With only seven rounds remaining in the 2022 NRL season, this is the time where teams show what they’re worth and start making a run towards the Finals and then ultimately the Grand Final, in an effort to win the whole competition.
The Panthers did it last year and are bookies favourites to go back-to-back this year as well. I obviously think Penrith can win it again, but I also believe there are realistically three other teams which can threaten the Panthers on the big day.
To start with, I’d like to eliminate five teams which I believe have no chance of making the Top 8 let alone the big dance. No disrespect intended but let’s put a red-felt pen through the Titans, Tigers, Bulldogs, Knights and Warriors. It just hasn’t been their year.
The next block of four teams I’d like to take out of the equation are the Raiders, Dragons, Sea Eagles and Roosters. These four sides are all fighting for the last spot in the Top 8 and just don’t have the momentum to go all the way.
The next two sides will make the eight and if they click can easily get to the second week of the Finals. The Rabbitohs and Broncos can cause some headaches but I think they’ll have a better shot next year.
The three sides I feel pose the biggest threat to the Panthers are the Sharks, Storm and Eels with the Cowboys being the dark horse. You might find picking North Queensland, who are going into Round 19 second on the ladder, as the dark horse confusing, but I think when the Finals begin, they won’t have the experience to make it to the Grand Final and will fall agonisingly short.
So, we’re down to the Sharks, Storm and Eels. All three sides have shown me enough this season to suggest if they make the Grand Final, they have the players, depth and coaching experience to topple the Penrith Panthers.
Cronulla have experienced campaigners like Matt Moylan, Nicho Hynes, Wade Graham and Dale Finucane to trouble Penrith in the big games.
The Storm may look like they have the hippy-hippy shakes at the moment but when the whips start cracking, they have one of the best coaches in the game plus a cast of superstars in Munster, Smith, Hughes and Grant.
Which leaves us with the Eels. Now while they may have trouble beating the cellar-dwellers, so far in 2022, they are the only side to beat the Panthers. They also seem to have no trouble ‘getting up’ for their western Sydney rivals.
Peter Lang is an experienced sports writer, who has been covering rugby league for several decades.