With two rounds remaining in the 2019 NRL season, the team all the way down in twelfth spot is still in contention for the finals series.
That sets up an exciting couple of weeks, and there is every chance the very last game of the season – between the Penrith Panthers and the Newcastle Knights – will decide the top eight.
Cronulla, Brisbane, Wests, Penrith, Newcastle, and Canterbury-Bankstown currently occupy spots seven to twelve on the ladder, respectively, but only two of them can make the finals. So who will clinch the last two spots up for grabs?
12. Bulldogs (20 points)
The most unexpected team still in contention is undoubtedly the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.
I predicted they would win the wooden spoon, such is the low regard with which I held the Dogs roster in 2019. And for most of the season, that looked like an astute prognostication, as the club that calls Belmore home languished on the bottom of the ladder.
Yet the team is now riding a four-game winning streak, are winners of six of their last ten games, and unbelievably, are a chance of sneaking into the finals, despite looking decidedly ordinary for large chunks of the season.
To be clear, their fate is far from in their own hands. “Mathematical chance” is an over-used term in sport, but the Dogs are just that.
Their remaining games – against the Cowboys and Broncos – are extremely winnable, but they’ll need luck and other results to go their way if they’re going to leapfrog the teams above them on the ladder.
However, everyone loves a fairytale though, right?
11. Knights (20 points)
The team (just) above the Dogs on the ladder is the Newcastle Knights, but conversely, they’re headed in the opposite direction. Winners of just two of their last ten games, the Knights have fallen off a cliff after showing glimpses of promise early in the season.
They were trounced by the Wests Tigers on Saturday night in a 46-4 bloodbath, after it was announced during the week that coach Nathan Brown would depart the club at the end of the season. Club legend Andrew Johns ripped into the team’s management, saying that had sabotaged the Knights season, and he was far from a voice of one.
Which is all a very long-winded way of saying that Newcastle are in a lot of trouble.
Despite that, wins against the Titans and Panthers in the last two rounds isn’t the tallest ask, but it would be surprising, given the Knights form.
10. Panthers (22 points)
To say Penrith have been up and down this season would be understatement for the ages. They started the season anchored to the bottom of the ladder, as pre-season scandals and Gus Gould’s departure took a toll on the team, and they struggled to score points.
The Panthers then went on a seven-game winning streak, which saw them climb back into the top eight, where many people had them finishing in pre-season polls.
Having now lost two games on the trot, they find themselves on the outside looking in, along with the formidable task of facing premiership heavyweights the Sydney Roosters this Saturday.
A loss to the Chooks wouldn’t definitively kill Penrith’s season, but it would place it on life support. They would need to beat Newcastle in the last round, while needing the Tigers and Broncos to lose both their remaining games.
9. Wests Tigers (22 points)
The Tigers find themselves in familiar territory on the ladder, sitting in their customary ninth position. If they don’t own this spot, they must surely have Squatter’s Rights soon?
The Tigers actually have arguably the best run home of all these teams, facing the disappointing Dragons this weekend, before finishing their season against the inconsistent Sharks at what is sure to be a packed Leichhardt Oval on Sunday afternoon in the final round.
Having said that, it’s a little unfair labelling the Sharks inconsistent, as that’s been the Tigers MO all season. Few fan-bases have been as tortured as the Wests faithful, who have had to put up with inspirational wins followed by shocking losses all season long.
However, the Tigers should be buoyed by their 46-4 thrashing of the Knights last round, and as any football fan will tell you, momentum is a wonderful asset to have at this time of the year.
8. Broncos (23 points)
After many pundits had Brisbane winning the whole competition this season, I made the bold call to predict they wouldn’t even make the eight. So I may have a vested interest in death riding them out of the finals series. Well, that, and they also play my Dogs in the last round.
No conflict of interest here, I assure you, but I’m hoping Brisbane lose both of their remaining games by 50…
Along with the Dogs game in the last round, the Broncos play Parramatta on Friday night at home at Suncorp, and given they already preside in the top eight, all they have to do is win their last two games – rather than pray for miracles – in order to make the finals.
The Eels game will be tough, and the Dogs are playing good footy, but Brisbane’s biggest threat might be themselves.
In particular, coach Anthony Seibold hasn’t always appeared to handle the pressure of coaching Brisbane this season. Can he rally his troops for two more wins and a finals berth?
7. Sharks (24 points)
With the smallest of buffers over the other teams, one could assume that Cronulla are in the driver’s seats for snaring a finals spot. One would assume wrong though.
This weekend the Sharks face a Raiders outfit smarting from a tough loss to Manly last Sunday. Cronulla will be at home, but Canberra are a tough proposition this year – especially coming off a disappointing loss – and will no doubt be determined to finish in the top four.
Then in the last round, the Sharks will face the Tigers at Leichhardt Oval, in what is sure to be an emotional afternoon for Wests fans. It will be Robbie Farah’s farewell, and though he (probably?!) won’t be playing, the team and the crowd will still want to send him out a winner, of sorts.
The Sharks definitely have the hardest two remaining games, though they only need one win. Cronulla just haven’t been able to get all their players on the park this season, which has created a lot of inconsistency.
Yet when they’re on, they’re as good as anyone, and a few teams above them on the ladder would prefer not to face them in the finals.
Prediction: What will go down?
• The Sharks lose to the Raiders and Tigers – staying on 24 points.
• Brisbane lose to the Eels and Dogs – remaining on 23 points.
• The Tigers beat the Dragons and Sharks – finishing on 26 points.
• The Panthers lose to the Roosters, then beat Newcastle – leaving them on 24 points.
• The Knights lose to the Titans and Penrith – for a sad 20 points.
• The Dogs beat the Cowboys and Brisbane – for a ‘not enough’ 24 points.
So the Tigers and Sharks (thanks to their superior points differential) make the eight.
You read it here first. Well, unless you read this somewhere else.