The 2015 NRL season has been anything but dull. From nail-biting finishes and moments of individual brilliance to debatable referee calls and even more debatable fan behaviour, this season’s had it all. And there’s still 21 rounds to go.
As we begin to move away from the inaugural rounds its becoming clear just how open the competition is this year. In the first five rounds each and every one of the sixteen teams in the league have recorded at least one win and one loss. Tipsters, sport journalists and experts have struggled to predict who will win head to head games, let alone who will hoist the Provan-Summons trophy above their head as NRL champions in early October.
Many supporters initially thought they were biding their time until two of the early competition favourites; South Sydney Rabbitohs, Sydney Roosters or Canterbury Bulldogs, met in the Grand Final.
Yet what were they to know?
Clearly not that the Rabbitohs cornerstone Adam Reynolds would suffer a sickening knee injury, the Roosters would lose to a ‘winless’ Cronulla Sharks outfit and the Bulldogs would yet again be embroiled in a scandal involving injuries, suspensions, referees and fan behaviour.
And that’s all in the one weekend – but hey, that’s the NRL. Just like that, any hope of a season going according to the script was thrown out the window.
Alongside the struggles of these top clubs is the downfall of perennial contenders such as the Manly Sea-Eagles, and the re-emergence of squads such as the Newcastle Knights and Brisbane Broncos.
As the reign of former owner Nathan Tinkler becomes a distant memory, the Newcastle Knights continue to go from strength to strength. A positive outlook coupled with a belief in the self-appointed “Newcastle way” has seen the Knights win four of their first five matches to sit pretty in equal first on the competition ladder (at time of writing).
Further north, the rejuvenated Brisbane Broncos are back in business. With the return of super coach Wayne Bennett this talented roster’s focused play has seen them compile a perfect 4-0 record in the past month of footy.
Without a doubt there are at least another handful of teams firmly rooted in contention for the premiership. The up and down, new-look Parramatta Eels, experienced Melbourne Storm, dangerous Penrith Panthers and refreshed West Tigers with returning 35 year-old Pat Richards leading the charge will pose a threat week-in week-out. The St George Illawarra Dragons hold the best defensive record in the competition while the Cronulla’s Shark’s imposing squad can always cause an upset as the premiership favourite Roosters found out. And how could one ever count out the potent North Queensland Cowboys, led by the great Jonathan Thurston.
Obviously there are a lot of teams in contention and there’s a long way to go. Anything could happen – and it probably will.
My failure to acknowledge the Titans, Sea Eagles, Raiders or Warriors as contenders will probably come back to bite me – and I wouldn’t be in the least surprised. It’s that much of an open competition.
So the ultimate question, who will actually win?
My best bet would still be the Roosters but don’t take my word for it. Why? Because no matter what anyone says the truth is no one knows – and that’s why we love the NRL.