Matty Johns’ run to the NRL finals
Eight weeks until the finals. As the season heads toward the high rollers, let's run the rule over the competition.
Once again, they will take out the minor premiership. It's amazing, for all that Cameron Smith and Craig Bellamy have achieved, the fire in the belly just won't subside.
But Melbourne still have some tinkering to do. They still have to get more out of their right side in attack, so don't be surprised if Bellamy starts to experiment with a few combinations in the run to the finals.
Ryan Papenhuyzen and Brandon Smith give the Storm the ability to play around with the look of the spine, and I think Bellamy will look to experiment. Maybe Cameron Smith playing some minutes in the halves, Brandon Smith in dummy-half and young gun Harry Grant getting an opportunity off the bench?
The Storm have put themselves in a position where they can try some things and expect them to do so.
Cameron Muster and Cameron Smith. No Origin football has been a godsend for Melbourne as far as Smith is concerned. 400 NRL games and still the most influential player in the NRL.
TAB ODDS: $3.50
MATTY ODDS: $3.25
The Origin period was difficult for Souths. Key men injured and key men losing confidence made June and July difficult, but you can see them coming out of it.
Wayne Bennett knows how to get his teams primed for September and with his leader, Sam Burgess, returning in coming weeks, I expect the Bunnies to get back to their April/May form.
They have a good run home which should see them avoid having to face Melbourne in Melbourne week one of the finals.
Cody Walker was the competition's best player early in the season, with State of Origin disappointment taking some of the wind out of his sails in recent weeks.
With the finals drawing closer, watch for Walker's best football to return. The immediacy of his combination with Damien Cook will be lethal in high-tempo finals football.
TAB ODDS: $6
MATTY ODDS: $5.50
Ignore the Roosters' dip in form, and watch their football get better from here on in.
If you want to back the Roosters, now is the time to get on, they'll progressively get shorter as September draws closer.
The spine - Cooper Cronk, Luke Keary, Jake Friend and James Tedesco - is now back in place and I expect some big wins in the next month.
James Tedesco. Learning to combine with playmakers has taken his game to a whole new level and those combinations will only get better. Will be a huge figure in the finals.
TAB ODDS: $3
MATTY ODDS: $2.75
The Raiders' performance against the Dragons last Sunday was superb. They attack with a point of difference, driven by the old-school instincts of their English players.
I was in Canberra last week and there is a buzz around the Raiders that hasn't been there for a long, long time. The improvement in their attack is noticeable and they now deserve to be looked as a serious title contender.
Josh Hodgson. There are some signs he is about to hit top form. As important to Canberra as Cam Smith is to Melbourne.
TAB ODDS: $13
MATTY ODDS: $9
MANLY SEA EAGLES
Des Hasler is enjoying one of his finest seasons of coaching. The improvement of this team collectively, and individually is phenomenal.
Twelve months ago Moses Suli looked a lost cause, now he's flying.
Manly have some difficult games on the run home but on form, they'll win enough to play finals. If Des can get this team a top-four finish, it will be his greatest coaching achievement.
The Turbo Brothers. Jake provides the inspiration, Tom the attacking genius.
TAB ODDS: $19
MATTY ODDS: $20
After one of the best few months in decades, the Knights are experiencing a flat spot. They have a good run home, but need to get back to winning ways.
Huge game against the Roosters on Friday night. The return of Kalyn Ponga should spark the Knights.
Mitchell Pearce. When he's up and energised so are the Knights. Last week he was flat after the State of Origin, and so were his team. The leader and the pulse of the team.
TAB ODDS: $23
MATTY ODDS: $20
When they get their focus right they are a terrific football team. The trick is to find the balance between the graft and the glitz.
At times they go into games determined to move the ball from sideline to sideline and it brings them undone.
When they base their game on direct power running, headed by Blake Ferguson and Maika Sivo, they are a handful for any team.
Blake Ferguson. His ability to lead the yardage and score a try out of nothing has been the key element in the Eels' big improvement.
TAB ODDS: $21
MATTY ODDS: $23
A team capable of winning the whole thing, but has been weighed down by a horror season of injuries and the inability to find the right selection formula.
A few weeks ago, this team was being viewed as a genuine dark horse, now I'm not so sure. Huge month coming up.
Wade Graham. His hamstring injury is a huge blow, the Sharks need him to fire on return.
TAB ODDS: $21
MATTY ODDS: $27
After a horrendous early season, the Panthers have found their game. The problem is their slow start has them needing a big finish to play finals. Even if they get there, they may have spent their pennies in doing so.
Nathan Cleary. He's had a difficult season but watch for Nathan to have a big finish to the year, before his ankle injury there were signs that he was heading into good form.
TAB ODDS: $21
MATTY ODDS: $30
NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS
Terrific win last week over the Roosters. Jake Clifford's man-of-the-match performance is a great sign. Paul Green needs Clifford to become the dominant playmaker.
I don't see the Cowboys figuring in the finals, even with their good run home.
Jake Clifford. A big finish to the season would be a great building block for 2020.
TAB ODDS: $101
MATTY ODDS: $80
Michael Maguire has done a good job with this team, they are disciplined and hardworking.
The challenge for Maguire is trying to reinvigorate a roster which is presenting huge problems salary cap-wise.
For 2020 the Tigers need one or two class attacking players but can they clear some cap space to get them?
Luke Brooks. Still struggling for week-to-week consistency.
TAB ODDS: $151
MATTY ODDS: $100
After a strong season in 2018 the Warriors have fallen backwards. I'd hate to see where they'd be without Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
RTS. He ran for an incredible 321 metres last week.
TAB ODDS: $67
MATTY ODDS: $300
The Broncos need a top-shelf playmaker more than any team in memory. Their pack can dominate all they want but it's like having a car with a V12 engine, but no steering wheel. Big things are expected of young Tom Dearden in 2020, but for a year or two an older, experienced half alongside him is needed.
Tom Dearden. Coach Seibold will be hoping he finishes 2019 strong.
TAB ODDS: $67
MATTY ODDS: Name your own price.
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
Coach Paul McGregor said his team can still win the competition after their loss to the Raiders last Sunday, I don't share Mary's optimism.
James Graham. They miss his leadership.
TAB ODDS: $151
MATTY ODDS: London to a brick.
This young squad have really improved, Dean Pay would be proud of the way his team fights every week. Hopefully they can continue to get better.
Jack Cogger. A young playmaker whose improvement mirrors the team.
TAB ODDS: $501
MATTY ODDS: Don't bother, wait till next year.
GOLD COAST TITANS
They should be doing better.
Ash Taylor. Needs to come back, work hard and rebuild his career.
TAB ODDS: $751
MATTY ODDS: Your money is no good here.