Erin Molan, NRL.com
Can you believe it, here we are at the halfway mark of the season. For Panthers fans it's a very positive milestone, while for Sharks fans…well, chin up.
This is the time of year where there are no pretenders.... you can't really claim it's 'early days' if your team isn't winning, not anymore. There have been enough games and plenty of tests to provide a pretty good indication that where your team sits on the ladder is a fairly accurate reflection of how your team is doing – that doesn't mean necessarily, however, it's an accurate reflection of what your team is capable of doing.
The Sharks are in the midst of one of the worst injury crises the game has ever seen. Wade Graham said after last week's debacle against the Dragons that he's never experienced anything like it – where it seems that almost every single day something bad happens at Cronulla, and they just have to deal with it. Into this picture throw in off-field distractions, mid-season movements, the natural cycle of form peaks and slumps, and the understandable focus on Origin, and it doesn't take an expert to understand why the boys from the Shire are so seriously struggling.
Other teams languishing much lower on the ladder than they would have hoped have less obvious excuses, and less tangible issues confronting them. And then there is the case that sometimes, for whatever reason, a roster just doesn't click. Other explanations could be the ref's whistle not being kind, an unfortunate run of away games against strong opposition, and the list goes on...
All these are factors, yes... but now is the time when excuses don't count or matter. We've each, I'm sure, endured the 'mid-season malaise' in lots of different aspects of our lives, where our initial optimism and confidence seems to have evaporated, and the run home seems a fairly lengthy journey.
But guess what: as frustrating and disappointing as the first half of this season may have been for some fans – and yes, I'm categorically, undeniably, uncompromisingly one of you, as I follow the Raiders – EVERY single team can still make the top eight and play finals this year.
This is the time of the comp when many of us really need our friends, and what a brilliant friend our game has in stats guru, mathematical mastermind and rugby league genius David Middleton, who assures me that even Cronulla can get there. The mighty Sharks would have to win every single game, and have other results go their way, but for as long as it's not impossible, it's most definitely possible.
So fellow tragics, especially we fans of cellar-dweller clubs feeling a bit cold and glum as winter really starts to bite, there's much more to look forward to in our great game than just Origin II. We have the bittersweet pleasure of witnessing the joy of the Panthers fans, the anticipation of watching with grudging admiration the tactics and strategies employed by the seriously challenged clubs in their efforts to salvage their season, and the suspense of learning whether the somewhat unlikely Panthers and Eels can continue their charge towards title contention.
Yep Origin II is going to be a great highlight of the year, but for me, right up there with it, is the intrigue, highs and lows of Round 14. And to kick it off, what a tantalising prospect: the stunning Rabbitohs fresh from a very impressive come from behind win last week – arguably their best performance of the year (in fact Phil Gould thinks it's been the best game of rugby league all year!) – versus the Tigers, who are looking menacing and showing promising glimpses of post Benji-era brilliance, thanks in no small part to the stunning combination of halfback Luke Brooks and fullback James Tedesco. What a battle against the Bunnies it should be! Bring it on!