Richie Barnett: Roosters look good thanks to x-factor


Top five set pace but Sonny Bill and co add that extra edge

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has been in great form for the Roosters as they chase back-to-back minor premierships.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has been in great form for the Roosters as they chase back-to-back minor premierships.

This year's NRL is one of the most difficult competitions to predict - just look at my record in the tipping competition - but a few trends are starting to emerge at the halfway mark of the competition.

Five teams - the Bulldogs, Sea Eagles, Roosters, Rabbitohs and Panthers - are starting to emerge from the pack and all five share a few things in common. They all grind out wins, have clever and influential halves who can control matches and at least one back-rower who can cause some damage on the edges.

They also have a good coach, and the value of a top coach should never be underestimated.

It seems this combination is the template to winning games these days. There needs to be a certain relentlessness and aggressiveness as well as a couple of quality decision-makers and they all have it.

I'm picking the Roosters to go on and win back-to-back minor premierships because they have this but also some x-factor with the likes of Sonny Bill Williams, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Daniel Tupou.

Their halves, Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney, have plenty to prove after both were dropped from the NSW State of Origin side.

The Bulldogs and Sea Eagles are two of the most relentless sides in the competition and will threaten at the end of the season.

There have been many who wonder how the Panthers are on top of the table but I'm not one of them. In Peter Wallace and Jamie Soward, they have a couple of clever halves and coach Ivan Cleary seems to be getting the best out of the two.

It's some achievement for Soward, in particular. He was the subject of a number of unkind jibes at the start of the season - Brad Fittler said he thought Soward was "soft" - and I didn't think he was going to make such an impact but he's found an approach that works.

It has meant the Panthers have been one of the biggest surprises this season, along with the Eels and Wests Tigers. The Tigers are looking more and more like the 2005 side, which won the competition, and they are starting to grind out wins but also have a touch of class with the likes of James Tedesco and Luke Brooks.

It all means the much-vaunted Cowboys and Storm will miss the playoffs - it was only a matter of time before an injury to one of the Big Three hurt them - and the Warriors might just sneak in on the back of a good points differential.

I worry, though, about the impact of their defeat to the Rabbitohs last weekend and hope it's not the difference between them making the top eight. It was a pivotal game in the season, especially ahead of the first of their two byes, and they could have made up a lot of ground.

Instead, it looks like it will be a continual battle for the remainder of the year and that only builds pressure.

It has still been a remarkable turnaround from their form at the start of the season.

- NZ Herald

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