How the NRL table has turned

Written By Unknown on Senin, 07 April 2014 | 23.40

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REMEMBER round one? How confident you were submitting your footy tips?

You had some hard and fast guidelines. The 'givens'' that would ensure that, finally, you finished ahead of that cocky bloke in the warehouse.

The Eels? A board so dysfunctional it made a crèche finger-painting class look as efficient as a German automotive plant. Can't win.

Wests Tigers? No Benji, no money, no hope. Can't win.

Gold Coast? A place where you go to get a sun tan and two points. Can't win.




The Roosters, Souths, Melbourne and Manly. Just let them play rock, paper scissors for the trophy and we can go to the pub. Certainties.

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Now? Of the 14 tipsters on the Daily Telegraph panel the best result from the first seven games of round five was three winners. Three tipsters got one out of seven. You can do better throwing a dart at a copy of League Central.

So unpredictable are results the NRL ladder only makes sense standing on your head. None of the first six teams is rated better than a $15 chance to win the competition. Stop the music now and the three favourites would miss the play-offs altogether.

Yes, we are only five weeks into the season. Yes, just two points separate second and 14th (something that escaped the Warriors when they sacked coach Matthew Elliott).

But after five rounds last year Melbourne (5-0), Souths (5-0), Manly (4-1) and the Roosters (3-2) were first, second, third and fifth. Suggesting Melbourne, Souths and the Roosters would be ninth, 10th and 11th at the same time this year wasn't a prediction. It was grounds for committal.

So why this sudden footballing egalitarianism?

Melbourne Storm results are yet to match up to expectation. Source: Getty Images

Veteran coach Brian Smith points to the refereeing. With the pocket ref stationed closer to the action and what he calls the "garbage'' removed from the play the ball — the niggles and leg pulls — we are going into warping speed. This creates the potential for chaos.

"The speed is counting against the more powerful and the more structured teams like the Roosters and Souths,'' says Smith.

"I reckon Manly are more adept at playing more expansive, more reactionary footy. But even they've had their problems.''

Smith wonders if, like previous refereeing edicts, the current emphasis on fast play will be a distant memory by the end of the season. Either way he expects the Roosters, Souths and Manly to adapt.

But, for now, the unpredictability is giving tipsters ulcers and bookmakers sports cars. Particularly the rise of last year's easybeats.

James Tedesco has been crucial to the Tigers' excellent start. Source: News Corp Australia

Turns out the Eels and Tigers were wearing socks when they finished last and second last, they were just buried deep in their boots. Credit to their respective coaches for pulling them up.

At the same time the favourites have made sluggish starts. The Roosters had 17 players return from representative football in the off-season and put a heavy emphasises on winning the World Club Challenge. Now, as the titleholders, they are mumbling about how every team plays them at grand final intensity.

Souths rebounded well against the Dragons on Saturday and Sam Burgess broke his silence. Maybe that will prove a circuit breaker for a team seemingly labouring under the weight of enormous expectation and distracted by Burgess's impending defection.

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No doubt the terrible injury to Alex McKinnon, and Jordan McLean's subsequent penalty, has had an impact at Melbourne. The Storm have since suffered an unusually heavy loss to the Bulldogs in Perth and Sunday's heartbreaker against the Titans.

A dubious penalty got Gold Coast over the line. But how are even the improving Titans 26-26 with minutes to play against Melbourne at their AAMI Park fortress unless there is something not quite right with the Storm?

The depth across the competition has increased. While the Bulldogs flourish the cheque book the players currently on the payroll are again standing up, Penrith's five year plan seems to include winning football games and even last placed Cronulla has stirred despite multiple distractions.

Are we in for a season of such unpredictability even the bloke in the warehouse is left scratching his head doing his tips? If you know the answer you probably tipped the card.

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