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NRL: What the top eight could look like

The battle to win the NRL premiership is sure to be an exciting one but there will also be plenty going on further down the ladder as teams battle to make the top eight.

Playing finals and extending their season will be the main objective for a number of sides heading into the new season. Some have not been there for a while and breaking the drought will be the order of the day. For others making the top eight will be the very least they are aiming for.

Anything can happen during finals football, but first of all you have to get there. It will be a long hard season for all NRL teams and the new campaign is now just a couple of weeks away.

We have already taken a look at the teams who hope to be contending for the premiership, now let’s take a look at those sides who hope to break into the top eight.

Magnificent seven locked in?

Barring any huge surprises there are six or seven NRL teams who are pretty much locked in to make the top eight and play finals.

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They are Penrith Panthers, Cronulla Sharks, North Queensland Cowboys, Parramatta Eels, Sydney Roosters, South Sydney Rabbitohs and Melbourne Storm. It could mean there is just one spot up for grabs with three or four clubs battling for it.

In 2022 it was tight and went right to the wire with the Canberra Raiders eventually taking eighth spot. It could be similar again this season and that is the beauty of the NRL, not many teams have nothing to play for in the final weeks of the season.

Who could slide down the ladder and miss out?

If there was to be a surprise and a couple of the seven were to miss out, you have to say that both the Parramatta Eels and Melbourne Storm look most vulnerable. It is almost unthinkable that those two powerhouses would not play finals but there have been mass changes at both clubs with key players moving on.

For the Storm Brandon Smith, Felise Kaufusi and the Bromwich brothers Kenny and Jesse could leave a gaping hole and it remains to be seen if the Storm can fill that void. Smith missing from the forward pack in particular will be a big loss, although they still have Harry Grant.

Keeping star full-back Ryan Papenhuyzen fit and on the field following his concussion issues and a serious knee injury will also be key.

The Storm can be backed at 9/2 to miss out, while the Eels are currently priced at 23/20 not to play finals footy in 2023. Reed Mahoney and Isaiah Papali’i are big losses for the Eels, while forwards Marata Niukore, Oregon Kaufusi and Ray Stone will also be missed.

Broncos can step up

The Brisbane Broncos were back among the pace-setters early on in the 2022 season and looked set for a top-four finish at one point, never mind top eight. However a poor end to the season saw them drop out of the finals completely.

The slide down the ladder was alarming to say the least but they could make it this season. They have a list packed with quality that includes the likes of Selwyn Cobbo, Kotoni Staggs, Payne Haas and Adam Reynolds just to name a few.

The Broncos have also added gun fullback Reece Walsh to their ranks and they could be good enough to make the top four under the leadership of coach Kevin Walters. Brisbane are 21/20 to make the top eight.

Bulldogs will be pushing hard

The Canterbury Bulldogs have a new coach in the form of Cameron Ciraldo and have added even more quality to their playing ranks. Following on from Josh Addo-Carr and Matt Burton in 2022, Reed Mahoney and Viliame Kikau are the big recruits in 2023 so it is no wonder hopes are high.

However they are still lacking a star No.1 and No.7 and this season may come a touch too soon as far as making the top eight is concerned. They are 9/10 to do it this year.

Tigers new era

Wests Tigers also begin a new era and are another side to have recruited well. Api Koroisau and Isaiah Papali’i have both arrived and hopes are high for the season. The Tigers have not played finals since 2011 and are desperate to break the drought.

Tim Sheens returns as coach and will have Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah working with him. It is a combination that could work wonders, but like the Bulldogs this season may come too soon. They are 7/2 to make the top eight.

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