The race for the eight
I will make the not so bold prediction that the Canterbury Bulldogs, South Sydney Rabbitohs, Melbourne Storm and Manly Sea Eagles will all make the 2012 NRL top eight.
If 28 competition points gets you a start, then Cronulla, North Queensland and Brisbane need to win one game (from their remaining four games) to join the dance.
For people who love mathematics and footy, they will happily converse with you about the term ‘differential’ (points scored for, subtract points scored against). This will definitely be used to determine finishing positions at the end of Round 26.
If Brisbane or the Cowboys finish on 28 points they will not have a healthy differential as it will mean they will have lost three games between now and playoff time.
Written off as finals contenders are New Zealand Warriors, Sydney Roosters, Penrith Panthers and Parramatta Eels.
Games to come: Knights (a), Souths (h), Storm (a), Cowboys (h)
The Sharks need to win one game to get to 29 points. They have a challenging run home with the Knights and Storm away, and the Rabbitohs and Cowboys at home. In their favour is Paul Gallen, Todd Carney and Wade Graham returning to the line-up and a confidence boosting, crunching win against the Warriors last weekend. It looks like they have got rid of the wobbles. Sharks fans have an anxious ride through August as a top four spot beckons with three wins.
North Queensland Cowboys
Next up: Warriors (h), Dragons (a), Knights (h), Sharks (a)
Be confident if you are a Cowboys supporter. I think they are still in the battle for a top four spot given their differential of +80 and their reasonable run home.
Next up: Bulldogs (a), Storm (h), Manly (a), Panthers (h)
Definitely on the slide but I expect them to fall into the playoffs given they have a differential of +46. In terrible form at the moment and will be semi-final fodder if they do not improve.
Next up: Dragons (h), Bulldogs (a), Roosters (a), Storm (h)
The Tigers could fashion a winning streak from here to October but they also could also fashion a losing streak of a similar nature. They're now back on track with renewed attacking confidence after a touch footy victory over the Eels. Differential of -10 but match winners in Benji Marshall, Robbie Farah and Gareth Ellis on board. Need big Keith Galloway on deck to keep up the charge. If they get there, they will be battle hardened.
Gold Coast Titans
Next up: Storm (a), Eels (h), Panthers (a), Manly (h)
Playing good footy at the moment. Almost square with the ledger in differential (-6) and not a scary run home. Scott Prince, Matt Srama, Aidan Sezer and William Zillman are all carving up which is a huge plus for the Titans. If they win four games and get to +30 points they are in. I am not backing that scenario so they should win big for three games and lose little in one.
Next up: Sharks (h), Manly (a), Cowboys (a), Souths (h)
Another team playing solid footy. They have won five games in their last seven, so it is a big game this weekend against the Sharks. Their remaining four games are against teams higher in the competition ladder, which is good in that you win, you’re there. Differential (there’s that word again) of -20, so destiny is in their own hands right now. Respect the form but tough road in August.
Next up: Panthers (a), Roosters (h), Bulldogs (h), Warriors (a)
They are the most erratic team in the competition but have dealt teams some hidings, including the Storm and Sharks away, but also allowed Gold Coast and Newcastle to rack up close to 40 points against them at home. They need big wins in three of their last four games at least to be in the mix given their differential is -53. A long shot but their draw is very reasonable.
St George Illawarra Dragons
Next up: Tigers (a), Cowboys (h), Warriors (h), Eels (a)
They have the worst differential of the clubs on 22 competition points, with -66. Most of the Dragons team are wearing premiership rings from 2010, so the danger for opposition sides is if the Dragons regain their swagger and memories from big games over the last three years. Still, they have to win last four games in my opinion which is unlikely.
Jockeying for a position in the playoffs has captured the attention but do not discard there is plenty to play for in the top two and top four positions as well. Enjoy the last month of the premiership.