With State of Origin almost done and 10 rounds remaining in the regular season, our panel of rugby league experts predicts which teams will make the top eight and who will miss out.
If only NSW chose their purely fit side.
Then North Queensland star Scott Drinkwater would be thrown straight into the State of Origin cauldron after hitting the richest form vein of any No. 1 in the league in recent weeks.
Drinkwater’s attacking production has outshone other contenders for the Blues fullback jersey in starting captain James Tedesco, Clint Gutherson and Dylan Edwards.
Cowboys coach Todd Payten insisted that it was time for Tweed’s selectors to recognize Drinkwater’s performances.
“He’s played well and his name should be mentioned in that space,” Payten said.
“There’s more to being a fullback than setting up and scoring tries, but if you’re looking for points then Scotty is your man.
“I don’t think it’s far. I think you can handle it.
“Whatever they decide to do, they decide to do it, and fingers crossed ‘Drinky’ will have a chance. If not this year, it will be in the future.”
In six games since the Rd 11, Drinkwater was involved in 18 downs (scored and assisted) and 20 line breaks (running and passing) for the Cowboys.
In that same span, Blues captain Tedesco (5 games) was involved in eight tries and six line breaks.
Eels captain Gutherson is closest to Drinkwater with 14 tries and 15 line breaks, while Penrith’s Edwards has six tries and four line breaks, both in six games.
Drinkwater’s purple patch has coincided with the Cowboys’ surprising turnaround in fortunes, having dipped as low as second-from-last just five weeks ago.
Now they’re poised to make a stunning top-eight comeback.
And rugby league pundits at both The Daily Telegraph and The Courier Mail have backed last year’s fairytale side to continue their run until September.
After taking a look at the last 10 weeks of each team’s season, they concluded that there are only nine teams in contention for the final.
His season finale predictions also include:
– Nine teams remained for the final: Panthers, Storm, Rabbitohs, Warriors, Eels, Cowboys, Raiders, Sharks, Broncos
– Season finished for eight teams: Roosters, Dragons, Tigers, Knights, Sea Eagles, Titans, Dolphins, Bulldogs
– Top eight lockouts: Panthers, Storm, Rabbitohs, Warriors, Broncos.
– Roosters will miss finals for the first time since 2016
– Finals drought continues for three teams: Tigers (12 years), Bulldogs (seven years), Dragons (five years)
– Minor releases: Panthers on track to finish on top again
– Minor Miracle: Cowboys’ miraculous recovery in the top eight despite being 16th after 9 rounds
– On the edge: Raiders, Eels, Sharks, Cowboys fighting for the last three spots in the top eight
– Quinella impossible to back: Panthers, Storm finished unanimously in the top two
– Warriors revival: The Warriors will return to the finals for the first time since 2018, and are heavy favorites to reach the top four.
– Battle of Spoons: Tigers favorites to run last in a two-way fight with Dragons
The Maroons’ utility, Tom Dearden, said he could not understand why Drinkwater had not attracted more rumors about Origin.
“I really don’t get it, to be honest,” Dearden said.
“Drinky has been absolutely amazing for us and has been one of our best players all year, and probably the last few years as well.
“I think his name definitely deserves to be thrown in there.
“He creates points for us, competes hard and saves tries, so I don’t see why his name isn’t mentioned.
“I think it definitely makes Queensland fans happy, but it’s nice that we have Drinky playing for us (at Cowboys). He is so creative and he is playing with a lot of confidence. If you give Drinky any chance, he’ll make it nine times out of 10.”
Originally published as NRL Crystal Ball: Our experts give their predictions on how the 2023 season will unfold