Any team can win the NRL, says Penrith skipper
It's a tipster's nightmare but the lottery that is the 2014 NRL competition has Penrith captain Peter Wallace believing all 16 teams have a genuine shot at winning the premiership for the first time in history.
Nostradamus could not have predicted that after a spate of early-round upsets reigning premiers the Sydney Roosters, along with star-studded Melbourne and fellow heavyweights South Sydney and Johnathan's Thurston's North Queensland would not feature in the top eight after five rounds.
Written off as wooden spoon candidates, Parramatta, Wests Tigers and St George Illawarra are two points off the competition lead and even Gold Coast coach John Cartwright can scarcely believe his Titans are top of the pops.
"Who'd have thought?" said Cartwright after the Titans stunned the Storm in Melbourne on Sunday.
Wallace's unfashionable Panthers are also surprising the pundits after powering into the top four.
"Anyone can win it," Wallace told AAP ahead of Penrith's rare Friday night billing at Centrebet Stadium against the Rabbitohs.
"It's going to be a really tight comp this year. It's already shown that if you don't turn up anyone can beat you.
"The Roosters have been beaten a couple of times, Souths have been beaten, Melbourne's lost two in a row.
"The Tigers have been playing really well and no one gave them a chance.
"They put 30 points on Manly and Manly's probably one of the better defensive teams in the comp.
"So it's wide open and the most consistent team is going to give themselves the best chance and if you're there at the end of the year, it's anyone's game."
Wallace's new halves partner at the Panthers, former Dragons premiership winner Jamie Soward, said the unfamiliar look about the table may worry Roosters and Rabbitohs fans but it heartens followers of the so-called lesser lights.
"When you sit back and look at the competition pretty closely, there's no really big guns," Soward said.
"Everyone's so evenly matched now and everyone's playing good football - Wests Tigers, the Titans on Sunday - a great win down there.
"Obviously the sides that are consistent - Manly, Melbourne, the Roosters, those guys - are going to be there or thereabouts.
"But last year there was a top four and everyone else was fighting for it.
"This year it's wide open, so it's nice.
"For us, it's about getting some consistency, which we haven't had."
While the Panthers are unbeaten from three starts at home this season, they've lost both their matches on the road.
Wallace, though, remains confident the Panthers can make a title push.
"We've been working hard since November to make sure we put our best footy on the park," he said.
"Being a new team, it's probably going to take a little while but I think we're going in the right direction.
"It's going to be a long year and it's going to be really tight towards the end of it.
"I don't know what shape the eight is going to take. It's too hard to tell."