Published by Joe Mcdonough 22 August 2018 on foxsports.com.au
WITH just four competition points separating the first-placed Storm from the eighth-placed Warriors, there’s a ladder logjam that could result in a vastly different top eight landscape at the completion of the final two rounds.
Fox League looks at the highest and lowest possible finishes for the nine teams still in the hunt for a finals berth.
1. STORM 32
Remaining games: Titans (away), Panthers (home)
Highest: Obviously already standing at the summit, Craig 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 Rabbtiohs.
Lowest: If they do the unthinkable and lose to both the Titans and Panthers, the Storm could plummet as low as sixth spot. Their strong points differential (+177) means the Broncos (+10) and Warriors (+1) won’t jump them even if they win their last two.
2. ROOSTERS 32
Remaining games: Broncos (home), Eels (away)
Highest: Like the Storm, the Roosters could be holding aloft the J.J. Giltinan Shield if they win their remaining two games against the Broncos and Eels.
Only trailing Melbourne in points differential by 16 (+161), 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.
Lowest: The Bondi boys could slip down the rungs to sixth spot 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 knockout semi.
3. RABBITOHS 32
Remaining games: Raiders (away), Tigers (home)
Highest: The Rabbitohs can also finish on top at the end of the regular season with back-to-back wins, but they would have to rely on both the Storm and Roosters dropping one of their final two games.
Sam Burgess and co trail the aforementioned teams by a significant gap in the points differential, so if the top three all managed to win their remaining two games, it is highly unlikely Rabbitohs would land in first place.
Lowest: Again, their prospects largely mirror the Storm and Roosters. If they limp into the finals on the back of defeats to the Raiders and Tigers, they could find themselves hosting an elimination semi.
4. DRAGONS 30
Remaining games: Bulldogs (home), Knights (away)
Highest: 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.
Lowest: Paul McGregor’s men could slide to eighth place if both Canterbury and Newcastle were to upset them.
Even then though, the Broncos and Warriors would likely need to get the chocolates in both their remaining games to leapfrog the Dragons, with points differential coming into the equation. If the Dragons do drop their last two games, a sixth-place finish is the more probable outcome.
Remaining games: Warriors (away), Storm (away)
Highest: The Panthers can also theoretically take out top spot at the end of the regular season.
But with a seriously tough run home, this would only be wishful thinking from the Penrith faithful.
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.
Lowest: Eighth place beckons for Nathan Cleary and co if they can’t claim one of their final two scalps. The Warriors could potentially jump the Panthers if they win this weekend and then take care of the Green Machine. And if the Broncos upset the Roosters, they would only need to knock off the Sea Eagles to also shuffle Penrith further down the ladder.
Remaining games: Knights (home), Bulldogs (away)
Highest: Unbelievably, first place is still within reach for Shane Flanagan’s men.
Is it likely? Definitely not.
The Sharks should account for both the Knights and Bulldogs, which would take them to 34 competition points. But even if they receive a boost to their for-and-against courtesy of big wins over their last two opponents, they could only realistically catch the Rabbitohs, and even that would be a stretch.
So they would need the top three sides to all drop their two remaining games.
A fourth-place finish is on the cards though.
Lowest: Eighth place is as low as the Sharks can go.
But for that to occur, they would need to be upset by their two bottom eight opponents and the Warriors and Broncos would need to claim all four points from their two remaining games.
7. BRONCOS 28
Remaining games: Roosters (away), Sea Eagles (home)
Highest: Despite sitting in seventh-place heading into Round 24, the Broncos can still charge into the top four.
They can’t unseat the top three, but they could reach as high as fourth place and a qualifying semi-final if they upset the Roosters and Sea Eagles.
Again, this is highly unlikely as the Dragons only need to win one of their last two against the Knights and Bulldogs to snuff out the Broncos’ top four hopes.
They would also realistically need the Panthers and Sharks to drop their remaining games.
Taking into account the run homes of the teams sitting above them, Brisbane would likely finish sixth and earn a home elimination final if they conquer the Tricolours and Sea Eagles.
Lowest: Technically, the Broncos could still miss the finals, but the chances of that happening are slim.
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 knockout semi in Sydney.
Remaining games: Panthers (home), Raiders (home)
Highest: Like the Broncos, you can’t put a line through the Warriors’ top four hopes just yet.
But they would also need the Dragons, Panthers and Sharks to drop their remaining games. An unlikely scenario to say the least.
They have a kind draw finishing the regular season at Mt Smart Stadium, so a sixth-place finish and home elimination semi is well within reach.
Lowest: Their situation is much the same as Brisbane’s.
They can still theoretically miss the finals altogether if the Tigers finish with a flurry but they can avoid that with a win against either of their last two opponents.
9. WESTS TIGERS 24
Remaining games: Sea Eagles (home), Rabbitohs (away)
Highest: The Tigers can still finish in seventh-place, but plenty would need to go right for them over the next fortnight.
Not only do Ivan Cleary’s men need to win their remaining two, they are relying on the Broncos and Warriors to be held to 28 competition points.
If that isn’t enough, they also need to improve their for-and-against significantly, as those two sides have handy 54 and 45-point advantages over Wests respectively.
Lowest: Obviously, they could miss the finals.
And sadly for the Tigers’ faithful that is the most likely outcome.
The Broncos will be expected to at least beat the Sea Eagles, and the Warriors will be heavy favourites against the Raiders. Just one win each would end the Tigers’ year.
Then when you take into account their points differential, it would be a minor miracle if they made it to the post-season.