Pluses and minuses for the NRL finals teams
WHO CAN REALLY WIN THROUGH THE NRL FINALS
Why they can win it: Have hit form at the right time with six straight wins including victories over Melbourne and South Sydney in their last two matches. Halves Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney are firing in a star-studded roster with the experience of last year’s premiership success to call one.
Why they can’t: No team has gone back-to-back in a united competition since Brisbane in 1992-93 and the hemothorax injury sustained by hooker Jake Friend could deprive them of a key element.
Why they can win it: A team with many premiership winners, arguably the best back-line in the NRL and world class halves in Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans. Renowned for their ability to close out tight games.
Why they can’t: Are in horrible form and have a looked a pale shadow of the side that were so impressive earlier this year. Injuries to hooker Matt Ballin and back-rowers Jamie Buhrer and Glenn Stewart are a huge blow to a pack that struggled after losing players following last season.
Why they can win it: Sam Burgess is desperate to leave the NRL on a high and has been the outstanding forward in the NRL this year. Few teams have got the better of Souths’ powerful pack and with superstar Greg Inglis a proven big-game performer there is plenty of reason to be optimistic.
Why they can’t: Pressure of expectation is huge after 43 years without a premiership and with the feeling it’s now or never for this team as Burgess is departing to English rugby union. Halfback Adam Reynolds is still unproven in finals football when the heat is on.
Why they can win: Have proven the doubters wrong all year despite a lack of superstars. Well-coached and blessed with great talents such as Matt Moylan and James Segayaro along with a revitalised Jamie Soward. Never know when they’re beaten and they are revelling in their role as the underdog.
Why they can’t: Injuries have hit the Panthers hard this year, though they have coped with Moylan getting them out of trouble on more than one occasion. Finals inexperience could find them out away from Sportingbet Stadium.
Why they can win: An outrageously talented team full of top-line performers who have hit form at exactly the right time. Johnathan Thurston has shown why he’s the world’s best player in recent weeks and is desperate to add a Cowboys premiership ring to his career resume in his ninth season there.
Why they can’t: The Cowboys have struggled playing in Sydney in the past and away from Townsville they often appear vulnerable. An over-reliance on Thurston has been a problem in the past with the lack of a top-class hooker a potential Achilles heel.
Why they can win it: Any side boasting Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk will be hard to beat and no coach in the top eight has more finals experience than Craig Bellamy. The end is closer than the beginning for this group but still a fantastic side on their day.
Why they can’t: Smith’s ankle problem is a huge concern and the Storm almost certainly won’t progress to the grand final without him. No team has won a premiership from outside the top four since the Bulldogs in 1995.
Why they can win it: A two-time premiership-winning coach in Des Hasler and the first halves pairing to lead NSW to a State of Origin victory in nine years in Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds. Josh Morris, James Graham, Tony Williams and Josh Jackson are top-class performers.
Why they can’t: In terrible form, having won just two of their final eight regular season matches and looked bereft of confidence after collapsing to squander an 18-0 lead and lose 19-18 to struggling Gold Coast last Sunday.
Why they can win it: Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker and Josh McGuire help form a powerful pack, Ben Hunt is causing headaches for opponents with his running game and Justin Hodges’ switch to fullback has made them more dangerous.
Why they can’t: Only scraped into the top eight after Parramatta and the Warriors failed to win last weekend. Hunt’s kicking game doesn’t seem good enough yet to lead a team to glory.