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NRL Run Home: Raiders, Rabbitohs looking shaky with three rounds left as 11 teams scramble for finals equation

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Expert
15th August, 2023
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The heat is on the Rabbitohs to reverse their late-season form slump or they could go from title contenders to missing the finals altogether. 

With three rounds left, South Sydney are clinging to eighth spot and even though they have a bye in the penultimate round they are no guarantee of winning either of their remaining matches away to the streaking Knights and their traditional derby with the Roosters on the final Friday night of the season.

With the Sharks hosting Canberra in the last match of round 27, the makeup of the top eight will not be known until the final fixture of the regular season. 

Souths have been major disappointments over the past month despite getting all their representative stars back on deck with comprehensive losses to Brisbane and Cronulla punctuated by unconvincing wins over the bottom two sides, Wests Tigers and St George Illawarra.

The seventh-placed Knights have won six on the trot and although halfback Jackson Hastings is likely to be out with an ankle injury, they can almost secure a playoff berth if they account for the Bunnies in front of what will be a bumper crowd at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday.

While no specific spot has been locked in as yet, Penrith and Brisbane are all but certain to finish as the top two teams unless the Broncos suffer two heavy losses after their bye this week and the Warriors finish with three big wins. 

(Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

Just seven competition points separate the next nine teams with the Titans and Dolphins dropping out of the playoff race following their limp losses on the weekend. 

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Round 25 features four matches with huge playoff implications for both teams – Thursday’s Cowboys vs Sharks clash at QCB Stadium, the Warriors vs Sea Eagles and Eels vs Roosters match-ups on Friday and the Knights’ joust with the Bunnies. 

When it comes to who has the toughest run home based on a strength of schedule formula (calculating the combined competition points of your remaining opponents), Souths, Brisbane  and the Warriors have the statistically easiest draw while Cronulla, Canberra and the Cowboys have the toughest road home among the playoff contenders.

Strength of schedule

RankTeamStrength of schedule
1Rabbitohs55
2Broncos62
3Warriors63
4Eels64
5Roosters66
5Sea Eagles66
7Tigers73
8Dolphins74
8Knights74
10Panthers76
10Storm76
12Bulldogs77
13Sharks87
14Raiders88
15Titans90
15Cowboys90
17Dragons95

Team by team, here’s how each team is shaping up heading into the final rounds of the regular season. 

The run home for each team

1. Penrith (38 points, 16-5 record, +289 differential) 

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Run home: Titans (away), Eels (home), Cowboys (home).

Strength of schedule: 76 (10th easiest)

Predicted finish: The scary thing for the rest of the comp is that they were under-strength and below their best last week against a fired-up Manly desperate to keep their finals hopes alive and the Panthers still won relatively comfortably. They have quietly compiled a seven-game winning streak which is likely to hit double figures by the finals unless they rest stars in the last round again.

2. Brisbane (38 points, 17-5 record, +213 differential) 

Run home: bye, Raiders (away), Storm (home).

Strength of schedule: 62 (2nd easiest)

Predicted finish: Could still technically drop out of second spot but very unlikely. Given the heavy Origin toll with players like Patrick Carrigan, Payne Haas and Reece Walsh at the tail end of an arduous season, Kevin Walters could look to give them a breather in the final round against Melbourne unless the Warriors are still within striking distance. 

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(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

3. Warriors (34 points, 14-7 record, +129 differential) 

Run home: Sea Eagles (home), Dragons (home), Dolphins (away).

Strength of schedule: 63 (3rd easiest)

Predicted finish: They have tailed off a fraction the past couple of weeks and the return of Te Maire Martin from a long-term layoff with a broken leg could help reinvigorate the side before the playoffs. One more win and an improbable top-four spot will be secured.

4. Storm (32 points, 13-8 record, +127 differential) 

Run home: Dragons (away), Titans (home), Broncos (away).

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Strength of schedule: 76 (10th easiest)

Predicted finish: Melbourne proved they’re a class above fellow top-four aspirants Canberra on Sunday and it’s hard to see them losing two of their last three to fall into the sudden-death half of the playoff bracket. 

5. Cronulla (30 points, 12-9 record, +110 differential) 

Run home: Cowboys (away), Knights (away), Raiders (home).

Strength of schedule: 87 (13th easiest)

Predicted finish: The finals have started already for the Sharks with their three remaining games all having playoff implications for all teams concerned. Two tough road games over the next fortnight will define their season – if they win them both, they will have earned fifth spot heading into the final game of the year at home against Canberra, but if they lose away to the Cowboys and Knights, they don’t deserve to be in the finals.

6. Canberra (30 points, 12-9 record, -120 differential) 

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Run home: Bulldogs (home), Broncos (home), Sharks (away).

Strength of schedule: 88 (14th easiest)

Predicted finish: With the Knights, Rabbitohs, Cowboys and Roosters hot on their heels, the Raiders are still no guarantee of qualifying, particularly given their woeful points differential. They’ll beat the Dogs, probably, on current form but you wouldn’t back them to get the job done against Brisbane or the Sharks. Look like being this year’s Broncos and plummeting out of the playoffs in the home stretch.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 13: The Raiders looks dejected after the round 24 NRL match between Melbourne Storm and Canberra Raiders at AAMI Park on August 13, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

The Raiders feel the sting of their heavy loss in Melbourne. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

7. Newcastle (29 points, 11-1-9 record, +110 differential) 

Run home: Rabbitohs (home), Sharks (home), Dragons (away).

Strength of schedule: 74 (8th easiest)

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Predicted finish: They’ve dodged a bullet with Jackson Hastings a chance to play if not this week then next after it looked like it was season over for the halfback when he was the victim of a hip-drop tackle on the weekend. Two home games against teams just above and below them on the ladder will make or break their season and after six straight wins, they’re well placed to win at least two of their last three to snare a spot in the post-season. 

8. South Sydney (28 points, 12-10 record, +92 differential) 

Run home: Knights (away), bye, Roosters (home).

Strength of schedule: 55 (Easiest)

Predicted finish: They’re looking very frustrated on the field at the moment and if not for a few slices of luck, they could have lost to the Dragons last Saturday. It is not inconceivable that they will lose to Newcastle and the Roosters either side of the bye but will probably jag one win to finish in the 6-8 ballpark.

(Photo by Emily Barker/Getty Images)

9. North Queensland (28 points, 11-10 record, +32 differential) 

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Run home: Sharks (home), Dolphins (away), Panthers (away).

Strength of schedule: 90 (15th easiest)

Predicted finish: Brisbane being hot on the heels for Penrith in the minor premiership race could work in the Cowboys’ favour. Both teams might not rest their stars in the final round if they want to chase the JJ Giltinan Shield and the extra prizemoney on offer for finishing first this year. 

What is certain is the Cowboys can’t worry about that – if they don’t beat the Sharks at home this Thursday they can just about forget about the finals. It will be North Queensland or Canberra taking out the final spot in the eight and the Cowboys will only leapfrog them if they face a depleted Panthers line-up.

10. Parramatta (26 points, 11-11 record, +21 differential) 

Run home: Roosters (home), Panthers (away), bye.

Strength of schedule: 64 (4th easiest)

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Predicted finish: It’s all over for another year of awaiting the end of the Parramatta drought following their flogging in Brisbane and Mitchell Moses’ facial fracture. Will probably only accrue points from the bye here on out.

11. Roosters (26 points, 10-11 record, -84 differential) 

Run home: Eels (away), Tigers (home), Rabbitohs (home).

Strength of schedule: 66 (5th easiest)

Predicted finish: They could very well win their final three matches but their poor for-and-against record puts them behind the eight ball. The Roosters would probably need the Cowboys and Knights to go winless for them to be any hope. 

12. Manly (25 points, 9-1-11 record, -47 differential) 

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Run home: Warriors (away), Bulldogs (away), Tigers (home).

Strength of schedule: 66 (5th easiest)

Predicted finish: Mathematically a chance – if they upset the Warriors in Auckland this weekend they could very much hold up their end of the bargain with the Dogs and Tigers their remaining opponents but would need four teams to falter to have any chance of advancing past Round 27. 

13. Gold Coast (22 points, 8-13 record, -83 differential) 

Run home: Panthers (home), Storm (away), Bulldogs (home).

Strength of schedule:  90 (15th easiest)

Predicted finish: Should Titans fans be worried that David Fifita now has a long-term deal? He tends to play better when he’s coming off contract and needing to impress. They will always get solid service from Tino Fa’asuamaleaui so his bumper deal is a no-brainer. Hopefully the Gold Coast show a bit more fight in the final few rounds than they did at Shark Park last Friday when they were supposedly fighting for their season.

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(Photo by Jeremy Ng/Getty Images)

14. Dolphins (22 points, 8-13 record, -110 differential) 

Run home: Tigers (away), Cowboys (home), Warriors (home).

Strength of schedule: 74 (8th easiest)

Predicted finish: The lack of depth in this roster has come back to bite them as the season has worn on but on the flip side, they are ahead of schedule heading into next season when top-line talent like Herbie Farnworth, Tom Flegler and Jake Averillo will give them the touch of class they lack.

15. Canterbury (20 points, 7-14 record, -297 differential) 

Run home: Raiders (away), Sea Eagles (home), Titans (away).

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Strength of schedule: 77 (12th easiest)

Predicted finish: Abysmal effort in Newcastle on Sunday. When players come to a club for the dollars, you get teams like the 2023 Bulldogs. Rebuilding is a tricky process and having millions to spend in your salary cap doesn’t mean you will have success when you sign high-profile recruits.

16. St George Illawarra (16 points, 5-17 record, -157 differential) 

Run home: Storm (home), Warriors (away), Knights (home).

Strength of schedule: 95 (17th easiest)

Predicted finish: An upset is coming – they have been unlucky three weeks in a row in narrow losses to Manly, Parramatta and South Sydney. 

17. Wests Tigers (12 points, 3-18 record, -225 differential) 

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Run home: Dolphins (home), Roosters (away), Sea Eagles (away).

Strength of schedule: 73 (7th easiest)

Predicted finish: Any hope of avoiding a second straight wooden spoon rests on this Saturday’s opportunity at home to knock off a fading Dolphins outfit. They’ve been competitive and a trifle unfortunate with refereeing calls over the past four rounds but moral victories don’t appear on the official standings. 

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