It’s hard not to under-estimate the Warriors but it’s time to concede they may very well be legitimate premiership contenders this year.
Due to an inferior for and against record they are sixth on the ladder, the lower of the three teams on 22 points, but they are only four points behind the leading trio of Manly, Penrith and Canterbury.
Like the Dragons, the Warriors bit the bullet early and fired a coach who was not getting results and for both teams, it has been a successful move.
Rookie supercoach McFadden has enhaned the attacking potency which had sporadically been a trademark of the Warriors – they lead the league in tries (70) and are second to the Roosters (92) in line breaks (85) – but they have become a better defensive team, ranked eighth, after a poor start to the year under Matthew Elliott in which they had 30-plus points put on them twice inside the first month.
A lot will be made about playing this side of the Tasman if they make the finals but that was not an issue in 2002 or 2011 when they carved through the playoffs to make the grand final. They have not earned the right to be considered one of the benchmark teams but they’re not far off it.
1. Bulldogs (1): Like their mascot, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Supercoach Hasler said it wasn’t pretty at times but the 6-4 win over the Storm in Melbourne continued Canterbury’s 2014 theme of grinding out victories when there’s only a point or two in it.
2. Sea Eagles (2): Apart from rookie winger Clint Gutherson’s hairstyle, supercoach Toovey’s team was the epitome of a very good rugby league team in their 40-8 demolition of Wests Tigers at Brookvale last Friday. They only made six line breaks but when the Sea Eagles get through a gap, they very rarely let the opportunity go to waste. The always-clever readers of LeagueHQ believe they’ll win the minor premiership – with more than 9000 votes in, Manly are leading our poll on who will finish first at the end of the regular season with nearly 40%.
3. Panthers (3): They very nearly coughed up a late 34-18 lead and if Matt Moylan’s late field goal was wide, you got the feeling Brisbane would have had the momentum to win in extra time.
4. Warriors (5): A cynic would say beating Parramatta 48-0 when Jarryd Hayne is out is not all it’s cracked up to be but even the Hayne Plane in full flight wouldn’t have been able to prevent a savage beating in Auckland last Saturday night.Three line breaks from fullback Sam Tomkins underlines the class he brings to the table at the Warriors.
5. Roosters (4): Had the bye/went into hiding after that loss to Cronulla the week before.
6. Rabbitohs (6): Had the bye/also laid low after going down to the Titans.
7. Dragons (8): Had the bye, rise a rung due to Parramatta’s pathetic showing.
8. Eels (7): Had the bye. Oh no, they didn’t. They did indeed take the field against the Warriors. At least it looked like their first grade side from a distance. Big test of credentials looms for supercoach Arthur’s lads this Friday night against South Sydney.
9. Storm (9): it’s fair to say the Melbourne sides of recent years (salary cap loaded or not) would not have lost so many close matches. That was their fourth loss this year by a converted try or less.
10. Cowboys (11): Had the bye, rise a rung due to the Tigers’ terrible showing.
11. Tigers (10): It’s year two in the rebuilding of this joint-venture club. Expectations shouldn’t be too high – they’ve already exceeded last year’s wins tally and getting close to the finals should be seen as a major step forward compared to the state of disarray in Tigertown heading into last season.
12. Broncos (12): It was a shame that prop Josh McGuire was the player who spilt the ball in his own red zone late in the game against Penrith, which led to the Panthers’ game-winning field goal. He’s been one of Brisbane’s most consistent performers all season and should be in line for Maroons selection next year as the Queenslanders look to replenish their ageing side.
13. Knights (13): Just when it looked like they were set for a spanking while trailing 18-0 at Shark Park, coach Bennett’s side came alive.The weirdest thing about this strange game was nearly all the points in the match were scored by the team running into the strong southerly wind which can whip up at Cronulla.
14. Titans (14): At least supercoach Cartwright knows he’s under the gun. It’s refreshing for a coach to admit that. Whether he has the nous to revive what looks to be another lost season remains to be seen.
15. Raiders (16): Some of Anthony Milford’s scintillating offence in the win over the Titans was reminiscent of Ben Barba’s brilliance for the Bulldogs a couple of years ago. Broncos fans will hope it doesn’t vanish in similar fashion to Barba’s magic when Milford switches to Brisbane next year.
16. Sharks (15): Natural attrition has already forced a couple of Cronulla’s veteran roster to call it quits early, perhaps it’s time for supercoach Shepherd to tap a few of the older brigade on the shoulder and get them to stand aside in the closing rounds to give some untried rookies a crack to see if they can cut it in first grade.
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