A bandwagoner’s guide to the 2022 NRL Finals Series

By Adam Hayward

With the regular home-and-away season complete, supporters of the bottom-eight clubs will be looking to jump on the bandwagon of another team for this year’s finals series.

Allow me to make a case for each of the top eight clubs as to why you should choose them as your bandwagon team.

8th – Canberra Raiders

The Raiders have been playing sudden death football since their round 17 bye, winning six of their last seven games to scrape into the finals in eighth position, which is an amazing achievement. And make no mistake about it, Ricky’s men will be out to prove they’re not there simply to make up the numbers.

They have arguably the most in-form forward pack heading into the finals series and they could certainly ruffle a few feathers if they can keep their roll going.

They are a club that has teased with so much potential since 2016 but haven’t turned that potential into premierships. Winning this year’s competition would be a dream-come-true for long suffering fans from the nation’s capital, ending a 28-year premiership drought for the Raiders.

7th – South Sydney Rabbitohs

Another finals appearance for the foundation club, however the Rabbitohs remain just below the top tier sides of the competition. But like the Roosters and Storm in this year’s finals series, they have the tools to win the competition from outside the top four and add to their record 21 premierships.

Since 2018, the Rabbitohs have lost three-straight preliminary finals and last years’ grand final. They are desperate for premiership success after falling agonisingly short for the past four seasons.

South Sydney is a very proud club with a rich history, and a huge fanbase. It would certainly be a ‘feel good’ story if they can go on to win the big one.

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6th – Sydney Roosters

From a statistical perspective, teams cannot win the competition from outside the top four, and it hasn’t been achieved once in the NRL era. But this Roosters side could be the best equipped to re-write the record books and go on a roll to win the premiership from sixth position.

It took longer than half of the season for this stacked roster of superstars to find their groove, but leading into the business end, you better believe they have found it. They have been great to watch, especially their forward pack which brings that old school mentality.

With the shiny new Allianz Stadium at Moore Park to call home, adding another premiership to the trophy cabinet would further solidify the Sydney Roosters as one of the best sporting organisations in Australia, which other clubs strive to emulate.

5th – Melbourne Storm

This finals series marks a new challenge for the mighty Melbourne Storm, finishing outside of the top four for the first time since 2014. Injuries to key players have cruelled their season, but so good is the revered ‘Storm system’, they are far from counted out as a premiership threat.

Would anyone be surprised if they powered their way to another grand final from fifth position? Unlikely. That is a testament to coach Craig Bellamy and his ability to get the best out of young, inexperienced players and fringe first-graders who are required to step up and play a role.

Cameron Munster is the key to the Storm’s chances and it’s hard not to be in awe of his stellar 2022 form. If he is at his best, the Storm will be a good chance in every game they play in the finals.

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4th – Parramatta Eels

The Eels have been frustratingly inconsistent for most of the season, but a late-season surge in form has seen them snatch an elusive top four position from the Storm, which guarantees two bites of the cherry.

The club with the longest premiership drought in the NRL, there’s an entire generation of Eels supporters who are yet to experience the feeling of watching their team win a premiership. It’s probably fair to say ‘long suffering’ is an understatement when describing the blue and gold faithful.

But with key players moving on at season’s end, the premiership window for the Eels won’t be as wide open as it is in 2022, and there hasn’t been a bigger opportunity to claim their first title since 1986.

3rd – North Queensland Cowboys

Perhaps the fairy tale story of the season. The Cowboys were widely tipped to finish the 2022 season with the dreaded wooden spoon, but instead coach Todd Payten has masterminded an epic turn around which has resulted in the Cowboys spending most of the season in the top four – finishing in third position.

The key for the Cowboys to achieve any kind of success this year was for Payten to get the best out of his million-dollar players Jason Taumalolo and Valentine Holmes, trust that Chad Townsend would silence his critics and fast track the development of the plethora of young, inexperienced talent at his disposal, which he did and then some.

Despite their ladder position, the Cowboys are viewed as an underdog side heading into the finals.

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2nd – Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks

New coach Craig Fitzgibbon’s incredible first season in charge has seen a so-so Sharks side develop into a premiership dark horse. It’s amazing to think the team which finished the regular season in second position is considered a “dark horse”, but that is how the Sharks would like it – to fly under the radar with fewer expectations compared to the so-called ‘big clubs’.

Nicho Hynes has been a revolutionary for the club. He has evolved from a quality utility player into a world class halfback. As one of the nice guys in rugby league, it’s great to see him succeed the way he has from an individual perspective.

The premiership window has opened for the Sharks and should stay open for the foreseeable future. It will be interesting to see if they can take advantage so soon into the Fitzgibbon/Hynes era.

1st – Penrith Panthers

The reigning premiers and the 2022 minor premiers, the Penrith Panthers are once again the benchmark of the competition. We continue to be in awe of their incredible run over the past three seasons, as well as their player development systems which continues to produce young, homegrown superstars and their unrivalled hunger for success.

They are fresh, fit and no-doubt will be ready to fire in the finals series and it’s hard not to be impressed with how tight they are as a playing group.

These Panthers are a huge chance of the rare achievement of back-to-back premierships, which would elevate them into the conversation of one of the greatest rugby league teams in history.

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Whichever club goes on to win this years’ premiership, there will be a fairy tale, feel-good or an in-awe story attached to it.

So, if your club either did not qualify for the finals, or is eliminated before the grand final, who would you like to see win the 2022 NRL premiership?

Featured Image: Accor Stadium, home of the 2022 NRL Grand Final (Photo: Creative Commons)

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