Top 8 contenders: Who will make the NRL finals

It’s the most exciting run home for years. Fourteen sides could still play finals football in September — and Phil Rothfield reveals who he thinks will make the cut.

State of Origin is done and dusted for another year.

We’ve had Cameron Smith’s 400-game celebration and saluted Benji Marshall and Gavin Cooper for their magnificent 300-game milestones.

Now for the big one and the most exciting run home to the finals for years.

Fourteen sides could still play finals football in September, so buckle up because that’s how close it is.

Apart from Melbourne winning the minor premiership and the Roosters and Rabbitohs looking certainties for the top four, every other position is up for grabs.

That means 11 clubs are fighting for the remaining five spots in the finals.

The finals race is so tight that it could come down to a refereeing error, a dropped pass or even one injury.

Maybe a flash of magic from Kalyn Ponga, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck or any of the X-factor players across the competition. Here is how we see it.

1. Storm (Currently 1st, 30 points, +216)

Run home: Rd 18 v Titans (A), Rd 19 v Sea Eagles (H), Rd 20 v Broncos (A), Rd 21 v Rabbitohs (A), Rd 22 v Raiders (H), Rd 23 v Titans (H), Rd 24 v Sea Eagles (A), Rd 25 v Cowboys (H)

Already home and hosed for the minor premiership with a six-point gap over their nearest

rivals. Also have the luxury of two games to come against wooden spoon favourites the Titans, giving coaching Craig Bellamy the option to rest his State of Origin stars. Three of their last four games are at home, which will be helpful before the finals.

2. Roosters (Currently 4th, 22 points, +94)

Run home:

Rd 18 v Knights (H)

Rd 19 v Bulldogs (A)

Rd 20 v Titans (H)

Rd 21 v Raiders (A)

Rd 22 v Warriors (H)

Rd 23 v Dragons (A)

Rd 24 v Panthers (H)

Rd 25 v Rabbitohs (A)

Should finish second to Melbourne Storm. Play the Bulldogs (round 19) and Titans (round 20), which gives them an opportunity to rest Origin stars Boyd Cordner and James Tedesco. Jake Friend has also returned from injury.

Rabbitohs (3rd)

Look reasonably secure for a top-four finish after breaking a four-match losing sequence on Saturday against Manly. Tough road trips to Townsville, Brisbane and Auckland will make their home run challenging. They also have to play the Storm (round 21) and Roosters (round 25).

The Rabbitohs look set to secure a top-four finish. Picture: Getty Images
The Rabbitohs look set to secure a top-four finish. Picture: Getty Images

Knights (4th)

Have to play five away games, but none interstate. Play the Wests Tigers twice and four games against bottom-eight teams. Might have lost two in a row but will get Ponga back next week for the Roosters game.

Raiders (5th)

Have to play the Roosters (round 21) and Storm (round 22), otherwise they have a reasonable run home, including two games against the New Zealand Warriors. Look certainties for the eight after last night’s victory.

Eels (6th)

No matches against the top-four sides is a huge bonus, plus five of their games are against bottom-eight teams. Face roads trips to Brisbane and the Gold Coast but otherwise have a very good draw.

The Eels are on a roll and have a good run home. Picture: Getty Images
The Eels are on a roll and have a good run home.

Sea Eagles (7th)

Probably the toughest draw of all the top-four contenders with two games against Melbourne Storm and two against the Parramatta Eels. Also face tough road trips to New Zealand, Melbourne and Canberra. Only two of their games are against teams outside the top eight.

Panthers (8th)

Outstanding comeback over the past two months from an embarrassing start to the season. Face a tough run home that includes road trips to Brisbane and Townsville in the space of a week. Also have to play the Roosters away (round 24) and Knights (round 25). May just scrape in.

Wests Tigers (9th)

Huge advantage in that they don’t have to play the Storm, Roosters or Rabbitohs. That’s a better draw than most. Five away games, including tough road trips to Canberra and Newcastle.

Broncos (10th)

Have the best home-ground run of all the teams. Five games at Suncorp, one on the Gold Coast and one in Townsville means they leave Queensland only once to play the Bulldogs. They have two games against top-four sides the Storm and Rabbitohs. Have the luxury of playing the Bulldogs twice.

The Broncos have plenty of games left at home. Picture: AAP
The Broncos have plenty of games left at home.

Sharks (11th)

Fallen in a heap with four straight losses. The injury comebacks of Matt Moylan, Wade Graham, Aaron Woods and Shaun Johnson were supposed to lift them into the top four. Unlikely to even make the top eight now. Big-money players not aiming up. Rookie coach John Morris is feeling the pressure.

Dragons (12th)

Huge advantage with five home games in the last eight rounds, including four of their last six. They also get to play the Titans twice but face the Rabbitohs and Roosters. Need to win seven from eight after last night’s debacle.

Warriors (13th)

Play three top-four sides on the run home — the Roosters, Rabbitohs and Raiders. Play the Sharks twice which, on form, should be considered easier assignments.

Cowboys (14th)

Have to play the Storm and Rabbitohs, which will make things difficult considering they will have to win six from eight to finish the competition. But Sunday’s field-goal victory over the Roosters showed anything is possible with this side.

BUZZ’S TOP EIGHT PREDICTIONS

1 Storm

2 Roosters

3 Rabbitohs

4 Knights

5 Raiders

6 Eels

7 Sea Eagles

8 Panthers

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