Fri, Mar 2, 12:07pm by Staff Writer
With less than one week to go to the kickoff of the 2018 NRL season, excitement is building for one of the most competitive leagues in world sport. The battle for the top eight and playoff footy at the end of the year will be as ferocious as ever. Whilst unfortunately for Gold Coast Titans and West Tigers fans, they appear to be on course for a fight to avoid the wooden spoon.
The injection of Cooper Cronk to the Sydney Roosters should boost their chances of a first Premiership since 2013. Last season they pushed eventual Premiers, Melbourne, all the way in the regular season but struggled in the playoffs. Cronk’s presence may well be the missing link that they have been searching for as they stand as favourites to win the Premiership at $5.
They only just edge out the North Queensland Cowboys, however, who are priced at $5.50. Despite no major signings in the off-season, the Cowboys will welcome back Johnathan Thurston who missed a large part of last year through injury. His return will be a major boost to a side who were depleted through injury during the playoffs but still managed to make the Grand Final. If they can galvanise those performances with the star quality of Thurston, then they are a real threat this season.
Reigning Premiers, Melbourne Storm, may have lost Cooper Cronk to the Roosters for his love life, but they are still contenders. With the spine of Cronk, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater now broken, it will be interesting to see how the Storm youngsters step up to fill the void. Brodie Croft was impressive in the World Club Challenge, just as he was at Origin time last year. They stand at $6.
Outside of those three clubs, the Premiership appears a distant dream, with Parramatta ($12), Brisbane ($13), Penrith, Cronulla and St George-Illawarra ($15) their closest rivals. For these sides and the ones below their main aim will be making the top eight.
An impressive fourth-place finish for the Eels and respectable losses to the Cowboys and Storm in the Finals has set them up for another crack this year. They have a squad capable of challenging anyone in the competition on their day and are priced at $1.57 for the top eight.
Although they stand behind the Eels to be Premiers, the Brisbane Broncos have the edge in the regular season prices; standing at $1.50 for a top eight finish as they continue to go in search of a first NRL title since 2006.
The Panthers, Sharks and Dragons may all be priced the same for the Premiership but differ in their hopes for the top eight. Penrith are favourites out of the three to make the playoffs priced at $1.55 compared to the Sharks at $1.62 and the Knights at $1.80.
Those eight clubs all lead the running for the Premiership and top eight, but it would be foolish to rule out potential surprises especially in the playoff places – with the Rabbitohs ($2), Raiders ($1.90) and Sea Eagles ($2) all in search of finals footy.
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