Best finals outsider: NRL.com experts have their say

Which team from the bottom half of the finals qualifiers has the best chance of repeating the heroics of the 2017 Cowboys and making the grand final? The Eels, Sea Eagles, Sharks and Broncos are this year's contenders. The experts at NRL.com have their say.

NRL.com experts view

Steve Renouf (Maroons legend)

My team here would have to be the Sharks. They are suited to finals footy and are experts in grinding out a win. If they can keep errors to a minimum they have the big game experience to make it to the decider. They are very dangerous. 

Brett Kimmorley (Former NSW halfback)

The Sharks can do it. They have a roster that's very good on paper and have the motivation of wanting to send Paul Gallen out a winner. Wade Graham is as good a back-rower as you'll find and they Andrew Fifita can be anything on his day.

Jamie Soward (Premiership winner)

The Eels have the huge advantage of a home final in week one. If they continue their love affair with Bankwest Stadium then they'll be playing a team coming off a loss in the second week. If you get to the preliminary finals anything is possible. They also have the strike power to score tries in big matches.

Alicia Newton (NRL.com reporter)

The Sharks loom as the biggest threat to the top four but it depends on what sort of Sharks side turns up. A first-week match-up against a depleted Sea Eagles outfit could kick-start their campaign. 

Michael Chammas (NRL.com chief reporter)

The Eels have players capable of engineering - and scoring - tries against good defences. If they can keep their defence tight the likes of Moses, Sivo, Dylan Brown, Ferguson and Gutherson are capable of getting the points on the board.

Zac Bailey (NRL.com reporter)

The Sharks. They've got all the ingredients but the question is whether they can maintain good form for four weeks. With experience up front – Fifita, Gallen, Prior and Woods, strike on their edges – Nikora and Graham, a composed yet classy halves pairing – Townsend and Johnson, and attacking threats in their backline – Xerri, Dugan, Moylan and Mulitalo – Cronulla could upset more fancied rivals.

Chris Kennedy (NRL.com reporter)

I don't think the Broncos have the game management and Manly are struggling for cattle. The Eels will struggle to be at their best three weeks in a row. That leaves the Sharks, who have been awful consistency-wise this year but have the team, the experience and the gritty, grinding style to get through a finals series.

Margie McDonald (NRL.com senior reporter)

Broncos. They have size and youth on their side. What is missing is a match-turning, momentum-changing halves combination – or a match-winner in either the No.6 or No.7 jersey. They have the coach and the talent base in place.

Dan Walsh (NRL.com reporter)

Sharks. Manly and Parramatta are more deserving based on their entire season but the Sea Eagles' crippling injury toll has them ripe for the plucking this Saturday. From there, Cronulla's big guns have the finals nous for a genuine run at the grand final. Bronson Xerri and Briton Nikora will only grow in confidence the deeper they go in this competition.

Brad Walter (NRL.com senior reporter)

Sharks. They have the talent, experience and motivation to win their second premiership in Paul Gallen's final season. Had they not lost five games due to goalkicking, the Sharks would have been in the top four.

Joel Gould (NRL.com reporter)

The Sharks have the right mix of grand final winners who understand what it takes to win big games and exciting newcomers such as Briton Nikora and Bronson Xerri. Drawing a wounded Manly in the elimination final is a plus for Cronulla and they won't fear any of the top four sides. Big-game players such as Wade Graham, Shaun Johnson and Andrew Fifita have been there before.

Maria Tsialis (Big League editor)

They only just scraped into the top eight but the Sharks have the manpower and experience to trouble the top four teams from seventh. Though they've run hot-and-cold this season, they're stacked with representative talent and proven winners. 

Paul Suttor (NRL.com editor)

Sea Eagles. With all their injuries and Martin Taupau being suspended, Des Hasler has not only got them flying under the radar, they have dropped off it, not even registering a blip in finals predictions. They are almost in "nothing to lose" territory because very few people expect them to beat the Sharks. That could make them very dangerous. They won't win the comp but they can do some unexpected damage.

Mary Konstantopoulos (Ladies Who League)

The Sharks come into the finals full steam ahead after a win against the Wests Tigers. They are a danger team with strike power all over the field with the likes of Shaun Johnson and Wade Graham.  Paul Gallen's last year is all the ammunition this team will need. 

Brett Keeble (NRL.com reporter)

If ifs and buts were lollies and nuts, we'd all have a Happy Christmas. But if the Sharks had a more consistent goal-kicker, they would have finished in the top four despite a wretched run of injuries that would have wrecked most clubs. The Sharks are close to full strength at the right end of the season and are already in finals mode.

Tanisha Stanton (NRL.com reporter)

Sharks. Cronulla are the most experienced team out of the bunch when it comes to finals footy. They have a real point to prove especially with the roster they have this year and being close to full strength. Their defence has been solid over the past few weeks, now they just need to fix up their errors in attack.  

Lone Scout (NRL Fantasy expert)

The Sharks may have only booked their spot in the eight on the final day of the regular season but they should have finished much higher: only the Storm and Roosters have scored more tries than Cronulla. They should get the better of a seriously weakened Manly and have already beaten Melbourne this season.

Troy Whittaker (NRL.com reporter)

Sharks. The fact they could have finished in the top four if not for shoddy goal-kicking proves their class. With health and luck on their side, the Sharks can give the premiership a real shake. 

Tony Webeck (NRL.com reporter)

They've done it once before – 10 years ago to be precise – and there's no reason why the Eels can't do it again. If they can get past a dangerous Broncos team on Sunday they will carry momentum into a game against either a Melbourne or Canberra team coming off a loss. With such big outside backs, they can win the battle for field position and allow Mitchell Moses and Clint Gutherson to attack on the front foot.

Corey Rosser (NRL.com reporter)

The Sharks looked very good last week with it all on the line against the Wests Tigers, and with a wealth of rep experience on their books they are a side built for the big games. If Shaun Johnson can get hot for a few weeks in a row anything is possible. 

Kenny Scott (NRL.com podcaster)

For sentimentality and to really get the city pumping it's got to be the Eels. They're playing with a stack of confidence, have no injuries and will see the return of a fired-up Nathan Brown. If they can get to the grand final, watch out.

 

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.