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Forget Spring. Don’t even mention Christmas. And who cares about the first summer swim? For this, right now, is the best time of year.

As we all scurry around collecting team posters from the newspaper, and signing up for tipping competitions, every one of us is full of the same intoxicating blend of emotions.

It’s excitement mixed with gratitude, but most of all, it’s hope. In fact, we’re all as skittish as a bride on the eve of her wedding, blushing with pride and anticipating nothing but happy days to come.

And there is good solid statistical basis for hope. Yes even if you’re a Titan, a Shark, a Panther, and OK … I’ll throw us Roosters in there too.

How do I know? Well I looked at the betting markets for last year, and they make for some fascinating, and depending on which team you support, satisfying or simply frightening reading.

This year the bookies have Wests Tigers romping it in. A one-dollar bet on Benji and his boys will net you seven dollars if they win. Betting agencies are also wary of the Storm, at eight dollars, and Wayne 'have a chat' Bennett and his Knights at nine.

But they’re smirking behind their hands at the Titans with 26-to-one, snorting at the hopes of the Sharks and offering 34 dollars, and losing their minds in hilarity at Gus’s poor old Panthers who will net you forty one dollars for every dollar you spend backing them.

The big cats from Penrith will not be daunted. Gus laughs in the face of the doubters and so can you because you should take these odds as seriously as you have taken those offered for the Melbourne Cup.

Just like our favourite horse race, the NRL has too many competitors, too many variables, and relies too much on good old Aussie ticker.

Last year’s rugby league favourites finished the regular season not first but in fifth place. The rampaging red and white Dragons burst out of the gate like Phar Lap, and died on the straight a bit more like Fine Cotton. At the start of the season they were at $5.50 to win, tighter odds than any team this year.

Just ahead of them on the ladder at fourth were the razzle-dazzle boys, the Wests Tigers. Not a bad result, but not one in which you’d collect your winnings at seven-to-one.

At 21-1 last year the Broncos were probably not a bad bet at the time. They must have given the bookies a big scare as they hurtled up the ladder to finish with a bronze medal.

And so we come to the grand final. The Warriors were eleven-to-one at the start of the season, a great bet considering the tight discipline of the Kiwis and the dynamism of Feleti Mateo and Shaun Johnson. But there’s no trophy featuring Norm and Arthur for those who come second.

Now, the clincher. Manly, the most hated, the most feared, and ultimately the best team in the 2011 NRL competition, were paying a massive $21. Bookies considered they didn’t have the depth of their 2008 premiership-winning squad. And so Punters in Manly laughed in the faces of bookies, and either paid off some of their hefty seaside mortgage or rushed down to the Steyne Hotel with a wad of schooner money.

And PS. Guess who else was at $21? At the start of the season you could get exactly the same odds for the eventual winner as were offered for last year’s wooden spooners; the Gold Coast Titans.

The good news is there are plenty of reasons for all of us to be hopeful in these last days of summer. Even my unpredictable Chooks who, as luck would have it, are at 21-to-1. The bad news is it’s going to be a blinder of a tipping competition.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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