Manly, Dragons in fight for finals: Brown
There is still plenty of red and white in the heart of Nathan Brown and the former Dragons player and coach believes it will come down to the final day of the regular season before St George Illawarra can confirm a finals spot in 2015.
Given losses by the Warriors, Eels and Raiders on the weekend Brown believes the race to the top eight is now down to nine teams with the Dragons and Sea Eagles the two teams set to fight out that final spot.
The Dragons' begin their run home in Wollongong against the Panthers on Thursday night with games against the Titans (away) and Wests Tigers (home) to follow.
Wins against three teams below them on the Telstra Premiership ladder will secure the Dragons a finals berth for the first time since 2011 but in this week's issue of Big League Brown says he is concerned at their recent defensive statistics given their opponents now have nothing to lose.
"I'd love to see the Dragons make the eight after what they've been through in recent years. Their run home is theoretically the easiest, facing the Panthers (Round 24) Titans (Round 25) and Wests Tigers (Round 26), and on their early season form you'd think they would win each of them," Brown says in the Round 24 issue of Big League.
"Their defence is a concern. They've conceded 206 points in their past 10 games, compared to 122 in the 11 matches before that.
"The sides they are playing against have little to play for and won't be afraid to throw the ball around.
"When you consider the inconsistencies the Dragons have shown, it makes me believe they'll drop one of these games.
"If they do, the Dragons will finish equal with the Sea Eagles on 28 points. St George Illawarra has a 16 point advantage in for-and-against and given they're playing sides who have leaked points throughout the year they'll have a bigger say in their destiny.
"If Manly can put a score together against the Eels this weekend, it could come down to the final Sunday, with the Sea Eagles setting themselves a target to chase against the Sharks and knock the Red V out of the competition."
Riding the wave of a four-game winning streak, the Sea Eagles will start favourites against the Eels on Sunday at Brookvale Oval put face their finals litmus test a week later against the Roosters, a match Brown believes will decide their fate.
"Manly are a side you'd have to believe could go far in the finals if they qualify, but their run home is a tough one," he says. "The Roosters (Round 25) and Sharks (Round 26) have big and experienced packs, while the Eels (Round 24) have two fine young second-rowers.
"For them to make the finals their forward pack will have to come up with good enough performances to provide time and space for the best backline in the competition to score the points required.
"With the way they're playing, you'd say they could beat the Eels and Sharks while they'll do it tough against the Roosters.
"If they succeed in those two matches, they'll finish on 28 points, leaving their fate in the hands of St George Illawarra."
The Round 24 issue of Big League is on sale now at newsagents and at the ground. Digital version available at Zinio.