Finals picture very, very slowly taking shape
How good is it that with just one round remaining we have three teams in the race for the minor premiership, 10 teams in with a chance of making the top eight, and one team – the Storm – that can still potentially finish in the top four or outside the eight altogether.
A month ago it seemed possible that every team from third through eighth would finish on 32 points. Unsurprisingly, enough surprises have occurred since then to ensure that won’t be the case but as we look at it now:
Minor Premiership: The winner of Roosters v Rabbitohs this Thursday wins the minor premiership – unless Manly can overcome the red-hot Cowboys in Townsville, in which case they will take it. Their inferior for-and-against will see them out of the race if they finish level on 36 points with either of Thursday’s combatants – one of which is all-but-guaranteed to go up to 36 points, barring an unlikely 90-minute draw.
Top two: Manly can’t drop below second so even a loss to the Cowboys will see them with a ‘home’ final.
Penrith: Can’t finish better than fourth, but if they win at home to the Warriors they can’t finish lower than that, so like Manly their fate is very much in their own hands now.
Storm: If the Storm win and Panthers and Cowboys lose, Melbourne finish fourth. If the Storm lose to Brisbane and the Bulldogs and Warriors also win (and assuming the Cowboys win at least one of their last two games) then Melbourne miss out altogether.
North Queensland: The Cowboys can push as high as fourth with a Penrith loss if they win both remaining games but a win tonight against the Sharks should at least shore up a top-eight finish.
Brisbane: The Broncos are the best-placed of the three teams on 28 points (Warriors and Eels are the other two) on for-and-against, but face a tough trip to Melbourne. They can actually lose that and stay eighth if the other two sides also lose, although they’ll need it to be a small loss with the Warriors just seven points behind on for-and-against.
Warriors: To make the eight the men from across the ditch need to beat Penrith and hope Brisbane lose, or if both sides lose they still need an eight-point improvement in their differential compared to Brisbane – unless the Eels win.
Parramatta: Things got very, very precarious – dare we say slippery – for the Eels with that untimely loss to Newcastle. Their for-and-against was shot anyway so the margin wasn’t that important (except, perhaps, for the mental state). The Eels are where you don’t want to be – relying heavily on other results, their fate no longer in their own hands. They need to beat Canberra and hope both Brisbane and the Warriors lose and sneak in to eighth spot and a sudden-death final away to probably either Melbourne or North Queensland.
Ladder Predictor says...
We have a history of not being even close to correct when wheeling out the crystal ball but, undeterred, we have decided to have another crack. Using NRL.com’s nifty Ladder Predictor our final nine games and top eight fall thus:
Cowboys 64 def Sharks 0. Roosters 14 def Rabbitohs 12. Storm 18 def Broncos 10. Wests Tigers 28 def Sharks 12. Raiders 22 def Eels 18. Cowboys 32 def Sea Eagles 16. Dragons 26 def Knights 14. Bulldogs 36 def Titans 4. Panthers 28 def Warriors 24.
Top eight: 1. Roosters, 2. Sea Eagles, 3. Rabbitohs, 4. Panthers, 5. Cowboys, 6. Storm, 7. Bulldogs, 8. Broncos.
So there you have it. The late-surging premiers to snatch the 2014 J J Giltinan Shield, Penrith to cling to a top-four spot, three out-of-Sydney teams in the bottom half of the eight, Broncos to hang in despite a last-round loss, and late-season capitulations to cost the Eels and Warriors dearly. You read it here first.
– Chris Kennedy
Titans need a feel-good finish
They have just suffered one of the most humiliating defeats in the club's history but this week shapes as a critical one in the short-term future of the Gold Coast Titans. As of Monday this is a club awaiting the findings of an internal review, are without a head coach for next season, do not have a major sponsor secured for 2015 and whose recruitment prospects dwindle with each day that contract negotiations are placed on hold.
Ashley Harrison has retired, Mark Minichiello is off to England, Cody Nelson has been signed by Parramatta while Brad Takairangi and Luke Bailey both remain unsigned beyond Sunday's clash with the Bulldogs. The only confirmed new signing for next year is Panthers back-rower Matt Robinson although there is one further back row acquisition yet to be announced.
The Titans' home crowd average of 13,253 is by no means the worst in the NRL but having not registered a win on home soil since April 11 the Titans desperately need to give their fans something to feel good about it before they send out their membership renewal forms over the off-season. The 42-0 drubbing by the Warriors on Sunday was the first time in the club's history that they had been kept scoreless over 80 minutes, an extraordinary turnaround from the team that was on top of the table through six rounds.
– Tony Webeck