Hugh McGahan is a former Kiwis player and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Hugh McGahan: Surprises of the NRL season

The Bulldogs have done better than expected. Photo / Getty Images
The Bulldogs have done better than expected. Photo / Getty Images

Most teams are finishing in the position I predicted before the start of the season. The top eight is settling itself for a battle at seven and eight, while the top six is not a real surprise.

The Sharks have surprised some but I thought them the dark horse and they have lived up to that expectation.

However, there are four teams that went against my predictions.

I thought the Bulldogs under Des Hasler would take time to adapt to the coach's style of play. Blow me down, this team has set new standards of play, particularly for front rowers; their skill set is the benchmark for those who aspire to better.

Their game plan stumbled early in the season but is now humming along nicely; they will still be around in the last two weeks of the finals series.

The Eels were a team I thought would improve on their 2011 campaign but unfortunately issues were deeper than expected and time was needed for a resolution.

My prediction for a mid-table finish was way off but a willingness to fight was always evident and should have resulted in more wins.

Poor decision-making and form slumps at crucial times were costly, especially in the games where last-minute losses were heart-breaking and morale-sapping.

The other two teams for whom I predicted better fortunes are today playing at Mt Smart Stadium.

The Panthers in 2011 needed some guidance and stability; I thought this year they'd be on the cusp of revival especially under new coach Ivan Cleary and general manager Phil Gould. It appears it is going to take a little longer with the player issues at the club.

That took some time for management to assess but the Panthers will be better for acting immediately rather than trying to manage it, or should I say, battle with it. Some players will move on while others fall into line with the regime - but their form has suffered, hence their place at the foot of the table.

I don't know what to say about the Warriors that has not already been said, other than it's been more than disappointing. It is a team that consistently provides inconsistency.

I do not want to repeat other media criticism but they have not lived up to expectation. Coach Brian McClennan has accepted responsibility on a couple of occasions but what about the players?

Bluey accepts he may lose his job over the results; will the players accept the same, or hide and blame others? Will players offer their resignation for their performances? I think not.

They claim to be 'brothers' and stand together through the battles. But when it really matters, they will not offer the sacrifice their coach is prepared to make.

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Hugh McGahan is a former Kiwis player and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Hugh Joseph McGahan MBE was a renowned rugby league player and coach who represented New Zealand in no less than 53 test matches, captaining 17 of them. Beginning his career in Auckland he later moved to Sydney where he played over 100 matches for the Roosters, finishing his career in 1991 as captain-coach of the eastern Sydney outfit. Accolades were never far away from the impressive Kiwi lock and in 1987 McGahan jointly won the prestigious Golden Boot Award, the first row forward at the time to win the award. Hugh McGahan’s international career was similarly impressive coming to the fore in 1982 after scoring a remarkable six tries for the Kiwis against Papua New Guinea in Auckland. Hugh Mcgahan ended his career with distinguished honours as he was awarded the Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to rugby and later inducted into the NZRL Legends of League. He continues to write sports columns for the New Zealand Herald.

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