Who will make the top eight?
The Wests Tigers and Canberra Raiders have capitalised on losses by the Dragons, Titans and Knights last weekend to re-enter the logjam for the final positions in the top eight.
Round 22 saw Wests defeat cellar dwellers Parramatta to move up the ladder at the expense of the Titans and Knights, who lost to the top two sides.
The Dragons missed the opportunity to grab eighth spot after they were upset by the underachieving Roosters.
Canberra jumped back into contention after a shock victory over the hapless Broncos, who have lost their last three matches and are in danger of slipping out of the eight.
Round 22 created more confusion than clarity in the semi-final picture.
These results have puzzled rugby league fans, leaving them to ask themselves the question: Is my team going to make the top eight?
The State of Play after round 22:
6th Cowboys 26 80
7th Broncos 26 46
8th Tigers 24 -10
9th Titans 22 -6
10th Knights 22 -20
11th Raiders 22 -53
12th Dragons 22 -66
Currently, four points separate the teams from sixth to 12th position.
The Tigers currently hold eighth spot on 24 points, with four teams chasing on 22 points.
As a rule of thumb, 30 points will guarantee a side entry into the top eight.
28 points may be enough to get a team the final spot in the eight, depending on their points differential.
But finals football is not played in August.
Teams still have one more month to mould the fortunes and qualify for the top eight, even if it means winning every game.
A team’s draw, injuries and points differential will be crucial factors in determining whether they qualify for the NRL finals series.
The Knights and Broncos have the hardest draws of any of the teams remaining.
Newcastle will play their last four games against sides currently in the top eight: Sharks, Manly, Cowboys and Rabbitohs.
The Broncos on the other hand, who are trying to halt their nose-dive out of the finals contention, will face the Bulldogs, Storm and Sea Eagles in the next three weeks.
Brisbane is also depleted with injuries to key players like Corey Parker and Alex Glenn.
The Tigers have also had their depth severely tested.
Injuries to players in crucial positions have seen the Tigers’ game lack cohesion and continuity.
The loss of Tigers’ five-eighth Curtis Sironen has seen Robbie Farah shift into the halves, which changes the Tigers’ game plan and structure.
The Gold Coast is reaping the benefits of players returning from injury for the last month of football.
Ashley Harrison, who returned for the Titans last week, was one of their best against the second placed Rabbitohs.
Greg Bird will be a major addition to the Gold Coast line-up as the Titans push for their first finals birth since 2010.
But injuries and the draw are out of the players’ hands.
The only way the players can control their own destiny other than winning, is through their points differential.
The Canberra Raiders (-72) and St. George Illawarra Dragons (-66) will suffer the most in this department.
There is a high possibility if the Raiders or the Dragons finish on 28 points, they will miss out on the finals due to an inferior points differential.
Canberra’s inconsistency is the reason for their ladder position.
The Raiders’ best performance can beat any side in the NRL, but it is their worst performance that would worry coach Furner.
The road to the finals series will encounter speed humps for the clubs vying for the final spots in the top eight.
Just like round 22, fans are left to ponder whether their side has done enough to qualify for the finals.
The final eight is a mystery and only time will be able to answer our questions. It is more than likely that we won’t know who makes up the eight until the end of round 26.
Will your team be playing finals footy?
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