The moment you make a prediction about the upcoming NRL season you might as well hit the self-destruct button because one injury, one bad call or one suspension can send a team hurtling off the rails while one lucky bounce or an extra-time win can see another club turn the corner and climb the ladder. Or maybe your prediction was just plain wrong.
That’s why we play 26 rounds (and 24 games per club) rather than simply jump to the finals on the basis of predictions.
Gazing in the crystal ball and putting your reputation on the line can be perilous.
In Round One, 2015 the eventual grand finalists were both beaten. The Broncos at home were flogged by South Sydney 36-6, and the future premiers the Cowboys began a three-match losing streak to start the season. Who would have thought?
Luckily once the real stuff begins most fans quickly forget your predictions or realise they are not be relied upon and pointless anyway.
But beware: The first few rounds can be misleading as early enthusiasm is superseded by talent and combination. Remember last year Newcastle won their first four in a row before the Knights crash-and-burned to the wooden spoon.
With all those caveats out there, why would I make any predictions? Good question but like a lemming you gotta do what you gotta do so here we go.
CONTENDERS and ALSO-RANS
There are six teams I see definitely making the final eight. In no particular order: Cowboys, Broncos, Manly, Melbourne, Roosters and Warriors.
The next six will be fighting for the remaining two spots in the finals: Canterbury, Cronulla, Parramatta, Souths, Penrith and Canberra.
Bringing up the rear, in the bottom four, again in no particular order: Wests Tigers, Dragons, Titans and Newcastle. I hope they prove me wrong, especially the Tigers.
I can’t wait to see James Roberts at right centre for the Broncos. With Ben Hunt feeding him good ball and judicious kicks Roberts’ dazzling speed off the mark and footwork will beat many opponents on the outside or to the ball in-goal. Inside, outside and behind him will be the dangerous Matt Gillett and Darius Boyd to confuse the defence. ROBERTS should bag a bucketload of tries.
His first opponent, new Parramatta centre Michael Jennings, is a speed demon himself so both will test the other’s defence.
The Eels pack has the same look about it as last year. Will Tim Mannah and co be able to provide the grunt to unleash their revitalised backline? The return from injury of hooker Nathan Peats is a plus but may not be enough.