The NRL season is back underway, with a host of teams harbouring realistic hopes of being there when the NRL Grand Final kicks off on 3 October. But which NRL teams are going to be in the top eight as we move into the playoffs?
Take a look at our early season picks for the NRL
The current champions: Melbourne Storm
Who made it to the 2020 NRL grand final? Well, of course, the top-ranked team in the final ladder, Penrith Panthers, did, but who else? The answer is Melbourne Storm, who not only made the final but won it. It seems very likely that Storm will be back up there in the top eight at the very least in 2021.
Last season’s ladder toppers: Penrith Panthers
The table does not lie, and Penrith Panthers certainly staked a claim to being the best team in the land when they finished last season five points clear at the top of the ladder. Their late-season form was flawless too, and only the Titans matched the Panthers’ 100% record in the final games of the season. Except, this is the NRL, so the table does lie — a bit — and the Panthers were defeated in the NRL Grand Final. This year, the Panthers are back, and we can expect another strong performance.
The bookies’ favourites: South Sydney Rabbitohs
Slips, stutters and stumbles characterised the latter stages of the Rabbitohs’ season, and they found themselves looking over their shoulders more than once. They prevailed, however, and made a very good account of themselves indeed in the playoffs, defeating the Knights and then the Eels before being narrowly defeated by the Panthers in the semis. Many bookies have tipped South Sydney among their favourites for NRL 2021.
The nearly men: Canberra Raiders
The Canberra Raiders finished strongly last season, picking up four wins from their final five games in the regular season, the only blip being a defeat to Sydney Roosters that pushed the Raiders down to fifth place. Still, a 32-20 defeat of Cronulla Sharks in the playoffs gave them hope, before quarter-final vengeance against the Roosters pushed that hope to stratospheric levels. In the semis, the Raiders were outboxed, going down 10-30 to the eventual champions, Storm. Expect them to be back up there in the playoffs this season.
The nearly, nearly men: Parramatta Eels
The Parramatta Eels finished third overall in last season’s ladder, with a couple of stumbles late on costing them a valuable bye into the playoff semi-finals. In the end, the Eels faced the Rabbitohs in the quarters, where they immediately stumbled. They seem to have put that failure behind them this season, however, chalking up three wins from a possible three in the early stages.
The early form team 1: Sydney Roosters
The Panthers and the Eels are setting the pace so far in the NRL 2021, but the Roosters are not far behind. They’ve won two out of three and are scoring freely, making them a team to keep an eye on as the season advances.
The early form team 2: Gold Coast Titans
We’ve already talked about the nearly men from last year, and the nearly, nearly men — so what about the team that missed out on the top eight altogether? Gold Coast Titans finished ninth last season, missing out on the top eight by only two points. And yet it was the Titans who were the late-season form team, winning all of their last five encounters — a feat only matched by Penrith. They’ve started fairly well this season too, notching up two victories in the first three rounds.
The early form team 3: St. George Illawarra Dragons
The Dragons are very much rank outsiders, but they have performed strongly in the early season, matching the Roosters and the Titans with two wins and one loss. This two-for-one form would be more than enough to secure a top eight finish come the end of the season — but, with such a long way to go, it’s going to be tricky for St George to remain where they are.
Which NRL teams do you fancy?
It’s early days in the season still, but NRL fans across the country are already picking their potential favourites for the championship. Who do you think will make the top eight? And who will triumph in the NRL Grand Final?
Watch this space for updates in the Opinion category on Running Wolf’s Rant.