NRL finals 2018: St George Dragons, Penrith Panthers in Wildcard debate
RIDICULOUS suggestions to rob some of the most prolific sides in the NRL has only left the league with more problems.
Andrew McMurtrynews.com.auAugust 28, 20184:10pm
It’s a ‘diabolical disaster’3:28
NRL: Michael Ennis discusses the fall of the Dragons and the chances they have in the finals after their dissapointing loss to the Bulldogs.
- August 27th 2018
- a day ago
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There’s no doubt about it — St George Illawarra has been abysmal since Origin III.
With just two wins in seven games, including a 40-4 thrashing at the hands of the last placed Eels and Sunday’s embarrassing 38-0 loss to the Bulldogs, the Dragons are floundering on the eve of the finals.
But should the dip in form see the side miss the finals?
Talk of a Wildcard has sprung up this year. NRL.com’s senior reporter Brad Walter suggested: “If there was a place for a Wildcard in the NRL finals, the likes of Manly, Parramatta and North Queensland may have enough momentum at the right end of the season to be a force.”
The Wildcard system would give bottom eight teams with late season form an opportunity to take the place of a top eight team who is stumbling.
‘If there was a place for a “wild card” in the NRL finals, the likes of Manly, Parramatta and North Queensland may have enough momentum at the right end of the season to be a force’. The 7-way battle to avoid the spoon. https://t.co/3hHTjvGz85 via @NRLcom pic.twitter.com/ZDBQIQ44QU
— Brad Walter (@BradWalterSport) August 13, 2018
Time to call for some kind of finals wildcard. @NRL_Bulldogs are likely to do more with it than most of the top eight. #nrlDragonsBulldogs
— Tim Barrow (@TheBarrow) August 26, 2018
Host of The Back Page Tony Squires has jumped on the bandwagon, writing on FoxSports.com.au: “As a lifelong St George Illawarra fan, this comes from a place of love: the Dragons should not play finals this year.
“In their place, under my brand new Wildcard system, come the Raiders — the best team to miss finals in decades — and the Cowboys, with a line-up capable of anything in the big games.
“Naturally, teams in the top four are immune from the Wildcard, but anyone who splutters into the bottom of the eight on an empty tank and bald tyres is susceptible.”
It’s been a hard few weeks for the joint venture club. The performances have rekindled talk of being chokers and it was a kick to the ego for home fans to boo the side off the field after the thrashing at the hands of the Bulldogs.
But denying the side a place in the finals would forget all the work the Dragons did to make it as far as they have this year, despite their recent woes.
In round nine, St George was sitting pretty at the top of the ladder with eight wins under its belt and Tyson Frizell, Jack De Belin, Paul Vaughan, Tariq Sims and Ben Hunt all primed to feature in the Origin series.
The hard work was done in the first half of the season and to take that away would render that part of the season pointless.
Squires says the Panthers — who have three comeback wins and four losses in their past seven games — should also miss the finals.
They’ve suffered two losses since sacking coach Anthony Griffin and promoting assistant Cameron Ciraldo to the caretaker role.
It’s hardly inspiring form for fans to pin their premiership hopes to.
Bulldogs fans, however, finally have something to cheer about.
With four wins in its past five games, Canterbury is flying to finish the season as it aims to avoid the wooden spoon. But the Bulldogs had just four wins from 18 games to start the year. How could you justify the Bulldogs, with eight wins for the season, taking the place of the Dragons, with 14 wins?
The Dragons deserve to be in the finals on the weight of their performances throughout the year.
It will be a very short finals campaign for the Dragons and Panthers unless they can build some confidence and remember how they got in the top eight in the first place but form lines shouldn’t exclude them from chasing premiership glory after doing plenty of hard work earlier in the year.
What this Wildcard debate points to is the 2018 NRL season being one of the closest in recent memory.
With just 18 points separating the Melbourne Storm in first and Parramatta Eels in 16th with a round to go, it’s been a remarkably tight season.
It’s expected to be as close as the 2015 season which saw the Storm finish on 40 points and the wooden spoon-winning Knights end up on 20.
We haven’t seen a top eight race as close as this — with four points separating first and eighth — for some time.
All rugby league fans want the best finals series possible and Squires makes an argument the finals should have a “Sense of Occasion rule”, which would give the potential to send retiring star Johnathan Thurston out a winner despite the Cowboys’ horror season.
But what’s to stop teams tanking in the first half of the season before coming good at the pointy end of the year?
Cowboys coach Paul Green penned a story on PlayersVoice to farewell Thurston, lamenting the way North Queensland’s season has gone.
“To say he (Thurston) has played on a year too long — no, I can’t agree,” Green wrote.
“You’ve got to look deeper than that. We’ve had two one-point losses to the Rabbitohs, another to the Storm, a six-point loss to the Roosters — they’re the best teams in the comp. Win the close ones instead of losing them and we’re still in the hunt.”
The NRL season is a marathon, not a sprint.
Green knows as well as anyone close wins and losses can make or break a season. You’ve got to win the tough ones to earn the right to play in September.
Ahead of the final round, the top eight we have includes the best eight teams of the season. The entire season.
The what-could-have-beens are great for debate but if the Bulldogs or the Cowboys or the Raiders wanted to make the finals, they should have won games earlier in the year.
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