There’s been a lot of discussion on social media regarding the loan deal announced on NRL.com earlier this week.
Just one round remains in the regular season and a certain number of matches this weekend will go a long way towards shaping the ladder between positions 3-14, with the top two and the bottom two all locked in.
With second place sewn up, the Roosters will have nothing to play for when they play the Rabbitohs, but would love nothing more than to reverse their Round 1 loss to the Bunnies and possibly sentence them to play sudden death football in the first week of the finals.
The Storm will also have nothing to play for when they welcome the Cowboys to AAMI Park, having secured its fourth minor premiership last week with a huge win over the Sea Eagles on the road.
Elsewhere, the Raiders will be playing for third place when they welcome the Warriors, while the Broncos will have to travel for up to five consecutive weeks if they are to go all the way under first-year coach Anthony Seibold, starting with their clash against the Bulldogs on Saturday night.
The final place in the eight goes up for grabs when the Wests Tigers host the Sharks at Leichhardt Oval in what could also be the final game for either of their stalwarts, Robbie Farah or Paul Gallen, with one of them to be sent into retirement early come sunset on Sunday.
Here is your full guide to Round 25.
Rabbitohs vs Roosters
The final round begins with an absolute pre-finals blockbuster between bitter rivals the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Sydney Roosters at ANZ Stadium on Thursday night.
For the Roosters, their finishing position will not change regardless of whether they win or lose this match, so coach Trent Robinson may be tempted to rest some of his star players ahead of their qualifying final, which could be against the Rabbitohs.
Last week, they conceded the first try against the Panthers but then posted 22 unanswered points to seal second place on the ladder, behind the Melbourne Storm which wrapped up the minor premiership with its win over the Sea Eagles earlier in the day.
It saw them finish with eight wins from nine matches at the SCG this season, with the only blemish being their Round 1 loss to the Rabbitohs in March.
While the Roosters are frozen into finishing second on the ladder, the Rabbitohs will have everything to play for.
Wayne Bennett’s side will be playing for the chance to move up to third on the ladder, which would mean that they could face the Roosters again in week one of the finals series, though this is likely to take place at the SCG.
Realistically, however, they are likely to finish fourth, which will mean a trip to Melbourne to face the Storm in the first week of finals.
A loss, on the other hand, could see them at risk of dropping to fifth place on the ladder, which would see them host whoever finishes in eighth place – likely to be the winner of the Wests Tigers versus Sharks match at Leichhardt Oval on the Sunday.
Last week, the Bunnies kept the Warriors scoreless in the second half to record a 31-10 victory, and will fancy their chances against a Roosters side who have been without both co-captains Boyd Cordner and Jake Friend, as well as retiring halfback Cooper Cronk, due to injury.
At home, and with their eyes on third place and a rematch with the Roosters in the first week of finals, the Bunnies should get up.
Prediction: Rabbitohs by eight points.
Eels vs Sea Eagles
The first of two matches on Friday night will see the Eels and Sea Eagles play off for fifth place at Bankwest Stadium, though the stakes will be higher for the Silvertails, who have the chance to jump into the top four should the Rabbitohs lose to the Roosters the previous night.
After crashing and burning their way to the wooden spoon last year, the Eels have rocketed back up the ladder, and regardless of how they fare against the Sea Eagles, will host an elimination final at their newly-built ground in the first week of the finals.
The return home to Parramatta after two years at ANZ Stadium has been a massive highlight for the club’s fans, who have packed out the new stadium on a regular basis, including in Round 6 when a near-capacity crowd saw their side demolish the Wests Tigers 51-6.
Thus, it’s fair to say that another huge crowd will be expected when the Eels tackle their bitter rivals, the Sea Eagles, who are coming off a bruising loss to the Storm and will be without fullback Tom Trbojevic for the rest of the season due to a nasty pectoral injury.
That is the last thing Des Hasler would want as he tries to lift his side back into the top four, while for the Eels it will be about bouncing back at home after their heartbreaking golden point loss to the Broncos in Brisbane last Friday night.
Brad Arthur’s side had scored the first try, but fell behind 16-6 before rallying late to force extra time, during which they were sunk by the magic boot of Broncos flyer Jamayne Isaako.
While the Sea Eagles will potentially be playing for a double chance depending on how the Rabbitohs fare against the Roosters on Thursday night, for the Eels, they could jump into as high as fifth with a win on Friday night.
Just where they will finish, and who they will face, is dependent on how much they win by, as a win by over 12 points will see them leap into sixth place, and above the Sea Eagles into fifth; anything less and the lowest they can finish is sixth.
At home, the locals should take the chocolates, and I think they will do enough to finish in fifth place.
Prediction: Eels by 12 points.
Storm vs Cowboys
With the Storm all but locked in to claim its fourth minor premiership this decade, and the Cowboys no chance of reaching the finals, it’s fair to say that the second Friday night match between the two sides at AAMI Park is a dead rubber.
Craig Bellamy’s side wrapped up top spot on the ladder last Saturday night by thrashing the Sea Eagles by 36-6 in the Battle of Brookvale, with Justin Olam scoring a hat-trick of tries in what was their biggest ever win at Brookvale Oval.
But if you thought that was the best they could produce, then the Cowboys better watch out.
For the second consecutive season, Paul Green’s men will witness finals from the sidelines, but it hasn’t been without its highlights.
Last Thursday night, in their final ever game at 1300SMILES Stadium before they move into the brand new North Queensland Stadium next year, they came from behind to defeat the Bulldogs 15-8 with Scott Bolton booting the final conversion of the game.
In a nice touch, the number eight guernsey normally worn by the retiring Matt Scott, who suffered a stroke recently, was rested.
But if they are to end their season on a high, and for Paul Green to boost his chances of remaining at the helm of the Cowboys, then they’ll need to reverse a very poor recent record against the Storm, having not beaten them anywhere since the 2015 preliminary final.
That being said, Craig Bellamy’s side should show why they have been the most consistent side all year, and storm to victory in front of their home fans.
Prediction: Storm by 20 points.
Raiders vs Warriors
The first match on Saturday afternoon sees the third-placed Canberra Raiders play host to the New Zealand Warriors, who will be playing for nothing but pride after yet another season of unrelenting disappointment.
With the Green Machine guaranteed to finish either third or fourth on the ladder, whether they travel to Melbourne to face the Storm, or to the SCG for a clash with the Roosters, is first dependent on the outcome of the Rabbitohs versus Roosters match on the Thursday evening.
If the Bunnies get up, then the Raiders will be playing to avoid a trip to Victoria in the first week of the finals series, though this would mean having to face the Chooks at the SCG, where Trent Robinson’s men have not lost since Round 1.
But if the Rabbitohs are beaten, and the Sea Eagles rack up an unlikely record win against the Eels, the only way Ricky Stuart’s men would lose the double chance is if they also cop a record loss against the Warriors at home.
As it stands, the Raiders’ for-and-against is +154, which is more superior than that of the Rabbitohs’ (+98) and Sea Eagles’ (+66), so the above scenario is unlikely.
At home, the Green Machine will start favourites to defeat the Warriors, who have gone from playing finals last year to possibly finishing third-last on the ladder with just eight wins and a draw from 23 matches played.
While the Raiders came from behind to register a stunning 15-14 win over the Sharks in golden point extra time, the Warriors fell 31-10 to the Rabbitohs at home, leaving them with just three wins at home all season (four if you include their win over the Sharks in Wellington).
Their recent record in Canberra isn’t that bad, being victorious on three of their last five visits to Bruce Stadium.
However, at home, the Raiders should show no mercy as they gear up for just their second finals campaign since 2012.
Prediction: Raiders by 24 points.
Bulldogs vs Broncos
After four straight wins, whatever chances the Bulldogs had of making a late charge for September were extinguished last Thursday night in a controversial loss to the North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville.
The Dogs had spent the majority of the season at the bottom of the ladder, but under second-year coach Dean Pay, have produced some brilliant football that has seen them upset, in order, the Panthers, Wests Tigers, Rabbitohs and Eels.
Back at home for the final time this year, the boys from Belmore will be out to unleash their frustration on the Brisbane Broncos, who after a slow start to the season have lifted in the past three months to climb up to seventh on the ladder.
Anthony Seibold’s side all but confirmed their finals berth last Friday night when they defeated the Parramatta Eels by 17-16 in golden point extra time, with the magic boot of winger Jamayne Isaako getting them over the line.
After several weeks of criticism over his poor individual form, which resulted in calls for the two-time premiership backman to retire from the game, it seemed only fitting that captain and five-eighth Darius Boyd received man-of-the-match honours.
The Broncos will still be without prop forward Tevita Pangai Jr, as he still has three more weeks of a five-match suspension to serve arising from a crusher tackle on James Maloney in Round 22.
Thus, the club would have to make the preliminary final if he is to have any chance of returning to the field again in 2019.
But on the road, the northerners should get the job done before gearing up for another finals series, the entirety of which they will play away from Queensland (under the current finals system, teams finishing seventh and eighth must travel for all finals matches they contest).
Prediction: Broncos by 18 points.
Titans vs Dragons
For the Titans and Dragons, their seasons from hell just can’t come to an end quite soon enough.
Neither teams’ positions cannot change regardless of the outcome of this match, with both teams locked in to finish in the bottom two – the Dragons their worst ever finish in the post-merger era at 15th, and the Titans a second wooden spoon.
The Titans have lost their last ten matches, having not won since they defeated the Brisbane Broncos 26-18 at Suncorp Stadium in Round 13, while the Dragons have only won three times since Round 6 – one of which was against the Titans in Round 21.
The Dragons’ home attendances have suffered as a result of their dismal performances this season, boasting the worst home average attendances of all NRL clubs in Sydney for the year.
There has also been some commentary from fans regarding the future of coach Paul McGregor, who was re-signed earlier this year with his contract not expiring until the end of the 2021 season but is now likely to be shown the door before the year is out.
Last week, the Dragons hung in with the Tigers in the first half before capitulating after half-time, marking a disappointing final game in Sydney for Gareth Widdop, who is returning to England to play in the Super League, and retiring forward Jeremy Latimore.
Meantime, the Titans’ struggles resulted in Garth Brennan being shown the door after a season-and-a-half at the helm, and under caretaker coaches Craig Hodges and Paul Burt, the side hasn’t fared any better, including losing to the Roosters 58-6 at the SCG in Round 20.
Last week, they managed to score the first try against the Knights but would concede 38 unanswered points to crash to their 19th loss of the season, and even with what appears to be a winnable match against the Dragons coming up, there will be no respite.
Prediction: Dragons by six points.
Wests Tigers vs Sharks
This is it – it’s all or nothing for the Tigers and Sharks at Leichhardt Oval this Sunday.
The Sharks’ golden point loss to the Canberra Raiders, and the Tigers’ 42-14 thrashing of the Dragons last Sunday has set up a winner-takes-all showdown, with the last finals berth up for grabs.
For either Sharks braveheart Paul Gallen, or Wests Tigers veteran Robbie Farah, it will be their final game, with the losing team to be sentenced to an early end to their season, while the winner will progress to play in the finals.
The stakes will be higher for the Tigers, who are currently enduring the longest finals drought of any side, having not finished a regular season inside the top eight since 2011.
Further, halfback Luke Brooks, who was one of their best against the Dragons at the SCG last Sunday, has played the most games of any player that has yet to play September action, and the 24-year-old will be eager to taste finals football for the first time in his career.
Farah, meantime, is racing the clock to be fit for what will be his final game at Leichhardt Oval, the 2005 premiership hooker announcing that he will retire at season’s end.
On the other hand, the Sharks will be kicking themselves after wasting a 12-0 half-time lead, being held tryless in the second half as they crashed to yet another frustrating defeat against the Canberra Raiders at home.
It was a sour way to mark Paul Gallen’s final game at home, and marked the fifth time this year that they have lost a match despite scoring one more try than the opposition, with poor goalkicking from halfback Shaun Johnson proving to be their downfall in these defeats.
Still, despite being on the same number of premiership points than the Tigers, the Sharks sit in eighth place by way of a superior for-and-against, +33 to the Tigers’ +6.
But it’s the on-field result which will matter, with the winner likely to finish in eighth place and face either the Sea Eagles or the Eels in a knockout elimination final in the first week of the finals series.
At home, the Tigers should win it for their fans, and thus sentence the Sharks to an early end to their season and Paul Gallen to retirement.
Prediction: Wests Tigers by 12 points.
Panthers vs Knights
The final match of the regular season shapes as a dead rubber, with neither the Panthers or Knights able to make the finals after contrastingly disappointing campaigns.
After luring Ivan Cleary, who had been sacked as coach in 2015, back to the foot of the mountains, the Panthers struggled in the first half of the season, but were able to rack up seven straight wins in the middle of the season to briefly enter the top eight.
Eventually, they were made to pay for their slow start to the year, with only one win since Round 18 seeing them drop to eleventh on the ladder with a negative for-and-against of -105.
There will be some incentive for the club to salvage something out of what has been a wasted season, with James Maloney to play his final game in the NRL before he departs for the English Super League.
On the other hand, you just can’t exactly predict which Newcastle Knights side you’ll see every week.
One week they’re brilliant, the next they’re insipid, and that was the case when, after thrashing the Cowboys in Round 22, they were made to look second rate against the Wests Tigers at Campbelltown Stadium in Round 23.
Coach Nathan Brown was released after the humiliating loss to the Tigers, and with caretaker coach Kristian Woolf at the helm, the Knights returned to playing their best football, unleashing their fury on the Gold Coast Titans with a 38-4 victory.
Their final round showdown against the Panthers, which will end a sixth straight season without finals football, will come fresh off the news that Adam O’Brien has been announced as their new coach for at least the next three seasons.
It will now remain to be seen whether the Knights can lift for their new coach, but on the road, I think they can.
Prediction: Knights by four points.
If my predictions are correct, then this will be the first week of the finals:
Storm versus Rabbitohs, AAMI Park (likely Friday night)
Roosters versus Raiders, SCG (likely second Saturday night)
Eels versus Wests Tigers, Bankwest Stadium (likely first Saturday night)
Sea Eagles versus Broncos, Brookvale Oval (likely Sunday afternoon)