This year’s National Rugby League battle for the top eight will come down to the final game of the regular season when Penrith Panthers host Manly Sea Eagles at Pepper Stadium.
After this round it’s expected that two wins will separate sixth and twelfth on the ladder. There’s a high likelihood of Trent Barrett’s men traveling to his old stomping ground at Penrith to decide the eight’s fate with the potential of four teams being tied on 28 points after the regular season, with points differential to determine 7th and 8th spot.
5. RAIDERS (27pts, +86 diff) Rabbitohs (A), Sharks (A), Storm (H), Eels (H), Eagles (A), Tigers (A)
One win will get the Raiders over the line and that should come at the expense of South Sydney today. Could end up as high as 35 points if they maintain a good home record and upset Melbourne.
PREDICTION: 33 points (5th)
6. BRONCOS (24pts, +64 diff) Dragons (A), Eels (H), Bulldogs (H), Storm (A), Roosters (H)
For a team so dreadfully out of form, Brisbane are likely to end up on 30 points with wins over the equally out of form Dragons plus wins over the Eels and Roosters. A loss at WIN Stadium would add another twist to the finals make-up. Brisbane hold a 6 win, 5 loss record at the venue against the Dragons. Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford – time to stand up for your team. Josh Maguire and Adam Blair – discipline!
PREDICTION: 30 points (6th)
7. TITANS (22pts, +17 diff) Sharks (H), Warriors (H), Tigers (A), Knights (A), Panthers (H), Cowboys (A)
Not an easy draw for the Titans with two of their final six against the Sharks and Cowboys. Their only guaranteed two points will come at the hands of the hapless Knights. If they can pick up two other wins, they’ll make it to 28. Best chances will come against New Zealand Warriors and Penrith Panthers. Greg Bird’s leadership will be needed to guide his side to a finals berth which would be their first since 2010.
PREDICTION: 28 points (9th)
8. WARRIORS (22pts, -17 diff) Titans (A), Rabbitohs (H), Cowboys (A), Tigers (H), Eels (H)
A big win for the Warriors yesterday against Penrith Panthers at Mount Smart. They should win their remaining three home games against the Bunnies, Tigers and Eels. The round 25 clash against the Tigers will be a blockbuster. Ultimately their season comes down to three factors – defence, attitude and Shaun Johnson.
PREDICTION: 28 points (8th)
9. PANTHERS (22pts, -17 diff) Roosters (H), Knights (A), Tigers (H), Titans (A), Sea Eagles (H)
The Panthers hold the key to the final eight. Their best winning streak is two games which they’ve done three times this season. They’re likely to get to 26 with three games to go and with a differential heading into positive territory. Then they face the Tigers and Titans, both in the mix for the finals. If they happen to fall in both games, the 6pm game against the Sea Eagles will decide their fate. For a team with so much potential, consistency has been their problem. Can a young halves pairing of Nathan Cleary and Te Maire Martin lift Penrith to the finals?
PREDICTION: 28 points (7th)
10. TIGERS (22pts, -59 diff) Cowboys (H), Titans (H), Panthers (A), Warriors (A), Raiders (H)
Wests Tigers have the toughest run into the finals of any team in contention for places in the bottom part of the eight. If they miss out on two points against the Cowboys at Leicchardt next weekend, it’s sudden death footy each week. They will need to win three of their four remaining games. They will need to definitely win their final round clash against the Raiders to get to 28 points. With no easy games in the final five, for and against will rear it’s ugly head.
PREDICTION: 28 points (10th)
11. DRAGONS (20pts, -161 diff) Broncos (H), Sharks (H), Roosters (A), Eels (A), Knights (H)
They threw the kitchen sink at the Bulldogs on Friday night and still couldn’t manage victory in going down 10-13. They have three teams out of contention in their final five games so they are a very slim chance of getting to 28 points. Their cause would be helped if they can beat the Broncos this Thursday night. A long shot for Mary McGregor’s men but their season’s gone with the worse differential of the eight teams showcased in this story.
PREDICTION: 26 points (11th)
12. SEA EAGLES (18pts, -60 diff) Knights (H), Eels (A), Bulldogs (A), Storm (H), Raiders (H), Panthers (A)
With Daly Cherry-Evans and Jamie Lyon fit, Manly’s destiny is in their own hands from round 23 onwards. If they are good enough they will make the magic 28 points and be in with as good chance as any other side. They need to chip away at their points differential in the meantime. Games against the Bulldogs and Storm might knock them out of finals contention. They could make life difficult for Penrith in the final regular season game up at Pepper Stadium.
PREDICTION: 22 points (12th)
Dragons v Broncos, Titans v Warriors
Tigers v Titans
Panthers v Tigers
Sea Eagles v Raiders, Titans v Panthers, Warriors v Tigers
Tigers v Raiders, Panthers v Sea Eagles