Sport Rugby League Your team and the finals: race for the eight explained
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Your team and the finals: race for the eight explained

Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry Evans after the last gasp win over Penrith.
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Your team’s prospect in NRL finals race

A weekend of dramatic turnarounds has revived the finals hopes of some clubs, while leaving others teetering on the brink. Ten teams remain in contention for the top eight and another is a mathematical long-shot. Here’s the best- and worst-case scenarios for your side:

1. MANLY SEA EAGLES 36 points; for-and-against +117

Steve Matai and Kieran Foran celebrate the win over Penrith. Photo: Getty
Steve Matai and Kieran Foran celebrate the win over Penrith. Photo: Getty

The Sea Eagles’ miracle win over Penrith – scoring two tries in the final three minutes to win 26-25 – has maintained their position as outright competition leaders, but they still need to beat in-form Cowboys away in the final round to clinch the minor premiership due to the Roosters’ and Rabbitohs’ superior for-and-against. Manly’s form has dropped off in recent weeks, but the front-runners are currently in a prime position to make a run at the title. Glenn Stewart is the only player unavailable from the Sea Eagles’ first-choice squad.

2. SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS 34, +228

Souths can win the minor premiership if they defeat the Roosters next Thursday and the Sea Eagles lose to the Cowboys. If Manly wins, the victor in the Rabbitohs-Roosters blockbuster will take second spot before the archrivals clash again in week one of the finals. After surging into title favouritism, Souths have come back to the field somewhat after a loss to the Cowboys and a patchy defeat of the Bulldogs – but the presence of Sam Burgess and Greg Inglis guarantees they will be a huge threat throughout September.

3. SYDNEY ROOSTERS 34, +226

Like Souths, the Roosters can take out the minor premiership if they win next week’s derby and Manly stumbles in Townsville. A Sea Eagles victory would mean the Roosters and Rabbitohs are effectively playing off to see whether the finals rematch will be played at Allianz or ANZ. The Roosters, as they did last year, appear to be hitting peak form at precisely the right time. Melbourne has been something of a bogey side for the Tricolours, but their strong finish to prevail 24-12 in a finals-quality contest against a fellow title contender has the potential to be season-defining. Nevertheless, a potential year-ending chest injury to Jake Friend could be a terrible blow to the club’s prospects of going back-to-back.

Missed by that much: the Panthers have been decimated by injury. Photo: Getty
Missed by that much: the Panthers have been decimated by injury. Photo: Getty

4. PENRITH PANTHERS 32, +64

A heartbreaking loss to Manly stopped Penrith from sealing a top-four spot, and they now face an epic home clash with a Warriors side playing for a finals place. A win will confirm fourth place and a double-chance, but a loss could see the Panthers drop to sixth if the Storm and Cowboys win, or seventh if the Bulldogs win with a 56-point for-and-against swing. Decimated by injuries, the brave Panthers could also be without hard-hitting lock Adam Docker after he was placed on report for a dangerous tackle.

5. MELBOURNE STORM 30, +66

Melbourne’s final-round encounter with Brisbane at AAMI Park is a boom-or-bust proposition – a win will see them end up in the top four if Penrith loses, but a loss would – incredibly – see them miss the finals if the Bulldogs and Warriors prevail. A definite premiership hope, the Storm will start warm favourites against the Broncos, but the high-pressure nature the match now entails may have them rattled.

6. CANTERBURY BULLDOGS 30, +8

The slumping Bulldogs steadied the ship with wins over Parramatta and Wests Tigers, but they are not quite over the line for a spot in the finals. An away loss to the depleted Titans would see them miss the eight if the Warriors and Broncos get up, thanks to an ordinary for-and-against. Injury-hit Canterbury do not appear capable of doing much if they slip into the playoffs, although Josh Reynolds returns from suspension for the last regular season clash.

7. NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS 28, +175*

Only one of the biggest upsets of the modern era can stop the Cowboys from sealing their spot in the finals against Cronulla on Monday night, with their excellent for-and-against a huge bonus as clubs jostle for position. A final-round blockbuster against Manly in Townsville looms – a win in that match could propel the Cowboys into the top four.
*Round 25 match against Cronulla still to be played

Corey Parker of the Broncos, who are playing for big stakes against Melbourne. Photo: Getty
Corey Parker of the Broncos, who are playing for big stakes against Melbourne. Photo: Getty

8. BRISBANE BRONCOS 28, +103

The Broncos’ drama-charged win over the Dragons has kept their finals bid in check – but they face one of the NRL’s toughest tasks to confirm their place in the top eight, travelling to Melbourne to take on the Storm, who will also be treating it as a must-win encounter. Brisbane can still make it if they lose, but would need the Warriors and Eels to also falter. Meanwhile, an upset at AAMI Park could see them grab a home final if the Bulldogs lose.

9. NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS 28, +96

Every result went against the Warriors last weekend – including their own disgraceful home loss to the Roosters. But round 25 was a charmed one for the club, with almost everything going in their favour, culminating in a huge win over the Titans that provided a welcome points difference boost. The Warriors will make the finals if they beat Penrith away, leapfrogging the loser of the Melbourne-Brisbane clash, while they could snare a home final in week one if the Storm and Bulldogs go down. The Warriors’ fate is back in their own hands, and they could still make the eight with a loss if the Eels are upset by the Raiders and Brisbane lose to Melbourne by eight points more than they lose to the Panthers.

10. PARRAMATTA EELS 28, -90

A week after toppling competition leaders Manly – the club’s best win in years – to put one foot in the finals door, Parramatta has virtually been bundled out of contention after being trounced by also-rans Newcastle. The Eels led by four at the break, but were outscored 34-0 in the second half to sink to a disastrous 42-12 loss. The blue-and-golds must now negotiate a tricky road trip to Canberra and rely on Brisbane and New Zealand losing to end their five-year finals drought.

11. ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS 26, -29

The Saints were effectively marched out of the finals picture via their 30-22 loss to Brisbane on Friday. They require the Eels, Broncos and Warriors to lose – and a points difference swing of 132 points and 123 points in relation to the latter two respectively – while also needing to thrash the Knights, who have been unbeatable in Newcastle.

Ref blunder has NRL sweating bullets

Nearing the business end of a lamentable season for on-field officials and video referees alike, Ben Cummins’ diabolical sin-binning of Brisbane’s Matt Gillett could not have come at a worse time for the NRL’s powerbrokers and refs boss Tony Archer.

Cummins’ decision was categorically wrong, and the whistle-blower took the extraordinary step of apologising to Gillett when he returned to the field before doing the same to Broncos coach Anthony Griffin post-match.

While Cummins’ contriteness is commendable – rarely do we see a referee put their hand up and admit fault – he could have ended the Broncos’ season, and it seems inevitable a blunder will ruin a team’s September campaign.

The error was also compounded by a baffling video ref call shortly after Gillett was despatched, overturning the on-field call to award a try to Josh Dugan despite a seemingly obvious knock-on.

Bad decisions in the heat of the moment are excusable, but the video men have the benefit of time and technology – their regular gaffe’s are simply unacceptable.

Chanel Mata'utia goes over for a try for the Knights. Photo: Getty
Chanel Mata’utia goes over for a try for the Knights. Photo: Getty

Play of the week

His teenage brother Sione has been attracting most of the plaudits out Newcastle way, but Chanel Mata’utia joined his sibling in posting a rookie-season hat-trick at Hunter Stadium. The right winger bagged his treble in a sensational second half performance against the Eels – the latter two courtesy of freakish athleticism and strength with only inches to spare. The remarkable trio of Mata’utia brothers finished the weekend with a combined tally of six tries.

Standout player

Dally M contenders Sam Burgess and Ben Hunt could not be split after producing man-of-the-match performances in tense wins early in the round. Burgess played through injury to score a barnstorming double – on top of his customary colossal numbers – in Souths’ come-from-behind 21-14 defeat of Canterbury, while Hunt crossed for two dazzling tries and brilliantly laid on another to set up the Broncos’ big first half lead in their dramatic 30-22 defeat of the Dragons.

Monday night

The red-hot, finals-bound North Queensland Cowboys host the besieged Cronulla Sharks, who have been decimated by ASADA bans to cap a horror year, in the last Monday night game of the season. The Sharks have been quoted at the longest head-to-head odds in NRL history and a cricket score looms.