The Sin Bin – Marvin France’s take on the NRL
The NRL loves praising itself as the most even competition in the world.
It’s forever going on about its 10 different champions in the past 14 years, that no team has gone back-to-back since 1993, and boasting that, on any given day, the last-placed team can beat the first.
And while we’ve already seen examples of this over the first four rounds – how the Roosters have won one, let alone two games is beyond belief – this year’s competition is exposing the NRL’s ‘evenness’ for what it is: a myth.
As in most years, there will undoubtedly be a mass scramble for the last few top-eight spots. But this only shows there’s a glut of average teams with next to no chance of progressing deep into the play-offs. And even taking into account the length of the season which can see sides experience several form fluctuations, it’s clear that Melbourne, Manly, New Zealand and St George Illawarra are a cut above the rest.
The unbeaten Storm, with their ‘big three’ of Billy Slater (below), Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk, have been most impressive as coach Craig Bellamy has given his deadly trio a greater license to attack to devastating effect. Last year’s grand finalists, the Sea Eagles and Warriors, are in the same boat having dropped two games each after losing several stars to injury and suspension. Yet both remain competitive, and even in defeat you can’t help think how good they’ll be when they get everyone on deck.
2010 premiers the Dragons have been the biggest surprise considering most expected them to struggle without super coach Wayne Bennett. But new boss Steve Price has managed to keep the same rigid discipline Bennett installed, while introducing a more adventurous style that the players have relished.
No doubt there will be a few eyebrows raised with the exemption of an exciting Brisbane side, or for that matter, pre-season favourites the Wests Tigers. But Peter Wallace is yet to convince he can fill the boots of Broncos legend Darren Lockyer as the No.1 play-caller. And while it’s not quite panic stations at Wests yet, one win in four with coach Tim Sheens already tinkering with his halves suggests all is not well in Tiger town.
There’s always the chance of a team making a charge at the back end, and Souths and Newcastle have shown glimpses of making the step up without showing the consistency needed to become a serious threat. As for the rest of the teams, though, it looks like a year of simply making up the numbers.