Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
2 days ago
The Bartercard Cup took a break over the past weekend so it's time to take a look at how each team is progressing after five rounds of matches.
There are two unbeaten teams on top of the table. Mt Albert and Hibiscus Coast have put a four-point gap between themselves and five other teams, all on six points.
The Raiders have looked to have simply carried on from where they left off last year after winning the grand final.
Although in the last couple of weeks they look as though they may be just starting to struggle to maintain this record.
They managed to sneak in a late try against Wellington two weeks ago to gain a four point win and last Sunday they had to turn a half-time deficit of 4 - 12, against Central Falcons, to ultimately win by 28 - 22. A great effort by the Falcons, who showed enough skill to suggest that they are becoming a competitive unit at this level.
For the Raiders, coach Tony Benson still hasn't been able to field his first choice team, and when he does he expects the team performance to improve markedly.
Mt Albert is a team that have emerged as real championship prospects.
During their string of five wins on the trot they look as if they have got plenty in reserve and have the ability to really raise their performance standards in the weeks ahead.
They will be faced with some real tests over the next three weeks with games against Otahuhu and Hibiscus Coast and with a trip to Christchurch in between.
Otahuhu have started to look a little better over the last couple of weeks and put Canterbury to the sword in their last match. A game in which they scored 9 tries, it was a much-improved performance from the Leopards who now lie in third place.
Four other teams also have six competition points.
Marist Richmond and Wellington played each other last week with Marist Richmond scoring a healthy win, leaving the team from the capital with successive losses.
The week before Wellington were very unlucky not to at least get a draw against the Raiders, but in their return visit to Auckland they weren't able to repeat that effort and were soundly beaten. They looked to have been without a number of first choice selections against the Brothers and it will be their objective to improve the depth of players capable of playing at this level of football.
They have the right coach to achieve that and there are a lot of capable footballers in Wellington so they should be able to do that and be there, or thereabouts, come play-off time.
Northcote have been looking pretty good after starting their season with a surprise win over the Tornadoes, but came unstuck last week when they were soundly beaten by Manurewa. The Marlins are proving to be a bogey team for the Tigers and managed to collect their first win to go along with an earlier draw against Taranaki.
The word is that the Tigers playing stocks will shortly be raised with the return of Karl Benson and the addition of Mat Spence.
The Eastern Tornadoes have won their last three matches but have yet to show much convincing form. They have some really good football players in their team and it won't be too long before we see them hitting their straps.
Manurewa and Glenora are two teams that are going through a bit of a redevelopment period, although the Marlins still have some experience in their side and until their win against the Tigers were a side that was underachieving.
With only three points out of a possible 10, they will be disappointed with their season to date. They have the talent to climb the ladder and it will be important for them to maintain some progress as all the teams have similar potential.
Taranaki Wildcats are the unluckiest team in the competition. So far they've had two drawn games, against Manurewa and Glenora, which with a bit of luck they could have won. Although they were soundly between by Northcote two weeks ago, they bounced back last week and once again they were considered unlucky to be beaten by only two points against the Tornadoes.
Surely they will be due for a win soon so the Raiders had better watch out when they travel to Taranaki next weekend.
The Canterbury Bulls and Central Falcons sit at the bottom of the table. The Bulls have had the solitary win while the Falcons have yet to register their first.
The Bulls are another team going through a rebuilding phase while the Falcons are experiencing their first year in the Bartercard Cup.
Both teams are experiencing the problem of too many defensive lapses. The Falcons performance last week against the Raiders though is surely a sign that they're learning fast and expect them to be scoring a few points shortly.
Overall we're once again seeing a high quality standard of rugby league being played by footballers who possess excellent skills and teams that are obviously being well coached.
The development of the Bartercard Cup competition will continue to raise the standard of the game and the immediate future looks exciting for the rest of this year as teams fight for places in the top five to compete in the play-offs come August.