The Run Home: Eels
How they stand: The Eels are on the precipice. They need at least four if not five wins from their final seven games, with their next four games away from Pirtek Stadium. In fact their next three games take them to Queensland twice and the Northern Territory once. They have a catastrophic injury toll that seems to get worse every week, and even when it seems like it couldn't possibly keep getting worse it does. That has placed huge pressure on the club's depth and second-tier salary cap, meanwhile one of their highest-paid players – halfback Chris Sandow – seems like he'd rather be anywhere else. With just two of their final seven games against top opposition, if they had a healthy roster and no other dramas you'd almost back them in but the reality is Parramatta are very long odds to scrape into the finals from here.
Round 20 v Cowboys at 1300SMILES Stadium, 7pm Monday July 27
Round 21 v Titans at Cbus Super Stadium, 7pm Monday August 3
Round 22 v Panthers at TIO Stadium, 7pm Saturday August 8
Round 23 v Roosters at Allianz Stadium, 7.30pm Saturday August 15
Round 24 v Sea Eagles at Brookvale Oval, 4pm Sunday August 24
Round 25 v Sharks at Pirtek Stadium, 3pm Saturday August 29
Round 26 v Raiders at Pirtek Stadium, 2pm Sunday September 6
Key clash: If we can charitably pretend for a moment the Eels will beat the Titans, Panthers, Sharks and Raiders in their run home it leaves them needing at least one further win from away games to the Cowboys, Roosters and Sea Eagles to make the finals. The Townsville trip this weekend seems a bridge to far and Roosters at Allianz is a massive mission. Therefore the side's Sunday afternoon trip to Brookvale in Round 24 becomes the clutch game. It's the former home of coach Brad Arthur and a host of current squad members including Anthony Watmough, David Gower, Will Hopoate and Darcy Lussick, and it's a clash that's never short on feeling. Even if both sides are out of the finals race by then this is a must-win clash for both even just in terms of pride, especially after Arthur's Eels gave Manly a touch-up in Round 1.
Key player: It's been Corey Norman all season but the five-eighth-turned-fullback is now sidelined with a knee injury. If the Eels are to salvage anything from this year you can expect skipper Tim Mannah – who has been a rock all year – to be at the heart of it while try-scoring sensation Semi Radradra has helped the side to a couple of wins they may not otherwise have had and can turn a game in moments.
Injury report: Things just keep lurching from bad to worse for the luckless Eels on the injury front. They lost Kenny Edwards for the season before a ball was kicked in anger and Beau Champion in Round 2, while Peni Terepo followed mid-season. They also had consecutive long-term injuries to Kaysa Pritchard, the second of which was a season-ender, and recently Danny Wicks and Anthony Watmough joined them. One of the few shining lights this year, Corey Norman, is set to miss at least a month in the final blow to the Eels' fading finals hopes. Richie Fa'aoso has hardly made it onto the field, hookers Nathan Peats and Isaac De Gois have just returned from medium-term layoffs while fullback Reece Robinson is due back soon.
NRL.com predicted finish: 13th.