Today the New South Wales Rugby League released the season draws for 6 of its premier competitions, ...
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What do you make of a team that has beaten every side above them on the table (bar one) at least once this season, but lost to every side below them except for the Sharks? Inconsistent? Unpredictable? Not really, as they consistently, predictably play well against premiership contenders whilst consistently, predictably choking against weaker sides. I am speaking of the Newcastle Knights. The Novocastrians now sit in that most precarious of places - eighth with one round to play. Next Sunday they take on the Panthers, who are ninth, in a virtual elimination final. So how can this match be previewed? What predictions can be made? Only one. If patterns can be relied upon - and for a while at least they always can be - then the Penrith Panthers are going to win. The Knights are going to miss the play-offs. How can this be known? Simply, because the Knights are the better team and therefore likely to lose. Sound paradoxical? It is. Newcastle's flag might be red and blue, but their pattern is a paradox that has lasted all season. Newcastle have defeated Bulldogs, Dragons, Titans, Storm, Sea Eagles and Broncos this season. The only top eight side unconquered is the outrageously in-form Eels. The Knights have, on the other hand, lost to the Roosters, Warriors, Raiders, Cowboys, Rabbitohs and Tigers, who are all now planning their end-of-season holidays. They managed not to lose to the Sharks, but we can safely put that down to the fact they only played them in round two when nobody realised quite how ordinary the Sharks were going to be. The Knights have an extra win than the Panthers, a better for-and-against, have beaten more top-eight sides, and have spent longer periods high on the ladder. This all bodes well for the mountain men. Perhaps Mathew Elliott has planned their season meticulously, guiding them to a position of entering round 26 as underdogs to the Knights but with a chance to overtake them.
Newcastle are a punter's dream. When they're favourites - stick your cash on the well-priced outsider. When they're underdogs - back them without hesitation. It's a system that would've reaped heavy rewards in 2009. This is a team more likely to cause an upset than a bloke with six girlfriends. They might upset a competition heavyweight; they might upset their own loyal fans with a shocking loss at home to the likely wooden-spooners. So it all comes down to Sunday at Energy Australia Stadium. To the victor go the spoils. And a shot at premiership glory. The pattern says only the Knights would have a chance at lifting the trophy. The only problem is, they probably won't be around to attempt it.