Any team that finishes in the top eight will be genuine shots at winning this season’s wide-open NRL title, according to Storm coach Craig Bellamy
Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy believes the most even NRL competition he’s seen could easily be won by a team outside the top four.
Traditional wisdom dictates genuine contenders must gain a finals double-shot, but Bellamy won’t be surprised if history is made in 2014.
No team out of the top four has ever won an NRL premiership under the eight-team finals format, with the Wests Tigers of 2005 still the biggest smokey champions after finishing the regular season in fourth.
With six rounds to play this season, 13 teams remain in the hunt for the play-offs with just eight points separating them.
Melbourne’s 30-8 win over Brisbane on Friday night saw them leapfrog the Broncos into sixth on 24 points – four behind pacesetters Manly.
The Broncos are in a tooth-and-nail struggle to stay in the eight but Bellamy said whichever teams scraped in would be as dangerous as any up the top.
“I think if there was ever going to be a team that popped out and did some damage in the bottom half then it’s this year,” the premiership-winning mentor said.
“The competition is that close.
“The three up there at the moment (Manly, Penrith, Bulldogs) will be hard to stop, but whoever gets fourth spot, I don’t think it will make a whole lot of difference to be honest with you.
“It’s that open at the moment and you just look at the results each week. There’s always a big surprise every week.
“Anything can happen.”
On the Storm’s current form, it would be a brave man to bet against them featuring in the final fortnight of the competition.
They were back to their miserly best in defence at Suncorp Stadium and playmaker Cooper Cronk showed his immense class by pulling the strings perfectly.
Darren Lockyer noted that Cronk’s broken arm in the Origin opener, forcing a six-week break, had been a blessing in disguise for Melbourne.
Bellamy could only agree.
“We don’t want him to miss any footy but it’s been a God-send for us,” he said.
Skipper Cameron Smith felt the whole club had put their indifferent early-season form behind them and were back maintaining their usual high standards.
Smith reserved high praise for New Zealand front-rower Jesse Bromwich after he starred in his 100th game, setting up Ryan Hinchcliffe for a pivotal second-half try.
“I believe he’s got to be top-three, if not the best prop in the game at the moment,” the Australian Test captain said.
“I think he’s just outstanding. He’s just so hard to handle. Every time he carries the ball he’s got three or four defenders on him. He takes a lot of pressure off our other ruck players.
“That ball he gave Hinchy to put him under the posts, not many blokes can do that.”