We’re officially halfway through the 2017 NRL season, so let’s look at the definities, probables and teams who should start planning for September holidays
MELBOURNE = as usual, Melbourne are the benchmark of the competition, with 10 wins and two losses. While they’ll have to navigate their stars through the Origin period (Chambers, Cronk, Smith and possibly Billy Slater), there’s no reason why they can’t win another minor premiership and build for another grand final.
CRONULLA = no NRL team has won consecutive premierships, but Cronulla are giving it a decent shake, with a 9-3 record. With minimal Origin interruption, the Sharks will be setting up for a top two finish – or top four at worst. The round 14 home game against Melbourne will be a blockbuster.
ST. GEORGE-ILLAWARRA = the surprises of 2017, the Dragons won five straight to establish themselves in the top four. Gareth Widdop’s winning return against Wests Tigers should help the Dragons earn the double chance.
SYDNEY ROOSTERS = wiping away a horror 2016, the Roosters started with four straight wins, settling at 9-4 at the halfway point. A tight win against a full-strength Brisbane showed they can mix it with the top teams. They’ll probably tussle with the Dragons for a top four spot, though how they recover from Origin will shape their finals destiny.
BRISBANE = after a slow start, Brisbane found their groove with six straight wins (helped by a favourable draw and telecast times), though Origin has already taken a toll with losses to the Warriors and Sydney Roosters. Once again, navigating the Origin hangover with few dramas will be key.
MANLY = coming into the round three trip to Townsville, Manly seemed in crisis, with two straight home losses. A surprise win against North Queensland started a run of seven wins from their last 10 games. A favourable draw (only four games against top eight teams) should put them in the finals.
NORTH QLD = the Cowboys have struggled without Thurston and have a surprisingly poor home record. Good wins against Canterbury and Gold Coast suggests the Cowboys won’t fade away, but it’s hard to see them make the eight if Thurston doesn’t return soon.
PARRAMATTA = the Eels have banished their nightmare 2016 with a solid 2017, sitting in eighth place. Parramatta have a reasonable draw (though they play Brisbane twice) but will need to improve their -24 differential to keep eighth spot.
CANBERRA = touted as premierships favourites, Canberra have been frustratingly inconsistent, with three wins in a row offset by three Golden Point losses. While Canberra have been resilient, they haven’t looked like the team that charged into second last season. At their best, they should make the eight, but will need to find their consistency quickly. Could go either way.
PENRITH = another pre-season premiership favourite, Penrith have recovered from a horrible start to be on the edge of the top eight. Big wins against the Warriors, Newcastle and Canterbury shows what Penrith are capable of. Keep it up and they should make the finals.
START PLANNING FOR SEPTEMBER HOLIDAYS
GOLD COAST = the Titans have been brave, with a competitive loss in Brisbane and shock wins against Cronulla and Melbourne. They probably won’t make the finals, but they’ll provide nuisance value for teams above them.
NZ WARRIORS = with an 0-6 record in Australia, put a big black line through the Warriors this season. They should pick up a few more wins in New Zealand, but they’ll be closer to bottom four than a finals chance.
SOUTH SYDNEY = Souths’ season derailed from game one, losing Greg Inglis in the loss to Wests. They’ve won just four games since and should start planning for 2018.
CANTERBURY = the 38-point loss to Penrith was the low point of Canterbury’s season, with fans getting frustrated and threatening to boycott games. Canterbury will need to wins those fans back before entertaining their finals hopes.
WESTS TIGERS = the Tigers have seen more drama in 2017 than an overwrought soap opera. After being Souths in round one, they’ve won just two games since, losing coach Jason Taylor. Wests seem destined to stay in the bottom four.
NEWCASTLE = technically Newcastle have eclipsed last year’s efforts, with two wins over one win and a draw. Newcastle have been brave but constantly outclassed. Expect a third straight wooden spoon Knights fans.