A few weeks ago I toyed with the idea for a column which was to basically say that the top eight would be come out of the top nine and that Penrith were the team likely to miss out. That is an article I’m glad I didn’t write.
The last few weeks really have seen some results which have brought some life back into the competition for finals places.
Souths and the Tigers in particular have suddenly rediscovered how to win and may have done so with just enough time to reach the finals.
Even the Eels, if they can stretch their winning streak for another month may be able to storm the party late in the piece.
Meanwhile, the wheels look to be falling off the Broncos, and the Cowboys also look to be running out of steam.
The Broncos look truly awful at present and the on again off again Cowboys certainly appear in be in an off sort of mood.
However, the team that has impressed me has been Penrith, I expected the old chocolate soldiers to melt away a few weeks ago but they hung in there for some good wins and now look like they could stick around for the whips to start cracking.
In my opinion the bottom four of the Warriors, Raiders, Sharks and Roosters can all start thinking about next year.
Conversely, the top five of the Dragons, Bulldogs, Titans, Storm and Sea Eagles will all play finals football.
What will be decided over the next six rounds and one match is who will fill those last three places.
The final match in Round 20 is certainly significant. If the Rabbitohs beat the cellar dwelling Roosters they will go to within one point of the top eight; lose and they remain three points clear.
It is an opportunity they simply cannot afford to miss. I’ll go so far to say that if the Rabbitohs cannot beat the Roosters then their season is effectively over.
But let’s take a look at the run home for the contenders.
Panthers: Warriors (H), Dragons (H), Brisbane (A), Rabbitohs (H), Parramatta (A), Newcastle (A)
Must beat the Warriors, as they only have one home game in the final four weeks which are all against other top eight aspirants, with a crunch game in Brisbane.
Knights: Roosters (H), Parramatta (A), Melbourne (H), Cowboys (H), Canberra (A), Penrith (H).
Four home games in the last six rounds puts the Knights in good shape, especially seeing their away opponents may have had their seasons already ended.
Cowboys: Gold Coast (A), Melbourne (A), Bulldogs (H), Newcastle (A), Brisbane (H), Roosters (A).
Tough run, particularly for a side not so good on the road. They will need to cause some upsets to make the finals.
Brisbane: Canberra (A), Cronulla (H), Penrith (H), Dragons (A), Cowboys (A), Canberra (H)
Blessed by two matches against Canberra and a home game against Cronulla, current form suggests they’ll need all the help they can get.
Tigers: Manly (H), Roosters (A), Cronulla (A), Parramatta (H) Gold Coast (A) Bulldogs (H)
Have to beat Roosters, Cronulla and Eels and then get one or two wins from other three games.
Rabbitohs: Roosters (H), Bulldogs (H), Manly (A), Gold Coast (H), Penrith (A), Dragons (H), Cronulla (A)
Tough run home, with four of final six opponents in top five, will rue midseason form slump.
Eels: Cronulla (A), Newcastle (H), Warriors (H), Tigers (A), Penrith (H), Dragons (A)
On the form of the last two weeks could potentially win all six remaining matches, however Parramatta have made disappointment an art form in recent years.
For what it is worth, I’ll plum for the Panthers and Knights to hold their spots in the eight and the Tigers to finally give Tim Sheens some planning to do again in the middle of September that doesn’t relate to holidays.
The Rabbitohs lost too many winnable game in the middle of the season, Queenslanders will rely on the Gold Coast provide them with finals football after the Broncos and Cowboys fade out continues and the Eels left it all too late.
There is always 2010.
Egg and face at the ready.