Rugby league’s elite club competition is now past its halfway stage of the campaign and the race to finish in the playoff positions is becoming more intense by the week. The St. George Illawarra Dragons, top of the table for most of the regular season, are now just two points clear of the South Sydney Rabbitohs in second place – and fans are eagerly anticipating lots of drama in the coming weeks.
Every fixture is now of immense importance; the top eight teams are separated by just six points and there will be plenty of twists and turns in the next couple of months. Defending champions Melbourne Storm are still right in the mix whilst the Penrith Panthers are also mounting a title challenge. Without further ado, let’s look at a few of Australia’s biggest rugby league teams ahead of what could be a memorable end to the 2018 campaign.
Determined Dragons Destined for Grand Final Glory?
History shows us that when the going gets tough, the Dragons get going – but not this year. There has been a complete shift in mindset and approach in 2018 and St. George Illawarra are going to take some stopping on current form. With 11 wins in their 14 matches so far this season, the Dragons are fully deserving of their status at the top of the table.
Furthermore, their points difference (+135) is currently the best in the division. There are still a few question marks defensively but the omens are positive for St. George Illawarra this season. In 2017, the Dragons finished down in ninth with just 12 victories in their 24 regular campaign fixtures. A second playoff appearance in seven years beckons for Paul McGregor’s side…
Currently in a very strong position ahead of the business end of the campaign, St. George Illawarra are the team to beat. The Dragons will look to cement their status at the top of the table in the coming months; securing the minor Premiership title will certainly go down well with their avid fan base.
Slow-Starting Storm Set for Late-Season Push
Grand Final champions fewer than 12 months ago, Melbourne struggled to inspire confidence in the early stages of the campaign. The iconic Cooper Cronk left AAMI Park after a glorious career with the Storm and Melbourne took some time to adjust following his departure. But Craig Bellamy’s side appear to have regained their best form in recent months; do NOT write the Storm off.
Melbourne have won four of their previous five NRL fixtures since losing to the Dragons at the start of May. Blessed with one of the strongest attacks in rugby league, the Storm will be expecting big things from the likes of Josh Addo-Carr and Suliasu Vunivalu as the Grand Final race heats up. The former in particular, featured in Oddschecker’s State of Origin tips, has a real chance to make a statement; he is currently second in the leading try scorer standings.
Expect the Storm to close the gap at the top of the table and Melbourne could go far in the playoffs this year. They tend to find their best form when it matters most of all; Bellamy’s side could be celebrating back-to-back titles at the end of the campaign.
Penrith’s Expansive Brand of Rugby to Pay Dividends
The Panthers had won four in a row before their 32-6 defeat to the Sydney Roosters and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Penrith get back to winning ways at the next possible opportunity. Currently sitting third in the table, Penrith have a game in hand on most of their rivals and that could give them an edge as they look to build momentum in the second half of the season.
— Penrith Panthers (@PenrithPanthers) February 21, 2018
Anthony Griffin’s side are in a strong position ahead of the playoffs and it would be foolish to write Penrith off. Their lack of experience at the top level will be of some concern but it isn’t the be all and end all. The Panthers, two-time winners of the Premiership crown, are on the road to greatness and Griffin is the man to lead them there.
Defensively, Penrith are one of the more assured sides in the NRL. In many ways, they tick most of the boxes to succeed at the highest level and the Panthers will be looking to push on and compete for silverware. Watch this space, 2018 could be Penrith’s time to shine.
Roosters Ready for Relentless Run of Form?
Led by Australia legend Cooper Cronk, Sydney could flourish in the Grand Final race. The Roosters have followed a similar pattern to that of Melbourne this year; slow to start but with the potential to blow their rivals out of the water. We could see both sides going up against each other in the Grand Final if everything goes to plan.
Sydney are now sixth in the NRL ladder but a couple of victories in their favour could see the Roosters climb into the top four. With eight playoff places up for grabs, Trent Robinson’s men are primed to feature in the postseason once again and it would take a brave man to write the Roosters off completely.
With four wins in their last five matches, Sydney are in decent form. Consistency against the bigger sides is their one real weakness; the Roosters fall short against those teams far too often. Robinson’s side are heading in the right direction though and Grand Final glory is not too far away if Sydney maintain their current form.
Write the Rabbitohs Off at Your Peril
At this moment in time, the Rabbitohs are rugby league’s in-form team. With five wins on the spin, South Sydney are well placed to climb above St. George Illawarra in the coming weeks – any head to head between the two teams is going to be pivotal. Rabbitohs fans are excited at what the future holds; both long and short term.
If South Sydney can extend their perfect run of form, it is surely only a matter of time before they take control of top spot. Winning the regular season would be nice for their passionate supporters; the last minor Premiership crown came back in 1989. However, the Grand Final is South Sydney’s number one priority now – and so it should be.
With 21 Grand Final triumphs, the Rabbitohs are one of rugby league’s most decorated clubs; although they have won the NRL’s showpiece event just once since 1971. It would be a fairy-tale story if South Sydney could go on to lift the trophy at the end of the campaign.