Monday Morning Halfback: Finals time
How the final play of the regular season could dramatically change the fate of the eight teams left in the NRL Finals race, why the Sharks' loss makes their charge to a grand final incredibly difficult, Queensland set for a blockbuster double-header, Semi Radradra and Jarrod Croker set new benchmarks and a grand final goes an incredible 45 minutes into extra time.
Last play of season changes finals
The make-up of the NRL Telstra Premiership Finals Series was not locked away until the last play of the last minute of the last game of the regular season. It's been that kind of year.
With a major upset brewing, the Bulldogs hit the lead with only minutes on the clock with a try to captain James Graham, then Josh Jackson's last minute tackle on Warriors centre Solomone Kata helped the Bulldogs to a fifth-placed finish, pushing the Sharks to sixth and changing the destiny of the teams in the bottom half of the top 8.
Had Kata managed to make it to the try line in a frantic final play, the Sharks would have hosted the Dragons in a do-or-die local derby and the Bulldogs would have played South Sydney in a knock-out grand final rematch.
Was it a 'sliding doors' moment for the fate of the Provan Summons trophy? Only time will tell.
Sharks rue golden chance
They've had a dream run towards the finals including seven wins from their last nine starts, but how costly will Cronulla's loss to Manly in Round 26 prove? The Sharks could have secured fourth place and a second chance by beating the Sea Eagles at home. Despite 61 per cent of possession, 1,669 running metres to 1300, 127 less tackles, four line breaks to two, and 75 per cent completions to Manly's 66 per cent, the Sharks couldn't get the job done against a brave Sea Eagles outfit.
The result saw the Sharks drop to sixth and now they have to battle the hard way to make the NRL Grand Final on October 4.
A fourth-place finish would have guaranteed a second chance and a final in Sydney, but now the Sharks have to face reigning premiers South Sydney, with the winner to travel to Queensland to face the loser of the Broncos-Cowboys blockbuster.
Their journey towards the grand final just got a lot tougher.
Queensland double header
There is guaranteed to be a Queensland team in the preliminary finals in both grades with the Broncos and Cowboys set for a double-header blockbuster on Saturday night.
In Holden Cup the second-placed Cowboys scored an incredible 923 points in the regular season and have a whopping +473 points differential, they'll take on the Broncos who finished third in the regular season with 17 wins and just six losses.
In first grade we are in for an absolute epic encounter between Bennett's Broncos and Thurston's Cowboys.
Get to the ground early and enjoy two cracking games of football, as the future and the present collide for supremacy.
Finals a flip of the coin
Only South Sydney has failed to beat their opponents heading into an intriguing Week 1 of the NRL Finals.
The Storm knocked off the Roosters in an epic 17-16 victory in Round 7, before the Roosters dominated the return bout 24-2 in Round 12.
The ledger is square at one game apiece between the Dragons and Bulldogs. The Dragons winning 31-6 in Round 6, before the Bulldogs returned the favour in Round 13 with a comfortable 29-16 win.
The Broncos and Cowboys have swapped victories, the Broncos winning 44-22 in Round 3, before the Cowboys turned the tables 31-20 in Round 10, while the Sharks and Rabbitohs only played once, Cronulla defeating the Rabbitohs 18-10 earlier in the season.
Semi Radradra broke Parramatta's record for most tries in a season set by Steve Ella in 1982 when he scored his 24th for the season against the Raiders on Sunday afternoon. What makes the achievement so remarkable is that he played just 18 games to break Ella's record of 23 tries from 25 games.
Had the Eels made the finals, the flying Fijian may have set a record that would never have been beaten. Not bad playing in a side who finished 12th and well off the pace. The Eels scored the fifth least amount of points in the competition, yet Radradra still managed to beat the long standing record.
"It was good, really good to break the record from the legend Steve Ella, credit to the boys in the middle," Radradra said.
"I was happy to score a couple today, we'll see what happens with the record for the season."
Croker reaches peak again
Jarrod Croker became the highest point scorer of the 2015 season, with a 16 point tally against the Eels taking him to 236 points, 10 points clear of Roosters five-eighth James Maloney.
It is the second time he has topped the point scoring tally at the end of a season.
Croker has a career total of 1,128 points at an average of 170 points per season, and is well on his way to breaking Canberra's point scoring record (1,219). When he finally hangs up the iconic headgear, it could be a record that stands for a long time in the nation's capital and the 24-year-old could go very close to surpassing the all-time NRL record currently held by former Bulldogs sharpshooter Hazem el Masri (2,431).
"He thoroughly deserves winning the point-scoring award for the season but nobody sees the effort he puts in behind the scenes, nobody sees the hard work he puts in and the hours and hours of preparation and the work he does," coach Ricky Stuart said.
Group 21 goes the distance and beyond
The Group 21 Grand Final between Scone and Denman required an incredible 48 minutes of Golden point extra time before Denman finally scored the match winning try to claim the title 24-20. Young winger Hamish Wolfgang scored in the corner to win the epic contest for his side after numerous missed field goal attempts from both teams had failed to end the deadlock.
Great game of footy, huge crowd. 128 minutes of footy so everyone got their monies worth. Denman scored the final points to win 24-20.— Scone Thoroughbreds (@SconeRLFC) September 6, 2015
Amazing effort from both clubs today as Denman defeat Scone in the Group 21 Grand Final after 45mins of Golden Point Extra-Time!!!— Country Rugby League (@CountryRL) September 6, 2015
Knights' unusual record
The Newcastle Knights have the dubious honour of being the most successful wooden spoon winning team in Premiership history. Bizarrely, it is a record they already own.
Newcastle have finished last only twice in the club's history and both times they finished with a record 20 competition points.
In 2005 the Knights set a record for most points in last position with 20 competition points and they doubled the dose a decade later, 'winning' the wooden spoon with 20 points in season 2015.
It's been one of those years.