2014 NRL Pre Season

With the conclusion of Monday night’s matchup between the Panthers and Broncos we saw the close of the final Origin Round and essentially the beginning of the NRL Season for 2014.

The first 18 Rounds, or Pre-Season, is like the first 2 days of racing at a Formula 1 Grand Prix, where they work out the course and jostle for position on the grid. The people at the front have the best chance of making the final podium, and the people at the back aren’t technically ruled out of getting there, but it would take a series of highly unlikely events for it to happen. In the NRL the teams leading the way right now are likely to make the finals, and while the Sharks aren’t mathematically ruled out, they are paying $51 on the TAB to make the finals for a reason (Gamble Responsibly).

This idea may seem a bit far-fetched but how else are the fans of the 16 Clubs in the NRL expected to view this part of the year? The NRL clearly doesn’t think it matters as they continue to run other competitions parallel to it. Some of the game’s best players are unavailable for their teams and those teams are forced to try out new combinations, and younger players are given an opportunity to win positions in the team. That sounds like a trial match to me.

I am constantly baffled how a competition can take itself seriously when it continues to run while the equivalent of their “All Star” games are played over a 7-8 week period. I can’t think of anywhere else in the world that does this. The first 18 Rounds of the NRL appears to be supplementary to the real competition – the State Of Origin. It is regularly referred to as the pinnacle of the game, so the State Of Origin can’t be a supplementary competition to the allegedly more important NRL competition. The only logical way to see it, is that the first 16 games that each team plays for the ‘season’ is the fight for pole position for the season proper – A vital run of 8 matches to decide who the top 8 teams will be left to play the next competition; the semi-finals.

It’s a strange format for a competition, but one that the NRL has fallen into. So it is with the age old premise of “pre-season form means nothing” in mind that I make the following declaration… I’m not convinced there are any good teams in the NRL this year.

My assessment at a similar point of the last A-League season was that there was one good team, one pretty good team, and an ok team. In this NRL season so far, I think we might have 5 Pretty Good Teams, 2 OK Teams, 3 Borderline OK Teams on the right day, and 6 Utterly Awful Teams. But no good teams

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The Pretty Good Teams
Manly, Bulldogs, Souths, Penrith, Roosters. In that order.

Manly for mine are currently the best team in the pre-season so far. If I were to place them in last year’s competition, I would put them below 2013 Manly, but above 2013 Cronulla. That doesn’t place them in last years top 4. They haven’t strung more than 3 consecutive wins together all year but have managed to get a win against each of the other Pretty Good Teams that they have met so far this season* and that is more than I can say for the other teams on this list.

The Bulldogs, have fought hard and ridden their luck so far this season, and those two qualities can take you a long way in this game, but it is hard to get past their inability to impose their will on opposition teams. Outside of an early season blow out against the Storm, the only two teams that they have beaten by double figures are the Sharks and Dragons – two teams that have made the {SPOILER ALERT} “Utterly Awful Teams” list below. Also, they only beat Souths by 1, they beat the Roosters by 1 and lost to them by 20. Beat Manly by 7, but lost to them by 22 and were not able to beat Penrith in their only matchup so far this season. That is not the making of a great team.

Souths have been wildly disappointing for extended periods this pre-season. They started the season by thrashing the Roosters, but followed it up with 3 straight losses. They looked to be on the verge of emerging as the competitions top dog after winning 8 of their next 10 games heading into their first bye of the year, but they came out and lost two consecutive close games against a couple of dud teams in North Queensland and the Gold Coast ruining that idea immediately. They currently have the best points differential in the league and it is a good sign that they haven’t been blown out by any team this year** and all but one of their wins has come by 16 points or more – but that points to an inability to win close games. The opposite of what you want at the pointy end of the year.

Penrith are on a run at the moment where they have only lost one match in their past eight attempts. The information I have left out is that 4 of those matches came against Utterly Awful Teams, 3 of them came against Borderline OK teams (one of which they lost) and the other was against an OK Team, which they won by just one point. Through pure luck the Panthers have had an incredibly soft draw through the pre-season***, that sees them second on the grid heading into the real stuff. The bad news is that of the 8 games to be played, 3 of them are against the Pretty Good Teams, one against on OK Team and one against a Borderline OK Team. I think that the ladder position of the Panthers is very flattering and they are the most susceptible to a crash in the next 8 weeks.

The Roosters have been a complete mixed bag this season. They have played 5 games against the fellow Pretty Good Teams, and won only 1. When they have been on their game they have blown teams away, with 5 wins by 20 or more, but then they have a 32 point loss to an Utterly Awful team on their books too. You never know which team is going to turn up.

It is also important to note that all of the teams on this list have at least one loss to a Borderline OK Team or worse on their records for the year.

The OK Teams
Brisbane and Melbourne are OK. But not much more. Neither team’s results have any rhyme or reason. They win and lose against Pretty Good Teams, and they win and lose against Utterly Awful Teams. In fact Melbourne only make this list out of past achievements. If you take out the first three rounds, they have won 5 and lost 8. They have some stars coming back and could be a dangerous team in the bottom half of the finals draw, but they would need to have some drastic improvement.

 

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The Borderline OK Teams on the right day
The Warriors, Parramatta and the Tigers have all shown that they could be top 8, OK Teams and even borderline Pretty Good Teams if they could play the same way from one week to the next. I wrote earlier in the season that the Tigers were going to be rocks or diamonds from one week to the next, and that is exactly what they have been. There were strong early season wins over Souths and Manly, but also heavy losses to the likes of St George and the Gold Coast. Meanwhile, Parramatta have had a win by 20 and a loss by 48 against the Warriors in the same season, as well as a loss by 52 and a win by 2 against the Roosters. On their day they are a tough team to beat. But when it is not their day they are the re-incarnation of Annandale RLFC.

New Zealand are a completely different beast though. A month or two ago they would have been at the bottom of the pile by any metric you could come up with, however as we head into the season proper, they appear to have found their rhythm with only one loss in their last 6 games. As is always the problem with the Warriors though, I would be hugely surprised if they were able to maintain it for much longer. They are just as likely to revert to the side that lost to the lowly Cronulla by 31 earlier in the season.

The Utterly Awful Teams
The Dragons, Cowboys and Titans are trying to masquerade as borderline OK teams, but deep down they are just awful and the Knights, Raiders, and Sharks have nothing to hide behind. They are just terrible, terrible football sides.

The bad news is that there isn’t much on the horizon to suggest that this is going to get any better in hurry. There aren’t many young stars that look set to break out in the next couple of seasons. Even the best of the latest crop of young talent (Dylan Walker, Luke Brooks, Anthony Milford, Josh Mansour etc) have gaps in their games that suggest they will need to make a huge improvement over the next few seasons to take a step up into the league’s most important 25 players list.

The good news? Like I said, pre-season form means nothing. The real stuff starts now and there are several teams capable of tightening things up and making a run at being an actual good team this year. For the sake of keeping me interested, I hope someone does.

 

 

*They are yet to play the Panthers
**Their biggest loss was by 13 points against the Storm
***And for the season as a whole. They only play the other four teams in the Pretty Good list 6 times throughout the season. The Bulldogs play the others 8 times, Manly, Souths and Easts 7 times.

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One thought on “2014 NRL Pre Season

  1. Pingback: 2014 MIP | Ed Burton is a pseudonym

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