Peter Sterling: Is your team on track for finals football?

As we approach the half-way mark of the competition, I thought it an opportune time to examine the concerns that are facing our combatants. <br><br>With the competition leaders St George Illawarra suffering only three defeats - and basically assured of finals football - it is almost nit-picking to find any faults. The ones I can point out seem more 'potential issues' rather than current ones. So on that premise, the question is whether the red and whites will have the capacity to chase down leads when the necessity arises?<br><br>They are obviously superb front-runners having, led at half-time on nine occasions for nine wins. Conversely, in their defeats they have been behind at the break, and were unable to catch the Storm, Sea Eagles or Raiders.<br><br>The most significant was the Round 9 loss to Manly, who had more players backing up from rep duty but were still able to defeat the Dragons at their own game. The Eagles got to a lead through some precise structured play, and were tough enough to win comfortably. Ironically, some of Manly’s best moves could have come out of the Dragons' playbook, but transferred to the right side of the field.<br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=845&amp;fixtureid=50020100901&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=try&amp;period=1&amp;time=519" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to see Tony Williams score out wide for Manly, beating the Dragons at their own game.</a><br><br>It seems when taking on St George Illawarra, you must fight fire with fire.<br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=845&amp;fixtureid=50020100901&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=linebreak&amp;period=1&amp;time=990" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to see Manly's right edge firing again.</a><br><br>That was a rare second half success for the Sea Eagles, who have shown a penchant for collapsing in the closing 40 minutes this season.<br><br>It began in their opening two losses to the Tigers and Eels, and was again a problem against North Queensland last Saturday night. In between there were four other games where the Eagles really struggled to hold off late charges. <br><br>Against Melbourne, Souths and the Cowboys they shakily stayed in front but not so against the Gold Coast in Round 7 where the Titans took advantage of Manly's nerves. This trend is becoming a habit and mentally the side has work to do.<br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=843&amp;fixtureid=50020100708&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=linebreak&amp;period=2&amp;time=1778" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to see Preston Campbell eroding Manly's lead in Round 7.</a><br><br>For the Gold Coast, that was a confidence-building victory because in their short history, they have struggled to win matches away from Skilled Park.<br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=843&amp;fixtureid=50020100708&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=linebreak&amp;period=2&amp;time=2004" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to see Anthony Laffranchi secure the away win for the Titans.</a><br><br>Last year, of the 10 games they lost, eight were away from home.<br><br>This year they have again been superior on home turf, winning four from six - and whilst there are encouraging signs with a 3-2 away record, it still remains to be seen whether the Gold Coast can travel to win big games outside of their comfort zone.<br><br>In recent times, the Raiders have been in the same boat, but alarmingly this year Canberra Stadium has not been the fortress of old. Just one win from four in the national capital is putting plenty of pressure on achievements elsewhere.<br><br>Part of the problem is their comparative inexperience. The Raiders boast a host of outstanding youngsters who, if kept together, promise future success - but putting old heads immediately on young shoulders is never easy.<br><br>That said, Ivan Henjak is having increasing success in doing so with the Broncos, who not long ago appeared down and out.<br><br>Brisbane have been forced to blood a stack of Toyota Cup players, but that short term pain is starting to pay dividends. It helps to have the likes of Darren Lockyer, Sam Thaiday, Peter Wallace and Corey Parker steering them around. Lockyer’s try-saving tackle on Trent Barrett over the weekend was an example of pure leadership.<br><br>Problems could again occur if injury strikes their experienced campaigners.<br><br>The Warriors have been hurt in this area with the likes of Steve Price, Simon Mannering and Manu Vatuvei out for extended periods. However, I still see them as a side that struggles to be mentally tough when under pressure. They are rarely able to defend consecutive sets.<br><br>The Panthers were brought somewhat back down to earth by Souths on the weekend, but still maintain a lofty position on the ladder. Their remarkable strike-rate of tries from kicks is sure to dry up at some stage, but they still possess plenty of scoring potential.<br><br>Defence is their bigger problem with the concession of ’soft’ tries still too prevalent. Those scored by John Sutton and Issac Luke in rapid succession on Sunday are cases in point. <br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=848&amp;fixtureid=50020101206&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=try&amp;period=1&amp;time=1752" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to see John Sutton barge over for Souths.</a><br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=848&amp;fixtureid=50020101206&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=try&amp;period=1&amp;time=2061" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to see Issac Luke's soft try just minutes later.</a><br><br>The writing was on the wall the previous week where, despite accounting for the ‘Dogs 31-16, they trailed in line breaks 6 to 1.&nbsp; <br><br>I put the Tigers in the same category as a team that has enormous attacking flair, but lets in too many points. They may have won their last two, but their 50-10 shellacking by the Rabbits sticks in the mind.<br><br>Parramatta are the team struggling to cross for tries and have not scored a point in their last two hours of football. Unfortunately, they are back to where they were six weeks ago with slow play-the-balls on the back of one-out running. &nbsp;<br><br>They have taken over the mantle from Cronulla who have looked more adventurous in recent weeks, but still lack execution at crucial times. On a couple of occasions they had the Broncos absolutely ‘shot’ but Tim Smith frittered away these opportunities with dreadful kicks.<br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=848&amp;fixtureid=50020101203&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=linebreak&amp;period=1&amp;time=1023" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to see Tim Smith let the Broncos off the hook.</a><br><br>Decision making is also hurting North Queensland, but it is early in the game where they are paying the penalty. They have scored the first try in just one game this season. In fact, they have scored only two tries in the opening 20 minutes all year and they were in the same game against the Roosters in Round 9.<br><br>Despite Johnathan Thurston being in the side, they again took poor options early against Manly on Saturday by running the ball ineffectually on the last tackle in their first three attacking raids in the opposition 20.<br><br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=848&amp;fixtureid=50020101204&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=handlingerror&amp;period=1&amp;time=1128" target="_blank">CLICK HERE to see one of Thurston's poor attacking options in the openeing 20 minutes.</a><br><br>Souths racked up a big score against the Panthers on Sunday which their consistent inconsistency suggested would be the case. In the last six weeks, they have not recorded consecutive wins - nor have they lost two in a row. We are yet to see the Rabbits grind out a victory, the kind of football needed to win finals matches.<br><br>I’m still unconvinced by the Roosters, despite their impressive away win over the Gold Coast. Last year’s wooden spooners have a new coach, new structures and players in new positions which means they should receive some benefit of the doubt. They were great against the Titans, but very poor against the Knights and Cowboys previously.<br><br>After a woeful start the Knights have mounted a recovery, but are becoming progressively skinny up front especially on the back of the departures of Chris Houston and Danny Wicks. The on-going search for a regular halves pairing is also a headache, with four different partnerships already used in 11 games.<br><br>Finally, with Melbourne now just a nuisance, I finish with Canterbury who are in dire straits having amassed a mere three victories. They’ve had some injury concerns but those on the field have committed too many errors, made too many bad defensive reads and lacked the necessary intensity.<br><br>The footnote is that at the end of Round 12 last year, six of those teams in the top eight at that time went on to play finals football. Will we see that trend continue? Well, it's a little too early for predictions. You'll just have to stay tuned! <br>