OPINION

Think you know who will take out the NRL premiership? Think again, anything can happen

Penrith is clearly the most consistent team in the competition going into the finals series. Photo: Matt King/Getty Images
Penrith is clearly the most consistent team in the competition going into the finals series. Photo: Matt King/Getty Images

There are those who would have us believe the 2020 premiership winner will come from one of the top three teams right now, Penrith Panthers, Melbourne Storm and Sydney Roosters, and that the task for a team from outside the top four will be too difficult.

Those spruiking that may well prove to be right. But a fortnight out from the finals, I believe there are probably six teams still well and truly in the title race.

Yes, finishing top four will be a big advantage and the teams winning in the opening weekend of the finals to earn a week off leading into the preliminary final are going to be tough to hold out.

But experience tells me anything is still possible and it doesn't take a whole lot to change the landscape completely in the blink of an eye once the big games come around.

This season, more than any, has thrown up enough injury scenarios to lead me to think there are more twists and turns to come before we crown the grand final winner.

I would say it's hard to see the Knights or the Sharks, given the inconsistencies in their performances, going on the sort of run in the finals needed to put them in the firing line so you can discount them.

But the Canberra Raiders and South Sydney, who are probably going to miss out on the top four, have shown enough to suggest they are capable and have the firepower to string some big wins together when it matters.

The Eels may not be playing well enough right now to give their fans any sort of confidence about making a big noise in the finals but we do know they are capable if they get their act together in time. Getting Dylan Brown back at some stage would no doubt help that process.

Penrith is clearly the most consistent team in the comp who have enjoyed some real travel advantages and suffered few injuries. But what happens if a major contributor to their success like Nathan Cleary is missing for a big game in the finals? Will they be able to overcome that?

I remember back in 1993, the Raiders were absolutely flying leading into the semi-finals and we were regarded as the team to beat. Then Ricky Stuart broke his ankle and we ended up going out in the finals in straight sets.

In 1995, we'd lost two games all year and along with Manly, were easily the two most dominant teams in the premiership. But neither of us ending up winning it. The Bulldogs upset us in the preliminary final and beat the Eagles in the decider.

Very rarely doesn't a finals series throw up a surprise. Who will it be this season?

There is no Josh Hodgson for the Raiders but they do have Josh Papalii and Jack Wighton, two players capable of lifting the side to great heights, and the squad has been steeled by its grand final experience last season. They are more than capable of grinding out a series of wins if they have to.

Souths have enough attacking scoring potential in their halves Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds and strike in the middle through Damien Cook and Cameron Murray to beat any rival on their day. The question for them is: can they do it three or four weeks in a row?

One thing is certain, it's going to take something out of the box from a rival side to eliminate either the Storm or the Roosters along the way.

You just know the consistency of the Storm and their big match experience will be hard to overcome, while the Roosters have been building nicely and look hungry to make it three in a row and their key performers, like Luke Keary and James Tedesco, will ensure they are a huge threat.

There is a lot to look forward to in the coming weeks.

Round 19 Predictions

RABBITOHS v BULLDOGS

The Rabbitohs need to be better at defending the flat spots in their game where there are leaking points but they will just have too much firepower for the Bulldogs, who don't have the skill and the same attacking threats.

COWBOYS v PANTHERS

Will be interesting to see how the Panthers handle the travelling because they haven't had to do too much this season but while I'm not expecting them to smash the Cowboys up there, they should still win comfortably.

EELS v BRONCOS

The Eels need to find some confidence in a hurry and with a top four spot on the line, can't afford a slip up here but they'll be made to fight hard for it. A good test they need to pass with flying colours.

EAGLES v TITANS

The Titans are playing the better footy at the moment but I have a feeling Manly, with Tommy Turbo back on deck, may just get them at Brookvale.

STORM v TIGERS

I'm looking forward to the clash of the master Cameron Smith up against the apprentice, Harry Grant, in this one but the Storm will win. It will be a matter of how far.

ROOSTERS v SHARKS

The pressure is off the Sharks now they have qualified for the finals and while they may not have a letdown here, they won't be able to foot it with the Roosters for too long, even with Tedesco rested.

RAIDERS v WARRIORS

What an outstanding job the Warriors have done this season. They should be proud of themselves for staying in the finals race for as long as they have but you wonder where the motivation will come from now they are out. The Raiders will be too good.

KNIGHTS v DRAGONS

The Knights are just far too inconsistent for my liking but at home on Old Boys day, they should get it done against the disappointing Dragons.