With the State of Origin silly season fast approaching, NRL clubs are clambering for best position before losing some of their best player for extended periods.
The NRL ladder is starting to take shape but who is going to be there come the first Sunday of October and who is just making up numbers?
While all teams have at least one win next to their name, there is becoming three clear sections to the ladder, the contenders, chasers, and rebuilders.
All rise, the contenders.
The contending pack is beginning to emerge with a two-game gap now between fifth and sixth on the ladder.
The Penrith Panthers remain atop of the ladder as the only unbeaten team left in the competition.
Their defence has been their major weapon this season only conceding 60 points, 40 less than the next best team.
Despite their dower defence, winger Brian To’o and halves combination Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary have also shown their offensive prowess throughout the early stages of the season.
Put simply, the Panthers come at you fast, hard – all the while frustrating your attack.
Even without the likes of Cleary and Dylan Edwards, the Panthers found a way.
While some teams have been cruelled by injury in the early part of the season the Parramatta Eels and Melbourne Storm have both managed to stay relatively healthy throughout the early parts of the season.
The Eels’ attack has been on full display to start the season, amassing 49 line breaks (second in NRL), 5,101 post contact metres (second in NRL), 229 points (fourth in NRL) and 41 tries (third in NRL).
Winger Maika Sivo has been reaping the rewards of the faster game with nine tries in his eight appearances, while fullback Clint Gutherson has been controlling the backfield skilfully.
Can the Eels finally make the leap into genuine championship contenders?
The Storm has quickly transitioned into life without Cameron Smith and has found their new ‘big three’ in fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen, five-eighth Cameron Munster and hooker Harry Grant.
The faster game has also suited the Storm scoring 242 points (first in NRL) with 43 tries (second in NRL). The Storm has also managed to hold onto the ball, with the highest set completion percentage of the top five teams with 79 percent – a far cry of the club’s efforts in recent times.
The reigning premiers pushed the Panthers to the limit in the grand final rematch, going down 12-10 in a fiery clash without some of the game’s biggest stars.
MORE NRL NEWS
The South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Sydney Roosters have been ravaged by injury over recent weeks, leaving a question mark as to whether or not they can continue to compete with the contending teams.
The Rabbitohs will be without star playmaker Adam Reynolds (thumb), lock Cameron Murray (ankle) and wingers Campbell Graham (hand) and Jaxson Paulo (wrist) for at least the next month, while fullback Latrell Mitchell (suspension) and winger Josh Mansour (hamstring) are still at least a fortnight away.
The Roosters on the other hand have been hit with more season ending injuries. Halfback Luke Keary, champion winger Brett Morris and prop Lindsay Collins have suffered ACL tears while co-captain Jake Friend was forced to retire due to concussion concerns.
Injury has hit hardest for the Roosters at the hooker position with Friend’s retirement, and Freddy Lussick (arm) and Sam Verrills (partially torn retina) suffering moderate to long-term injuries.
The positive for both teams is they will now have an opportunity to blood some young talent to ensure they remain at the top of the ladder for years to come.
The middle tier of the ladder is filled with exciting young talent looking to climb the ladder and established teams looking to take break into the contending bracket of the ladder.
There was plenty of preseason hype around the Canberra Raiders, Gold Coast Titans and New Zealand Warriors.
The Raiders are currently on a four-game losing streak and the pressure is mounting on coach Ricky Stuart – capped off with star rake Josh Hodgson asking to hand back co-captaincy earlier this week.
The Raiders have struggled to find the rhythm that saw them make last year’s preliminary final. Their points per game are down from 22.1 to 19.6 and their average run metres are also down 1,660 metres per game to 1,547 metres per game.
Winger Jordan Rapana has been the shining light for the Raiders bagging eight tries (fifth in NRL), 1,238 running metres and seven line breaks.
Jarrod Crocker and Josh Hodgson are still sidelined but will look to find their way back into the team over the next couple of weeks, while electric young fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad is still up to eight weeks away with a neck injury.
The young Titans were an intriguing proposition heading into the season. Having secured the services of David Fifita and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui they looked like they were heading up the ladder.
However, after three losses in a row, two to the lowly Sea Eagles and Broncos, there is some doubt as to how far they can climb.
Fifita has been a shining light scoring nine tries (second in NRL) and running for 1,117 metres. Fullback AJ Brimson has backed up his Origin selection with five try assists and 1,279 running metres, while halfback Jamal Fogarty has further cemented his spot in the halves with his kicking game.
For the Titans, it is about learning how to be consistent. While the pre-season hype was loud, the club is still competitive and will look to keep working towards the future.
The Warriors welcomed a bevy of new recruits that signalled hope for success under new coach Nathan Brown.
However, they too were cursed by injury. Star recruit Addin Fonua-Blake and centre Marcelo Montoya managed four games before injuring their knees and experienced centre Euan Aitken only managed one game before suffering an ankle injury.
Despite injuries to key players, fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, halfback Kodi Nikorima and hooker Wayde Egan have started the season well.
Siting seventh with four wins and four losses the Warriors are primed to surge up the ladder once they can get some players back from injury.
Both the St. George Illawarra Dragons and the Newcastle Knights round out the chasing pack.
The Dragons have had a hot and cold start to the year, upsetting the Eels but dropping games to the Sharks and Tigers.
The Dragons youngsters have fired so far this season, centre Zac Lomax has taken to his game to another level after debuting for New South Wales at the end of last year, while Matt Dufty and Cody Ramsey are combing for a formidable duo in the back field.
The Knights young guns have also shown promise in the opening rounds.
Centre Bradman Best started the year on fire, Kalyn Ponga has slipped back into the line-up seamlessly after missing the first month with injury and Jayden Brailey has returned from a knee injury in fantastic fashion.
Typically, of young teams you can expect the ups and downs but based on early season form don’t be surprised if these two teams are competing for a top eight spot come the end of the year.
But both Dragons and Knights seem to be stuck on this list for a few years now. When will they become contenders, if at all?
The Rebuilders Club
Most of the remaining teams are in the midst of a rebuilding phase, blooding new young talent in order to be successful in the years to come.
The Cronulla Sharks were tipped to be pushing for a finals berth this year, but after coach John Morris opted out after round five they have failed to win a game.
Despite the poor start to the year, players such as utility Connor Tracey, fullback Will Kennedy, winger Sione Katoa and prop Braden Hamlin-Uele have shown there is a promising future at the club under new coach Craig Fitzgibbon.
The Manly Sea Eagles on the other hand have had an impressive start to the season. While many didn’t tip the Sea Eagles to make the eight, they have shown great promise through the first eight games despite some disappointing performances.
Captain Daly Cherry-Evans has shown he is still a great player while fullback Tom Trbojevic has been a handful since returning from injury scoring three tries from three appearances.
Wingers Reuben Garrick and Jason Saab have also proven they will be dynamic threats on the outside for years to come, scoring five tries each to start the season.
The last four teams, the North Queensland Cowboys, Wests Tigers, Brisbane Broncos and Canterbury Bulldogs are in full rebuild mode and were widely tipped to be amongst the bottom four teams this season.
Despite the grim outlook all of these teams have won at least one game and some promising signs for the future.
The Cowboys have looked good in patches so far this season. Despite the retirement of star halfback Michael Morgan leaving what seemed to be a gaping hole in the halves, young five-eighth Scott Drinkwater has continued to show his playmaking abilities, setting up five tries.
Talented fullback Valentine Holmes has also looked good racking up 1,326 running metres, and the return of skipper Jason Taumalolo also boosts the squad for the remainder of the year.
Wests Tigers have had a disappointing start to the season. The pressure is now ramping up on coach Michael Maguire to remain in the top job.
Experienced skipper James Tamou has been solid in his first year at the Tigers, despite his offensive numbers being down he has become a tackling machine laying 233 through the first eight games.
Fullback Daine Laurie has been impressive in his first season at the Tigers with 3 tries and 1,129 running metres and exciting young winger Zac Cini looked impressive on debut last week and will be hard to dislodge form the side.
When former Maroon’s coach Kevin Walters signed on to be Broncos coach at the end of last season the organisation knew they would be in for a rebuild, but without some senior talent on the park the young Broncos have struggled with form for the early part of the season.
The Broncos have struggled to solidify a halves combination, trialling five in the first eight games, typifying their struggles to start the year.
Despite the inconsistent start, fullback Jamayne Isaako and winger Xavier Coates have been shining lights so far this season combing for 11 tries, four and seven respectively.
For the Bulldogs, the first year for new coach Trent Barrett was always going to be testing year. With big name signings arriving next year, the 2021 season has been more of a chance to blood some young talent.
Young halfback Kyle Flanagan has impressed with his kicking games since arriving at the Bulldogs, he has kicked for 3,041 metres (third in NRL) from 98 kicks (fourth in NRL).
While young players such as Nick Cotric, Corey Allan, Nick Meaney and Jake Averillo all have shown they have a promising future at the Dogs.
The next month of football will prove pivotal in where each team finishes on the ladder. All teams have laid the groundwork, but can those contending capitalise now? Or will they be chasing teams require too many wins too late? And can those teams down the bottom disrupt the make-up of the top eight?
Subscribe to our newsletter!