Are the Sharks still in the hunt? History says yes...

We’ve hit the halfway point in the 2010 NRL season – and if the history of the past decade is anything to go by, six of the current top eight will be playing finals football in 2010. <br><br>Only 19 sides in the chasing pack at the halfway point of the previous 10 seasons have pushed into finals contention, an average of just under two a season – although as many as four sides have done so in one particular season. <br><br>In bad news for fans of the Cowboys and Bulldogs, no side has come from 14th or below to make the finals. But in contrasting news for the Dragons’ and Panthers’ faithful, the two top sides at the halfway point have made the finals every year (barring 2002 when the leading Bulldogs were stripped of competition points late in the season due to salary cap rorts). <br><br>South Sydney fans can also rejoice a little after their win over the Cowboys pushed them up to third; only once, back in 2000, has the team running third at this point crashed and burned outside of the playoffs.<br><br>The same can be said for Manly – 2007 is the only year the team running fourth at halfway wasn’t involved in September. <br><br>Six times in the previous 10 years the team running eighth at this point has missed out – a worrying trend for last year’s runners-up Parramatta; although the Eels have twice come from 13th at this time of the season to play finals football. <br><br>Ricky Stuart could legitimately tell his Sharks side it is possible to make a move all the way to the finals from their lowly spot on the ladder, thanks to the precedents set by the 2006 and 2009 Eels and the 2007 and 2008 Warriors. In a remarkable stat, the team running 13th at this stage has made the past four finals series. And we all know the ’09 Eels went almost all the way! Could the Sharks seriously be a dark horse contender?<br><br>In half of the past 10 seasons, the team running sixth in the middle of the year has gone out the back door; considering the Titans are on a three-game losing streak, could this be another of those years?<br><br>The most successful spot on the ladder to come into the finals zone has been 10th, as the team in this spot has moved up on five occasions – so Raiders’ fans, rejoice!<br><br>In five of the 10 seasons, the team leading at the halfway point went on to win the grand final. Manly in 2008, Melbourne in 2007, Brisbane in 2006, Newcastle in 2001 and Brisbane in 2000 all achieved glory after setting themselves up at the top of the pack at the midway point. (The 2002 premiership-winning Roosters were sixth, the 2003 Panthers were third, the 2004 Bulldogs were second and the 2009 Storm side was fifth at the halfway mark.) <br><br>Only the 2005 Wests Tigers, who were running 11th at the midpoint, have won a grand final after being outside the top eight at this time of the year. <br><br>The Dragons’ grip on the minor premiership isn’t assured just yet, as only four leading halfway teams in the past 10 years have claimed the minor title – although they were one of those four last season. <br><br>The 2007 season had the most movement, with four teams from the top eight at halfway falling out of the finals zone by season’s end, whereas the 2003 competition had the least with the eight sides in position at the midpoint all holding on to a place. <br><br>Four times in the past 10 years the Wests Tigers have fallen from the top eight at halfway to miss the finals, while the Sharks have done so three times and the Bulldogs, Titans, Panthers and Cowboys have each done so twice. <br><br>Three times the Eels, Raiders, Warriors and Dragons have pushed from outside in.<br><br>In what is great news for the current top four, 78 per cent of teams who were in the top four at the halfway point have held on to a home final position on the ladder.<br><br><b>TOP EIGHT CHANGE FROM HALFWAY POINT OF SEASON</b><br><br>2009 – Teams 6 (Cowboys) and 7 (Panthers) out; Teams 10 (Sea Eagles) and 13 (Eels) in.<br><br>2008 – Teams 6 (Titans), 7 (Wests Tigers) and 8 (Panthers) out; Teams 9 (Dragons), 12 (Raiders) and 13 (Warriors) in.<br><br>2007 – Teams 4 (Sharks), 6 (Wests Tigers), 7 (Titans) and 8 (Raiders) out; Teams 10 (Rabbitohs), 11 (Bulldogs), 12 (Broncos) and 13 (Warriors) in.<br><br>2006 – Teams 5 (Cowboys) and 8 (Sharks) out; Teams 10 (Raiders) and 13 (Eels) in. <br><br>2005 – Team 8 (Roosters) out; Team 11 (Wests Tigers) in.<br><br>2004 – Teams 6 (Sharks) and 8 (Wests Tigers) out; Teams 10 (Raiders) and 12 (Cowboys) in.<br><br>2003 – No change.<br><br>2002 – Team 1 out (Bulldogs: salary cap); Team 9 (Dragons) in.<br><br>2001 – Teams 7 (Storm) and 8 (Northern Eagles) out; Teams 9 (Dragons) and 10 (Warriors) in.<br><br>2000 – Teams 3 (Wests Tigers) and 6 (Bulldogs) out; Teams 11 (Eels) and 12 (Panthers) in. <br>