While the top eight is decided, there’s still plenty to play for – at both ends of the ladder – as we enter the final round next weekend.
Thursday September 24: Brisbane (16) vs North Queensland (14), Suncorp Stadium.
The second XXXX Derby doubles as Brisbane’s “wooden spoon grand final”: if Brisbane win, they’ll avoid the first wooden spoon in their proud history (unless Canterbury beat Penrith). If North Queensland win, the last-placed Broncos will be taunted and booed on social media until everyone’s throats are sore.
Friday September 25: Gold Coast (9) vs Newcastle (6), Cbus Super Stadium.
While the Titans can’t make the finals, they can finish with five straight wins to end the season. For Newcastle, a win keeps them in sixth (and secure a home elimination final), while a loss could see them slip to seventh if Souths can somehow upset the Sydney Roosters. Even if the Titans do win, Newcastle should still be safe in sixth.
Friday September 25: South Sydney (7) vs Sydney Roosters (3), ANZ Stadium.
While the Roosters are guaranteed to finish in the top four, a loss here could see them slip to fourth if Parramatta beats the Wests Tigers. Souths will know their fate after the Knights’ game: if the Titans win, then Souths can steal a home elimination final with a win.
Saturday September 26: Canterbury-Bankstown (15) vs Penrith (1), ANZ Stadium.
With the minor premiership secure, expect Penrith to rest a few key players before the real stuff starts, even as they chase 15 straight wins. Canterbury will know their wooden spoon fate by now, and it could affect how motivated they are after a long and painful season.
Saturday September 26: Cronulla-Sutherland (8) vs Canberra (5), Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.
Canberra’s top four hopes hinge on this game: if they win, they’ll temporarily overtake Parramatta in fourth; if they lose, then they can start preparing for an elimination final rematch with the Sharks in Canberra.
In a worrying stat for Canberra fans, the Raiders have conceded the first try in their last eight games: they’ll need to arrest that to be a force in the finals.
How will Cronulla attack this? They’re guaranteed to finish eighth, and will be missing Shaun Johnson. Will they already have their minds on the elimination final?
Saturday September 26: Wests Tigers (10) vs Parramatta (4), Bankwest Stadium.
While this is a Tigers home game, it’s being played at Parramatta’s home ground after the NRL denied a move to Leichhardt Oval.
Anyway, Parramatta will know their top four fate by now: they’ll either be safe (if Canberra lose), or sitting in fifth (if Canberra win).
All the hype will be around Benji Marshall’s Tigers farewell. Will they be fired up to send Benji out a winner? Or will the emotion overwhelm them?
Sunday September 27: NZ Warriors (12) vs Manly Warringah (11), Central Coast Stadium
While neither team can make the finals, there will be a lot of emotion for the Warriors: it’s their last “home” game on the Central Coast before they can finally go back to New Zealand. The Warriors put in another competitive display against Canberra, so they should be too strong for a Manly team shattered after losing Tommy Turbo again.
Sunday September 27: St George Illawarra (13) vs Melbourne (2), Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.
This mismatch has little riding on it: Melbourne are guaranteed to finish second, while the Dragons will finish in unlucky 13th.
While the Storm will probably rest a few stars, they should still enter the finals in good form by putting a cricket score on the Dragons.