Following the opening seven rounds of the season, the NRL ladder is beginning to take shape.
With a number of clubs off to slow starts, and a similar batch of sides going beyond expectations, there is a large running for a top-eight finish in 2021, with several dark horses set to stake their claim for a finals berth.
While the Panthers, Eels, Storm, Rabbitohs and Roosters take their rightful place atop the standings, there looks to be a busy tussle in the following third, with the Raiders and Titans stumbling in their step on multiple occasions in the opening month or so.
If we look further down the order, the bottom few clubs have seen rare glimpses of success as poor management and injuries have taken their toll and are opening up the wooden spoon race early.
Between the bottom eight sides, each club has enough time to make their case for a finish in the top half, but we see just the three clubs among the cellar dwellers who can have an impact come September, with the best tips on the premiership available with your Bet365 bonus.
The Knights, Sea Eagles and Warriors all firm as potential contenders, and here’s why.
The Knights bowed out of the postseason in 2020 after an opening week defeat to the Rabbitohs, with youth and injuries taking their toll on a tiring Newcastle outfit.
While injuries continue to plague Adam O’Brien’s side, their younger crop continue to develop into household names as superstar fullback Kalyn Ponga and new recruit Tyson Frizell look to lead the pack.
Despite being likely to face defeat this weekend as they host the Roosters, the Knights can look forward to an exciting month ahead, with the struggling Raiders following before clashes against fellow bottom-half sides Wests, North Queensland and Manly.
Across this period, the Knights are set to welcome the returns of Edrick Lee, Hymel Hunt, Tex Hoy and Lachlan Fitzgibbon from injury.
Should Newcastle’ casualty ward look to clear out, the Knights will be placed as a strong contender for the top-eight once again this season.
With arguably the easiest draw in the league, the Knights are tipped for a strong finish, don’t rule them out too early.
Manly Sea Eagles
The return of Tom Trbojevic says it all. The Sea Eagles’ season entirely relies on the shoulders (or hamstrings) of their fullback.
His return across the past fortnight has seen the script flip on its head, with the club’s biggest test of the season coming this weekend as they travel to Penrith.
While a win isn’t expected, the unfancied Manly are sure to send another strong warning to the rest of the competition that their early struggles were an anomaly in their 2021 campaign.
Trbojevic’s game style has lifted the impact of those around him, with the Sea Eagles’ spine running as one of the most efficient in the league since his return.
With one of the more comfortable runs home for the remainder of the season and the form of a top-eight side, their slow start is sure to be a distant memory come the final weekend of the home-and-away season.
New Zealand Warriors
The Auckland-based club sit at a respectable ninth in the league after seven rounds, with their impressive strat only the more richer given they are yet to actually play a game at home.
In a couple of months time, the Warriors will travel back across the Tasman and play out a majority of their games at Mt Smart Stadium, returning one of the toughest away trips in the league.
A 3-4 start has the Warriors buoyed just outside of the top six on points differential, with an enticing cash against the Cowboys in Round 8 a strong chance to move into the next bracket of the competition.
The Warriors will face the Sea Eagles, Eels, Tigers and then the Cowboys once again prior to their bye, and could be sitting pretty with six wins from their opening 11 games should the right fixtures go their way.
With an exciting group of neophytes placing plenty of heat on selection and a number of key figures set for eventual returns from injury, the Warriors side we see now could be a far different one we see at the end of the season.