better than any other side and even with the absence of Mathew Head and Barrett; the Dragons still manage to win matches with the Gasnier/Hornby halves pairing. Clinging onto eighth spot at the moment but they are equal fourth.
Where will they end up? They are a chance of taking the title but I have changed tack somewhat. I did predict a Dragons� premiership at the start of the season but I will stop short of jumping on that bandwagon at the moment. They have plenty to prove between now and the play-offs to even try and suggest that they are the real deal. There are a number of other sides with superior form and the Dragons will need to get past all of those if they are to take the title. They can get past these sides on any given day, but can they do it consistently? Bookmakers placing the Dragons as premiership favourites must have rocks in their head. Where have they been for the last six years?
Where are they now? After an injury-riddled start, the Tigers have re-gained form and are sitting just outside the top eight on 14 points. They are well-placed to move into the eight and steal a position very shortly. Need to maintain the form they have created over the Origin period, which shouldn�t be too much of a problem given that they only have one representative, NSW fullback Brett Hodgson.
Where will they end up? As long as the �fab four� (Benji Marshall, Scott Prince, Brett Hodgson, Robbie Farah) stay injury-free, the Tigers can beat anyone. Their main concern will be the fact that sides they were dislodging last season have stayed free of injury and will be more difficult assignments in 2006. It�s too late for them to steer away from their flamboyant style. They need to use the same formula which proved so successful for them last season, which was the little men darting out of dummy half at the tired forwards, and dominating the ruck area.
Where are they now? They have won their second match in a row for the first time since round 16, 2005 last weekend. While Canberra has claimed the prized scalp of the Cowboys in Townsville, they still have a long way to go before being classed as premiership contenders. Sitting in 10th position at the moment, need to string more wins together on a consistent basis.
Where will they end up? A top eight finish is not out of question for the boys from the nation�s capital, but realistically they won�t progress any further than that. They are a side that plays well within their limitations but for premiership success, they need to look at a complete cleanout of their playing roster and build towards a premiership in the future. It�s no use lingering around the bottom half of the eight and being satisfied with that. Changes need to be made.
Where are they now? Who would have thought? The Roosters had a promising look about their roster at the beginning of the season, with the arrivals of Origin players Braith Anasta and Ashley Harrison. Initially I had concerns about their strength in the forwards, with Michael Crocker, Luke Ricketson and Jason Cayless all departing the club. But the Roosters� supporters assured me that they had the players to cover in that area. They sit in 11th place and their finals chances are slipping further and further out of reach.
Where will they end up? A top eight finish is not yet out of question but even if they qualify, their weak forward pack will hinder their advancement. I have been unimpressed with the application of senior players Craig Fitzgibbon and Adrian Morley. Those two needed to stand up this season and they haven�t performed at all. The Roosters� defence is still strong but their attack is a shadow of where it was two years ago. Top eight is a possibility; a premiership would be as much chance as a lotto victory.
Where are they now? In fairness, Penrith have been struck quite hard by injury in 2006. They had a strong start to the season, winning their first two matches which included a win over the now third placed Bulldogs. But they have struggled for cohesion in key areas, in particular the halves, with Craig Gower�s continued absence. They are in 12th position and in order to play finals, they will need to get their act together shortly.
Where will they end up? A couple of weeks ago, Penrith showed they can compete with the competition�s heavyweights with a strong showing against Melbourne, losing in golden point extra time. If their players return from injury and they make the eight, Penrith can still make a challenge for the competition. But they will need to get their act together quickly. They along with the Tigers, in my view, are the only sides which are still capable of making the top eight which are currently placed outside of it.
Where are they now? 13th position with just three wins on the board. Disrupted start with the resignation of coach Brian Smith, but the players� excuses haven�t helped their situation either.
Where will they end up? Their season is over now so they may as well just have fun. They will win games in the back half but they have given up too much ground to have any hope of making the finals. Jason Taylor will steer them in the right direction.
Where are they now? The Warriors are second last and if you hear any Warriors supporter tell you that it�s only because they lost four points before the season began, just politely inform them that they would only be one spot better if they had have started on a clean slate. This side is unbelievably frustrating to watch. I can�t remember a team having such a poor success rate in close games. When was the last time they prevailed in a close game on their home ground?
Where will they end up? The only reason they won�t win the spoon is because South Sydney just can�t win a match. Second last for sure.
Where are they now? Cellar dwellers and have yet to win a game this season.
Where will they end up? We all know they will finish last, but the real question is whether or not they�ll win a game? Who�s taking bets?
Now to a few other issues which have caught my eye this week:
I would just like to congratulate Hazem El Masri on breaking Terry Lamb�s Bulldogs try-scoring record on the weekend against Newcastle. Hazem now has 124 tries in his career. The El magician didn�t stop there; he became only the 12th player in the history of the game to kick 600 goals. Hats off to Hazem, what a great ambassador for our game.
Just on the spear tackle debate, the player involved with throwing Ben Cross on his head, Lopini Paea, should be ousted from the game for a lengthy period. We need to get tough with spear tackles; they should be treated at least twice as harshly as high tackles. Look at it this way, the damage a high tackle can do to a player is a concussion, or at worst maybe a broken jaw. A concussion can be recovered from in two weeks, and a broken jaw in six. A neck injury can cause permanent long-term damage and even put the player�s life at risk. It�s a substantial difference. Paea shouldn�t play again this season and Harrison should receive at least six matches for his involvement.
The teams have been named for game two of the State of Origin series. I will stick my neck out and agree with Queensland�s decision to axe fullback Matt Bowen. In his place comes Karmichael Hunt. Tonie Carroll and Chris Flannery come into the side at the expense of rookies David Stagg and Matthew Scott. Greg Inglis is in extreme doubt which would be a huge blow for the Queenslanders. Meanwhile, NSW have made just one change which was forced - the injured Luke O�Donnell makes way for Luke Bailey who comes onto the bench. Andrew Ryan moves to lock.
That�s all for this week. If you have any thoughts on the report card or anything else league, drop me an email. Next week I will preview game two of State of Origin and review round 14 of the NRL.
Until then, enjoy your footy!