Can you believe it… seven Origin series in a row!
Controversy aside, if you’re a Blues fan you have to hand it to the Maroons. Congratulations to Cameron Smith, Petero Civoniceva and the rest of the side. And while we’re at it, well done to the gallant New South Wales team.
But now the focus switches back to the premiership and the ‘Glory Bound’ rounds. And as is the case every year, talk turns to what the ‘magic number’ will be to make the finals – that is, the cut-off point in terms of competition points. Is your club looking at September footy or are they already done and dusted for the year?
All 16 clubs are crunching the numbers to predict exactly how many points they will likely finish with (if they are already in the top eight), or how many they’ll require to make the Finals Series.
Will it be 26, 28, 29 or 30? Or will it be as low as 24? Or as high as 32?
Since the NRL formed in 1998 the lowest-ranked side in the finals has posted somewhere between those last two figures; once again this range looks likely to contain the magic number.
Last season Newcastle were the last team into the finals on 28 points, beating out the Bulldogs on for-and-against differential. They split their games 12 wins and 12 losses and with the two byes, 28 became the number.
It was the same number the year before for Manly; however Parramatta came into the finals in 2009 on 29 competition points… and the year before that the Warriors needed 30. Then again, back in 2007, the Broncos posted just 24 to get a shot at the premiership!
In the five seasons between 2002 and 2006, when the competition comprised 15 teams, the cut-off was 25, 28, 26, 28 and 28.
A good rule of thumb for clubs is splitting their season’s wins and losses down the middle; however over the 14 NRL seasons the last team in the finals won more than they lost on four occasions, broke even on seven occasions and limped in with a negative win-loss ratio on three occasions.
So, should teams this season once again look at 28 as the number? Analysis suggests it is possible even 26 could get it done… but it would take some form runs by teams in the bottom half. Plus, who wants to rely on getting in with a losing record? No-one!
The fact is, if the current top sides continue to dominate, 30 could be the mark – but there are always some upsets in the run home, so we’ll look at 28 as the mark and see who is going to get there.
Currently 14 of the 16 teams are either inside or within four points of the finals zone. The good news for all fans is that mathematically all 16 can make it to 28 points.
Do you believe in miracles, Panthers and Eels fans?
Melbourne (28 points)
Pack your bags for the finals Melbourne fans: you’re already in. And of course, with a four-point break on the nearest rival, you are well on your way to another minor premiership, your second in a row. Just three losses to this point is an incredible effort. And it appears odds-on your team will continue to dominate. They have to play just four current top-eight sides in their last nine games and have five home fixtures.
Verdict: They’re in and the JJ Giltinan Shield can stay in the trophy cabinet.
Bulldogs (24 points)
The Bulldogs can try to stay under the radar all they like but Des Hasler has compiled a genuine premiership threat and no-one is fooled. The ’Dogs have had all of their byes so they need two wins from their last nine games to make it to 28. While the Canterbury boys will no doubt make it, they don’t have the easiest of runs home. They do host the Eels and Roosters, games they should win, but they play the Wests Tigers twice, Manly away, Newcastle away, Canberra away and they also host Brisbane and the Cowboys in the run home. All tough games for varying reasons.
Verdict: They won’t finish first but should do enough to be top four.
Sharks (24 points)
Still this season’s surprise packet for many, the Cronulla boys have put themselves in the box seat to make the finals for the first time since 2008. Just like the Bulldogs they’ve exhausted their byes so they need just two wins from their last nine to hit the 28-points mark. They get five of the nine at home and the next six games are against teams who are currently outside the top eight. In other words, the Sharks ‘should’ do it easy. However, away games against the Dragons, Warriors and Knights are no gimmes. They also get a real test in the last three games against the Rabbitohs, Storm and Cowboys. It could be the difference between them finishing in the top or bottom half of the eight.
Verdict: They’ll make it by winning at least three of their next six but the Sharks may very well be a team struggling by finals time.
Broncos (22 points)
Brisbane still have a bye up their sleeve this weekend, so with eight games left to play they only need to win two of them to get a crack at another premiership and scoop their first without Wayne Bennett. The next four games are against teams outside the top eight at this point and they finish by hosting Penrith, so top-four goals are realistic. They face the Bulldogs, Melbourne and Manly in Rounds 23, 24 and 25, either of which could be grand final previews.
Verdict: If they get through the post-Origin month cleanly they’re top-four material.
Sea Eagles (22 points)
No byes left, so it’s three from nine for the Sea Eagles to make the magic number. They have five home games, although one of those against the Warriors is to be played in Perth. They play the Eels this week and the Knights twice plus get to host the Bulldogs and Broncos at Brookvale, giving them a big chance to push up into the top four.
Verdict: I’m thinking top-four bound for the reigning premiers, fifth at worst.
Rabbitohs (22 points)
How excited are Souths fans? One trip to the finals in recent times and even that was way back in 2007 – but this appears to be the year, right? This is the real deal? Here is a Rabbitohs team that can not only just make it, but also contend. Like Manly, they need three from nine to get to 28 points. And just like the Sea Eagles they get five home games (although the one against Manly is at Bluetongue Stadium in Gosford). Six of the nine games are against current non top-eight teams, so if they can’t get the job done it will be seen as a failure. Of the top sides to this point the Rabbitohs have perhaps the easiest run home.
Verdict: The Bunnies should push towards the top four. If they choke from here, fans could be excused for giving up on them for good.
Cowboys (20 points)
With a bye this week the Cowboys have just eight games remaining so they need to win three of them to find themselves on the number. Sounds pretty doable, right? Well the Cowboys won’t have it easy. They take on Melbourne (away), the Wests Tigers (home), Bulldogs (away), Manly (home) and the Warriors (home) in their next five games. It is very likely the club could be scrapping for the bottom half of the eight over the last three weeks when they travel to meet the Dragons and Sharks while hosting the Knights in between.
Verdict: I’m expecting a slide but think they can hold on to the bottom of the finals zone.
Wests Tigers (20 points)
No byes left for the Tigers, so the equation sits at four wins from nine games if they are a chance to progress. Five of the last nine are at home but only four of their games are against teams currently below them on the ladder. Having already had a big momentum run in their season, the risk is the side has peaked too early. Can they push forward again?
Verdict: I see them winning exactly four games and getting in, perhaps on for-and-against.
Warriors (18 points)
Last season’s runners-up sits just outside the top eight at this point, well aware they’ll need to win at least five of the last nine to have a chance at going one better this season. They get just four home games but they’d be fairly confident of winning all of them as Cronulla is their hardest opponent in that bracket. But even if they can sweep those games, they’ll need at least one of their away games also. They face the Titans and Broncos in the next fortnight and their other away games are Manly, the Cowboys and Dragons. It’s a tough ask but they are capable.
Verdict: Might just be in a differential battle for eighth spot with the Wests Tigers.
Titans (16 points)
After a poor start to their season the Gold Coast have a chance to make a run at the finals, although they’ll need to come up with six wins from their last nine games to qualify. They have five home games scheduled, although three are against Brisbane, Manly and the Rabbitohs. They also have an away trip to Melbourne. The next two weeks will help decide if they have a legitimate chance at a run. They host the Warriors this week and then travel to Canberra. They’ll have to win both to bring the equation to four from seven, a prospect that seems a little more achievable.
Verdict: They’ll be left to rue the start of the year and fall short.
Dragons (16 points)
The loss to the Raiders on Monday was a tough one for the Red V. The curse continues and leaves the Dragons, who bank their second bye this week, having to win five of their final eight games to have a chance at a second premiership in three years. Right off the bye they meet top-eight teams Cronulla (home), Rabbitohs (away) and Melbourne (home) – a stretch that will decide if they have any hope of pushing forward. They’ll need to be better than they have been to get it done.
Verdict: If they can win two of their next three, they have a small chance, but they haven’t shown enough to be confident they will. Plan for next year.
Knights (16 points)
Wayne Bennett will need to mastermind a mini-miracle, with the Knights needing to win six of their last nine to be in the mix. They have just four home games and face seven teams currently inside the top eight. They meet both the Rabbitohs and Manly twice each in the run home and also have to travel to Townsville, New Zealand and Canberra, with matches against the Bulldogs and Sharks squeezed in.
Verdict: Not even Bennett can get this side into September. A rare year without finals football for the supercoach… his last being 1991.
Raiders (16 points)
The Raiders kept their faint hopes alive with their last-ditch win against the Dragons, leaving them also facing a six-from-nine scenario. They get the advantage of five home games at a time of year when it’s freezing in the nation’s capital. Only four of their games are against current top-eight teams – but the first one is a visit to Melbourne this week. If injuries weren’t such a big factor you might even give the Green Machine a hope of a big run… but it’s unlikely.
Verdict: They could be officially out of this race sooner rather than later.
Roosters (16 points)
Another team in the six-from-nine zone, the tricolours have certainly under-delivered and performances like the recent one against Manly suggest they’re nowhere near finals standard. However, if they can win the five games they have against teams outside the top eight as it stands now, they would need just one win against either the Sharks, Rabbitohs, Wests Tigers or Bulldogs to go with it.
Verdict: They won’t be able to do enough to make a serious challenge.
Panthers (10 points)
This season has been a big disappointment for the Panthers. They do have a bye remaining this week but the task they face is still basically ‘mission impossible’ – they must win all of their eight final games. They only have three of those games at home and they face four teams in the current top eight, including the current top three. They face Melbourne, Brisbane and Cronulla away… in other words, if you bank on it you’ll be bankrupt pretty quickly.
Verdict: The best they can hope for is to stay ahead of the Eels in the battle for the spoon.
Eels (10 points)
With no byes left the Eels have an even bigger task than the Panthers – win the last nine games. Considering they travel to Brookvale Oval this weekend they could be the first team to be out of the running for the finals come Sunday afternoon. The Eels get just two – that’s right, two – home games in the run home… and one of those is against Melbourne. It’s always nice to stay positive but Eels fans are aware their chances of a spot in the finals this season are as likely as the club signing the entire Queensland backline to cut-price contracts for the next five years… ain’t gonna happen.
Verdict: Done and dusted.
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COMPETITION POINTS NEEDED TO PLAY FINALS
1998: 26 points; 13 wins, 11 losses.
1999: 32 points; 13 wins, 9 losses, 2 draws, 2 byes.
2000: 26 points; 13 wins, 13 losses.
2001: 26 points; 12 wins, 12 losses, 2 draws.
2002: 25 points; 10 wins, 13 losses, 1 draw, 2 byes.
2003: 28 points; 12 wins, 12 losses, 2 byes.
2004: 26 points; 11 wins, 13 losses, 2 byes.
2005: 28 points; 12 wins, 12 losses, 2 byes.
2006: 28 points; 12 wins, 12 losses, 2 byes.
2007: 24 points; 11 wins, 13 losses, 1 bye.
2008: 30 points; 13 wins, 11 losses, 2 byes.
2009: 29 points; 12 wins, 11 losses, 1 draw, 2 byes.
2010: 28 points; 12 wins, 12 losses, 2 byes.
2011: 28 points; 12 wins, 12 losses, 2 byes
AVERAGE: 27.4 points.