I must admit, I was worried a few weeks ago the race to the finals was not going to have any drama.
I know fans of clubs may not be able to appreciate the whirlwind of emotions as they cling to (or try to earn) a top eight spot, but I thrive on it and it’s a big part of why I became so enamoured with rugby league as a youngster in the first place.
In 2017, enter the Raiders and Panthers.
The Raiders were my pick for the minor premiership to start the season – hope no one was using my tips as a betting guide – and I had been quite disappointed with their performances so far. But with their season on the line against the Sharks, they punched out the kind of game we all know they’re capable of and all of a sudden the rest of the teams are looking over their shoulders. It will be a big ask for them to make it, but if they do they will be able to give the competition a shake.
The Panthers have been plugging along under the radar, but it’s going to be hard to sit there much longer. As our Big League columnist Danny Buderus writes in this week’s magazine, they’re the only team that holds their future right in their hands. With upcoming games against the Cowboys, Raiders, Dragons and Sea Eagles, the Panthers will be the deciding factor on which teams scramble for those last two spots in the finals.
And if your team is settled in the bottom half of the ladder, it’s almost time to decide on which bandwagon you’ll be jumping on for the finals. As a rule, my bandwagoning is very mild – I would never presume to know how actual fans of particular clubs feel – but I get a nice sense of joy cheering for the underdog.
I’m not quite settled on where my bandwagoning will land this year and it may not be decided until the final round of the season. Who are you on?
And another thing… What a great fella Wests Tigers fullback James Tedesco is. He’s well-known for being generous with him time and the story that emerged this week about a fan who burst into tears after Tedesco gave him his boots after the Panthers game was gold. Stories like this happen more often than you’d think and it’s so nice to see a player with such a big profile doing what he can to change a kid’s day.