2015 NRL Final Trimester Report Part 4

Some fell over the line while others hit the Finals with a full head of steam

Nearly finished talking about the 2015 NRL season. Ironically, it is almost time to start talking about the 2016 NRL season. As previously mentioned, I’m breaking this Trimester Report into 4 bite size chunks for easy consumption. Part 1 covered teams that finished 13th to 16th. Part 2 covered teams that finished 9th to 12th. Part 3 covered teams that finished 4th to 8th. Can you guess where this is heading? Finally, we cover the top 4. Since 1990, when the salary cap was introduced, only two Premiers have come from outside the top 4, so it is trite to say finishing in the top 4 is important. It is mandatory! Just because I like stats and to prove I don’t just get all my stuff from Wikipedia (that bastion of accuracy) here is the list of Premiers and final ladder positions to make my point:

1990 – Canberra Raiders (1st)

1991 – Penrith Panthers (1st)

1992 – Brisbane Broncos (1st)

1993 – Brisbane Broncos (5th)

1994 – Canberra Raiders (3rd)

1995 – Sydney Bulldogs (6th)

1996 – Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (1st)

1997 (ARL) – Newcastle Knights (2nd)

1997 (SL) – Brisbane Broncos (1st)

1998 – Brisbane Broncos (1st)

1999 – Melbourne Storm (3rd)

2000 – Brisbane Broncos (1st)

2001 – Newcastle Knights (3rd)

2002 – Sydney Roosters (4th)

2003 – Penrith Panthers (1st)

2004 – Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (2nd)

2005 – Wests Tigers (4th)

2006 – Brisbane Broncos (3rd)

2007 – Melbourne Storm (1st)

2008 – Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (2nd)

2009 – Melbourne Storm (4th)

2010 – St George Illawarra Dragons (1st)

2011 – Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (2nd)

2012 – Melbourne Storm (2nd)

2013 – Sydney Roosters (1st)

2014 – South Sydney Rabbitohs (3rd)

2015 – North Queensland Cowboys (3rd)

As always, we are in reverse skating direction.

Storm

Cameron Munster - Photo by Naparazzi - CC-BY-SA-2.0

Cameron Munster – Photo by NaparazziCC-BY-SA-2.0

Ladder Position

Pre-season Prediction – 10th

After First Trimester – 3rd

After Second Trimester – 6th

After Final Trimester – 4th

Points after First Trimester – 10

Points after Second Trimester – 20

Points after Final Trimester – 32

For and against after First Trimester – 42

For and against after Second Trimester – 26

For and against after Final Trimester – 119

The Journey so far

I kept thinking that the Storm would fall over. I really did. I thought that before the season started. I thought that during the season, especially after  Billy Slater was injured. Much to my surprise, they just kept on keeping on, winning 6 of their last 8. They were a hard team to figure out. For instance, their 2 losses in the Final Trimester were against the Tigers and the Knights but their wins included victories over the Dragons, Sharks, Broncos and Cowboys (all finished in the top 8). In the end they were only one game from the GF.

Final Trimester Grade

B

Final Trimester MVP

Cameron Munster – The Rockhampton product made every post a winner (just fulfilling my cliché quota) after Billy Slater went down with injury and marked himself as the heir apparent (going for a cliché PB now) to the Fullback jersey once Slater hangs up his boots (another one). The Storm will have to find a place for him in the backline in 2016. Given they offloaded Matt Duffie, Kurt Mann and Mahe Fonua, I don’t think it will be that hard.

How close was my pre-season prediction?

In my First Trimester report I said ‘reports of their death were greatly exaggerated’ and that held true. In my season preview I questioned whether they could emulate the San Antonio Spurs in terms of longevity. I should have heeded those parallels. In the end my reports of their untimely fall from grace (that’s definitely a cliché PB now) were premature.

Prognosis

I think it is safe to say that the forward pack is going to be fine for a couple of years now. Kevin Proctor, Jesse Bromwich and Tohu Harris are the bedrock upon which championships are built. Craig Bellamy is one of the best in the competition and has a knack for providing second chances to solid clubmen taking their game to the next level. Blake Green was the latest beneficiary. Whether or not they can add to the 4 titles the Storm have in the cupboard (I just don’t buy into this retrospective stripping of titles) solely depends on whether Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith can eke out one or two more top calibre seasons at the same time. I am loathe to wager against them next season but they won’t be there forever. 

Cowboys 

Ladder Position

Pre-season Prediction – 4th

After First Trimester – 4th

After Second Trimester – 2nd

After Final Trimester – 3rd

Points after First Trimester – 10

Points after Second Trimester – 26

Points after Final Trimester – 38

For and against after First Trimester – -3

For and against after Second Trimester – 34

For and against after Final Trimester – 133

The Journey so far

I wasn’t completely convinced that the Cowboys would win the premiership by the end of the Final Trimester. I knew they could win but they weren’t the overwhelming favourites at that stage. Their 5 victories were solid but their 3 losses against the Sharks, the Rabbitohs and especially that loss against the Storm in the rain caused me to pause. Had they peaked too early? I knew once they made the top 4 it all started again and then that loss to the Broncos in the first round of the Finals made things difficult again. There were so many twists and turns. The win against the Sharks was one of their most comprehensive ever and it seemed that no-one could stop them from there. Their win against the Storm in Melbourne was just as comprehensive. Grand Final week and Wayne Bennett’s impeccable Finals record caused me to pause once more. The GF was one of the best games I have ever seen and I knew they were a chance right until the final whistle but it seemed like they were out of chances but they finally broke through in the most tense of circumstances.

Final Trimester Grade

C+

Final Trimester MVP

Johnathon Thurston – He adds my imaginary award to his trophy room. Surely it is only a matter of time until he is enshrined as an Immortal. BTW we need to follow the American lead and create a Hall of Fame.

How close was my pre-season prediction?

One of the few I got right this year.

Prognosis

Everyone says this every single year but repeating as title holders is the hardest thing to do. Only the Broncos have done it in the salary cap era. The bookies have the Cows on the third line of betting which is recognition of this fact. I can’t see why the Cowboys can’t repeat. Getting your first premiership has its own pressure (just ask Cronulla). The pressure of repeating as Premiers is not the same burden for NQ. If anything, this may make them even more dangerous. They have retained the core of their squad and Jason Taumalolo, Lachlan Coote, Michael Morgan and Jake Granville are nowhere near peaking. JT, Matt Scott and James Tamou are showing no signs of abating. Add to that some of the up and comers that will be held in reserve pending injuries like Coen Hess and Gideon Mosby-Gela and there isn’t any reason they can’t back up for another title. 

Broncos

Ladder Position

Pre-season Prediction – 2nd

After First Trimester – 1st

After Second Trimester – 1st

After Final Trimester – 2nd

Points after First Trimester – 12

Points after Second Trimester – 30

Points after Final Trimester – 38

For and against after First Trimester – 32

For and against after Second Trimester – 115

For and against after Final Trimester – 195

The Journey so far

My Second Trimester prognosis on the Broncos was as follows:

‘At this time of year every team has a few question marks. They tick the coaching, depth, talent, form and injury boxes. Only questions are big game temperament (with their spine relatively inexperienced in this regard) and whether they can lift another level come Finals time.’

Well the Broncos certainly didn’t hit the Finals unsullied, winning only 4 of their last 8 games. They were poleaxed by the Sea Eagles and narrowly pipped by the Roosters, Storm and Bulldogs which didn’t auger well for them. The first round of the Finals went well though pipping the Cows and they were very solid against the Roosters in the Preliminary Final as well. Their big game temperament seemed to be holding them in good stead during the GF until the very last minute and the rest, as they say, is history.

Final Trimester Grade

C-

Final Trimester MVP

Ben Hunt – It would be wrong to remember Ben Hunt’s season in terms of his error in extra time in the GF. It was memorable but his season was a massive step up from previous seasons and continued his trajectory from fringe first grader only 2 seasons ago to jumping ahead of DCE as the second best halfback behind Cooper Cronk, something I thought I would never say. I suspect his GF mistake may spur him on to even greater heights though. I would not write him off.

How close was my pre-season prediction? 

Spot on. I thought they may have exceeded my expectations and won the GF, however, I think they are still ahead of where most people saw them after one season under Bennett.

Prognosis

That spine of Darius Boyd, Anthony Milford, Ben Hunt and Andrew McCullough is one of the best in the game and will only get better next season and for many seasons after. During 2014 I said they were all backrowers and while their backrower depth is still world class, Adam Blair and Sam Thaiday add more than just complementary hair styles and the Broncos have go forward again. Ofahengaue will continue to add starch to the middle and Josh McGuire should do the same once he has put his injury woes behind him, which I expect him to do. Wayne Bennett is Wayne Bennett. If they don’t win the Premiership next year, they will come awfully close again. 

Roosters

Ladder Position

Pre-season Prediction – 3rd

After First Trimester – 12th

After Second Trimester – 3rd

After Final Trimester – 1st

Points after First Trimester – 6

Points after Second Trimester – 24

Points after Final Trimester – 40

For and against after First Trimester – 37

For and against after Second Trimester – 138

For and against after Final Trimester – 291

The Journey so far

The Roosters sailed home with the Minor Premiership on the back of 8 straight victories, however, I wasn’t completely convinced by them leading into the Finals. The commentators kept talking them up but they felt a little soft, even though they grafted a win against the Broncos in the Final Trimester. For the most part they belted teams much lower on the ladder and even leaked a lot of points in the process. They had a habit of rattling up a big score and going to sleep for a while. The Finals were more of a graft and their up tempo forward game was stalled by both the Storm and the Broncos. It didn’t help that Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (out for the season) and Mitchell Pearce (ill-fated return in the last match) were injured during the whole Final series.

Final Trimester Grade

A

Final Trimester MVP

Jared Waerea-Hargreaves – Was nearly unstoppable in the Final Trimester but sorely missed during the Finals after being ruled out with a knee injury. His aggression and personal mission to dominate the middle third of the field in both attack and defence led the Rooster’s pack by example.

How close was my pre-season prediction?

Pretty close.

Prognosis

The Roosters should finish top 4 again next season provided injuries treat them kindly. RTS and James Maloney are big losses but this is softened somewhat by the fact that Jackson Hastings is waiting in the wings for a full time gig and they have recruited Joe Burgess, the Wigan tearaway who can backfill SKD, who can backfill Blake Ferguson, who can backfill RTS. Problem solved. They are obviously not like for like swaps but they are near enough. Plus it was hard to know whether Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Mitchell Pearce in the Finals would have equalled premiership but it certainly would have made them more competitive. Not cashing in my Trent Robinson stock either. Keen to see how he bounces back this year (not that a Minor Premiership and being knocked out in the Preliminary Finals is anything to sneeze at).

What is sweeter than Jelly Bread?

  • The Dubs. 25-1. That is some serious balling. 
Steph Curry - Basketball Savante - Photo by Keith Allison - CC-BY-SA-2.0

Steph Curry – Basketball Savant – Photo by Keith AllisonCC-BY-SA-2.0

What isn’t? 

  • I was reading an article on Craig Bellamy’s future and it stated that Bellamy was the longest tenured coach at a club having been at the Storm since 2003. What followed was a damning indictment of the game and probably a sign of the times. The next longest tenured coaches are Des Hasler and Michael Maguire who started at their respective clubs in 2012. Talk about employment pressure! 

EPL Tips Match Week 17

Chelsea vs Sunderland – Chelsea 3-1

Everton vs Leicester – Draw 2-2

Man U vs Norwich – Man U 2-0

Southampton vs Tottenham – Draw 1-1

Stoke City vs Crystal Palace – Stoke 2-1

West Brom vs Bournemouth – West Brom 1-0

Newcastle vs Aston Villa – Newcastle 4-0

Watford vs Liverpool – Liverpool 2-1

Swansea vs West Ham – Swansea 1-0

Arsenal vs Man City – Arsenal 2-1

BTW I’m going head to head with Lawro (Mark Lawrenson of the BBC) again this year. He has gone and changed his scoring system (a correct result (picking a win, draw or defeat) is worth TEN points and picking an exact score FORTY points).

Last Week

Me – 130 (4 from 10 with 3 perfect scores) and Lawro – 70 (4 from 10 with 1 perfect score)

Season so far

Me – 1150 and Lawro – 1230 (Finally eating into Lawro’s lead)

Stay Tuned

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode on Thursday, 7 January 2016 titled ‘2015 NRL Season Review’

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