Monday Halfback: Top four locked in?

History tells us that to win the NRL Telstra Premiership you need to finish in the top four and already we are seeing an ominous gap forming on the NRL ladder. 

Can anyone run down the Storm, Broncos, Sharks or Roosters? Or should those fans start looking at booking grand final tickets?

The Broncos have won six in a row and seven of their last eight and are looking like genuine challenges, while the Roosters are also building nicely despite some indifferent performances to sit amongst the elite four clubs.

It's hard to see the Storm or Sharks going anywhere but deep into September. 

The Dragons and Sea Eagles are definitely keeping them honest and continuing to prove critics wrong with inspiring performances even with superstar players missing through injuries – but do they have the depth and the grit to go the whole season?

The sooner the Cowboys get their full spine back together the better, but they are giving up a four point start and missing vital cog Matt Scott in the race to the finals. 

It is hard to see another team outside of those mentioned above cracking the top four at season's end. The Raiders, Eels and Bulldogs are all giving up a six-point start and the Panthers are a further two points back.

No team has ever won the competition from outside of the top four in the current finals format, and the top-four teams are starting to flex their muscles. 

It's over to the chasing pack to make their move.

Winning ugly a thing of beauty 

Last year's grand finalists Melbourne and Cronulla are playing nowhere near their best football. What hope is there for the rest of the competition when they do?

The Storm are outright leaders while the Sharks are comfortably nestled in the NRL top four and neither team has reached any great heights in 2017. 

The Sharks only just did enough to beat a Johanathan Thurston-less Cowboys on Thursday night, just like the week before when they only just accounted for the Dragons minus Gareth Widdop and Josh Dugan. Go back a further week and it was the Wests Tigers suffering a similar fate. 

Winning ugly is still winning. Cronulla do it better than anybody. 

Against the Cowboys the Sharks missed 44 tackles, had just 45 per cent of the ball, 13 fewer play-the-balls in the opposition 20-metre zone and still found a way to dig themselves out of a giant hole to gain an important two competition points.

Finding a way to win is the mark of a champion side and the Sharks continue to own the big moments when they matter most.

The Storm continue to be the benchmark for the competition, even though they are unhappy with many elements of their game. 

Perfection, patience and execution are the hallmarks of Melbourne's culture and despite leading the competition outright, they have not yet reached their lofty standards this season. 

They have conceded 22 points or more in three of their last five games and only lost once in that time. 

The scary thing for opposition teams is that the Storm have been nowhere near their clinical best. They have often been referred to as un-Melbourne like this season, what will happen when they actually play like Melbourne?

Two plays define Warriors' pain

They were dismantled 30-14 by a Dragons team missing two of its biggest strike weapons, just a week after giving up the biggest lead in the club's history against the Panthers. 

But two mindless plays in the opening minutes of the second half get to the very core of why the Warriors have been struggling in recent times. 

In the 44th minute, trailing by eight points, the Warriors made a break through Bodene Thompson and had the Dragons cut to shreds inside the attacking 20-metre zone. 

But the play broke down when Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was lazy getting to dummy-half and then threw the most awful of forward passes to Shaun Johnson who had charged down a blindside. 

Tuivasa-Sheck was slow to get to the ruck and lazily passed when more urgency was required, while Johnson had charged down a shortside, the only place on the field the Dragons defence was actually set and numbered up.

It was a huge opportunity to get back into the game early in the second half and it had been bombed by a simple lack of urgency and attention to detail.

A few minutes later the Dragons were deep on attack when the ball was forced free into the Warriors' in-goal. Everyone stopped, but Dragons forward Tyson Frizell refused to give up on the play and ran past several Warriors players to dive on the ball, forcing the referee to go to the bunker to double check what had happened. 

There were Warriors players who could have made sure of the play, but stood and watched Frizell run past them in the off chance it hadn't been a knock-on.

While the try was correctly disallowed by the bunker, it should never have even been a possibility. 

No one from the Warriors reacted or had any desperation to finish the play, Frizell did. It might seem innocuous but it was everything. It's the willingness to compete on every play and not switch off.

That is the difference. It's attitude. And it is has seriously gone missing in the last few weeks from the New Zealand outfit.

Discipline and desperation go a long way in a competition as tight as the NRL Telstra premiership. The Warriors need to find it quick smart because… 

Not so Baby Broncos

It's now or never for the Warriors after two dreadful performances back-to-back, but it won't be easy even with an Origin-affected Broncos outfit. 

With halfback Ben Hunt set to return and the club hopeful Andrew McCullough will be cleared to play after suffering a sickening head knock, it will be a very strong Brisbane team that travels across the Tasman. 

If Anthony Milford is not named as the utility for the Maroons for the Origin opener, then the Broncos will be hard to beat even without Darius Boyd, Josh McGuire, Sam Thaiday and Matt Gillett who are all expected to line up for Queensland.

The Warriors are currently 14th on the ladder, just one win outside of eighth place, but with a -61 points differential they need to improve quickly. 

Boost for women's game

In case you missed it, all 12 Women's World Cup matches will be broadcast live by Channel 7 on free to air television later this year.

It is a massive milestone and recognition for the women's game that has come a long way.  

A lot of hard work has gone into getting to this point, including players and administrators who have long since retired who were pioneers of the women's revolution. 

This is as much a victory for all the women who played previously and sacrificed a lot, as it is for the super talented modern stars that are fast becoming household names. 

Harvey Norman will sponsor the tournament and the Jillaroos and it should be an absolute cracking World Cup. There has already been a massive spike in participation and this tournament should go a long way to strengthening the growth of the women's game. 

Well done to all involved.