A record six Sydney teams are set to qualify for the NRL playoffs.
A record six Sydney teams are set to qualify for this season’s NRL finals, suggesting the Harbour City remains rugby league’s heartland.
Sydney teams currently make up three-quarters of the top eight, with their playoff fate in their own hands with two rounds of the regular season remaining.
Six Sydney teams have qualified for the finals only once in NRL history in 1998.
But that was under a 10 teams finals system.
NRL boss Dave Smith created a furore earlier this year when he claimed Queensland was the heartland of rugby league.
But Sydney teams, led by ladder leaders Manly, can prove him otherwise.
If a Sydney team claims this year’s NRL title, it will be the ninth time in 11 seasons a Sydney team has won the premiership, with Melbourne’s grand final wins in 2007 and 2009 expunged from the records due to salary cap breaches.
South Sydney, the Sydney Roosters, and Penrith sit a win behind Manly.
Melbourne and Canterbury sit two points further back, with North Queensland and Parramatta rounding out the top eight.
The Storm are vying to break Sydney’s stranglehold on rugby league supremacy in probably the tightest competition since the NRL was founded in 1998.
Storm fullback Billy Slater says the week-to-week toughness of the NRL is what makes it so tight.
“With the length of the season, it’s hard to stay up for such a long period of time,” Slater said.
“You see every team this year, even looking at the Tigers and the Titans, every team this year has had its run and has had its time where they’re playing some really good football in patches of three to four weeks.
“I remember the Titans at the start of the year were on fire and they were leading the comp after six rounds, the Tigers were in some form there in a period there too and the Bulldogs went through a run.
“So it’s all about playing right at the right time of the year. It’s such a long year – we started playing in March. It was a long time ago. I think that’s probably why it is so tight, and with that Origin period, you’re going to have lulls.
Slater said this could finally be the year a team outside the top four wins the competition.
“It’s definitely possible,” he said.
“You only have to look at this week’s round and if this was the finals, well, I think three of the top four sides got beaten, so anything’s possible in this game.
“It’s just as important to be playing good footy at the right time of the year as it is to have a good position on the ladder.”