With the VB NSW Cup Finals Series just a month away we have run the rule over the sides currently fighting it out for both top four and top eight spots.
Below are the eleven sides that currently remain in contention for spots in the top eight and they are listed in their current ladder order.
Cronulla Sharks (1st)
With a seven point lead at the top of the VB NSW Cup ladder and a bye still to come, the Sharks have sewn up the 2013 Minor Premiership despite the fact there is still four rounds remaining. They negotiated a potentially challenging game last Saturday against the Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval and now their run home is reasonably comfortable with games against Manly, Canterbury and Wentworthville coming up before a final round bye. However, their depth may be tested come September with both their NRL affiliates (Cronulla and Melbourne) set to play finals football.
Prediction: The competition’s best team all year but their NRL affiliates NRL aspirations could ultimately wreak havoc - 1st
North Sydney Bears (2nd)
Unlike the Knights and the Sharks, the Bears actually have a challenging few weeks coming up. The Bears have a couple of tough away trips looming. In Round 23 they do battle with fellow top four aspirants Windsor before taking on a tough Tigers side at Campbelltown in Round 24. Injury issues at their NRL affiliate club, South Sydney, has seen key players like Dylan Farrell, Matt King and Luke Keary all called up to first grade recently but these absentees haven’t seemed to phase the Bears who have won their past five games.
Prediction: Likely to drop one game before the regular season ends - 3rd
Newcastle Knights (3rd)
The Knights have flown under the radar and currently sit equal on points with the side they lost to over the weekend, the North Sydney Bears. Like Cronulla they have a fairly comfortable run home with games against Manly, Wyong and Illawarra still to come. One thing that may concern Coach Rick Stone is that the Knights occasionally let in big score lines, even when they win. Although with sharp shooter Josh Mantellato in their side they’re always a chance in a close contest.
Prediction: Real title contenders - 2nd
Newtown Jets (4th)
After an indifferent start to the year, the defending Premiers are going well and are powering home towards a top four finish. A potent attacking force, Newtown have been in fine touch trouncing the Wests Tigers 44-22 and Manly 50-32, despite missing stars like Kane Evans, Jack Bosden and Michael Oldfield. Once these three return, Newtown are likely to become definite premiership contenders. They have one danger game coming up with an away clash against Newcastle but a bye and upcoming clashes against Wyong and Canterbury should see them seal a place in the top four.
Prediction: Peaking at the right time - 4th
Windsor Wolves (5th)
Windsor is an interesting side. On their day they’re capable of beating any team but at the same time they’re also susceptible to an upset loss, as seen by their recent 32-30 defeat to Canterbury and last weekend’s 46-42 loss to Wentworthville. At the moment the team is chock full of promising rookies, however, with Penrith now only a slim chance of making the NRL finals expect the #WolfPack to become more experienced with a number of NRL regulars likely to drop down. Their chances of victory will be boosted by the fact that three of their remaining four games are at home.
Prediction: Can be erratic but dangerous on their day - 5th
Auckland Vulcans (6th)
The Vulcans are a class side and at this point are a very realistic chance of making the finals. They have a couple of very winnable games coming up but at the same time they also have a last round away encounter against the Bears. One thing that must improve in the lead up the finals is their goal kicking. Their kickers only managed a 50% success rate a fortnight ago against Wentworthville. The main problem for them is they only have two home games left and every away trip is likely to be taxing.
Prediction: Avoiding some foul ups in the final away games, the Vulcans should finish - 6th
Wests Tigers (7th)
Currently sitting in seventh on 24 points the Tigers are fairly likely to make the finals. With that said, they do have a tough few weeks coming up and can’t afford to drop many games if they want to go far in the finals. They were convincingly beaten by the might of Cronulla at Leichhardt Oval last weekend. They have a reasonably tough away game against Mounties coming up in Round 26 but they should be able to defeat Manly in Round 23 which would just about see them safe.
Prediction: Wouldn’t be surprised to see them a place higher however they’ll finish - 7th
Illawarra Cutters (8th)
Despite looking like no hope of making the finals midway through the year the Cutters have managed to string a couple of wins together recently and look set to make a late finals charge. Young playmakers Josh Drinkwater and Craig Garvey have been great recently and if they continue to maintain their form the Cutters are a massive chance of playing finals football. Their Round 23 clash against eighth-placed Mounties is shaping up as a vital clash for the Cutters’ post season hopes but they’ll also need to aim up in games against tough opponents like Newcastle and the Wests Tigers.
Prediction: The Cutters will be left thinking what might have been as Mounties take their spot in the finals - 9th
On paper they are a very good side with a great mixture of experience and future first graders. The next few weeks will be a really big test for them. Their loss to Wyong has thrown their season into disarray, but in Round 24 they take on an Illawarra Cutters side desperate to stay in finals contention much like themselves. Their final three weeks could be difficult as they square off against Windsor (home), Auckland (away) and the Tigers (home), teams who are all above them on the table. 20 year old halfback Mitch Cornish has been impressive since being called up to cover an injured Sam Williams. If Mounties can retain Cornish they should do well.
Prediction: We see the boys scraping into the finals in 8th and causing some real damage.
Wentworthville Magpies (10th)
It’s fair to say that Wentworthville have been somewhat of a disappointment of the competition this year after they shot out of the blocks early in the season but their upset win over Windsor gives them a glimmer of hope. Despite having a plethora of experienced first graders in their squad the Magpies have suffered some really heavy losses of late, including a 64-24 drubbing to North Sydney. On the plus side they do have a bye left but this is offset by upcoming matches against VB NSW Cup heavyweights Windsor and Cronulla.
Prediction: Recent poor form and a tough run home should see them miss the finals - 10th
Manly Sea Eagles (11th)
Surprisingly, there’s a very slim chance that Manly can make the finals. Despite sitting in third last position on the VB NSW Cup ladder the Sea Eagles are only three competition points behind eighth-placed Mounties. To make the finals the equation is simple, they must win. However, this may prove a bridge too far with all their remaining games against teams vying for places in the top four, including Cronulla and Newcastle.
Prediction: Their upcoming opponents should prove too classy - 11th
On Friday, head back to the NSWRL website to see who looks set to make the cut in terms of the Ron Massey Cup teams.
Click here to view the VB NSW Cup ladder
Click here to see all of the scores and scorers from the VB NSW Cup