The 2018 #NRL Pre-season is now complete with a range of results across this evening - some predicte...
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With five rounds of matches still to be played before the top five teams play off. It's still a wide-open competition to see who makes the cut off on the 18th of August.
While Mt Albert are out in front with twenty points, a four point advantage over the second placed Hibiscus Coast, the next six teams are only separated by five points. With only three further positions available to make up the top five, it has the makings of an exciting time over the next five weeks.
Otahuhu and Eastern Tornadoes are handily placed on 14 points apiece and recent form would suggest that they are sure bets to make it through.
That leaves a dogfight between Wellington, Northcote, Marist Richmond and Manurewa to make up the fifth position.
Manurewa would have to be far more consistent if they are going to threaten and they have a hard job this weekend when they host the Raiders. A loss on Saturday would just about blow their chances.
While they're always a tough proposition on their home turf, they'll be up against a Raiders side that will just be about back to full strength with the likelihood that forwards Anthony Seu Seu and Tyrone Pau will be back on deck.
A near full strength Raiders should prove to be too strong for the Marlins.
Eastern Tornadoes are at home against Canterbury. The Bulls scored a major upset when they overcame Otahuhu two weeks ago but this week they're on the road and they haven't performed too well away from home this year. They should find a Tornadoes team, eager for a place in the finals again this year, too strong.
Wellington is at home to Marist Richmond. This is one of the most important matches so far for both sides. Wellington are in that fifth position with 13 points while Marist Richmond are in seventh place two points further back.
So it's a must win for both teams. Last week Marist Richmond gave Mt Albert a bit of a scare when they came from 22 - 10 down to suddenly race ahead to a 34 - 22 lead only to then fade and allow Mt Albert to add a further 32 points finishing on 54.
At Wellington they'll find it difficult to overcome a spirited local side in conditions that may just be a little foreign to them. They actually gave Wellington a bit of a flogging earlier in the season but they'll have to put that result right out of their mind this time round.
While Marist Richmond have the ability to open up most sides and score some dazzling tries, they might not be allowed to do that this week in the capital.
I'd expect the home side to pick up another two points but if the Brothers get up and win then I wouldn't mind betting that that'll start them off on a good run that could just see them take that fifth spot come late August.
Otahuhu host Central Falcons at Henham Park and after their impressive win against Glenora last week, the Falcons off another spirited effort to tack the two points.
Mt Albert travel to New Plymouth to play Taranaki. The last time the Lions left home they were tamed by Wellington and the local conditions. Last week they had a big flat patch during their game against Marist Richmond but came back well to eventually rack up 54 points.
The Wildcats can be a bit difficult at home and if it's cold and windy down that way they might give themselves a bit of a chance. I'd expect the Lions to consolidate their position on top of the table and come home following a hard fought win.
Northcote Tigers and Glenora Bears get the televised game at Ericsson Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The Bears were starting to look as if they were on the up but came unstuck in a big way when they were well beaten by Otahuhu last week. It'll be a hard job picking themselves up after such a defeat and they'll be up against a Northcote side who really stuck to the task in their last match when they piled on 14 points in the final five minutes against the Torna does. The Tigers got home by 28 - 26, and for the second time this season.
The Tigers are another side looking to get that fifth spot and they have the team that has a real chance of getting their providing they can be consistent each week.
The Tigers were below strength in their last game and the week's break will have been good for them. If they are able to get their top side on the paddock, with some punch up front with Karl Benson and Mat Spence, power in the centres with Lamond Copestake and some direction from Ken McIntosh and Jared Trott in the halves, they'll also come home with another two points.