The top four on the NRL ladder as it stands is how I see it finishing at the end of 25 rounds with the Melbourne Storm set to take out the minor premiership and win back-to-back titles.
I base my predictions on how the top four sides are playing rather than who they play in the final six rounds.
At the start of the year I predicted the Storm would be premiers and with Cameron Smith there, combined with the typical Melbourne footy they are playing, there is no reason to change my mind.
Cameron said recently the side hadn’t fired a shot yet this year. If Smith and coach Craig Bellamy think they haven’t played their best footy, that is scary for the rest of the teams.
The fact Smith hasn’t been through a gruelling Holden State of Origin campaign will make him physically and mentally stronger. After not playing for Queensland I believe his hunger to win another grand final will be greater than ever.
The last coach to go back-to-back was Wayne Bennett in 1993. Craig has been close a few times so he would be extra keen to ensure he defends his title this time around.
The Storm’s backline is star studded but the guy I reckon will do some damage at the business end of this season is giant prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona. He is a unit, a freak really.
He is bigger than Glenn Lazarus was in my day and he’s the kind of player who can inspire the rest of his team like Lazo did.
St George Illawarra have played too good a season to let it all slip. They suffered a fraction through the Origin series but once they get their mojo back and the lads all training together on a regular basis, they will be a force.
Dragons fullback Matt Dufty is a star of the future. He’s been a star this year. He’s quick and can find the try line in traffic because he is so elusive.
The pack, as a unit, is the most impressive in the Telstra Premiership and that is why so many of them played rep footy this year. They have come out of the woodwork and surprised a few people, but have really led the Dragons up front.
I struggled to understand their attack in previous seasons but halfback Ben Hunt has made a real difference and given Gareth Widdop a new lease on life. Their coach, Paul McGregor, was known for his attack and he has got the spine to play the kind of football that finds the try line. I really like that spine of Dufty, Widdop, Hunt and Cameron McInnes. They work so well together and that will keep the Dragons on track.
South Sydney have Greg Inglis to come back from his broken thumb and he will be fresh and hungry to win another comp. With the Burgess brothers in career-best form, Souths will remain in third spot. The Rabbitohs have players who were not in the best form the past couple of years but Anthony Seibold has transformed them and they have their hunger back.
I love what he’s done with Cody Walker and Adan Reynolds in the halves, and they have the best hooker in the game outside of Smith in the speedy Damien Cook. He gives Souths so much punch in the middle of the park. Sam Burgess was fairly quiet, for him, last year but he is on fire. His brothers are in the same boat and that bodes well for Souths. The side has found a formula in attack that breaks the opposition down most weeks and I see no reason why that will change.
The Roosters will stay in the top four but I don’t see them as such a big threat to win the premiership like everyone else does. In the past three years they have reach the finals in good position but then fall over when it counts. Mind you, their performance against the Sea Eagles last week was an impressive display.
Cooper Cronk hasn’t been at his best yet but this is the time of year that he shines. James Tedesco has been brilliant and five-eighth Luke Keary and the rest of the spine seemed to really gel last week and complemented each other. You saw that in the way they scored the tries.
The player who has really impressed me is their young forward Victor Radley. He is tough as nails and good with the ball as well. I loved the way he smashed Marty Taupau the first time he played him. That youthful enthusiasm and toughness, when it is combined with real ability, can make a big difference to a pack and Radley is a player to watch over the next two months.
You look at the run home of all these sides and the Dragons play just two sides in the top eight over the next six weeks and the others play three.
I just don’t see the consistency, or the form, in the fifth- to eighth-placed sides to suggest any of them can force their way into the top four at this stage.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.