Daniel Nichols – NRL: A 4 Team Competition

What I am about to say is obvious: The top 4 teams are by far and away in the best position to win the title this season, in fact they are the ONLY teams that are able to win the title this season. It’s hardly an Earth shattering prediction but the winner of the 2013 NRL Title will come from the current top 4: The Bunnies, The Storm, The Roosters or The Sea Eagles.

Perhaps only the Bulldogs can even worry the above 4 teams at the business end of the season but for mine, the top 4 will end up as the final 4 this season, with 2 heading to the grand final. At the current time there are 3 points separating the Eagles in 4th and the Knights, Dogs, Sharks and the Raiders, who round out the top 8. I expect that gap to widen in terms of points and quality.

As it stands South Sydney are 2 points clear of the Roosters, but have a game in hand, a game they should win extending their lead to 4 points. A further 3 points back are the Storm, with the Eagles rounding out the 4 being 2 points behind that. In terms of quality of football, roster strength and overall performance, the gap is much wider.

For instance there is no one outside of the top 4 with the halves pairings of the top 4. No one below the top 4 have the dominant forwards, the inform playmakers or the dominant captain. Of course the Cowboys have Thurston, the Dogs Barba, Hodges at Broncos etc. but no team can put it together like the top 4 sides have.

South Sydney are on fire. Reynolds and Sutton are playing behind the most dominant forward pack in the game and are making the very most of that fact. The Roosters have their star players in prime form, the Storm have the big 3 and Manly’s charge toward the semis is gathering some serious momentum.

For the record I think the way things stand at the moment will stay exactly where they are come the end of the premiership campaign. Souths, even without superstar Greg Inglis (who will be back for the finals title) still have many dangerous backline stars and a talented halves pairing with room to create thanks to the platform laid down by the Burgess clan and co.

The Roosters have in form halves (for club football anyways but I’ll leave that argument to Leaguefreak) and a super forward pack including Sonny Bill and Boyd Cordner. Maloney is hitting career best form whilst Pearce is staring at club level. Minichello hasn’t lost a step and the outside backs of Tupou and Tuivasa-Sheck have given the Eastern Suburbs team an advantage over all other clubs. If you saw what the Roosters did to the Sharks, albeit an under-strength Sharks, you now know what they are capable of.

Of course the Storm host 3 of the 5 best players in the world, including in my opinion the very best in Cameron Smith. Once again Bellamy has been able to get the most out of the “lesser” players in term of name, and has once again built a side that will be there or there abouts come late September. I still get the feeling that if one of the Big 3 suffer a season ending injury the Storm will come back to the field slightly but if all things stay the same, they’ll go deep into the finals.

As for the Eagles, I was actually surprised they’re only 10-6. They have perhaps the most star studded team in terms of quantity. Foran and Cherry-Evans are arguably the best halves PAIRING in the NRL. Yes I realize Cronk, Thurston etc are individually the best, and although the Roosters halves are approaching top class, for mine the Eagles pair are THE best. Jamie Lyon is in prime form, Brett Stewart is back to full fitness and firing and the forward pack consists of players of the ability of Stewart and Watmough.

It’s going to take a VERY special vein of form from a Ben Barba, Todd Carney, or for someone to stand up and announce themselves as a future Immortal to change the make-up of the top 4. Either that or a horrific injury toll or crisis such as the salary cap scandal to bump the current top 4 out of their lofty positions … and fighting it out for the title.

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