Is this the year the NRL’s famous top-four curse is broken?
As far as James Tedesco and Cameron Murray are concerned, it’s a better chance now than ever.
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Not since before the NRL era has a team won from outside the top four, with that honour belonging to Canterbury in 1995.
But rarely has there been this calibre of finalists outside of the four, with Melbourne, the Sydney Roosters, South Sydney and Canberra all facing a month of do-or-die football to win the title.
“Anyone could win, to be honest,” Roosters captain Tedesco said.
“Probably in previous years the top two or top four were the dominant teams.
“But you look at how this season ended, a lot of those teams in the bottom half of the eight were beating the top teams.”
Adding to Tedesco’s argument is finals experience.
Outside of Penrith, none of the remaining top four have even reached a preliminary final since Cronulla’s 2018 appearance.
In the time since, bottom-four sides Melbourne, Souths the Roosters and Canberra have each played in at least one grand final.
At least one of those teams have also figured in all bar four of the grand finals this century.
“You usually see a lot of those teams in the top four,” Tedesco said.
“And you’ve got like the Sharks and Cowboys who haven’t been there previously. It’s going to be interesting.”
Tedesco’s comments come after Craig Bellamy said last week it was inevitable a team from outside the four would one day lift the trophy.
But at the same time, the Storm coach is well aware his team’s task is made much harder by the fact they will not play in Melbourne again after this week.
Souths captain Murray also backed Tedesco’s call, with the Rabbitohs and Roosters the league’s top-scoring teams since the representative round.
But only one of the pair will fight on into week two, with one to be knocked out after Sunday’s elimination final.
“That winning form always matters right through the final series. It’s pretty competitive from eight to one this year,” Murray said.
“Obviously it’s not ideal (finishing outside the top four). You want that backup chance.
“But at the same time when you know in the back of your head you don’t have a second chance, it might fuel a little bit more motivation to play a little bit better.”
Realistically though, all sides know they are chasing Penrith.
Murray and Tedesco labelled the Panthers the stand-out at Monday’s captain’s launch, with the latter also seeing their week-one opponents in Parramatta as the other leading contender.
“Whoever wins that game (on Friday) is going to go pretty close to going all the way,” Tedesco said.
“Parra have definitely hit their straps.
“They were probably inconsistent for a lot of the year, but against top teams lately they’ve really performed.
“So they could definitely knock off Penrith and they could go all the way.
“If Penrith win, I feel like they’ll make it to the grand final and they’ll be hard to beat as well.”
– with AAP