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NRL FINALS | Sweet September separates success from striking out

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With just two round remaining in the regular season of the NRL we run a rule over the teams still vying for a top 8 finish and the possibilities that still can come from these final rounds.

With just four competition points separating the first-placed Storm from the eighth-placed Warriors, there’s a ladder pileup that could result in a vastly different top eight come the first round of finals.

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1. STORM

Remaining games: Titans (away), Panthers (home)

Unlike most seasons before this one the Melbourne lads once again be playing post season finals. Bellamy’s men can finish first and clinch the minor premiership by winning their last two games by more points than the Roosters and Rabbitohs, who are also on 32 competition points. The Storm only have a for-and-against buffer of 16 over the Roosters, but enjoy a 61-point margin over Rabbitohs. If they do something very un-Melbourne-like and drop both games against Titans and Panthers they could finish as low as sixth. I have predicted an upset by the Gold Coast outfit this week and also could imagine a reunited Panthers outfit under extreme current adversity doing the same.

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2. ROOSTERS

Remaining games: Broncos (home), Eels (away)

The Roosters could also be crowned the minor premiere of 2018 if they win their remaining two games against the Broncos and Eels. Only behind Melbourne in points differential by 1), they could move ahead of the Storm by knocking over the Broncos and putting a cricket score on wooden spoon contenders the Eels in Round 25. They could drop to sixth if they were to lose the last two. Their differential is too superior for the Broncos and Warriors to overcome and the Dragons, Panthers and Sharks could all theoretically win their final two games to leave the Roosters hosting a knock-out semi. I have the Broncos winning this weeks game but believe the Eels are far to inconsistent this season to have them mounting a challenge.

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3. RABBITOHS

Remaining games: Raiders (away), Tigers (home)

I have the South Sydney squad taking the minor premiership in 2018. I cannot see either the Green Machine or West’s have any effect against this current Bunnies outfit. I also have the Storm and Roosters dropping at least one of their final two games. If the unlikelihood that they enter into the finals on the back of defeats to the Raiders and Tigers, they could find themselves hosting an elimination semi.

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4. DRAGONS

Remaining games: Bulldogs (home), Knights (away)

As unlikely as it sounds after their late season slump, the Dragons can still claim the minor premiership. But before you get carried away Dragons fans, not only do they need to win the last two, but need the Storm, Roosters and Rabbitohs to all fail to register a victory in their remaining two games. This is because the Red V’s points differential of +75 is a long way off their top four rivals. Paul McGregor’s men could slide to eighth place if both Canterbury and Newcastle were to upset them – which I cannot see happening.

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5. PANTHERS

Remaining games: Warriors (away), Storm (away)

The Panthers can also theoretically take out top spot at the end of the regular season. Even if they were to beat the Warriors in Auckland and then the Storm at AAMI Park, they would need the Storm to lose to the Titans this weekend, and the Roosters and Rabbitohs to drop their two remaining games. Eighth place beckons for the Mountain Men if they can’t claim one of their final two scalps.

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6. SHARKS

Remaining games: Knights (home), Bulldogs (away)

The Sharks could also take the minor premiership however greatly unlikely. Unbelievably, first place is still within reach for Shane Flanagan’s men. The Sharks should easily circle and look after both of their final two games. Even by doing this they would need the top three sides to all drop their two remaining games. The most likely possibility is a fourth-place finish for the Cronulla squad.

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7. BRONCOS

Remaining games: Roosters (away), Sea Eagles (home)

Currently sitting in seventh before their game against the Chooks they could still end up hosting a final from the top four. They could do this and take a qualifying semi-final if they upset the Roosters and Sea Eagles – I can see this happening (something I hate to admit or predict). The Broncos could still also miss the finals altogether with a slide out of the eight mathematically. They would need to lose their last two, and the Tigers would need to win both theirs, while also overcoming a 45-point buffer in for-and-against. It is far more likely that a poor finish to the season would see Wayne Bennett’s men land in eighth place and face a knock-out semi in Sydney.

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8. WARRIORS

Remaining games: Panthers (home), Raiders (home)

You can not rule out a top four spot for this squad also. But they would also need the Dragons, Panthers and Sharks to drop their remaining games – even though the chances of this all swaying in their favour is minimal to say the least. They have a kind draw finishing the regular season with both games at Mt Smart Stadium, so a sixth-place finish and home elimination semi is well within reach. They can still theoretically miss the finals altogether if the Tigers finish with a massive results but they can avoid that with a win against either of their last two opponents.

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9. WESTS TIGERS

Remaining games: Sea Eagles (home), Rabbitohs (away)

The Tigers can still finish in seventh-place, but plenty would need to go their way over the next fortnight. Not only do they need to win their remaining two, they are relying on the Broncos and Warriors to be held to 28 competition points. They also need to improve their for-and-against significantly, as those two sides have handy 54 and 45-point advantages over Wests respectively. This is a remote possibility of occurring and by remote I mean intergalactic..

MY PREDICTED TOP EIGHT

1. Bunnies
2. Roosters
3. Sharks
4. Broncos
5. Dragons
6. Storm
7. Warriors
8. Panthers

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