With the finals upon us, the Power Rankings are split in half this week - how the top eight teams are travelling heading into the finals and how the other half look as they try to make amends in 2014.
The Roosters earned the minor premiership and also deserve the favourite’s tag for the finals but unlike most years when there’s a clear choice for the two teams likely to meet in the grand final, you wouldn’t be surprised to see any of the four top contenders lining up in the title decider.
1. Roosters (last week 4): Trent Robinson should be named supercoach of the year. A lot of people forget how bad the Chooks were last year. Yes, they’ve added a few key players in Sonny Bill Williams, Michael Jennings and James Maloney but Robinson has extracted a lot of improvement from many players who last year looked pedestrian at best.
2. Storm (3): Supercoach Bellamy’s troops looked disinterested against the Titans last week and should have lost if not for one of the worst video referee blunders of the year in denying what should have been the match-winning try to Aidan Sezer. Melbourne represent a dangerous proposition for the Rabbitohs on Friday night - the Storm are underdogs and all the pressure will be on Souths to perform.
3. Rabbitohs (2): Supercoach Maguire needs to have a chat to Sam Burgess. He’s a very good player but he’s getting a grubby reputation. Throwing his legs around Jared Waerea-Hargreaves while trying to look nonchalant was worse than his other dubious acts last Friday - pushing the Roosters prop’s head to the ground while he was pinned and raking his fingers near the eye of James Maloney after the half-time siren. How would you like to be remembered, Sam?
4. Sea Eagles (1): Supercoach Toovey, try as he might, couldn’t conjure up the motivation needed to inspire his players against the Panthers on Sunday and they paid the price. More than a fighter’s chance against the Roosters, the Manly men won’t need to manufacture motivation this Saturday and they probably won’t have many fans to rev them up because Allianz Stadium is such a long way for Sea Eagles fans to travel - 19.7km.
5. Sharks (6): Supercoach Flanagan produced a masterstroke when he rested half his team and still managed to motivate them to lift when the match was on the line, leading by two points in Canberra on Sunday night with nothing on the line. Conspiracy theorists thought they would have followed the AFL tradition of tanking to avoid North Queensland, a team which beat them a couple of weeks ago at Cronulla.
6. Cowboys (7): Supercoach Henry is at the very least giving himself a chance of getting another gig elsewhere with his side’s late-season revival. Six wins on the trot leading into the finals means they are the dark horse but it’s hard to see them winning more than one sudden-death playoff game at best on the road.
7. Bulldogs (5): Supercoach Hasler’s players will have had the longest rest leading into the finals from last Thursday’s loss to Brisbane to Sunday’s stoush with Newcastle. It’s too late to be making major modifications to a team but the Dogs need to change things up a bit to do any real damage in the finals.
8. Knights (8): Supercoach Bennett never gets too excited by a win, no matter how big, even a 48-point one, but let’s face it - they were playing Parramatta, akin to practising your tennis strokes with the net down. A definite chance against the Dogs but it depends on how much life is left in their many sets of old legs.
9. Panthers (11): Supercoach Cleary has done wonders with a roster of youngsters and journeymen looking for a chance. The addition of some experienced former representative class players in Brent Kite, Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace, plus Warriors forward Elijah Taylor, means they will be legitimate finals contenders in 2014.
10 Titans (10): Supercoach Cartwright side’s 2014 prospects look good not great. Dave Taylor is still the big enigma. If he can return to somewhere near his best form, the Titans can rise but you wouldn’t be putting more than loose change on that happening.
11. Warriors (9): Supercoach Elliott’s squad will retain plenty of talent but alas, it will also keep its propensity to play like champs one week and chumps the next.
12. Dragons (16): Supercoach Price’s season was a disaster and if he’s still at the helm next year, he has much better talent at his disposal. Gareth Widdop, Dylan Farrell and Joel Thompson are impressive signings and Josh Dugan can only get better with an off-season alongside his teammates under his belt.
13. Broncos (12): Supercoach Griffin isn’t going to attract big names. Ben Barba has fallen in Brisbane’s lap and Anthony Milford may also end up a Bronco but there’s little else on the roster with strikepower aside from the ageing Justin Hodges.
14. Raiders (13): Supercoach Stuart appears to be heading home to the national capital and to be honest, it sounds like that will be the best thing for everyone at Parramatta. It will probably prove a good move for Canberra too. Stuart is part of the fabric of the club. A reminder of the glory days of the late 1980s and early 1990s. He will galvanise the players with his famed intensity, which not only Raiders fans hope will mean an end to the recent history of young stars wanting to leave for brighter lights elsewhere.
15. Tigers (14): Supercoach Potter may well regret taking this job. The roster still looks hamstrung by the ghosts of salary cap past. There’s a lot of bright young talent but not enough to make them a premiership contender in 2014, the final year of Potter’s two-season deal.
16. Eels (16): Supercoaches beware. If Ricky Stuart leaves this post, you might want to think twice about accepting this gig. Corey Norman, Will Hopoate and Justin Hunt are better players than the current train wreck of a roster but unless the Eels unite on and off the field, they could give their six-year wooden spoon record from 1956-61 a nudge.