Pressure: Do you bring it? Can you withstand it? Are you already under it? Will you apply it?
The answers are important, because it looks like the critical ingredient of the 2019 premiership race.
NORTH WAGGA (FIRST, 7 WINS)
Pre-season tip: Second
At a glance: The Saints haven't set the world on fire yet but top of the ladder at the halfway mark. Despite not quite hitting their straps, they've had the measure of every team at the final siren, including EWK who handed them their only loss with an after-the-siren goal.
X Factor: Midfielder and co-captain Cayden Winter has been a model of consistency but the return of forward Dayne Hancock from a knee injury, and what sort of form he can find, could be what makes or breaks the Saints' premiership aspirations. Not to mention midfielders Guy Ward and Jake May to come in.
But... A game plan built on pressure is getting wins and Saints have the best defensive record. But in points scored, they're fourth, and closer to the teams on the edge of the five than in it. They need to find goals to make the most of momentum when they're on top.
Mid-year tip: First
EAST WAGGA-K (SECOND, 6 WINS)
Pre-season tip: First
At a glance: The Hawks sailed along sweetly to start with, racking up five straight wins and averaging 106 points a game. But losses to Marrar and Temora in their last three games, amid a worrying list of injuries, raised questions. There was also the scare at North Wagga when another high pressure opponent exposed gaps. But their best side remains potent.
X Factor: Chris Ladhams (40 goals in eight games) and Nick Hull (13 in four) can pile on scoreboard pressure if EWK is on top. But the Hawks need to dominate in the middle. Ladhams has kicked only five in three games against top four opponents, while averaging seven a game against the five lower teams.
But... EWK's depth is facing a massive test. After missing Hull and then captain Ben Absolum for weeks, the Hawks have had a host more go out, including much of the backline. How they manage in the face of adversity, whether their younger players can stand up, and who comes back and how soon, could determine their fate.
Mid-year tip: Second
TEMORA (THIRD, 6 WINS)
Pre-season tip: Fourth
At a glance: The Kangaroos had been hard to get a read on, dropping games against Marrar and North Wagga (just), while seeming to get the job done in just a quarter or two many other weeks. But they upped their effort against the Saints two weeks ago and then stormed out of the blocks against an injury-hit EWK in a manner that suggested they might be finding their mojo.
X Factor: Forward Jacob Turner has shown glimpses of what he can do. With NEAFL experience and a classy skill set, he and full-forward Matt Harpley could prove more than a handful, particularly with midfielder Rob Krause enjoying a big year, Sam Jensen looking back to his best and new Canberra ruckman Joseph Tegart still to come in.
But... Temora's reserve grade side is averaging 100-point losses every week suggesting they won't cope well if hit by a handful of injuries. Already, Harpley, midfielder Colby Poole and coach Jake Wooden have niggling injuries that could make them week-to-week propositions and they can't afford too many others in doubt.
Mid-year tip: Fourth
MARRAR (FOURTH, 6 WINS)
Pre-season prediction: Fifth
At a glance: With just two losses, the Bombers have arguably over-achieved in the first half following an off-season exodus of talent and experience. Many have handled the extra responsibility with aplomb, led by new captain Jackson Moye, forward Zach Walgers and midfielder Toby Lawler as the Bombers have relied on pressure, tackling and a winning belief to record some impressive wins.
X Factor: Former captain Josh Hagar and ex-Turvey Park coach Truman Carroll are still expected to come in and that extra sprinkle of leadership and talent to a group full of potential could be just the right ingredient. The Bombers have also had some important outs so their best 21 or 22 could be formidable.
But... Nick Molkentin is shouldering a tower of work in the ruck, and performing, but it's a reminder they don't have the bigger bodies of previous seasons. A new knee injury to John Hoey won't help in the coming month either. Whether it exposes them or simply allows them to excel at their pressure game is the question.
Mid-year tip: Third
COLEAMBALLY (FIFTH, 3 WINS)
Pre-season tip: Seventh
At a glance: The Blues illustrate just how close this year's competition is. Two weeks ago, if they'd lost to Marrar, they'd have slipped to last. Now they're in the five after back-to-back wins and have the top four looking over their shoulder. It took a while to find cohesion. But it' is still only three wins in half a season.
X Factor: Exciting NT wingman Raven Marika (hamstring) hasn't been seen for a month. He was a bright light in a disappointing first month and the prospect of him coming back to a team finding its feet is mouthwatering for Coly.
But... Early losses hurt, especially a two-point game to Barellan. And the Blues aren't just fighting to stay in touch with the top sides. They're under siege from those below. In fact, the Jets and TRYC play each other this week with the winner to grab fifth if the Blues don't beat EWK. That sort of pressure to beat teams above and below will remain, meaning a white-knuckle ride to the finish.
Mid-year tip: Fifth
NORTHERN JETS (SIXTH, 3 WINS)
Pre-season tip: Eighth
At a glance: After a tough off-season the Jets started with a bang, winning at The Rock on their way to two victories in their first three games. But Coleambally is their only scalp in their last five games and the loss of Len Haddrill to a serious knee injury was devastating. Big man Dave Hand is also injured and while they have some class in the team, the pressure only goes up from here.
X Factor: The Jets' starting midfield of ruckman Matt Carroll, coach Mitch Haddrill, captain Jack Fisher and 250-gamer Chris Bell can put them in any game and if they remain uninjured, and bring their teammates along, they can create upsets, confidence and momentum.
But... The Jets don't get a lot of quality training together and, although they're hanging in games helped by some straight shooting (kicking 7.4, 9.6. 14.6 and 9.4 in their last four), scoreboards tell a story of momentum against: they're averaging less than 18 scoring shots a game, and almost 28 against. And they can't afford any more injuries.
Mid-year tip: Eighth
TRYC (SEVENTH, 2 WINS)
Pre-season tip: Sixth
At a glance: The Pies' five straight losses to start the year is the league's longest winless stretch this year. They steadied their ship with two wins, away to Barellan and at home to CSU, but were brought back to earth with a 13-goal loss to EWK. Finals hopes look slim but they're a hard team to write off given the pride and experience in the group.
X Factor: Teenage ruckman Jack Driscoll is a huge bonus for the Pies who have struggled for big man options in recent years while the ageing forward Andy Carey can still kick a bag given half a chance.
But... The Pies also don't have a great training record. Although there's an in-form Jim Carroll through the middle, Mitch Stephenson getting more game time and Tom Yates, Tim Sullivan and Dave Pieper know their way around, they can struggle to match the top teams for consistency and sustained pressure.
Mid-year tip: Sixth
CSU (EIGHTH, 2 WINS)
Pre-season tip: Third
At a glance: The disappointment of the season, the Bushpigs hinted at promise early but couldn't get the wins they wanted. Off-season losses hurt but they haven't stepped up where they needed to either. Letting games slip led to a lack of confidence and an even tougher time turning things around. A second half assault isn't out of the question but they'll need some big scalps now.
X Factor: If they can open up and run, CSU have the potential to trouble anyone, but they've had trouble getting games to be played on their terms throughout. They did it against the Jets a couple of weeks ago, and with Brayden Ambler still to come back in, could yet mount a challenge.
But... the last two weeks tell the story of their season: riding high after a win over the Jets, the Bushpigs hinted at what was there but needed to back it up and build momentum. Instead, they were undone by a Coleambally side tackling with intent, and were thumped by 10 goals.
Mid-year tip: Seventh
BARELLAN (NINTH, 1 WIN)
Pre-season tip: Ninth
At a glance: The Two Blues are keeping everyone honest with an improved game plan and a quality midfield, but haven't been able to get over the line as often as they'd have liked. The one win was a two-point thriller against Coleambally but they lost one in similar circumstances to the Jets. Last week, they took the game to Marrar for a quarter-and-a-half but couldn't sustain.
X Factor: Sean Ellis has been out for a month with a broken hand and in an improved team, he's a class act who could prove the difference in a few games. Ben Maiden on a wing or across half-back has also been a huge addition to Barellan and helped put them in more than a few games.
But... Barellan haven't had the depth around the ground of some opponents and, even when on top, have found it hard to turn midfield pressure into scoreboard pressure. So, even with an improved showing, they can find themselves backed into a corner, fighting to get back into the contest and forced to do it the hard way.
Mid-year tip: Ninth
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