NRL Crystal Ball: Analysing Every Club's 2022 Prospects After 7 Rounds
As we approach the two-month mark of the 2022 NRL season, it's time to check in with the Stats Insider Futures model to get an idea of how it all might look later in the year.
The Panthers are where everybody expected them to be and that is unlikely to change any time soon. However, the Cowboys have impressed to start the year and are putting themselves in a position to claim an unexpected finals spot. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, have done little to improve on their 2021 campaign to once again be favourites for the wooden spoon.
Top 8: 16.8%
Wooden Spoon: 7.4%
The Brisbane Broncos are travelling roughly as expected. They're inconsistent, a different team at home, capable of beating any team on their day, but just as capable of losing.
Adam Reynolds is beginning to find his feet in the side. He put in his best performance in a Broncos jersey in Round 7 as they came from 10-0 behind to beat the Bulldogs. Ordering the team around the field and putting the attacking weapons into positions to succeed, the Broncos piled on the points in the second half to do it easily in the end.
Consistency is a major issue for the Broncos at the moment. They're a different team week to week and home and away. While they're 9th on the NRL ladder through seven rounds, they're at only 16.8% to climb up one spot and into the Top 8 by Round 25.
Top 4: 1.1%
Top 8: 16%
Wooden Spoon: 9.3%
The Canberra Raiders have disappointed more than any other team to start the 2022 NRL season. A shadow of the team they were just two years ago, the Green Machine has won only 2 of their opening seven games and needed a last-gasp try to win one of those.
Their pack has grossly underperformed expectations. The 1,333 running metres per game ranks 16th in the competition while Canberra's 9,334 total running metres is the lowest mark through seven rounds since at least 2013.
Out at 43.6% to play finals football and among the teams expected to fight for a finals spot at the bottom of the Top 8, the Raiders are now at just 16% to feature beyond Round 25. Unsurprisingly, Ricky Stuart is yet to feel any pressure as the team shows little sign of improvement in recent weeks.
Top 4: 0.3%
Top 8: 5.6%
Wooden Spoon: 27%
Hyped up throughout the preseason as a possible Top 8 bolter, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs are back to the familiar spot of 16th on the ladder. Remarkably, they're the Stats Insider Futures model's 27% favourite to pick up the wooden spoon.
Trent Barrett - the apparent attacking genius - is coaching the worst attacking team in the competition scoring only 10 points per game. The Storm scored just as many points in Round 7 as the Bulldogs have managed all season while Ryan Papenhuyzen is beating them himself in the point-scoring department.
The Bulldogs lack any semblance of a game plan and it shows in their inability to create points the moment giving it to Matt Burton or Matt Dufty and hoping for the best doesn't produce points.
Starting the year with few wins isn't a surprise given their draw. In fairness, the Bulldogs have faced a brutal opening seven weeks of the season. Still, you can produce encouraging performances in defeat and the Bulldogs haven't been able to do that often enough.
Top 4: 49.6%
Top 8: 91.0%
Wooden Spoon: 0.0%
The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks are flying.
Their 5.2% to win the premiership a month ago has climbed to 9.9% as they flirt with the genuine contenders towards the top of the list. At only 26.6% and 61.7% to reach the Top 4 and Top 8, the Sharks are now Top 4 contenders at 49.6% and a 91% lock for finals football in 2022.
Few teams are prettier to watch at the moment after rookie coach Craig Fitzgibbon overhauled their attack over the summer.
Nicho Hynes looks at home at halfback, Siosifa Talakai is all of a sudden being talked about as a State of Origin centre, Matt Moylan is healthy and the attack is playing behind a strong and mobile pack that is winning the middle more often than not.
The Sharks have won five of their seven games to start 2022 and have the second-easiest remaining schedule of all 16 teams through to Round 25. We need to see them do it for a little bit longer and against a couple of top teams, but the Sharks are putting themselves in the premiership conversation at the moment.
Gold Coast Titans
Top 4: 1.7%
Top 8: 21.7%
Wooden Spoon: 7.9%
The Gold Coast Titans snuck into the Top 8 to be one of the worst finals teams in NRL history last season. Sending their halfback and captain packing with an eye on the future, Justin Holbrook is now scrambling having named David Fifita in the centres in Round 7 before reshuffling the spine again for Round 8. He's desperately searching for the right combinations before the Titans lose touch with the Top 8.
Now at only 21.7% after rating as close to a 50/50 chance before Round 1, a lot of the same issues the Titans faced last season remain. They still have an overreliance on Fifita with the ball, falling asleep in games has plagued them too often already in 2022, and a lack of depth in key playmaking positions offers little in the way of alternatives.
It's not too much of a surprise to see the Titans dip in 2022. A new-look and young spine looked set to struggle in what was an over-achieving team 12 months earlier. Still, following the one step toward consistent finals appearances last season, the Titans have taken two or three steps back to start this one.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
Top 4: 37.9%
Top 8: 86.9%
Wooden Spoon: 0.1%
It's difficult to get a read on the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles as they play without Tom Trbojevic.
Struggling with the ball to start the year, it became clear that Trbojevic was still a massive part of their attack and little had been done in the way of variation in how they use him. However, another injury has provided them with a chance to explore different options with the ball and could yet benefit the Sea Eagles upon his return.
Haumole Olakau'atu, in particular, has kicked on this season to be one of the most potent attacking weapons in the competition. A strong ball carrier and elite hole-runner, he has scored five tries, broken the line four times and run for 101 metres per game this season. His combination with Daly Cherry-Evans is developing nicely and is surely something that can open up space for Trbojevic when he returns.
The Sea Eagles have produced decent results without Trbojevic to remain as a likely finals side (86.9%) and among the premiership contenders (10.3%). However, we're not going to be able to get an accurate read on this side until their influential fullback returns in Round 9.
Top 4: 84.3%
Top 8: 98.6%
Wooden Spoon: 0.0%
The Melbourne Storm just keep doing it...
Some considered reverting back to the 'this is the year it starts to unravel' gear before Round 1 but knew better in the end. While there were valid questions around their middle and depth, Craig Bellamy has found players to fill those roles well enough over the years to be confident he would do so again.
Knights throwaway Josh King is starting, Dragons throwaway Tyran Wishart has featured three times this year, Alec MacDonald (who?) played in the first six games of the season.
The Storm role players consistently do their job which allows Cameron Munster, Jahrome Hughes, Harry Grant and Ryan Papenhuyzen to dominate - and dominate they are...
Thrashing the Warriors by 60 points in Round 7, the Storm continued to put distance between themselves and the rest of the competition with the Panthers the only side capable of keeping up.
Top 4: 1.1%
Top 8: 17.0%
Wooden Spoon: 10.7%
It's a different vibe here to the last time we checked in on the Newcastle Knights. Winners of two games from three and at 52.9% to make the Top 8, Adam O'Brien and his side exceeded expectations to start the year. However, they've not won a game since and haven't been particularly close outside of their 21-16 defeat to the Dragons in Round 6.
The Knights attack has fallen off a cliff. Kalyn Ponga's return from injury acted as a serviceable excuse to start given his growing influence on the ball, but little improvement in recent weeks suggests this is it...
Averaging only 12.9 points per game through seven rounds, Newcastle ranks 14th in attack ahead of only the Tigers and lowly Bulldogs.
North Queensland Cowboys
Top 4: 3.5%
Top 8: 30.6%
Wooden Spoon: 3.8%
The North Queensland Cowboys have won four of their opening seven games to be 5th on the NRL ladder. While nobody expects them to remain so high in the standings - they're at only 30.6% to make the Top 8 - Todd Payten's side has impressed to start the season.
Payten put a focus on defence over the summer. No team conceded more points per game than the Cowboys in 2021 as what has always been an encouraging attack struggled to keep up with the opposition. However, after making key personnel decisions heavily based on defensive ability, the Cowboys have conceded only 13.3 points per game in 2022.
Yardage is always a key metric when looking into teams and it's another area to point out as a positive for the Cowboys. Their 1,699 running metres per game ranks third in the competition and can be circled as a large reason behind their early-season success. On the defensive end, in particular.
While the Cowboys are yet to play any of the elite teams in the competition, it's those below them that are the focus. By beating those also fighting for a spot in the Top 8, North Queensland's 30.6% to play finals football will continue to rise.
Top 4: 56.3%
Top 8: 94.0%
Wooden Spoon: 0.0%
"Like the last three years, there are good signs. The Eels are stacked and can beat anybody on their day. It's consistently having those days that has been the issue and that doesn't seem to have been fixed just yet." - After Round 3
The Parramatta Eels have since thrashed the Dragons, snuck past a poor Titans side, lost to the Tigers in front of a sellout home crowd, and hammered the Knights in Newcastle.
Consistency remains an issue for a side that can look like a premiership contender one week and finals fodder the next. However, injuries have played a part in Parramatta's start to the season. If anything, the turnover in outside backs - and now the halves - can be seen as a positive given how well the Eels have responded. Their attack continues to pile up points while the defence understandably struggles given the faces moving in and out of the squad each week.
If the Eels can get themselves healthy and continue to build on their promising start to the year, they will close the gap on the Panthers and Storm at the top of the premiership chances list.
Top 4: 92.3%
Top 8: 99.7%
Wooden Spoon: 0.0%
What more can you say about the Penrith Panthers?
They're unbeaten through seven rounds and have looked relatively comfortable throughout. Even as Nathan Cleary sat on the sideline to start the year, the Panthers looked likely in defending their premiership.
Isaah Yeo has taken another leap in his career to be a Dally M chance. He marched the team around the field without Cleary and is the perfect foil for the halfback when they're on the field together. In losing Brian To'o, the Panthers replaced him almost like-for-like with 19-year-old Taylan May who will take some beating for Rookie of the Year. May has scored eight tries in six games for the Panthers' left edge to lead the competition in tries with 20 already this season.
The Storm dropped 70 points on the Warriors and STILL can't unseat the Panthers as premiership favourites. Expect the defending premiers to be at the top all year.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Top 4: 27.9%
Top 8: 80.8%
Wooden Spoon: 0.4%
While currently at 8th on the NRL ladder, the South Sydney Rabbitohs certainly haven't played like a Top 8 team throughout the opening seven rounds.
A crippling error count has only made the post-Adam Reynolds era more difficult with the new-look halves pairing unable to string together enough good periods throughout a match. Cody Walker is struggling in his new role as the leader of the attack which was evident towards the end of South Sydney's loss to the Tigers. As Jackson Hastings directed traffic for the Tigers to land their field goal, the Rabbitohs fluffed theirs as Walker went the wrong way and failed to get his team in position for a decent shot. While Lachlan Ilias has shown glimpses, consistency is always an issue for young halves regardless of the team around them.
Latrell Mitchell's injury has stalled the Rabbitohs rise but his return is a major reason to be optimistic about South Sydney's 8.1% to win the premiership. Jason Demetriou's apprenticeship under Wayne Bennett will have him well-prepared to build this team up throughout the year in time for finals football.
St. George Illawarra Dragons
Top 4: 1.8%
Top 8: 24.8%
Wooden Spoon: 5.4%
The St. George Illawarra Dragons snapped their four-game losing streak with encouraging wins over the Knights and Roosters and will now play out the easiest remaining schedule of all 16 teams. Working their way through a tough start to the year against the Panthers, Sharks, Eels, Rabbitohs and Roosters, the Dragons are in a good position to solidify their place around the Top 8 and possibly crack it by the end of the season.
Anthony Griffin's selections still raise eyebrows as Moses Mbye and Jack Bird continue to feature outside of their best positions. However, the overall results suggest Griffin is onto something. Although, Ben Hunt's superb start to 2022 is more likely to be the reason for the Red V's early-season success. The veteran halfback is one of the best in the game right now and single-handedly guided the Dragons to victory over the Roosters on ANZAC Day.
A lot needs to go right for the Dragons on the injury front. Their depth is concerning and too many players in the physio's room can quickly derail their start to the season. But so long as Hunt is fit and healthy, they're a chance at taking the two competition points every week.
Top 4: 38.8%
Top 8: 87.5%
Wooden Spoon: 0.1%
The Sydney Roosters are known as relatively slow starters. It's not too uncommon to see them drop a handful of games early in the year they were expected to win. However, they usually 'look' better than they have done throughout the opening seven rounds in 2022.
An unfamiliar lack of control and direction, more errors than normal, James Tedesco's place in the New South Wales Blues squad coming under question. This isn't the slow start Roosters we've seen in the past before they fly home towards the end of the season.
Tedesco's comments about Luke Keary needing to be a more "genuine halfback" throughout the week suggest a change in approach isn't far away. While Sam Walker is an excellent young talent, taking the pressure off him and having Keary guide the side around the field is a change that makes sense.
The problem for the Roosters now is they have the hardest remaining schedule in the NRL to work it all out.
New Zealand Warriors
Top 4: 1.7%
Top 8: 21.2%
Wooden Spoon: 6.9%
It's not looking good for the New Zealand Warriors...
Following on from their club-worst 70-10 thrashing at the hands of the Storm, they now have the second-hardest draw through to Round 25 to navigate.
Of concern is the 10 tries conceded through the middle so far in 2022. It's a terrible sign moving forward and one that is further reflected in how quickly they fell to pieces once the points started to pile up on them in Round 7.
Chanel Harris-Tavita and Shaun Johnson still put on two smart tries as they picked the Storm defence to pieces but aren't being given enough opportunities to produce points overall at the moment. There is only so much they can do alongside Reece Walsh, and right now, their yardage players aren't getting them into attacking positions. The Warriors' 23.7 tackles inside the opposition's 20-metre line per game is the third-fewest in the competition.
Until the Warriors can find some starch in the middle, they'll struggle to compete for a finals spot.
Top 4: 0.6%
Top 8: 8.0%
Wooden Spoon: 21.0%
Back-to-back wins have put the Wests Tigers season back on track but they still have a lot of work to do if they're to put some distance between themselves and the wooden spoon.
Jackson Hastings has been outstanding since returning in Round 6. He has put the team on his back in attack which has helped Luke Brooks improve his game. The defence has improved as a result of the better performances with the ball. However, the cat is out of the bag. With Hastings touching the ball 96 times per game over the last fortnight, the defence knows where it's going and will adjust accordingly.
Now up to 13th on the ladder and at 21% to finish with the wooden spoon, the Tigers have done a good job in giving themselves a chance this season. How they adjust over the next month is crucial, though.
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