Crunch time for NRL strugglers

The NRL's bottom seven teams, with just three or fewer victories after eight rounds of the competition, need to win at least half of their remaining 18 Telstra premiership matches to make the 2011 finals series.

In the past 10 years, the eighth team to make the finals series has won on average 11.7 matches. If the trend is to continue, that means the teams currently with three or fewer wins must win at least nine of their remaining 18 games - except for the Raiders, who with one win only, would need at least 10 to 11 victories to make the playoffs.

Last year's grand finalists the Roosters, along with the Sharks and Panthers, need at least nine to 10 wins, after taking only two victories on the board so far; while the Rabbitohs, Titans and Eels (three wins, five losses) also need to make big turnarounds in the coming weeks as they chase at least 12 wins.

The representative season, which kicks off this Friday and extends over nine rounds until the final State of Origin match on July 6, may have come at the right time for some of the teams in the bottom half of the table. The top teams usually provide the majority of representatives, but others could still miss key players.

Players selected in the Test and City-Country teams for this Friday night's rep matches will be required to back-up for their clubs over the weekend, while players selected in the three Origin matches miss a club game the weekend before each Origin match. 

The top four teams - competition leaders the Broncos and Dragons (seven wins, one loss), and the Storm and Cowboys (six-two) - make up 12 of the 17 players named yesterday in the Australian team for the Test against New Zealand at the Gold Coast. The Broncos have the highest representation with five, followed by Storm (three) and Dragons and Cowboys (two each).

The other five places are filled by players from the Bulldogs (who are sixth with three wins, five losses) and four of the bottom teams - the Rabbitohs, Panthers, Sharks and Raiders, with Penrith and Cronulla losing their workhorse captains Petero Civoniceva and Paul Gallen.

In round eight matches played over the weekend, the Broncos registered their seventh straight win, beating the Bulldogs 20-12 at Suncorp Stadium on Friday, while defending premiers and co-competition leaders the Dragons smashed the Eels 30-0 at WIN Jubilee Oval on Sunday.

The Sharks surrendered a 12-0 lead to lose 31-12 to the Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium on Friday. Losses by the Roosters (24-13 to the Titans at the Gold Coast on Saturday) and Panthers (26-18 to the Warriors in NZ on Sunday) see all three at the bottom of the ladder, just one win ahead of the Raiders.

Canberra suffered a heavy 49-12 loss to the Wests Tigers at home, with the victory giving Benji Marshall's side a 4-4 record and seventh spot on the ladder along with the Knights. Newcastle also copped a 42-12 hiding from the third-placed Storm (six wins-two losses) in Melbourne.

The Cowboys, on equal points with the Storm, held out the fifth-placed Sea Eagles 22-20 in Townsville on Saturday to move one place ahead of them on the ladder.

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