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Experts' view: Who's the best dark horse for the premiership?

The Panthers and Storm are the benchmark and the Eels just keep trucking along with eight wins from nine games, while the Rabbitohs and Roosters are hanging tough.

Away from those heavyweights there's a host of sides searching for the consistency and composure they hope can carry them into the top eight and all the way to a premiership if things go right in September.

The Sea Eagles have looked a different team with No.1 gun Tom Trbojevic back on deck while Canberra have slipped to 12th on the back of five straight losses but have too much quality in their roster to be written off.

The experts at NRL.com have had their say on which team from outside the top five at the moment has the best hope of taking the premiership.

Experts' view - Who's the best dark horse for the title?

Steve Renouf (Maroons legend)

If they’ve got everyone on the field I think the Titans are a smokey. Solely because they’ve got that brand of footy that I think can trouble teams, they’ve got the players that can do it but they’ve just got to all come together and be a bit more consistent.

Obviously they need to fix their defence, but I think their attacking flair is something that can get them through.

Brett Kimmorley (Former Test halfback)

The Sea Eagles have the roster to make a run. They have key players in key positions and a super good coach in Des Hasler. And they have a bloke called Tom Trbojevic, who is the most influential player in the competition right now.

Jamie Soward (2010 premiership winner)

Manly is the easy option here but don’t sleep on the Warriors if they all get fit and find some consistency in their game.

Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers great)

With the form Tom Trbojevic is in I think the Sea Eagles are the ones that can make a charge. Tom's the best player in the game right now in my opinion and all the other blokes just jump on the back of him.

Mary Konstantopoulos (Ladies Who League) 

Prior to Tom Trbojevic's return, the Sea Eagles looked like contenders for the spoon, but he has completely transformed their side. I've never seen one player have so much impact. If he can stay fit, the sky is the limit for the Sea Eagles.

Brad Walter (NRL.com senior reporter)

After a winless opening four rounds, the Sea Eagles can lay claim to being the form team of the Telstra Premiership as their only defeat since was a 28-16 loss to the unbeaten Panthers. Manly have scored more than 30 points in three of their last four matches coinciding with the return of Tom Trbojevic.

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Paul Suttor (NRL.com editor)

Todd Payten nearly got the Warriors into the finals last year despite only taking over mid-season and you can already see his coaching style starting to take effect with the Cowboys.

With Jason Taumalolo now fully fit, Scott Drinkwater calling the shots and Valentine Holmes firing at fullback, there's potential for them to catch lightning in a bottle and make a deep play-off run like they did in 2017 when they surged from eighth to the grand final.

Alicia Newton (NRL.com reporter)

Last week’s win over the Raiders was a confidence booster and with Mitchell Pearce due back in a few weeks the Knights can push towards the finals in the second half of the season. Injuries are the key. 

Dan Walsh (NRL.com reporter)

Tom Trbojevic and Daly Cherry-Evans can take the Sea Eagles back to the finals with only three games left in their draw against the NRL’s ‘Big Five’ (Eels twice and Melbourne), while their own marquee men could potentially catch one of the heavyweights off-guard come sudden-death time.

What makes Turbo so special

Zac Bailey (NRL.com reporter)

It all hinges on Tom Trbojevic’s fitness, but the game’s most in-form and influential player has completely turned around the Sea Eagles campaign.

Regardless of how teams try to shut him down, Trbojevic still manages to cause havoc in attack and he is just as crucial in defence – his communication helps stiffen up their front line, while his tenacity in defence sees him save several four-pointers being scored against his team as well.

Chris Kennedy (NRL.com reporter)

This year’s premiers will surely come from the current top five but for a dark horse, the Titans are the most likely option. Their defence has been a huge issue recently but their potent pack can turn the tide of any game and with an ability to pile on fast points they can upset any team on their day.

Troy Whittaker (NRL.com reporter)

After tipping the Sea Eagles to collect the wooden spoon following their poor start to the season, it’s time to eat some humble pie - they can potentially challenge for the title.

We already knew Tom Trbojevic was elite but his influence upon returning from injury has exceeded all expectations.

Lone Scout (NRL.com Fantasy guru)

Tom Trbojevic is in the form of his life and since he’s returned from injury the Sea Eagles have only been beaten by the high-flying Panthers. With the Kangaroos No.7 and a premiership-winning coach at the helm, Manly have the credentials to go a long way - assuming Tom can stay fit.

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Martin Lenehan (NRL.com senior journalist)

The Raiders have looked a shadow of their former selves in the past month but they remain just two points outside the top eight and have too many classy players to be dismissed as contenders. Expect Jack Wighton and Josh Papalii to stand tall in the next four weeks as the Green Machine gets back on the rails.

Kenny Scott (NRL.com podcaster)

Based on the strike power of those teams in the hunt it comes down to Newcastle, the Gold Coast and Manly. The Knights probably have the better spread of talent across the park so if they can get their act together, you never know. Stranger things have happened.

 

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