Winning streaks a thing of the past

IF there is one thing we’ve learnt after four rounds, it’s that the NRL is surely the most unpredictable sporting competition in the world.<br><br>And that’s not to single out Manly – competition favourites a month ago yet now bottom of the ladder and one of only two winless sides this season.<br><br>Just when you think you’ve got this premiership pegged, along comes the Gold Coast to upset Melbourne, an out-of-form Roosters to thrash Parramatta and Wayne Bennett’s Dragons to roll his previously undefeated Brisbane side.<br><br>It’s enough to send a tipster mad: “Which is why we get a bit shirty as players when we get criticised so harshly,” Roosters veteran Craig Fitzgibbon says, “because you know you’re only a week away from turning it all around.<br><br>“But that comes with the territory I guess. <br><br>“A lot of it comes from momentum in the game. <br><br>“If you can get a real strong 15- or 20-minute period where you get momentum and are on the front foot, you can really break a team’s spirit and get on top of them.”<br><br>The Roosters are a prime example of the changing fortunes a side can experience from week to week. They began their year with a woeful performance in going down 52-12 to South Sydney, fought back to thrash Canberra 28-4 in round two, blew a 12-0 lead in losing 40-24 against Wests Tigers and then downed Parramatta 24-6 last Friday night.<br><br>“Round 1 was probably a bad example because we were very ordinary, but the Tigers game sums it up,” Fitzgibbon explains.<br><br>“We played well for the most part and had control of the game without putting the nails in the coffin. <br><br>“We just had a 15-20 minute period there where they charged through the middle of the ruck, got some momentum and put us away. <br><br>“We were disappointed because we were in a position to win the game but in saying that we didn’t think we went as bad as it looked. <br><br>“It’s such a fine line. I mean, how do you predict a game? I don’t know – a lot of luck goes into it.”<br><br>In terms of results, the fact it has taken just four rounds for every side to experience a loss suggests picking a premiership winner remains futile so far out from the finals series.<br><br>That Brisbane and the Dragons have been able to put together three wins in a row is a remarkable achievement because half the competition are yet to win that many at all.<br><br>“Personally I see five wins as being about the most anyone can hope for [in a row] and that will be very, very hard to do,” Parramatta back-rower Nathan Hindmarsh said.<br><br>“Melbourne and Manly strung some wins together last year but it’s getting harder.<br><br>“As a player it’s frustrating to know that you’re never going to have an easy week.<br><br>“When I started you knew you were going to beat Souths, you knew you were going to beat Western Suburbs.<br><br>“It’s mentally hard every week to get yourself up.”<br><br>Asked just how fine the line was between winning and losing in 2009, Hindmarsh responded: “Very, very fine.<br><br>“I mean, Friday night (against the Roosters) was different – we were terrible and the harder we tried the worst we got – but for the most part you only have to be slightly off your game and you’re in trouble.”<br><br>It makes fans wonder how a side as impressive as Manly has managed to produce four losing performances in a row, although quite clearly even the reigning premiers are learning that you can’t take anything for granted.<br><br>“In the current climate, half a dozen wins in a row would be a remarkable streak,” Fitzgibbon said. <br><br>“It makes you stand back and applaud Melbourne for how consistent they’ve been the past few years.”<br><br>Hindmarsh said teams would settle into a more predictable routine over the coming weeks with injuries certain to play a role.<br><br>That has certainly been the case for Cronulla – currently boasting just a single win but having lost prop Ben Ross and fullback Brett Kearney for the season and seen both Trent Barrett and Brett Seymour spend time on the sidelines already.<br><br>Now Manly are starting to struggle with injuries too.<br><br>Centre Steve Matai was an unwanted casualty yesterday with a shoulder injury that is likely to see him sit out for at least a few weeks, joining Jamie Lyon who limped off against Penrith with a knee injury a week ago.