NRL: A bandwagoner’s guide to the 2021 finals series

Column: @Hayward_AdamK

With the regular home-and-away season complete, supporters of the bottom-eight clubs will be looking to jump on the bandwagon of another team for this year’s finals series.

Allow me to make a case for each of the top eight clubs as to why you should choose them as your bandwagon team.

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1. Melbourne Storm

Another dominant year for the Melbourne Storm, winning their fifth minor premiership over the past decade. We continue to be in awe of the Storm’s system, professionalism, entertaining brand of football and long-term success.

Their first season without inspirational leader Cameron Smith, this great club has not missed a beat winning a record-equalling 19-straight games. The ability of coach Craig Bellamy to continue developing young talent like Ryan Papenhuyzen and Nicho Hynes into superstar players and to take an out-and-out fullback like Jahrome Hughes and turn him into a world class halfback is something to behold.

The standards and expectations at the Storm are so high that anything but back-to-back premierships would be considered a failure.

2. Penrith Panthers

It has been a decade long club re-build for Penrith and over the course of the past two seasons, we are seeing the fruits of the hard work set in motion by Phil Gould with pathways and junior development – which make up the young stars currently on show for the Panthers.

After the heartbreak of falling at the final hurdle in last years’ grand final, it is seemingly the destiny of this young group of players to raise the trophy on the first Sunday of October. They are a very close-knit unit and look to be in sync with everything they are doing on the field. They have been a pleasure to watch.

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3. South Sydney Rabbitohs

Souths have been relatively consistent all season, but one could argue they are not quite on the level of the Storm and Panthers. There will be a lot of pressure on them to qualify for the grand final after three straight preliminary finals exits over the past three seasons and they have the strike power to get it done.

Captain and favourite son Adam Reynolds’ career at his beloved Rabbitohs comes to an end as well as master coach Wayne Bennett’s tenure at the club. This finals series could also spell the end of the career of New Zealand rugby league legend Benji Marshall.

The club will be hoping to send them off with a much-deserved premiership.

4. Manly Warringah Sea Eagles

Once dubbed the ‘silvertails’ and the club rugby league fans loved to hate, it is hard not to be in awe of what Manly has been able to achieve, finishing fourth after starting the season 0-4, with many tipping a first wooden spoon for the club.

How can you not love watching Tom Trbojevic play? His purple patch of form has arguably been better than Hayne ’09 and Barba ’12. Coach Des Hasler has done an unbelievable job turning this side around and elevating the games of young starts such as Jason Saab, Reuban Garrick and Josh Schuster.

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5. Sydney Roosters

Another finals appearance for the foundation club, however the Roosters remain just below the top tier sides of the competition. They have endured one of the worst injury ravaged seasons we have seen. With two-thirds of their squad on the sidelines for the majority of the season, they only missed a top four spot on for and against which in itself is miraculous.

Coach Trent Robinson had no option but to promote some unheralded fringe players like Drew Hutchison, Matt Ikuvalu and Adam Keighran as well as take a punt on a raw rookie halfback named Sam Walker. They all have been nothing short of sensational, which shows how good the Roosters system is and their development of players.

6. Parramatta Eels

It is amazing to think that there is an entire generation of Parramatta Eels supporters who are yet to experience the feeling of watching their team win a premiership. The Eels haven’t won anything since 1986 – currently the longest premiership drought in the NRL.

But despite their inconsistent form in recent weeks, another finals appearance is a cause for excitement among their long-suffering supporters. Finals is a whole new ballgame, and we have seen how good the Eels can be earlier in the season and there is no reason why they cannot produce the same form again and challenge for a premiership.

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7. Newcastle Knights

A second straight finals appearance for the Knights. It is hard to suggest they have improved since last season with constant injuries to key players, exposing the clubs depth which might not be where they needed them to be.

But with the likes of Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce fit and firing, they have enough strike in their side to cause a few upsets in the finals. Newcastle fans are among the most loyal in the competition and they have endured many lows over the past decade. It would be good for the game as a whole to see the Knights achieve some success.

8. Gold Coast Titans

The Titans had the pressure of expectation to qualify for the finals this year after signing their big name recruits last off-season. And despite having to rely on other results, they have scraped into eighth position, so you could suggest the season has been a success for the glitter strip club.

But that said, now they have reached the finals for only the fourth time in the clubs history and first time since 2016, the pressure is off – and now they have nothing to lose. This Titans side has plenty of strike power and has no problems being able to rack up big scores, they will be looking to emulate the Cowboys miracle finals run in 2017 to reach the grand final.

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Whichever club goes on to win this years’ premiership, there will be a fairy tale, feel-good or an in-awe story attached to it.

So, if your club either did not qualify for the finals, or is eliminated before the grand final, who would you like to see win the 2021 NRL premiership?