It’s PRESSURE TIME in the NRL right now.
The NRL table as we enter round 23 tells the story clearly that there is a dogfight happening in every corner. And it’s happening from top to bottom.
The Eels (Broncos a, Storm a, Dragons h, Knights a) squeaked out a win over the torn-apart Tigers (Roosters h, Dragons a, Rabbits h, Cowboys a) last weekend and now, you can bet, they are thinking the impossible just became possible. They could shake that consecutive wooden spooners tag! Now wouldn’t that ease some pressure in blue and gold territory. Could there possibly be any more pressure on everyone at the Tigers not just besieged Mick Potter? You can bet on that again if they keep losing and the Eels manage another upset or two before this season is out!
Meanwhile at the top of the table the pressure is more related to expectations. Whilst the Roosters (Tigers a, Sharks a, Titans h, Rabbitohs a)improved position on the ladder is tremendous the reality is that this season is the culmination of the rejuvenation of a club from 2009’s wooden spoon and those depths of despair and accusations of all kinds. Finishing the job off will not be an elective. Competition leaders and premiership favourites at this point will only make the pain and anguish greater without the big finish.
Likewise for Souths (Manly h, Bulldogs h, Tigers a, Roosters h). The progression has been enormous, almost methodical under Coach Maguire. The recent stumble will be forgotten if the red and green machine grinds back into winning mode but more clunking performances will simply bring more pressure. Those true blue Rabbits fans have been waiting a damn long time now.
Manly (Souths a, Raiders a, Storm h, Panthers h) and Melbourne (Knights a, Eels h, Eagles a, Titans h) know this route better than the rest. Dealing with this type of expectation and pressure is foreign to only isolated team members who can be quickly dealt with by the many comforting experienced hands around them. Both clubs have already regained the one out and one back position; not having the favouritism tag (at least for now) yet almost certainties for a top four spot is a great way to face off these final rounds. Whilst they have the least pressure on them right now they will also understand that good form is gold at this time of year – no soft performances will be tolerated in the steady climb for the only thing that can satisfy clubs of this success rate – THE PREMIERSHIP.
Both the Bulldogs (Raiders a, Rabbits a, Panthers h, Broncos a) and Sharks (Dragons a, Roosters h, Cowboys h, Raiders a) look good for a top eight spot, except for the recent form, or lack of consistency – that bedevils both contenders. Ben Barba’s issues at season’s beginning have risen again at pressure time for all at last season’s magnificent but beaten grand finalists. They have never really been on-song regularly throughout 2013 so the pressure is surely on for a string of quality hit-outs not a limp squid exit. Sharks also will need to find more than leaning on the incredible performances of Andrew Fifita. Paul Gallen seems to be regaining his incredible work rate, finding “a thousand offloads” it seemed in last week’s loss to Newcastle. Todd Carney’s genius will need to stand the physical and mental pressures associated with footy at this time of year to make the difference I tight matches. His defence will need to improve enormously or opponents will wear a track to his spot on the right side of Cronulla’s defence.
Knights (Storm h, Cows a, Broncos a, Eels h) and Titans (Cowboys a, Warriors h, Roosters a, Storm a) hold on tenuously to 7th and 8th. What a disappointment for Newcastle’s army of fans missing out on the playoff series would be – and back to back seasons since the Tinkler / Bennett ticket topped the polls! Now that’s pressure; even the super coach is not exempt. Likewise for the Titans, after significant investment in experienced talent, back to back season’s failure would not sit well on the Gold Coast. Wow look at that draw – they may not win another match this season!
Raiders (Bulldogs h, Eagles h, Warriors a, Sharks h)fans will look at their draw and grit their teeth but I reckon they have the opportunity to knock a couple others off that are currently just above them. Three big home games might just get them in there. For mine, they would have to be the biggest disappointment if they fail to make the play-off series.
Zooming up the outside for a shot it are the Warriors (Panthers h, Titans a, Raiders h, Dragons a). Now that is a great draw and one I am expecting them to capitalise on. There will be some very disappointed people in Auckland (and NRL head office) with no Kiwi team in that play-off series. What an opportunity first year coach Matt Elliott and his crew have to end the season on a high.
And even later and further back coming through the pack are those northern outsiders, the Cowboys (Titans h, Knights h, Sharks a, Tigers h). That could see them finish on 28 points! The pressure might be off everyone in Townsville except those who need to make the next decision on their future coach. (Check out Short and Sweets today for more on that).
The Broncos (Eels h, Panthers a, Knights h, Bulldogs h) who also face the prospect of missing the playoffs for consecutive seasons are a point above the Cows thanks to that draw versus the Knights in round 21. If they can deal with the loss of big play king Justin Hodges, they too could sneak into the play-offs. The pressure mounting on everyone with a Horse’s Head emblem on their shirts must be immense tonight hosting the Knights. That could end some careers if the job is not completed well.
That leaves just Panthers (Warriors a, Broncos h, Bulldogs a, Sea Eagles a) and Dragons (Sharks h, Tigers h, Eels a, Warriors h) searching for something, anything positive to relieve the pressure of seasons of great disappointment so far. The Panthers looking at 8, YES EIGHT straight losses in their current form. I believe there are bets being taken on a hundred point turnaround this weekend when the Warriors try to reverse the round 10 62 – 6 score line. That must seem like a lifetime ago for both clubs.
All this pressure with four matches to go – but it’s just a game, ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT.