As we had speculated last week, the NRL's Top 8 is surely locked in now for 2020. Cronulla sits 8th, 4 points clear of the Tigers, Dragons, Manly and the Warriors, all equal on 12 points. Cronulla play 3 top 8 sides in the last 5 rounds, but get a couple of games you'd expect them to win on current form against the Cowboys and Warriors. You'd think they're going to finish on at least 20 points and make it very hard for that quartet of teams behind them to make ground.
Now that we've sorted out who will be there in October, it's time to look at who's winning it all in season 2020.
The way I see it, there's 3 divisions. Probables, possibles and then the no-hopers. Let me break it down for you.
Let's start with those making up the numbers, that'll be the Knights, Rabbitohs and Sharks. If any of these teams were to pull a surprise, I'd suggest it is Wayne Bennett's men. Absolutely destroyed Manly on Saturday night in all facets of the game, 38-0 at half-time, the Bunnies might have something to get in October, maybe. For mine, the Knights and Sharks, they're making up the numbers, I couldn't see them pulling any surprises, the Knights will be better again next year and have had a fair injury toll. Cronulla have done well to work their way inside the 8. Doubt any of these can win but I wouldn't absolutely rule out Souths.
There's a couple of possible contenders in the mix, Parramatta and Canberra. For some reason, I just can't see Parra getting the hob done in October. Don't get me wrong, they've been good in 2020 and maybe it is simply the fact that I flat out don't like them which is clouding my thought process, but I don't think they're in that upper echelon of teams just yet. King Gutho is a star, no doubt, but there's something missing, maybe it is just the belief you derive from experience in the big matches, that could be all it is to be fair.
The other side that are a chance but I see as unlikely, the Raiders. I think they'll finish the year well, they've got a pretty good run home. But once the whips are cracking in October, I think they've struggled too much this year to score points and it is going to hurt them. Don't rule them out, that would be silly, but I think last year's heart break might only compound again this year for the green army.
Parramatta and Canberra could get to a prelim final, but I don't think they'll be making the big dance on October 25.
Now, the three that will fight it out. Obviously Penrith. How good have they been? 10 wins in a row and heading toward a minor premiership. Tough to knock, Nathan Cleary playing in superb form. The acid test for them will come when they play one of the other two real contenders in a finals match with big intensity. Will they stand up? Everything we've thus far says yes.
The other obvious contender is Bellyache's boys from Melbourne. Aside from the stumble against Parramatta last week, they were doing it without their best pieces. Bring back Smith & Munster, among others, and they are right in the conversation. They always seem to find a way don't they? They'll be there or thereabouts again come crunch time.
However, the premiership favourites, in my mind at least, is still the defending premiers, Sydney City. Ravaged with injury and now today, they have the added incentive of sending out club stalwart Mitch Aubusson on a winning note after Aubo announced season 2020 would be his last. They'll do enough over the next 5 weeks, expect them to drop a game or two but come late October, they'll be there and you know they'll be firing.
If I was to call it now, I'll say the Prelim finals will involve those 3 teams, the Panthers, Storm & Roosters, with the final spot somewhat up for grabs, it'll likely be the Eels or Raiders but I wouldn't rule out the Rabbitohs.
Grand final, Panthers vs Roosters if the draw works out that way, and I expect the Roosters to be too good again, if they can get away with no more injuries, they are still the clear benchmark of the competition in my humble opinion.
Have I got it right? I'd love to hear your thoughts!