Ahh yes, September. The month where Spring is, supposed to be, brought into action to fend off the evil dryness of a Southern Hemisphere winter. It's also the month where both the NRL and AFL seasons reach their conclusions with the top 8 teams qualifying for the playoffs.
With the final round currently under way, only the top six are assured of playing next week. The battle for the last two spots hinges entirely on the Newcastle vs Penrith match as the West Tigers shocked the second-placed Bulldogs last night to be sitting in eighth right now. However, that is only on points difference over Newcastle and a single point ahead of Penrith and since you get two points for a win and one for a draw, that rules out Wests from making it.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Dragons clinched the top spot due to the result last night. Not bad for a first time coach...well, with this team anyway. Wayne Bennett joined the team this year having spent the last 20 at Brisbane. Under his reign, the Broncos won the title in all six appearances (1992, 1993, 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2006) and have not missed out on September action since 1991. Since the swap to a top 8 playoff in 1995 (1 plays 8, 2 plays 7, 3 plays 6 and 4 plays 5...the two lowest ranked teams that lose are eliminated), I think I'm right in saying that no team that has finished eighth has managed to knock off the minor premiers and I see no reason why that trend won't continue this year.
As usual, the Broncos will rely heavily on their captain; Darren Lockyer.So a prediction then...well, recent history suggests that St George will bomb out so I'd have to say the final will be between the Bulldogs (2nd) and Melbourne (4th). I'd put your money on a different combination given my apalling record of tipping though ;)
To the AFL now where the finals started last night with Adelaide smashing (and thus eliminating) Essendon. The other elimination game pits Brisbane against Carlton in Brisbane. The AFL top 8 system works far better to me...the bottom four do the elimination games while the top four battle it out for the week off. That leaves no room for the potential bottom four all winning, thus booting out the teams who finished third and fourth like in the NRL.
Anyway, I digress. St Kilda go into the finals as the clear favourite having only lost a couple games all season so I'd expect them to make the grand final. Their opponent...I'd have to go with the second placed Geelong to be honest. They've been red hot the last few years and I see no reason why they can't make the final again.
All of Brisbane will be hoping that Voss can translate his playing days to his coaching ones.
As for 'my teams' from Brisbane...well, the Broncos did better than I thought given the first coach change in the clubs' history while the Lions (also with a coach change as Leigh Matthews, the man who led the team to four straight grand finals from 2001 to 2004, winning the first three left, replaced by former club captain and legend, Michael Voss) reached the finals for the first time since their loss to Port Adelaide in the 2004 grand final. I think the Broncos might make it to week two but I'm not sure the Lions can overcome their injury woes to beat Carlton.
Either way, it'll be a big month in Australia...and for the second straight year, I will be unable to watch any of it, dagnammit!