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Every year there is a magic number that clubs have in their sights. It has nothing to do with the salary cap, or how many kilometres the GPS units are clocking up… it is just one simple number.<br><br>All 16 clubs – or 15 this season due to the Storm’s demise – will break out the crystal ball and attempt to predict exactly how many points it will take to make the top eight. Will it be 28, 29 or 30? Or will it be as low as 24? Or as high as 32?<br><br>Since the NRL formed in 1998 the last side in the finals has posted somewhere between those last two figures and once again this range looks likely to contain the magic number.<br><br>Last season Parramatta edged into the finals on 29 competition points but the year before the Warriors needed 30. Back in 2007, the Broncos posted just 24 to get a shot at glory.<br><br>The Storm’s salary cap issue throws up anomalies in the process, as clubs might get the chance to make it with a weaker record. <br><br>With the Storm’s win/loss record currently good enough to be a top-eight side, essentially the team running ‘ninth’ is in the finals zone. Last season team nine finished on 28 points, likewise in 2008. <br><br>In the five seasons between 2002 and 2006 the competition had 15 teams and the cut-off was 25, 28, 26, 28 and 28. <br><br>Perhaps 2002’s 25 points is the one to monitor, as it was the season the Bulldogs were stripped of their points late in the year, essentially giving ‘ninth-placed’ Canberra a shot. <br><br>A good rule of thumb for clubs is splitting their season’s wins and losses down the middle. With two byes, 12 wins and 12 losses, a side would sit on 28 competition points. <br><br>In the 12 NRL seasons to date, the final team into the finals has won more than they lost on four occasions, broke even on five occasions and limped in with a negative win/loss ratio on three occasions. <br><br>So in 2010, the contenders need to look at 28 as a minimum number, as anything less is going against the odds. (Certainly 26 is points is a chance to get in this season, but for now, with 10 rounds to play, 28 is where it’s at.) <br><br><b>So we have that sorted… but can your club get to 28?</b><br><br><b>Dragons</b> fans, relax. With a bye to come you have hit the magic number and will be in the finals in 2010. Everyone else has some work to do.<br><br>The <b>Panthers</b> will need to win two of their last 10. <b>Our verdict: </b>They’re in. In fact they’ll do it on their ear, with seven of their 10 matches against teams outside the current top eight.<br><br><b>Wests Tigers</b> are looking at four wins from their final 10 matches. <b>Our verdict: </b>Should be certainties. With matches against a weakened Broncos and home games against the Sharks, Cowboys and poor-travelling Titans, the Tigers should get the job done. They might want to get it done soon, though, as the last five rounds are tough.<br><br>The <b>Titans</b>, with a bye in hand coming this week, only need to win three of their final nine to hit the magic number. <b>Our verdict: </b>Will limp in. The Titans face a tough stretch of games after the bye and could easily lose their next three, four or five games. They should be good enough to beat the Cowboys and Sharks but need to jag another win to be safe. <br><br><b>South Sydney</b>, with the bye this week, will need to look at winning four of their last nine to be safe. <b>Our verdict: </b>It’s there for the taking but implosion is also possible. The side plays the Dragons twice, plus the Panthers, Wests Tigers and Melbourne in Melbourne. The next five games are crucial, first at the SFS against the Roosters and then four straight at ANZ Stadium. One of the toughest runs home.<br>&nbsp;<br><b>Brisbane</b>, just like Souths will need to win four of their last nine, as they have a bye in Round 18. <b>Our verdict: </b>Doable – and likely. The Broncos have six opponents outside the current top eight to deal with. With this in mind their amazing finals streak should continue to a 19th consecutive year. Any less would now be a failure. <br><br><b>Manly</b> also enter the run home needing four of their last nine games thanks to the bye this week. <b>Our verdict: </b>Count them in. In won’t be a breeze but with home matches against Canberra, the Warriors and Bulldogs, plus games against the Sharks, Knights and Roosters, the Sea Eagles should cruise into the finals. <br><br>The <b>Roosters</b>, the most inconsistent team in the NRL, need to split their remaining 10 games to have a shot. Five from 10 is their aim. <b>Our verdict:</b> On the fence. They CAN do it, as five of the matches are against sides outside the eight, but there is little margin for error. This week’s Origin-depleted game against the Raiders is crucial to their hopes. <br><br>The <b>Warriors </b>also need five from the last 10 rounds to get a sniff. <b>Our verdict: </b>Probably not – but don’t write them off. This is probably a little contentious, as the side is certainly capable of getting five more wins – but their travel form is still poor and they’ll need at least one away game in the run home. Must beat the Hayne-less Eels this weekend.<br><br><b>Parramatta</b>, last season’s fairytale, might need to write another one soon. They are facing the prospect of needing six wins from their 10 remaining games. <b>Our verdict: </b>It can be done but lightning is unlikely to strike twice. Unless Jarryd Hayne explodes into form and Daniel Mortimer shakes off his second-year syndrome funk, the Eels are dead and buried. Only four of their games are against non top-eight sides, with two against the Warriors who are ninth. <br><br><b>Newcastle</b> enter the bye knowing they will still need to win six of their last nine matches to hit the magic number. <b>Our verdict:</b> Still in it, but barely. A reasonable draw gives them a chance to perform a mini-miracle. They need to start with three more in a row, which would make it five on the trot. If they negotiate the Sharks, Raiders and Cowboys they then get Manly at home. Win that and they push into the Bulldogs and Warriors. The final three, Broncos, Dragons and Storm might just kill them off, even if they are beating the odds.<br><br><b>Canberra</b> did not want to lose last night, as now they need to win seven from 10. <b>Our verdict: </b>Nope, not this year. Even with a surge in form to snap a current three-match losing streak, the Raiders just won’t get there. At best, they’ll win five more. <br><br><b>Cronulla</b>’s golden-point heroics last weekend makes their task the same as the Raiders. They need seven from 10 games. <b>Our verdict:</b> Sorry Shire fans. While they will jag another win here or there, they cannot possibly get seven, not with this roster. Five would be a miracle. <br><br>The <b>Bulldogs</b> still have that famous mathematical chance, needing eight from 10 to morph into this year’s Eels. <b>Our verdict: </b>Not dead yet. That might sound far-fetched but the draw for the Bulldogs isn’t awful and they still have talent in the squad. The next month is obviously critical, where they take on Cronulla, Melbourne, the Roosters and Parramatta. If they jag those and hit the Rabbitohs on a five-match run, they could be on the charge. The Knights, Raiders and Cowboys then await – meaning they could hit 28 with two rounds to spare. They finish with the Panthers and Sea Eagles. <br><br>Last and actually least is the <b>Cowboys</b>, who after the bye into account need to win eight of their last nine matches. <b>Our verdict: </b>Keep dreaming. Even with a reasonably easy draw the Cowboys are a million to one. Time to start planning their end-of-season trip! <br><b><br>Competition points required to make finals:</b><br><br>1998 – 26 points: 13 wins, 11 losses.<br>1999 – 32 points: 13 wins, 9 losses, 2 draws, 2 byes.<br>2000 – 26 points: 13 wins, 13 losses.<br>2001 – 26 points: 12 wins, 12 losses, 2 draws.<br>2002 – 25 points: 10 wins, 13 losses, 1 draw, 2 byes.<br>2003 – 28 points: 12 wins, 12 losses, 2 byes. <br>2004 – 26 points: 11 wins, 13 losses, 2 byes.<br>2005 – 28 points: 12 wins, 12 losses, 2 byes.<br>2006 – 28 points: 12 wins, 12 losses, 2 byes. <br>2007 – 24 points: 11 wins, 13 losses, 1 bye.<br>2008 – 30 points: 13 wins, 11 losses, 2 byes.<br>2009 – 29 points: 12 wins, 11 losses, 1 draw, 2 byes. <br>
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