The Run Home: Broncos
How they stand: Not even the most hardened of supporters could have predicted how well the Broncos have travelled since their demoralising 36-6 opening round flogging at the hands of the Rabbitohs. The return of Wayne Bennett naturally lifted expectations around the club but even the master coach himself couldn't have predicted how far his side has come since the beginning of March. The once unpredictable Broncos are slowly regaining the aura they had when Bennett was last in charge of the club courtesy of some steely defence and scintillating attack.
Brisbane have only lost twice since Round 1 and have scored 40-plus points on four occasions this season while conceding 16 points or less in 11 of their 17 games. The current ladder leaders are two competition points in front of the Cowboys although a superior for-and-against gives them a virtual two-win buffer at the summit of the Telstra Premiership.
On paper Brisbane's road to the finals is a tough one – four out of their final seven matches are against sides currently in the top eight. However, based on recent gritty victories against fellow finals hopefuls Melbourne and Canterbury, and their undefeated run through the Origin period, the Broncos are well on track to claim their fifth minor premiership.
Round 20: v Titans at Suncorp Stadium, 7.35pm, Friday 24 July.
Round 21: v Sea Eagles at Central Coast Stadium, 7.30pm, Saturday 1 August.
Round 22: v Bulldogs at Suncorp Stadium, 7.35pm, Friday 7 August.
Round 23: v Dragons at Suncorp Stadium, 7.45pm, Friday 14 August.
Round 24: v Roosters at Allianz Stadium, 7.30pm, Saturday 22 August.
Round 25: v Rabbitohs at Allianz Stadium, 7.45pm, Thursday 27 August.
Round 26: v Storm at Suncorp Stadium, 7.45pm, Thursday 3 September.
Key clash: They'll have every chance of wrapping up the minor premiership before then, but Brisbane's Round 25 clash against the Rabbitohs will represent a true test of their finals credentials. The Broncos will head into the match on a short five-day turnaround following another heavyweight bout against the Roosters in Round 24. The defending premiers remain the only team so far this season to have comprehensively outplayed the Broncos and their match-up at Allianz Stadium on the final Thursday night in August will provide another indicator on how far to Brisbane can go in 2015.
Key player: The Broncos have demonstrated they can win without their Origin stars but one player they could struggle without is halfback Ben Hunt. After a slow start to the season, Brisbane's 2014 Player of the Year has been in red-hot form of late; emphasised by his man-of-the-match performance against the Tigers. The 25-year-old has four tries, eight try assists, seven line breaks, 10 line-break assists and 33 tackle busts this year while averaging 13 kicks in play per match. Brisbane fans will hope their star playmaker stays fit and in-form heading into the business end of the season.
Injury report: The Broncos have had a relatively peaceful run on the injury front with only a two high-profile casualties this season. Darius Boyd returned earlier than expected from an off-season Achilles injury in Round 9, although that positive news was offset by the same injury to leading prop Josh McGuire which cruelly ended his season in Round 16. Winger Daniel Vidot will have surgery on a broken finger suffered while on Intrust Super Cup duty and is expected to return by Round 25.
NRL.com predicted finish: 1st.