You can win from outside the four: Slater
Melbourne supercoach Craig Bellamy first predicted it two months ago, and now Storm superstar Billy Slater had no issues repeating it again: the closest competition in 15 years could bring the NRL's first ever premiership-winner from outside the top four.
The optimism from the southern state comes as no surprise, given their current standing in fifth spot on the league ladder.
But the fact remains that the lowest position a premiership-winner has bolted from was the Wests Tigers' fairytale run from fourth in 2005. No one else has been cavalier enough to complete the full gauntlet.
And while it would be a fool's errand to rule out teams like the perennial heavyweights who boast plenty of experience on the big-stage alone, Slater had a far more simplistic view of those teams playing on a knife's edge come September.
"You only have to look at this week's round," Slater offered after helping put his side in a position to gazump Penrith's top four spot on Monday night.
"If this [week] was the finals, well, I think three of the top four sides got beaten. So anything's possible in this game. It's just as important to be playing good footy at the right time of the year as it is to have a good position on the ladder."
When it came to specifics, the 12-year Melbournian unsurprisingly shied away from publically backing his team-mates if they were to fall short of playing in the ‘round of second chances’ a fortnight from now.
"To be honest, that's a hypothetical. As a football player, our focus will solely be on the Roosters this week. And then we'll move to the Broncos the week after," he said.
"Us as a club, we've never really focused on what could happen in two weeks time. It's really hard for me to comment on hypotheticals like that."
But there's no doubting this aging set of traditional pacesetters are doing a good job, albeit an unfamiliar one, of running with the pack.
Remember, some of them didn't get to finish last year's ride until early December. And then they were back in the saddle for the Auckland Nines in February.
"It's hard to stay up for such a long period of time. Every team this year has had its run and has had its time where they're playing some really good football in patches of 3-4 weeks," he said.
"I remember the Titans at the start of the year were on fire and they were leading the comp after six rounds. The Tigers were in some form there in a period there too. The Bulldogs went through a run.
"So it's all about playing right at the right time of the year. It's such a long year – we started playing [the season] in March. It was a long time ago."
And then there was Origin.
"Origin's a really tough period. You very rarely train with your team-mates. You play a couple of games every now and again but you're very rarely around the club," he said.
"Post-Origin is always an enjoyable time to get that continuity together on the training paddock and also sit in on the reviews which we don't do a lot during the Origin period. We have a lot of input in our reviews and how we prepare for games."
But after timing their run to perfection so far this year – they've won five of seven since shelving Origin for another year – Melbourne have the form to create history.
"I'm really looking forward to the next couple of weeks, pre-finals, getting ourselves in the best spot both on the ladder and also the way we're playing as well," Slater said.
"I think it's just as important to be playing well as it is to getting into a good position on the ladder. I'm feeling great at the moment and hopefully we can keep improving and see how it goes."