Best in class: The winners and losers of 2020 NRL season
With the final round here, PAUL CRAWLEY delivers his end of season reports.
While the Panthers finish top of the class, there is a Storm warning on the horizon as we enter the highly anticipated finals series.
And which two teams that didn't make the finals scored higher marks than three that did?
Check out the full scores below.
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My tip mid-season: 3rd
I've been waiting for all this expectation to get the better of these young Panthers for months now. But for 14 straight weeks they have just turned up and played to their outstanding potential, with a steely-mix of composure and growing confidence. And while everyone rightfully talks about Nathan Cleary being odds-on for Dally M player of the year, across the park most rank among the best for individual positions. From Api Koroisau to Jarome Luai, Isaah Yeo, Liam Martin, Viliame Kikau and James Fisher-Harris. Don't forget Ivan, an absolute standout for coach of the year.
My tip mid-season: 1st
The team to beat heading into the finals, Craig Bellamy just continues to find a way to rejuvenate this squad. And right now there is no better example of Bellamy's magic than the rise and rise of the flying Ryan Papenhuyzen. Last year Papenhuyzen started as the Storm's third choice fullback, now you couldn't pick a NSW team without him somewhere in the squad. Of course, when you're judging success again this season you can't look past Cameron Smith who has shown no signs of slowing despite all this talk of retirement.
My tip mid-season: 16th
The most inspirational team performance this year. It's just a shame the Warriors won't be playing finals. When the club made the decision to sack Stephen Kearney it looked to me an unbelievably dumb move given the team was stuck in lockdown and away from their families back in New Zealand. But Todd Payten has done an extraordinary job pulling them together, while Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is the standout for the Dally M captain of the year. But across the park they should all take a bow.
My tip mid-season: 2nd
The fact the Roosters are on track for a premiership three-peat can't be overstated. Of course, the lines always trotted out are 'anybody can coach this roster' and 'how hard can it be when you have a salary cap sombrero'. But the fact is they lost Cooper Cronk and Latrell Mitchell this year before Victor Radley and Sam Verrills suffered season-ending injuries. But once again at the business end of the year Trent Robinson has his team ready to strike, with Luke Keary and James Tedesco looking ominous, and the latest shrewd signing Sonny Bill Williams threatens to be their finals' X factor.
My tip mid-season: 4th
This year has defined Brad Arthur's painstaking rebuild of a club he took over when it was at rock bottom. Even though some critics argue the Eels have been disappointing for some time now, a win against the Tigers will give them a 75 per cent win record, Parra's best since 2001. The loss of Dylan Brown was a huge setback for Mitchell Moses but getting Reed Mahoney back last week showed how vital he is, and hopefully Brown will be back next week. Special mention for Clint Gutherson, up with the game's most inspirational.
My tip mid-season: 5th
Not so long ago the Raiders could always find a way to lose. Now they find a way to win. And what they have done this year to stay in the fight for a top four finish, despite losing Josh Hodgson so early, is an outstanding achievement. Also factor in other long term injuries to key middle forwards Sia Soliola, Corey Horsburgh and Emre Guler, along with Curtis Scott. This will be the first time the Raiders have made the finals in back-to-back seasons since 2004, and if they concede less than 20 against Cronulla on Saturday it will be their best defensive season since 1995.
My tip mid-season: 15th
A coaching effort up with Ivan Cleary, Craig Bellamy and Trent Robinson. To turn around a joint where confidence was on the floor like Justin Holbrook has is phenomenal. Look no further than Ash Taylor, while new captain Jamal Fogarty has been a revelation, and AJ Brimson is now up with the game's most electric players. But there is a procession of players who have found a new lease of life under Holbrook, while their brand of footy is really exciting. And they've already bought big Tino Faasuamaleaui and David Fifita for next year.
My tip mid-season: 9th
Up until the moment Latrell Mitchell tore his hamstring I thought the Rabbitohs were warming for a big end of season charge. While I can't see them challenging the top teams without Latrell, Souths fans should still find plenty of positives from this year. For starters, Latrell was written off early as a massive flop as a fullback but he's sure proved his critics wrong. While no one rated the pack but they have really aimed up, with big Tom Burgess leading the charge.
My tip mid-season: 7th
Will play finals footy for the first time since 2013 which is a solid pass mark for new coach Adam O'Brien. Yes, there's been some inconsistent results. But remember, the Knights lost No 1 hooker Jayden Brailey before the COVID lockdown and then back-up dummy halves Andrew McCullough and Connor Watson, along with Blake Green. Throw in the long absence of Bradman Best and finishing top eight is more than acceptable. Kalyn Ponga has been outstanding while Daniel Saifiti and Mitch Barnett are the pick of the forwards.
My tip mid-season: 8th
You could sell it as a successful season because the Sharks will finish top eight. But defensively is where they have lost their DNA, conceding more points (442) than the Dragons (430) this year. And if they don't beat a B grade Canberra on Saturday, Cronulla will go into the finals having not beaten a top eight team all year. The question I ask is whether it's John Morris' fault, given he inherited a roster full of big-name senior players on ridiculous money who just haven't performed. Aside from Shaun Johnson, Blakye Brailey, Siosifa Talakai, Toby Rudolf, Royce Hunt have carried the load.
My tip mid-season: 14th
Canterbury's worst season in terms of a winning percentage since 1964, when they won just one game. But I don't necessarily blame the players, I blame self-interest that has made the so-called 'Family Club' an embarrassment to their proud history. Jack Gibson used to say winning starts in the front office and at the Bulldogs that used to be the case. But the sacking of Dean Pay as well as the rest of the coaching and player cleanout is just a cop out. The real issue is what is what's happening in the boardroom. When that's resolved, Trent Barrett might have a hope.
WESTS TIGERS: D
My tip mid-season: 10th
With the exception of Harry Grant and David Nofoalmuna, it's fair to say that sadly the Tigers have met our expectations for another forgettable season. Will continue the NRL's longest finals drought, having not made the play offs since 2011. What's worse, they're no closer to looking a genuine top eight hope next year. Consistency remains the biggest issue, having not won three consecutive games since early 2018. At least they still have Ivan Cleary to blame for the salary cap mess.
SEA EAGLES: D
My tip mid-season: 6th
I really thought Des Hasler would have had Manly pushing top four this year but a loss this round against the Warriors will give Des his worst ever season in terms of a winning percentage. As awful as that looks, a lot of it has just been unavoidable bad luck. When they let Api Koroisau go, they didn't know Manase Fainu would end up being stood down, and poor Tommy Trbojevic just can't take a trick, while Dylan Walker has been a huge loss. Take the hooker, five-eighth and fullback out of any team long term and they will struggle just as the Sea Eagles have done this year.
My tip mid-season: 12th
Paul Green's sacking ultimately derailed a season always heading towards a disaster. Just four wins in total but only one in their last 12 games. If they go down to the Broncos it will be the least amount of wins for the Cowboys in 21 years. For mine, what's gone wrong again this year is the remanence of poor player identification and retention. I could name four off they let go that would break the heart of any North Queensland fan. Kalyn Ponga, Viliame Kikau, Brandon Smith and Braden Hamlin-Uele. Then they've paid huge money for some others that just haven't aimed up.
My tip mid-season: 11th
Plays like a footy club that has lost its soul. Last weekend's pathetic performance against Newcastle summed this season up perfectly. If it wasn't the worst performance in the joint venture's history, it certainly makes the grand final. And it was just as sad watching one of the most committed and courageous to play for the Dragons in Dean Young having explain what's gone wrong after the game. Take out Cam McInnes, Zac Lomax and Matt Dufty, and the rest should be embarrassed.
My tip mid-season: 13th
Brisbane's worst season, ever. Never before have the Broncos lost 16 games in a season or finished last. Throw in the current negative 340-point differential is almost 300 worse than any other regular season in club history. But enough of the stats. In reality, the team has displayed all the inconsistencies of what's gone wrong off the field. And I genuinely feel for the players because they were thrown into a predicament that was always heading for a disaster due to a glaring lack of experience, on and off the field. It really is shameful the NRL's most resourced club is in such a mess.
Originally published as Best in class: The winners and losers of 2020 NRL season