So the NRL 2017 finals are upon us, with Melbourne, Sydney Roosters, Brisbane, Parramatta, Cronulla, Manly, Penrith, North Queensland graduating to September.
What about the teams that didn’t make it?
ST. GEORGE-ILLAWARRA = Possibly the ultimate choke, the Dragons seemed destined to play finals but won just three of their last nine. They still had a chance at the end, but couldn’t beat an out-of-contention Canterbury. Luckily, Josh Dugan’s departure may get rid of one distraction.
CANBERRA = Like Spider-Man 3, this heavily-hyped season was a crushing disappointment. After a slow start, Canberra were 6-6 at the halfway point. Losses to Manly, Penrith, Brisbane and North Queensland all but ended their season. Typically, Canberra found some late steam, winning five from their last eight to entertain a late finals berth, but a crucial round 24 loss to Penrith ended those hopes. Canberra’s inability to win close games (three Golden Point losses and seven losses by under six points) hurt them. The one shining light was 18-year-old Nick Cotric, who carried the Raiders at times.
CANTERBURY = a rough year for the Bulldogs, and didn’t their fans let them know it? Like Souths, Canterbury found late form when the race was over. When the Bulldogs were bad, they were awful. How Des Hasler still has a job is anyone’s guess.
SOUTHS = Three years after the breakthrough premiership, Souths are still struggling. Their season was effectively over after round one, belted by Wests Tigers and losing Greg Inglis for the year. They found some form late, winning three of their last five games, so there is promise for a better 2018.
NZ WARRIORS = with a promising roster and a whole country to choose from, the Warriors should be regular finalists. How the Warriors continue to disappoint is on the game’s biggest mysteries. While the NZ Super Rugby teams thrive against sub-standard Australian opponents, the Warriors only won one game in Australia. They should have beaten Penrith in round 10 at Penrith Park, but inexplicably blew a 28-6 halftime lead. With the NRL crying out for a new Perth team and/or a second Brisbane team, the Warriors need to find form to survive.
WESTS TIGERS = once again, there was more drama at the Wests Tigers than an entire season of Home and Away. Jason Taylor lasted until round three, when the Tigers were flogged at Bruce Stadium. Ivan Cleary started well but the Tigers only won seven games. Losing James Tedesco is a big but they gain a few players, including Josh Reynolds.
GOLD COAST = Jarryd Hayne. The million dollar distraction turned the Titans from brave 2016 finalists to 2017 strugglers. The Hayne soap opera cost Neil Henry his job, not to mention the constant Gold Coast Bears rumours. The Titans would like to forget this season, find a new coach and move on.
NEWCASTLE = Poor old Newcastle completed the wooden spoon hat-trick, though they had a much better year than 2016. They were competitive in most games, upset Canberra on Mother’s Day and won three straight from rounds 21-23, while Nathan Ross became a cult hero. With a secure financial base thanks to the Wests group, let’s hope Newcastle can offload the spoon in 2018.