Seven of the current top eight sides are safe inside the finals zone if you look at the past 10 seasons of NRL football as a guide – meaning just one team in the chasing pack is likely to make a move over the final five rounds of the 2009 regular season.<br><br>Since the McIntyre Top-Eight finals system was introduced in 1999, 10 sides who were outside the top eight with five games to play have found their way into finals football, giving an average of one side per year over the past decade.<br><br>Furthermore, of the sides who did manage to get in, all of them were no more than two competition points away from eighth spot at this point in the regular season – meaning the struggling Broncos and the momentum-building Wests Tigers are the only sides who wouldn’t be defying recent history to make the playoffs.<br><br>One of those sides to fall out of the top eight over the time period, and the only side inside the top six with five games to go who went on to miss finals football, was the 2002 Bulldogs – but they did so after being deducted all of their competition points for major salary cap breaches. So the one-side-a-year average could be quoting ‘overs’ and St George Illawarra, the Bulldogs, the Gold Coast, Melbourne, Penrith and North Queensland should all therefore be around in September unless any similar huge scandals are brewing.<br><br>In some seasons, such as in 2006 and 2008, two sides that were outside the top eight at this stage of the year pushed up into it. But in others, like 2004 and 2005, the top eight sides with five to go held firm and battled out the post-season.<br><br>Last year the two sides running seventh and eighth at this time of the year, Penrith and Newcastle, failed to hold on, allowing teams 10 (Canberra) and 12 (Warriors) to make a run to the finals – although it must be noted both the Raiders and Warriors were equal on competition points with the eighth-placed Knights.<br><br>In 2007 only one side pushed their way in from this far out, with the Wests Tigers losing their place to South Sydney who at the time were ninth and just two points from the top eight.<br><br>Season 2006 once again saw teams seven and eight fall by the wayside, with teams nine and 11 taking their places. North Queensland fell from seventh to ninth, while Cronulla freefell from eighth to 13th that season, allowing Parramatta and Canberra to move on up. (But once again the two sides moving up were equal on points with eighth spot at this stage of the year.)<br><br>Seasons 2005 and 2004 saw the top eight teams with five rounds remaining stay the same, while in 2003 just the one team, eighth-placed St George Illawarra, fell out of the playoffs, replaced by ninth-placed Newcastle who were equal on points with the Dragons before the final five games.<br><br>While the salary cap transgressors the Bulldogs fell from first to last in 2002, the eighth-placed Northern Eagles also missed out, with Canberra coming up from 11th to join the finals. With five rounds to go the Raiders were just a single competition point behind eighth place. <br><br>In both 2001 and 2000 the teams running eighth at this stage of the year, Melbourne and the Wests Tigers respectively, dropped out of the premiership race and were replaced by the sides running ninth at the time (Warriors and Parramatta). Both of those sides were just a point away from the top eight at this stage of the season. <br><br>The first season of McIntyre finals in 1999 saw the same eight sides with five rounds to go battle out the final series.<br><br>When you take a closer look at the top four sides to see how many sides have forced their way into a home final, you find seven sides have managed to move up from the bottom half of the eight to the top half since 1999 – but never has there been more than one side in a single season.<br><br>On five occasions – in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2005 and 2006 – the team running fourth with five games to play has lost their bid for a home final. <br><br>In 2007 the team running third fell away, while the only other team to fall out of the top four during the past 10 seasons was the 2002 Bulldogs.<br><br>On all seven occasions, including 2002, it was the team running either fifth or sixth who made a run into the top four – meaning fans of Penrith and North Queensland can still hold hopes of a home semi-final this season.<br><b><br>Want to see how you think the finals scenario will play out?</b> Use our <a href="http://www.nrl.com/fanzone/ladderpredictor/tabid/10868/default.aspx"><b>Ladder Predictor</b></a> to find out who will make a late-season move.<br> <br><b>Top Eight Change – Five Games To Play</b> (Past 10 Years)<br>2008 – Teams 7 & 8 out; Teams 10 & 12 in.<br>2007 – Team 8 out; Team 9 in.<br>2006 – Teams 7 & 8 out; Teams 9 & 11 in.<br>2005 – Same 8 sides.<br>2004 – Same 8 sides.<br>2003 – Team 8 out; Team 9 in.<br>2002 – Teams 1 & 8 out; Teams 9 & 11 in.<br>2001 – Team 8 out; Team 9 in.<br>2000 – Team 8 out; Team 9 in.<br>1999 – Same 8 sides.
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